Texas Bluebonnet Award 2015-2016

Official TBA Master List Resources Compiled by the TBA Program Committee

The Great American Dust Bowl

dust bowl

The Great American Dust Bowl
by Don Brown


Scroll down to find Related Activities & Resources, Book Talk Teasers, Read Alikes, and Book Reviews.

Readers Theater Script

Book Trailer (YouTube) (TeacherTube)

Author Interview (YouTube) (TeacherTube)



This is the author Don Brown’s website:

Check out these articles and videos on the Dust Bowl from the History Channel:

This site from PBS has many activities:

This PBS link lets you see what it would be like if you had lived during the Dust Bowl:

This is a photo gallery provided by PBS:

Find biographies and pictures of people who experienced the Dust Bowl:

Find lesson plans for the classroom here:

Ten things you may not know about the Dust Bowl:

Here are twelve more things you might not know about the Dust Bowl:

Try finding words relating to the Dust Bowl in this word search:

An Interactive Story About the Dust Bowl:



Read the readers theater.

Read the inside of the book jacket.



Books about the Dust Bowl/Great Depression:
Blumenthal, Karen. Six days in October: the Stockmarket Crash of 1929. A comprehensive review of the events, personalities, and mistakes behind the Stock Market Crash of 1929, featuring photographs, newspaper articles, and cartoons of the day. (NoveList)

Bolden, Tonya. FDR’s alphabet soup. An exploration of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that discusses the arts, finance, labor, legislation, its influence on the Great Depression, and other related topics. (NoveList)

DeAngelis, Therese. The Dust Bowl. Discusses the disastrous drought in the United States during the 1930s which made a “dust bowl” out of part of the Great Plains, which caused great hardship for farmers, and the enactment of programs and reforms to help the people and land. (NoveList)

Freedman, Russell. Children of the Great Depression. Through memoirs, diaries, letters, and other firsthand accounts, illuminates the lives of the American children affected by the economic and social changes of the Great Depression, including middle-class urban youth, migrant farm laborers, boxcar kids, and others. (NoveList)

Hesse, Karen. Out of the dust. In a series of poems, fourteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family’s wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression. (NoveList)

Marrin, Albert. Years of dust. Offers a review of the events that led up to and took place during this natural disaster in the Great Plains during the 1930s, and discusses the changes that were instituted in farming and land conservation as a result of it. (NoveList)

McArthur, Debra. The Dust Bowl and the Depression in American history. Describes the economic and environmental conditions that led to the Depression and created the Dust Bowl, causing many farming families from the Great Plains to search for jobs and food. (NoveList)

Nardo, Don. Migrant mother. Explores and analyzes the historical context and significance of the iconic Dorothea Lange photograph. (NoveList)

Nishi, Dennis. Life during the Great Depression. Describes daily life for Americans during the Great Depression, as well as some of the lasting changes that occurred such as the increased power of the federal government and technological and cultural innovations. (NoveList)

Phelan, Matt. The storm in the barn. Facing his share of ordinary challenges, from local bullies to his father’s failed expectations, eleven-year-old Jack Clark must also deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl in 1937 Kansas, including the rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. (NoveList)

Reis, Ronald A. The Dust Bowl. Recounts the factors that led to the Dust Bowl conditions, how those affected coped, and what can be learned from the tragedy, considered by many to be America’s worst prolonged environmental disaster. (NoveList)

Rylant, Cynthia. Something permanent. A collection of poetry accompanied by photographs documenting the country during the Great Depression. (NoveList)

Sandler, Martin W. The Dust Bowl through the lens. Photographs capture the horrific conditions of this national disaster, the struggles of the people who stayed to save their land, and the sorrows of those who were forced to move as a result of this catastrophe. (NoveList)

Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl: the true story of the school at Weedpatch Camp. Describes the plight of the migrant workers who traveled from the Dust Bowl to California during the Depression and were forced to live in a federal labor camp and discusses the school that was built for their children. (NoveList)

Vander Hook, Sue. The Dust Bowl. Describes the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and the resulting mass migration of the Okies to California. (NoveList)

Yancey, Diane. Life during the Dust Bowl. Discusses the causes and effects of the disastrous dust storms that hit the Great Plains in the 1930s. (NoveList)

History Told in Graphic Novels:
Freedman, Russell. Because they marched: the people’s campaign for voting rights that changed America. Presents an account of the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, an event that sparked the signing of the Voting Rights Act. (NoveList)

Gonic, Larry. Cartoon history of the Universe III: from the rise of Arabia to the Renaissance. An irreverent, graphic novel approach to the history of the universe continues in a collection of comics that trace world history from the birth and spread of Islam and the rise and fall of the Byzantine empire, to the Crusades, the Dark Ages, the Black Death, the Renaissance, and Columbus’s departure for the New World. (NoveList)

Jarrow, Gail. Red madness: how a medical mystery changed what we eat. Traces the pellagra epidemic that spread throughout the American South a century ago, drawing on real-life cases to describe its physical and cultural impact as well as related medical reports, news articles, and scientific investigations. (NoveList)



★The Great American Dust Bowl. Brown, Don (author).  Illustrated by Don Brown. Oct. 2013. 80p. Houghton, hardcover, $18.99 (9780547815503). Grades 6-10. 741.5. 

REVIEW.  First published October 15, 2013 (Booklist).

Concise and clear in imagery, text, and layout, Brown’s (Henry and the Cannons, 2013) nonfiction examination of the Dust Bowl contextualizes its genesis in geological and cultural history, the dynamics of its climatological presentation, and the effects on both the landscape and Depression-era High Plains farmers. The pen-and-ink artwork, digitally painted in burnished and dusty brown and yellow hues—and the shock of blue that comes with the rain that eventually clears the air—is combined with swirling text, along with well-researched and minimally descriptive explanations and occasional speech balloons attributed to anonymous residents and observers. The brevity of this presentation heightens rather than diminishes its power to evoke the history, and an ample list of resources provides plenty of opportunities for further research. A closing photo of the 2011 dust storm in Arizona emphasizes that the Dust Bowl wasn’t an isolated incident. This is a complete visual package, from the whirly, mud-colored cover design through the sudden reintroduction of color only after the dust storms abate. The Dust Bowl, as experienced by its survivors, truly comes to life in this compelling look at an important moment in American history. — Francisca Goldsmith


Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Brown, Don. The Great American Dust Bowl. Written and illustrated by Don Brown. October 2013
ISBN 978-0-547-81550-3
eBook: 9780544307995

Comics and graphic novels are now comfortably ensconced in most youth library collections, enjoying an ever-increasing readership among kids and, at last, ungrudging respect from adults. Book awards and discussion guides even offer a kind of imprimatur for their curricular use. The lion’s share of attention and enthusiasm, however, seems reserved for fictional works, or biographies and memoirs with a strong narrative trajectory. Straight-up nonfiction without even a fiction chaser is harder to find, and it is too often marketed as a hi-lo approach, abridging or simplifying material for struggling readers. Anyone looking for an exemplar of how comics can bring a true story compellingly to life with depth and sophistication need look no further than Don Brown’s account of the epic natural disaster of the 1930s, the Dust Bowl. A great story starts with a great hook, and Brown’s opening double-page spread depicts a roiling brown mass consuming a quarter of the page space, in hot pursuit of a terrified farmer and a host of fleeing rabbits and birds. Animals fly into and leap out of the ink border of the frame, the lead rabbit diving off the page for safety and the farmer exclaiming in a word bubble, “Oh my God! Here it comes!” The narration box describes this alarming scene of April 14, 1935 in a tone reminiscent of a vintage newsreel: “A wild wind whipped up billions upon billions of specks of dust to form a savage storm on America’s plains.” Context, however, is key to understanding the calamity, and a page turn takes readers back for the facts. A stack of three narrow horizontal frames and two brief paragraphs swiftly and efficiently explain the genesis of the Rockies and Great Plains, where the drama will play out, and a half dozen more spreads trace, often with quiet irony, the interaction of human history and natural terrain that leads to disaster. Bison discover the grasslands, Indians discover the bison, white settlers remove the Indians and the bison to make way for a series of economic enterprises that doom the land; the sad backstory is laid out as thoroughly and concisely as any textbook account. And now comes the main event. Brown faces quite a challenge: how to make the tedium of years of drought remain engrossing; how to make blackout conditions vivid. The solution lies in his masterful use of the comic-panel format to slow or accelerate the sense of time, and of color to evoke emotion. A farmer’s grinding tasks plod along in small framed vignettes, moments plucked from a single day, and on the facing page he guides horse and plow in a broad zigzag across a trio of vertical panels, expanding the day into endless monotony. “There wasn’t much time for fun,” he dryly remarks. The drought arrives and drags on for years, which Brown captures on a single three-panel page that features a man and his pregnant wife (“one year”); man, wife and baby (“two years”); man, wife, and toddler (“three years”) posed on parched ground that refuses to yield. When the sky turns to fury and the action takes off, however, Brown frees his images from their tidy constraints. Farmers are blown right off their feet and knocked clear out of their frame and into the narration box below. Delicate tendrils of dusty wind tease the ground loose and lick at people’s heels, while the forward edge of the dust cloud seems to sprout arms that torment the farmer in its sights. The palette for the drama is dictated by the dust monsters themselves (“Depending where it came from, the flying dirt was brown, black, yellow, gray, or red”), and faded, dust-scoured clothing and a searing sun offer no relief from these color constraints. Once again, though, Brown makes magic with these very restrictions, maximizing the use of searing, blinding yellow to evoke relentless heat, bleached-out golds to capture the arid farmland, grayish browns to suggest the ubiquitous grit invading houses, and dense black hatching to convey the suffocating dust clouds. Clouds of grit infiltrate the clear skies of Eastern cities, car headlights pierce unnaturally twilit streets, and of course the punishing dusters, some crackling with lightning, suddenly blot out the sun. An historic disaster, certainly, but a fabulous opportunity for an artist with an eye for the inherent chiaroscuro of the event. When the rains return and a farm family spreads their arms to welcome the hazy gray diagonal lines on a refreshing blue spread, readers share their near palpable relief. Brown’s not quite done yet, however: as he recaps the toll of the disaster, Grant Wood’s American Gothic farmers glance nervously up and off the page could be that the photograph of a 1935 duster, set below the selected bibliography, reminds them of what passed. Or perhaps the final photograph, following the source notes, of a 2011 dust storm in Phoenix suggests what’s to come. “Here and there on the high southern plain, some veterans of the 1930s dusters remain still keeping a finger to the wind and an eye to the sky.”

Horn Book:
[STARRED] The Great American Dust Bowl
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School Houghton 80 pp.
10/13 978-0-547-81550-3 $18.99

“A speck of dust is a tiny thing.” This simple opening line creates a perfect counterpoint to the chaos pictured on the page: a terrifying dust cloud rears up like a creature out of a nightmare, scattering birds and jackrabbits in its wake. It’s a portent of things to come in this bleak yet compelling glimpse at the Dirty Thirties. After a lengthy drought and rampant overplanting, the once-fertile soil found across the Great Plains states had become “pulverized earth” by the early 1930s. High winds created “black blizzards” so powerful that during one storm “enough dust to fill 1,500 modern supertankers blew east”—an accompanying illustration shows the giant ships floating out from a grubby-looking brown cloud. Speaking of which, the color brown is a recurring theme here, as Brown relies almost entirely on shades of brown throughout. Consequently, the book has a rather drab look; thankfully, Brown crisply paces the narrative with fascinating glimpses of the sociological and geological causes of the Dust Bowl. Primary source material is also sprinkled in liberally, as characters speak directly to the reader, documentary-style: “It made the awfulest noise, that dirt did,” a driver says as he speeds away from an enormous and ominous dust cloud. Brown has utilized comic book elements before in his excellent nonfiction picture books, so no surprises here: this is a solid nonfiction graphic-novel debut. Appended with a selected bibliography and thorough source notes. SAM BLOOM
(November/December 2013 Horn Book Magazine)

Reprinted from The Horn Book Magazine by permission of The Horn Book, Inc., www.hbook.com

School Library Journal:
BROWN, Don. The Great American Dust Bowl. illus. by author. 80p. bibliog. notes. photos. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2013. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-0-547-81550-3.

Gr 5 Up–Brown once again dives into American history, this time telling the story of the Dust Bowl in his first graphic novel. Starting with a tale of a terrifying 200-mile-long duster in 1935, he works back to explain what caused the devastation and its decadelong effects on the economy, the land, and the people. Brown’s illustrations bring these facts to life, showing the severity of the tragedy; it’s one thing to read about globs of mud falling from the sky like rain, it’s quite another to see them painfully pelting a herd of cattle. The drab and beige colors add to the emotional impact and bleakness of each situation, as does Brown’s sketch-heavy art style. Comic panels vary beautifully from full-page layouts of vast fields of nothing but dust and devastation to multipaneled action shots, such as an airplane falling out of a dust-filled sky, that instantly create a dramatic and tense mood. The graphic-novel format works well, but the addition of speech bubbles to deliver quotes seems awkward, since characters end up saying things like, “I thought it was the last day of the world” while actively fleeing from a disaster. The quotes are needed; some just seem out of place. Ending with a dismal warning about the potential of similar future disasters, Great American Dust Bowl is a magnificent overview of this chapter in U.S. history. Pair it with Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 1997) and Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn (Candlewick, 2009), both of which are more entertaining, but Brown’s book is more informative.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WI


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