Boston has been down right hot. As a southern gal, I pretty much eat this up. I brew slightly sweet black tea with lemon slices and head outside. It has gotten to the point where back deck reading doubles as sun tanning because bathing suits are the only way to remotely feel comfortable. See, nerds can be tan too.
Appropriately, on an afternoon that peaked to a toasty 93 degrees I read Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn which is set in the dusty, hot, draught of Kansas during the Dust Bowl years. Main character, Jack, longs to please his father who is struggling to overcome the demise of his farm. Mixing the folklore of the Jack tales and a snapshot of American history, Phelan puts together a piece that in itself is engaging, but also creates an interest in other genres. I mean, I spent a whole hour on the Internet exploring the Dust Bowl phenomena and I only stopped because it was getting dark outside, for goodness sake.
Important to note is that there are a lot of gorgeous details about the art and construction of The Storm and the Barn. Typical of Candlewick publishers, this is a beautifully put together book and the illustrations have a soft, airy movement to them that I have come to associate with Phelan’s work (HERE is a great interview with him, full of his sketches and other works). The creams, beiges, and browns make you yearn for tall glasses of water and the soft relief of shade. When you finally rest your eyes on the soft blue haven of the barn that holds the secret to the town’s misfortunes you physically feel a release.
For a reader who learns fast, who can pick up the ‘reading’ of graphics quickly, this is a great book. The text is sparse and heavily relies on the images to tell the story. The book eases you into the understanding of how comics work, how images story tell, and then works its way to a more artistic structure. Unfortunately, I do think some of Phelan’s sequences are difficult to read. In most instances, Phelan’s technique makes really strong, memorable moments, but in others, the images are choppy and harder to decipher. I mention this because graphic novels can be hard to read for young readers who have no experience in the genre and I find that this book may be frustrating at times, particularly since the confusion happens in pivotal moments. I, for one, think it is worth it because you get beautiful moments like this.