Great American Dust Bowl Nonfiction Graphic Novel Review

I'm tossing my cap into the "Non Fiction Picture Book" arena once again... even though today's selection is in graphic novel format.

The Great American Dust Bowl

Hardcover, 80 pages
Published October 8th 2013 by HMH Books for Young Readers
ISBN 0547815506 (ISBN13: 9780547815503)

A speck of dust is a tiny thing. In fact, five of them could fit into the period at the end of this sentence.

On a clear, warm Sunday, April 14, 1935, a wild wind whipped up millions upon millions of these specks of dust to form a duster—a savage storm—on America's high southern plains.

The sky turned black, sand-filled winds scoured the paint off houses and cars, trains derailed, and electricity coursed through the air. Sand and dirt fell like snow—people got lost in the gloom and suffocated . . . and that was just the beginning.

My Thoughts:
If you are looking for a way to interest kids in a time period that often gets missed during elementary and middle school social studies classes, this is your lucky day. The Great American Dust Bowl will pull those kids right into American History. Even the cover is designed to catch young eyes!

"A speck of dust is a tiny thing. Five of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence." (pg 4) What a great way to start this piece. The author jumps the story right to the massive dust storm of April, 1935. Then he takes us back... back... back into the formation of the plains. I love the fact that he includes some tectonic theory in his history!

The illustrations and color scheme fit the subject matter perfectly. Simple drawings and a earthy palette help communicate the feel of the time. The panel styles are varied enough to keep the eye interested, but not so unusual that they would confuse younger readers. 

Classroom Ties

Language Arts: 
Connect to novels like Esperanza Rising and Out of the Dust
Work on cause & effect. The Dust Bowl was one long string of causes leading toward this effect. 

Social Studies
Primary and secondary sources - The author includes a primary source image in the back, as well as an extensive list of source notes. Find more primary sources at the Library of Congress:

The Great American Dust Bowl is a fabulous example of the power of a graphic novel to communicate information. Frequent readers of my blog know that I am a huge proponent of using graphic novels and comics in the classroom. To learn more about the value of comics and graphic novels, check out these links: 

Each Wednesday, check out to find a wealth of nonfiction picture book resources! 


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