Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Ten-year-old Jack and his family suffer the hardships of Dust Bowl America, while a secret in the barn may alter their fortunes forever in this superb graphic-novel evocation of childhood's yearning and triumphs. Phelan (illustrator of the Higher Power of Lucky, 2006) turns every panel of this little masterpiece into a spare and melancholy window into another era, capturing an unmistakable sense of time and place as found in James Sturm's Satchel Paige (2007) even as he takes full, masterful advantage of the medium's strengths by using fantasy elements to enrich the deep, genuine emotional content, much as Shaun Tan did in The Arrival (2008). All the more impressive is how he balances fleet pacing (thanks to low word density) with a thoughtful, contemplative homage to storytelling and storytellers, which, in the tradition of the greatest tall tales, presents an empowering message that all a child needs to change the world is courage and ingenuity. Great for a wide range of readers, this will work particularly well as a gentle introduction for those new to graphic novels or as an elegant argument on the format's behalf against dubious naysayers. A single warning: there is a restrained depiction of a rabbit slaughter, which could upset more sensitive readers.--Karp, Jesse Copyright 2009 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Set during the 1930s, when Kansas farmers tried to survive during a terrible drought, this graphic novel for younger readers shows a boy discovering that he can save his family by bringing back the rain. Jack Clark is a shy 11-year-old whose father thinks he's useless at practical chores. The boy is not used to having any responsibilities, so when he sees a dark figure lurking in an abandoned barn near their house, he doesn't want to do anything about it. He'd rather chalk it up to "dust dementia," until he realizes that the brooding shape is the rain, which has withdrawn from the land so that people will yearn for it until they are willing to worship it as a god. What Jack does next won't surprise readers who've seen countless puny but plucky heroes in juvenile fiction. The big novelty here is the Dust Bowl setting, and Phelan's art emphasizes the swirling, billowing clouds of fine grit that obscure even nearby objects. Older readers might have appreciated more text to make up for the lack of visual clarity, but kids will identify with Jack and appreciate his success. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review
Gr 5-7-It is 1937 in Kansas, during the Dust Bowl, and 11-year-old Jack can barely remember a world with plentiful water and crops. Unable to help his father with a harvest that isn't there, and bullied by the other boys his age, he feels like a useless baby. Stories offer a refuge, and there are multiple stories in this work. Jack's mother tells about the time when the land was a fertile "paradise." Jack's invalid sister, Dorothy, is reading The Wizard of Oz, gaining inspiration from the adventures of another Kansan of the same name. Jack's friend comforts him with folktales about a brave man named Jack who masters nature, battling the King of the West Wind, the King of Blizzards, and the King of the Northeast Winds. In the end, Phelan turns the Dust Bowl into another one of Ernie's "Jack" tales when the real Jack encounters the Storm King in an abandoned barn and finds out that he has been holding back the rain. The boy must then gather the strength to determine his own narrative, as well as his parched town's future. Children can read this as a work of historical fiction, a piece of folklore, a scary story, a graphic novel, or all four. Written with simple, direct language, it's an almost wordless book: the illustrations' shadowy grays and blurry lines eloquently depict the haze of the dust. A complex but accessible and fascinating book.-Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review
(Intermediate, Middle School) Illustrator Phelan's graphic novel debut brings 1937 Kansas, wracked by drought and hardship, to life, adding a supernatural twist that fits well with the extremities of the Dust Bowl. Populated with Phelan's trademark loose-lined, sparely sketched, emotive characters, this is the story of eleven-year-old Jack, who hasn't seen rain since he was seven. Exploring an abandoned barn, Jack encounters a mysterious, threatening figure with a face of rain and a bag that flashes lightning. The minimalist approach to text complements the measured, masterful panel pacing; whole spreads are wordless, forcing the reader to slow down and follow the visual details of the action. Phelan's use of color is simply stunning; his palette of sepias, dusty browns, and charcoal grays perfectly evokes the desolate landscapes of the Dust Bowl and makes the occasional pop of color -- memories of green fields, stylized depictions of folktales, the angry blood-red of a "rabbit drive" -- that much more striking. The emotional landscape is equally well developed: an older sister who suffers from "dust pneumonia" and reads Ozma of Oz aloud, between coughing fits, to her younger siblings; a father who too easily dismisses his son, who never had an opportunity to prove himself on the farm, as useless. The potent subtext informs both Jack's climactic showdown with the rain figure and the book's tender, triumphant resolution. From HORN BOOK, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Eleven-year-old Jack Clark feels useless on his family's Kansas farm. It's 1937: The rain went away when he was seven, so he's never been able to help out. His older sister Dorothy is sick with Dust Pneumonia, and little sister Mabel doesn't provide much companionship. Jack is the favorite target of the town bullies, but general-store owner Ernie tries to cheer Jack with traditional "Jack tales." Then the boy sees a mysterious flash in the Talbots' abandoned barn. When he investigates, he discovers a frightening apparition. Talking about it starts rumors he is suffering from Dust Dementia. Just when his family has given up hope, Jack, inspired by Ernie's stories, confronts the creature and fights a fantastic battle with miraculous results. Author/illustrator Phelan's first graphic tale is part historical mystery, part fantasy thriller. The pencil-and-watercolor panels are cinematically framed and often wordless, advancing the plot and delineating character with careful strokes. The bleakness of the Dust Bowl comes through in both the landscape and the hopeless faces of his characters. This is not to be missed. (Graphic fiction. 9-14) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.