The Storm in the Barn



Engrossing historical graphic novel with a fantasy twist.

What parents need to know

Educational value

This story tells of a family during the Dust Bowl in 1937 Kansas. The author based most of the events on photographs he had viewed of the time period.

Positive messages

Believing in yourself is an overall message, plus children can make a difference and be heroes. Also, parents make mistakes, but they can be forgiven.

Positive role models

Jack bravely faces the Rain King in a battle to save his town from drought. He shows compassion toward his sick sister, and he exudes forgiveness towards his father who acts quite distant around his children.


Jack is threatened and bullied by older boys in his town. The men of the town kill a pen full of rabbits because the rabbits are eating what little there is growing -- the men's faces are shown more than any actual violent act. Dead snakes are nailed to a fence.  Jack fights the Rain King, a personification of rain and storms.

Not applicable

A few mild words including "damn."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this engrossing, educational graphic novel about the Kansas Dust Bowl in 1937 does contain one very disturbing scene where rabbits are killed by a group of men. No rabbits are shown being killed, but baseball bats are raised, rabbits look fearful, and the men look upset and defeated afterward.

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What's the story?

Jack is a young boy living in Kansas with his family during the 1937 Dust Bowl. He has his good days and bad. On the bad days he gets teased by the town bullies and sees the town's superstitions played out firsthand. On the good days, he helps his ailing sister who is feeling the effects of the Dust and he chases after another sister who likes to go exploring, even though it's dangerous. On these adventures Jack finds the Rain King in the abandoned barn. It's up to Jack to outsmart the Rain King and bring the rain back to his town.

Is it any good?


This winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction is an engrossing graphic novel with a surprising supernatural twist. Some moments are heartrenching and true to history, like the slaughter of rabbits by the townspeople to protect what little food was available. Others are fairy-tale heroic, as the main character Jack develops the courage and inner strength to battle against the cruel Rain King.

The illustrations are beautifully done; their sepia tone provides the perfect companion to the few words spoken by the residents of the town. In the panels where no words are spoken, the emotions and looks on people's faces provide all the dialogue the reader needs. This is a touching account of life that children today have never known and of an unlikely hero and his crusade.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what the Dust Bowl was and how it impacted American families during that time.  What caused the Dust Bowl to happen in the first place?

  • Why was Jack's father so angry?  How do you treat others when you are angry or frustrated?

  • A lot of the town relied on superstitions to get them out of the Dust Bowl.  Do we still use superstitions today to explain occurences or as ways to solve problems?

Book details

Author:Matt Phelan
Illustrator:Matt Phelan
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Candlewick Press
Publication date:September 8, 2009
Number of pages:208
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 15
Read aloud:10
Read alone:10

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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