Monday, February 12, 2018

Sick soil: The dust bowl by Kevin Blake

This new series from Bearport offers a unique look at disasters throughout history by framing them in light of the ecological causes and effects. The series includes famous incidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and the Dust Bowl. It also includes more generic eco-disasters including incidents of high amounts of air pollution, climate change, and polluted water.

I was sent a copy of the title featuring the historical disaster of the Dust Bowl for review. The story begins with a dramatic recounting of the dust storms and what it was like to experience one. However, the main focus of this title is a little different than most historical disaster books. The geography of the great plains and the history of white settlement, emphasizing the planting of wheat, is covered in detail. A massive drought, combined with the economic turmoil of the Great Depression, started the disaster. This might have been mitigated by the natural protections of the plains; however, lacking the native grasses, the topsoil simply dried up and blew away. Millions of pounds of dust was blown off of the prairie, blackening the sky and coating cities as far away as New York. The human and economic cost of the disaster is shown in vintage photographs and quotes from people living in the Dust Bowl. Finally, in 1940, the combination of the economic impact of the New Deal and the return of the rain ended the drought and the black blizzards. However, the story doesn't end there. Long-term changes in farming practices and from the migration of farmers to the cities changed history once again.

Back matter includes a discussion of measures taken to prevent similar catastrophes as well as a brief discussion of the possibility of similar or even worse events in the future due to climate change. A glossary, brief bibliography, and further reading is also included.

This is not a comprehensive history of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, or the environmental changes and farming choices that led to the ecological disaster. It's an introduction meant to capture the interest of struggling readers and give them a basic overview of the topic as well as encourage students to complete further research on the many topics presented. As such, it's an excellent resource.

Verdict: As I'm updating my resources on weather, history, and natural disasters, I think this is an excellent series that will see a lot of use both by individual students and in the classroom.

ISBN: 9781684022236; Published 2017 by Bearport; Review copy provided by publisher

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