Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley

I know I've complained way too often about how busy I am, and I really am pretty busy; however, this last week I had to quickly read a book that was required for a teacher development class I am attending once a month. Considering my schedule, Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp was a delight, that I was forced to carve out time for.

Synopsis: As a mix between a history book and picture book, this rather short piece looks at the lives of "Okie" children who lived in California during the Great Dustbowl. As a haunting time in U.S. history, the dustbowl centered in the midwest, over states such as Kansas, northern Texas, and Oklahoma. After several years of drought in these farm-heavy states, the winds of the 1930s caused places in the midwest to become unliveable, forcing people to migrate to other states for work and mere survival. Word spread that California was a great vineyard, full of beautiful fruit and fields ready to harvest, with jobs for all. People by the thousands arrived in California, only to find that there were too many people for one job, ending up in the hands of only the most desperate.

Because many Californians grew tired of the influx of immigrants, they named them "Okies," and held hard feelings against many of them for draining their state of resources and jobs. In response, one educator found a way to pull together materials and funds to build a school next to one of the government relief camps, using the students themselves to build the school. Since the school WAS the students', they felt pride in what they had put together. The teachers were pulled from the surrounding area for their interest and belief in the school's objectives, and worked for next to nothing. The students grew gardens and raised livestock, which then became their school lunches, and they were provided classes in subjects that most applied to their survival at the time. As the school grew, so did the curriculum Over time, the school became synonymous with excellence, and parents from the outside community began to want their children to attend this "Okie" school. In time, this "emergency" school was disbanded, but the futures of the children who attended that school were far-reaching, as they went on to become teachers, doctors, engineers, etc.

Review: As an educator, I found this book to be inspiring. Even if, however, I was not an educator, the history and information about this little school would still strike a chord in me. This book really does speak to the heart of all learning, that when you can spark in someone the essential kernel of what one needs, you can bring about great personal development. I realized that with cooperation between students and teachers, each student could begin to feel ownership of his or her own education. In much simpler terms, the book showed me how important it is to not think that any one student or group is "unteachable" because of their culture or background. When any one student can be reached through what is important to them, you unlock the box that contains their motivation and joy in their own achievement.

I rarely review educational books that I read for work, but felt that this little book was such a great resource for any family or child, that I wanted to share it here on my blog. Whether you are an educator, parent, or individual, this book contains wonderful motivation to be a better person in your community, and if nothing else, is a wonderful resource for history! I would even recommend this for children needing more information about this time period. For more information, see: Children of the Dust Bowl.

*This was my own personal copy.


  1. Thanks for the review! This is a topic that isn't often discussed in books. It sounds like an interesting book!

  2. This sounds fascinating. I watched a documentary on the dust bowl recently, and I found it very interesting. I'll keep this one in mind.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  3. I think inspiring students to want to learn is every teacher's dream. But how to do it, that's the tricky part.