Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Dust to Eat: Drought and Depression in the 1930's

Dust to Eat: Drought and Depression in the 1930's

Michael L. Cooper
For ages 10 and up
Clarion, 2004   ISBN: 0618154493

Very often in these days of relative prosperity we forget about the years when millions of Americans found themselves unemployed, impoverished, out on the street, displaced, and desperate. The Depression had a profound effect on the history of the United States, an effect that it still felt today.

It all began when the economic boom of the "roaring 20's" ended with a crash unlike any seen before. Stocks began to loose their value at an alarming rate and people from all walks of life suddenly found that the stocks that they had bought with their hard-earned wages were worthless. People stopped buying goods, businesses went under, banks ran out of money to give to their depositors, jobs were lost, and mortgages couldn't be paid.

Soon after this monumental financial disaster hit the country an environmental catastrophe began to make itself felt. In southern Colorado, Southern Kansas, Northern Texas and much of Oklahoma, a terrible drought set in. In addition strong winds began to lift up and carry away millions of pounds of topsoil. Thus it was that an area called the "Dust Bowl" was created. Within this dreadful region of dust and heat crops dried up and died. Terrible storms called "dusters" blinded people with sand and dust, killing livestock and people, burying cars and buildings, and making life a living hell for those unfortunate enough to live in this benighted area.

For many the only solution was to leave homes and farms to try to find work elsewhere. It was to California that many of these refugees went, believing that there was work there for everyone. Unfortunately this was a myth and soon there were ragtag cities of jobless and destitute people in California.

There were many who came to hate the dust bowl refugees and who made every effort to make their lives a misery. Then there were those who tried to help, and those who told the heart-breaking stories of the "Okies" by writing articles in newspapers and by taking stunning photographs. John Steinbeck was one of the journalists who was moved by the plight of the dust bowl immigrants, and Dorothea Lange captured their sufferings on film for the whole world to see.

In this remarkable book the author gives us an often stark and harsh picture of the dreadful Depression and Dust Bowl years. John Steinbeck's words and Dorothea Lange's photographs sound and look as fresh as they must have done in the 1930's as do the stories of those who were the victims of the financial and environmental disasters of that time period. We see how the Roosevelt administration set about trying to reverse the effects of the Depression and how, at last, the Depression was ended when World War II broke out.

Sympathetic, sensitive, and superbly researched, this book provides an excellent overview of the Depression era.