Book Review: Hoping for Rain

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Other Books in This Series

• On the Eve of Revolution
• Servant to Abigail Adams
• Escape to Freedom
• Cowboys on the Western Trail
• Our Journey West
• We Came Through Ellis Island
• When the Mission Padre Came to the Rancho

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The latest book in National Geographic's great I Am American series is Kate Connell's Hoping for Rain. As with other books in the series, it is historical fiction with a good ring of truth to it. The subject this time is the Dust Bowl days and years of the 1930s, and the main characters are Patty and Earl, members of the Buckler family living in Oklahoma.

Patty is a 12-year-old girl who works hard on the farm owned by her parents and grandparents, all of whom live and work on the farm as well. Earl is a 16-year-old boy whose early adventures include riding the rails to California in search of opportunity and adventure.

The book is on the surface a good examination of how difficult and challenging life in the Dust Bowl Great Plains was, complete with a map showing the states hardest hit. Patty's diary (one of the main plot devices) makes plenty of mention of black blizzards and "everlasting dust," as well as neighbors who have had to give up their farms and move because of crop failures and bankruptcies.

The author includes a few brushes with familiar characters, including Patty's Uncle Jack's meeting Dorothea Lange, the famous government photographer who captured the plight of the Midwest's migrants so poignantly in shots like Migrant Mother. Some other nice details are included as well, including this gem: "On dirty days, Grandma waved a wet dishtowel through the air to collect dust."

Patty and Earl are good at writing to each other, and Earl is equally dutiful in writing to his parents about his adventures in California. This reinforces the idea that the Bucklers are a tight-knit family forced to split up by dire circumstances. This is no more true than when the Patty's parents decided to take her and her younger brother, Pete, to California to live. Pete was four years younger than Patty and was having repeated coughing fits and trouble breathing, mostly due to the ever-present dust.

The Bucklers travel along the famous Route 66 westward to what they hope is a new Land of Plenty, writing letters along the way. When they reach California, they find varying levels of prosperity, yet another lesson that life is not always greener on the other side of expectations.

All in all, this is a great little book, an excellent introduction to the Dust Bowl and the devastation it handed down to thousands of Americans during the Great Depression. As with her other books in this series, Connell has an eye and an ear for what young readers want to learn.

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David White