THE STORM IN THE BARN by Matt Phelan – Review for TWU course

BIBLIOGRAPHY Phelan, Matt.   2009.   THE STORM IN THE BARN. Sommersville, MA: Candlewick. ISBN 978-0763636180.

PLOT SUMMARY
Set in Kansas in 1937, this graphic novel tells the story of one family during the Dust Bowl.  Jack is a young boy trying to “find” himself, and is heavily weighed down by his sisters illness and the despair that accompanies the Dust Bowl.


CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Surprisingly full of emotion and strong feelings for a graphic novel, in my opinion.  Matt Phelan does a phenomenal job portraying his story very strongly through his illustrations.  Using simple pencil and watercolor to tell the story, it is the use of color that sticks out and makes quite an impression.  Illustrated mainly in earthtones to portray the dust bowl years, blue hues emerge when water and storms are spoken of, when an issue arises with rabbits, brilliant red emerges.  Upon Mom’s reflection of the prosperous years prior, the illustrations are full of brilliant colors.  

Phelan’s simple drawings portray so much emotion, the melancholy of these desperate times, Jack’s beaten and worthless feelings, his feeling responsible for more than he should, taking on the “weight of the world” as many are prone.  In telling the story, there is no sugar coating, the harshness of the times are portrayed well through the sparse words and impactful pictures, authenticity abounds.  Phelan was inspired to create this book by some pictures and videos he’d been exposed to that had haunted him.

This seems to be a good book for introduction to a graphic novel, or introduction to the history of the dust bowl times.  It was my first exposure to this tidbit of history that I had somehow missed in my education.  This book would get recommended for nothing but the pictures if the storyline didn’t work, but fortunately it does and Phelan does a great job with it.


REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
Winner of the 2010 Scott O’Dell Award
An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book selection
YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection

Publisher’s Weekly : “The big novelty here is the Dust Bowl setting, and Phelan’s art emphasizes the swirling, billowing clouds of fine grit that obscure even nearby objects. Older readers might have appreciated more text to make up for the lack of visual clarity, but kids will identify with Jack and appreciate his success.” 

School Library Journal, starred review:  “Children can read this as a work of historical fiction, a piece of folklore, a scary story, a graphic novel, or all four. Written with simple, direct language, it’s an almost wordless book: the illustrations’ shadowy grays and blurry lines eloquently depict the haze of the dust. A complex but accessible and fascinating book.”

CONNECTIONS

Two very natural connections seem to jump out at me.
First, Jack’s sister is taken with the OZ books by Baum.  It would be natural to read The Storm in the Barn first, then follow up with OZ once the intrigue is set. 

Second, what a wonderful prelude to a history unit on the 1930′s and the midwest.  The conditions were deplorable and the effect on the farmers and culture had quite an impact.



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