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The Storm in the Barn    by Matt Phelan order for
Storm in the Barn
by Matt Phelan
Order:  USA  Can
Candlewick, 2009 (2009)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Matt Phelan's The Storm in the Barn is a grayscales graphic novel set during a time of severe drought in 1930s Kansas. Eleven-year-old Jack Clark feels helpless and, making matters worse, is bullied by peers who call him Jack Rabbit.

Fleeing those bullies and a duststorm, Jack heads home where his sister Dorothy has been diagnosed with dust pneumonia, while others are affected by dust dementia. Jack is very kind to both his sisters, sharing Dorothy's interest in the Oz saga. Jack overhears his parents planning to give up on the farm. He tries to help his father but is rejected.

When his mother reminisces about the smell of rain, Jack recalls the odd smell in an abandoned barn. He bravely sets out to investigate at night and is frightened off by a strange figure. When he tells his father, the latter assumes it is dust dementia. But after locals butcher a swarm of jackrabbits, the boy decides that 'This must end.'

Jack takes up his courage and heads to the old barn, where he confronts the Storm King, and makes it rain again. Matt Phelan tells his story well, in images that convey the dust and desperation of the times. His Note at the end speaks of how finding a book of iconic photographs of 'the Dust Bowl years' ignited his imagination and inspired this absorbing story.

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