Thursday, March 13, 2008

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

Michael L. Cooper, author of the Kite Award winning, Dust to Eat : Drought and Depression in the 1930’s, opens his book with a study of the migration of dust bowl refugees to California. Labeled “Okies”, Cooper explores their experiences within the context of John Steinbeck’s writings. He discusses how Steinbeck, shocked by the squalor and poverty of the homeless, felt moved to write “The Grapes of Wrath” in a matter of weeks. The many quotes and background details offer a good introduction to Steinbeck.
Cooper turns his attention to the catalyst for the massive migration: the dust bowl. He spends a chapter outlining the storms: their magnitude, paths and duration. He also studies how repeated plowing and drought conditions left the soil vulnerable to strong winds. Harsh weather conditions, overuse of the land and the declining economy were all factors that forced people from their homes, states and lives.

I have noted before, that I am a big fan of Caroline A. Henderson. I love her ability to walk a reader back into her time and place. Cooper opens his book with an introduction that features a quote by Henderson. He then does a wonderful job of culling specific Henderson text to compliment his overall message of dust bowl life. A particularly poignant story highlights just how harsh country life had become. Henderson talks about how a bedraggled jackrabbit, once a master of the open prairie, had sought refuge in her woodpile.

Cooper goes on to outline the laws and programs Roosevelt instituted in his first few months of office to help turn the economy around and put people back to work. He uses a combination of songs, oral histories and news accounts to describe how migrants traveled any way they could to get to the promise that was California. But once there, they faced discrimination, prejudice and continued unemployment. It took the onset of WWII to turn the economy around.

Black and white photographs, newspaper headlines and posters fill nearly every page making the book visually appealing. Woody Guthrie song lyrics add an authentic flavor to the period the book discusses. There is also a comprehensive appendix that lists books, websites, movies and museum information for student who want to learn more about the dust bowl and the 1930’s.
Cooper, Michael L. Dust to Eat : Drought and Depression in the 1930's. Clarion Books, 2004.

1 comment:

Donna Jones Koppelman said...

What a helpful, insightful blog. A truly great resource. Thank you for your time and attention to detail on this fascinating topic.