An early adolescent boy who lives with his parents on their farm during the Dust Bowl tells his story in this picture book.
In 1935, Calvin, the white narrator, is 12. He lives with Ma and Dad (both also white) on a farm on a prairie that has become, because of the four-year drought, a land of starving cattle, withered crops, and dust storms. Calvin’s father, discouraged but clinging to hope, tells him, “It’s gonna be better next year.” But it doesn’t get better for four more years—until 1939—when the rains finally come. By then Calvin’s parents have had enough, and to Calvin’s dismay, they pack up and leave. Now 16 and realizing, “I love what I’ve hated for so long,” Calvin stays behind to farm the land in the more sustainable ways he has learned about during the drought. Vander Zee’s poetic narrative, with its precise distillation and keen perception, brings the poverty and heartbreak of this time powerfully forward, while the story’s undercurrent of perseverance, strength of character, and, ultimately, respect and stewardship of the land gives it hope. Kelley’s magnificent, colorful, black-outlined illustrations flawlessly convey the grandeur of the land as well as the awfulness of that time. The book’s overall design is stellar, each page a visual tour de force, balancing white space, words, and illustration.
Stunning. (author’s note) (Picture book. 8-14)