Genre: Graphic Novel
In Kansas in the year 1937, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. Certainly a case of "dust dementia" would explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the Talbot’s abandoned barn — a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it’s hard to trust what you see with your own eyes — and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes. With phenomenal pacing, sensitivity, and a sure command of suspense, Matt Phelan ushers us into a world where desperation is transformed by unexpected courage.
It's been a while since I read a graphic novel, and even longer since I was so deeply impressed by what I read--or saw, in the case of this book. The Storm in the Barn is probably geared towards middle graders, telling the story of an eleven year old boy and his family living on a desolate farm during the Dust Bowl. As an adult, it was captivating. This story has almost no words; this is a story of silences, words unspoken, and fears both spoken and dreamt. The young hero, Jack Clark, must face bullies, a deep sense of failure in meeting his father's expectations, a dust-related illness that leaves his eldest sister bedridden, and a deep sense of hopelessness. That's a lot for a child, and in some ways Jack is older than his years--believably so. He's had to grow up a little too fast, and it shows. But as he begins to uncover the mystery of the presence in the abandoned barn on the next farm over, Jack begins to come into his own. It's a beautiful, gripping story--and a very quick read for adults. Highly recommended.
About the Author
Matt Phelan made his illustrating debut with Betty G. Birney’s The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster). Since then he has illustrated many picture books and novels for young readers, including Where I Live by Eileen Spinelli (Dial), Very Hairy Bear by Alice Schertle (Harcourt), and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Simon & Schuster) winner of the 2007 Newbery Medal.
Matt studied film and theater in college with the goal of one day writing and directing movies. But his first love was always drawing, and the more he saw the wonderful world of children’s books, the more he realized that this was the place for him. Being an illustrator is in many ways like being an actor, director, cinematographer, costumer, and set designer rolled into one.
Matt writes: “I have a fascination with the decade of the 1930s. The movies were learning to talk (and in the case of King Kong, growl), the music was beginning to swing, and the nation was thrown into tremendous turmoil. On one hand, you see a level of suffering documented in the dramatic and gritty photography of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. On the other hand, consider what the American public was flocking to see in the movie theaters: the glamour and grace of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing in a series of perfect musicals. For my first book as both writer and illustrator (coming in 2009 by Candlewick Press), I naturally gravitated to this complex decade, specifically the strange world of the Dust Bowl.”