The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan

The Storm in the Barn
by Matt Phelan
Candlewick Press, 2009

This award-winning graphic novel by children’s book illustrator Phelan is set in a wretched Kansas town choking on the Dust Bowl drought which ravaged many states during the 1930s. With an 11-year old protagonist and aimed at teenage readers, it reminds me of the Great Brain stories by John D. Fitzgerald. Both evoke what it was like to be a boy during harsh times in the Midwest, although this book is more impressionistic and allegorical, with the hero Jack battling a rain-faced Storm King, holed up in an abandoned barn and selfishly hoarding his moisture.

It’s printed on a rather nice translucent tan paper stock, and appears to be drawn in coloured pencils and watercolours in a restricted palette. With a look inspired by the famous documentary photography of Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein, the many characters are not well-distinguished from each other, but it could be argued that the Kansas climate would eventually erase individuality.

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