Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mixing it Up in a Novel

This novel is a mix of many things. According to the dust cover: “Part tall tale rich in lore, part thriller, and part gripping historical fiction, this is an artful one-of-a-kind creation from debut graphic novelist Matt Phelan.” All true.

THE STORM IN THE BARN by Matt Phelan, Candlewick Press, 2009

Jack was 7 when the rain stopped.“When the rain went away, it took away your chance to grow up.” This is a wise observation from Jack’s sister who is confined to bed with an illness believed to be dust pneumonia. As the story begins, Jack is 11 and he and his family, friends, and neighbors, are dealing with the effects of the Dust Bowl in 1937 Kansas.

The years of drought changed everything about the farm. Jack couldn’t show his father what a help he could and would be. How could he be in training to run a farm that might never be a working farm again? Add to that Jack’s father’s fear that Jack might have dust dementia. The gap between father and son grows into a chasm.

Dialogue is spare and used only when the pictures can be assisted by it to advance this grim story. Much of the reader’s grasp of the characters’ emotions will come from the expressions on the faces of the main character, the bullies who torment him, his family members, his friend behind the counter, and others who populate this young boy’s world.

I’d want to be present when a young reader reaches the jackrabbit scenes which are quite violent. In fact, it might be wise for concerned parents to read this first and be prepared.

The author/illustrator is considered a graphic novelist even though this is his first graphic novel. He also illustrated the Newbery winner, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron.

The Storm in the Barn won the Scott O’Dell award for historical fiction.

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