Sunday, March 27, 2011

Picture Book: Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs

Summary of Dust Devil:  
Swamp Angel, otherwise known as Angelica Longrider, moves to Montana because she is too big for Tennessee.  With no trees or mountains near her new prarie home, the sun wakes her early each morning.  As a result, Swamp Angel plucks the tallest mountain from the Rockies and plants it east of her ranch.  Now she has shade and a later sun rise.  All her neighbors want a mountain too, so Angel grabs several more and places them along the prairie.  Soon after, the worst dust storm anyone had ever seen hits the plains.  The air is so thick with dust that neither sun nor moon light can get through.  Deciding it is time for that storm to quit horsing around, Angel springs right on its back, riding it all the way to what is now (as a result of the storm) the Grand Canyon.  After three days, she finds that in the middle of that tempest is a giant horse!  After taming the wild beast, he becomes her faithful sidekick, Dust Devil.  She has finally found a horse powerful enough to carry her.  Together, they chase down and outwit Backward Bart and his mosquito flying gang who are stealing the money out of everyone’s piggy bank along the plains!  Backward Bart’s capture causes the development of the Saw Tooth Mountain Range, the California Gold Rush, and the numerous geysers throughout the state of Montana!  Well, so the legend says. 

Like Thunder Rose, Dust Devil is a tall tale focusing on a female legend of the old west.   Author Anne Isaacs uses colorful language and images in her descriptions.  The heroic protagonist is cunning, determined, and helpful.  The pictures (by Paul O. Zelinsky) illustrate much of the excitement and creativity of the narrative, like the battle between Swamp Angel on her giant horse and Backward Bart’s gang on their enormous flying mosquitoes as well as Angel’s ride through the countryside on a colossal dust storm.  Like ancient myths, the tall tale provides an explanation for natural events and land features, such as the mountains, geysers, and dust storms.  The narrative entertains and prompts some excellent learning opportunities. 

Teaching Opportunities:
·         History—Discover what important historical events occurred in 1821 as well as the political and cultural climate of the era; click here and here for examples
·         Geography—Use a map to learn about the important geographical features of Montana; compare them to the descriptions in Dust Devil  (i.e. geysers, Saw Tooth Range, free standing mountains--buttes); Check out Netstate and MontanaKids
·         Science—Read about dust storms:  how they develop, how long they last, and the damage that can result
·         Cooking—Make some sourdough biscuits
·         History—Learn about the California Gold Rush and/or famous outlaws of the Old West
·         Art—Draw a Wanted Poster of an outlaw of your own creation
·         Literature—Identify characteristics of a tall tale and connect them to the narrative; Compare Dust Devil to Thunder Rose
·         Figurative Language—Identify the alliteration, similes, and other figurative language
·         Comprehension Skills—Identify cause/effect relationships in the narrative

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