Next Year

h1 August 8th, 2017 by jules

“I remember that morning. So different from all the other mornings: Cool. Clear.
A run-to-my-cousin’s-house-and-play-outside, windless, hopeful day …”


Know what I like to see, dear Imps? The artwork of Gary Kelley. (Here’s a 2014 case-in-point.) He has illustrated a new picture book, coming to shelves next month. Ruth Vander Zee’s Next Year: Hope in the Dust (Creative Editions) is a stark and stirring tribute to the horrors of the American Dust Bowl in the 1930s. But, ultimately, it’s a story of hope (as the sub-title tells us), this story of one family’s extended struggle with dust and drought and a boy who grows into adulthood, determined to preserve the land his family owned.

The author captures with precise and evocative language the before-and-after of the traumatic events of the Dust Bowl. In the opening spread, a young boy plays with his friends: “I remember that morning,” the book opens. It’s Black Sunday, April 14, 1935. It was a “windless, hopeful day.” The next spread shows the same illustration on the book’s cover. It’s a dramatic moment, “like midnight in the middle of the day.” The wordless spread following that is utter blackness, save the family’s tiny home at the bottom of the spread, engulfed in darkness.



The book’s title comes from the father’s insistence that “it’s gonna be better next year.” A closing author’s note also explains that “next year” was a phrase uttered by many people during this time period. The boy observes, however, that the next-years aren’t actually ones that have improved upon the past. The boy attends school but researches better ways to farm in his spare time. His family stays as other families flee to California. When the boy is nearly 17 years old, the rains come. “The land takes a deep breath and sucks the water into itself,” the author writes, taking “great gulps from the downpour that follows.” Even with this, the boy’s parents decide to leave. But he stays:

“I know it’ll be hard, but I’m going to plow my father’s fields on my own. I look out at the small green shoots finally growing in our field and know that I am home. And I say to myself, next year it’s gonna be better.”

Kelley’s artwork is detailed and cinematic. As always, he communicates a great deal with color and shadows. Beautiful. Here are some spreads.


“But in the later afternoon … a dust cloud covers the north-to-south, east-to-west sky. Like midnight in the middle of the day, without moon and stars.”
(Click to enlarge spread)


“Biting winds blow knives of sand into my skin.
I can’t see my hand in front of my face ….”

(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


“She looks at me and wails, ‘I left the window open to air out the house! Now look!’
Dad stares at the kerosene lamp flickering dull shadows on the wall.
He looks like a beaten-up kid. …”

(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


“But then … towards the end of my sixteenth year, a bluish cloud covers the
north-to-south, east-to-west sky. It settles overhead.
Hopeful. Promising. A gentle rain falls. …”

(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


“… Dad says, ‘Calvin, your ma and I talked. We can’t do this anymore.'”
(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


“… Somehow, I can’t leave. In some strange way,
I love what I’ve hated for so long. …”

(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


“And I say to myself, next year it’s gonna be better.”
(Click to enlarge and see spread in its entirety)


* * * * * * *

NEXT YEAR: HOPE IN THE DUST. Text copyright © 2017 by Ruth Vander Zee. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by Gary Kelley and reproduced by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, Minnesota.

3 comments to “Next Year

  1. Wow, these are beautiful – and the title is haunting. “Next Year” is … both a hope and a trap, and it’s a deeply complex thing to explore in picture book form. Farmers remain on the cusp at all times, and yet, live in hope. Gorgeous.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Jules! It’s gorgeous. Going to order it now.

  3. Thanks so much for this post! I’m a very big Gary Kelley fan as well and this looks spectacular.

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