"Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp," by Jerry Stanley, was published in 1993. The book relates the story of children at a relief camp in California for impoverished families. "Children of the Dust Bowl" is filled with historical photographs of children who lived during the Great Dust Bowl. Stanley is author of several books for young readers, particularly about California history and the American West.
The book begins by introducing readers to the children at the relief camp, known as "Weedpatch Camp" because it is on a destitute piece of property. The relief camp provides shelter and refuge for families dislocated from Great Plains states because of the Great Dust Bowl. Years of drought rendered these agricultural regions unlivable, forcing many people to move to California to find jobs harvesting grapes in the burgeoning vineyards. But there were too few jobs, forcing families to live at relief camps. Children at "Weedpatch Camp" are teased and tormented by other kids in the local community. They are called "dumb Okies" and told they will never be able to pursue an education at public school because they are intellectually inferior.
The superintendent at the relief camp decides to build a school for the children. He begins reconstructing two ruined buildings in town, even though townsfolk tell him he is foolish for having hope for the children. The children labor to renovate the derelict buildings into classrooms, a science lab and a shop for carpentry, engineering and mechanical trades. Mr. Hart also adds a small farm on the school property. The students learn basic reading, writing and math skills, as well as technical trades, such as animal husbandry, shoe cobbling and engineering.
Students at the "Okie school" are very motivated to learn because they built the school with their own hands. They are determined to overcome hardship and achieve success. Within a few years, enrollment soars. The curriculum expands to provide nontraditional subjects. Suddenly, parents of children at public schools want to send their children to the "Okie school," which has become prestigious and established a name for itself around the state.
The book ends by describing how the emergency school is eventually disbanded. In California and across the nation, economic conditions have improved, and families have moved out of relief camps to cities and towns that support labor and jobs. The first children who attended the school have become teachers, doctors, engineers and other professionals. Their story reminds readers that no matter what others say, a person can his pursue dreams as long as he is willing to persevere.
- BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images