Author and Illustrator: Matt Phelen
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Ms. Murphy met Matt Phelen at a library conference. Here is Matt autographing The Storm in the Barn for her.


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In 1934, a huge monster made of dust as tall as 10,000 feet swept across America. Where had it come from and why?
This was a terrifying experience for Americans as the dust raged towards them at up to 65 miles per hour. People living in an area called the "Dust Bowl" had been living with this soil devouring monster for years. Finally, the rest of America had to sit up and take notice.

Now watch real life scenes from "Surviving the Dust Bowl" from PBS American Experience.

Watch the full episode. See more American Experience.

In 1931 the rains stopped and the “black blizzards” began. Powerful dust storms carrying millions of tons of stinging, blinding black dirt swept the Southern Plains—the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, western Kansas, and the eastern portions of Colorado and New Mexico. Topsoil that had taken a thousand years per inch to build suddenly blew away in only minutes. One journalist traveling through the devastated region dubbed it the “Dust Bowl.” (introduction to American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl")

Life in the Dust Bowl- U. S. Farm Security photographers documented historical events that took place in the lives of those deeply affected by the drought across the Great Plains region.

Leaving the dust bowl behind



“When those dust storms blew and you were out in them, well, you spit out dirt,” recalls Imogene Glover of Kansas. “It looked like tobacco juice, but it was dirt.” (Click on the name of Imogene Glover and hear more about her experience during the dust bowl years.)

Things to ponder:

What was the Dust Bowl?

The Dust Bowl was the name given to the Great Plains region devastated by drought in 1930s depression-ridden America. The 150,000-square-mile area, encompassing the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles and neighboring sections of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, has little rainfall, light soil, and high winds, a potentially destructive combination. When drought struck from 1934 to 1937, the soil lacked the stronger root system of grass as an anchor, so the winds easily picked up the loose topsoil and swirled it into dense dust clouds, called "black blizzards." Recurrent dust storms wreaked havoc, choking cattle and pasture lands and driving 60 percent of the population from the region. (retrieved from:

View the Dust Bowl Photo Gallery (Historychannel)

What is "dust pneumonia"?

Dust pneumonia is a medical condition that develops when people or animals are exposed to excessive amounts of dust particles in the air. It affects the respiratory system in a way that causes a person to develop a dry, painful cough forcing a wheezy sound to come from their lungs.

"What was the book that Jack's sister, Dorothy, was reading?"
"And the clouds were so thick in the sky that the sunlight couldn't get through them; so that the day grew dark as night, which added to the terrors of the storm." (Chapter 1: The Girl in the Chicken Coop)

Jack's sister, Dorothy was reading Ozma of Oz.. It is one of many sequels to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. If you would like to read this book, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, you will be able to access the books below in Bluebonnet Book Club Literature Connections section.
Interesting fact:Dorothy is the name of Jack's older sister just like the main character's name in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Storm in the Barn Resources

Storm in the Barn Teachers' Guide (Candlewick Press)

American Folk singer and musician, Woody Guthrie, sang many sorrowful songs that captured the sound of what life was like in the era of the Dust Bowl.
Visit the Woody Guthrie site for lyrics, photos and curriculum resources.

Listen to Woody Guthrie sing "This Land is My Land"

bluebonnet_clipart.gifBluebonnet Book Club Activities

Book Box Activity: Create a shoe box scene from the Dust Bowl Days. View the Dust Bowl photo gallery and think about what it would have been like to live through such a difficult time. Reconstruct an example of how the dust storms might have affected your family farm.

Write a Letter Activity: During the late 1920's and 1930's, America was facing a dark and difficult time known as the Great Depression. Many Americans and politicians were either not aware or too caught up in their own troubles to fully understand the problems of people struggling to surviving in the Dust Bowl region. Imagine you are living in the Dust Bowl region of the United States. Write a letter to relatives, friends, or the government officials in Washington, D. C. and describe what is happening to your family farm and the difficulties your family is facing just to survive.

Create Your Own Graphic Novel-
Comic Masters-Reading for Life-Allows you to create your own short graphic novel.

Click for a sneak peek

Bluebonnet Book Club Literature Connections

Out of the Dust is a free verse novel written by Karen Hesse. It was the winner of the Newbery Medal in 1998, and the Scott O'Dell Award,
Set in Oklahoma during the years 1934-1935, this book tells the story of a family of farmers during the Dust Bowl years. Billie Jo is the main character, it goes into her own life and struggles during a very dark time in American history.

**Download the E book**
Click book cover to learn more!
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Since its publication in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum has become America's greatest and best-loved homegrown fairytale.

Click book cover to read Ozma of Oz
Read: Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

This Ozma adventure begins as Dorothy Gale is blown overboard in a storm at sea as she sails to Australia.

Resources for education are greatly appreciated!
Matt Phelen
Candlewick Press
History Channel
New York Times
Project Gutenberg
Library of Congress
Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on
U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information/Office of Emergency Management/Resettlement Administration rights and restrictions regarding black and white photographs taken by government employees fall under the public domain.