NEXT YEAR © 2017
Creative Editions
Author: Ruth Vander Zee / Illustrator: Gary Kelley
Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Reviews, Marya Jansen-Gruber, August 2017

On April 14, 1935, the sun comes up, and a beautiful, cool, and clear morning is born. Calvin runs over to his cousin’s house, and the children play together, delighting in the “hopeful day.” Alas, in the late afternoon, a dust cloud blows in, a wall of blackness that blots out the sky and the sun. Calvin cannot see where he is going as he heads home, his hand on a fence so that he does not get lost.

When he walks in the door of his home, he is met by another cloud, a deep feeling of despair. His mother stands ankle-deep in sand, and his father sits at the table looking like “a beaten-up kid.”

Not that long ago, Calvin got to enjoy clear skies, rain, and the sight of golden wheat ripening in the fields. He got to enjoy seeing his mother’s pretty, smiling face, to drink milk that wasn’t gritty, and to sleep on a clean pillow every night. Then, four years ago, everything changed when the rain stopped and dust storms scoured the land. Crops withered or were eaten by hungry rabbits, cattle had to be sold before they perished, and children started dying of dust pneumonia. Year after year, Calvin’s dad said, “‘Next year, it’s gonna get better,’” but it hasn’t gotten better.

Worn out by disappointment and heartache, Calvin’s dad is desperate, and so Calvin sets about learning everything he can about better methods of farming. Perhaps if they change their practices, the land will heal and the rain will come back. Perhaps he can save the farm in spite of everything.

This powerful picture book brings to life what it was like to live through the Dust Bowl years on a farm that was affected by this appalling natural disaster. We are witnesses to the suffering that Calvin and his family are subjected to, but we also witness the way in which Calvin does his best to bring about change. Somehow he clings to hope, even when everything feels hopeless.

Throughout the book, a lyrical text is paired with beautiful artwork to give readers a reading experience that is both deeply moving and memorable.