Ruby’s Hope – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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Title: Ruby’s Hope, A Story of How the Famous “Migrant Mother” Photograph Became the Face of the Great Depression

Author: Monica Kulling

Illustrator: Sarah Dvojack

 Publisher: Page Street Publishing, McMillan, 2019

Genre: fictionalized biography

Ages: 6-10

Themes: Great Depression, poverty, photography, famine, Oklahoma, Dorothea Lange, migrant workers, photo biography, “Migrant Mother” photo, dust bowl


In 1929, the stock market crashed. Millions lost their savings, and their homes. Then came the drought. The ground grew nothing but thistles and dust. Dust buried tractors, killed cattle, and billowed into blizzards that turned day into night.


Dorothea Lange’s Depression-era “Migrant Mother” photograph is an icon of American history. Behind this renowned portrait is the story of a family struggling against all odds to survive.

Dust storms and dismal farming conditions force young Ruby’s family to leave their home in Oklahoma and travel to California to find work. As they move from camp to camp, Ruby sometimes finds it hard to hold on to hope. But on one fateful day, Dorothea Lange arrives with her camera and takes six photographs of the young family. When one of the photographs appears in the newspaper, it opens the country’s eyes to the reality of the migrant workers’ plight and inspires an outpouring of much needed support.

Why I like this book:

I love How Monica Kulling comes up with neglected topics or ones most people wouldn’t consider for a picture book, yet this is a key piece of US/World History and certainly merits an age appropriate book, which this is.

Florence Owens Thompson, a Native American of the Cherokee Nation, born in 1903 was the real “Migrant Mother,” who left Oklahoma with her family during the 1930’s drought. Monica Kulling used the real names of the people in this family, but fictionalizes the events that led up to the taking of the famous picture, which has come to epitomize so much of the depression era. Centering the story on the fictional perspective of Ruby, the Migrant Mother’s middle daughter, makes that moment thoroughly accessible to younger readers. Ruby and her family’s suffering yet courage and hope in the face of adversity come across clearly through bleak illustrations, Ruby’s reactions and simple family conversations. It brings the dust bowl, poverty, migrant experience and hope vividly alive. Seeing the Great Depression through an endearing innocent child’s eyes packs a powerful literary punch.

Teachers will be eager to include this text in their classrooms to teach: what their forbears endured to survive, the cultural significance of this photograph, and maybe some economics with older students.

Kulling, of course, includes the photograph of The Migrant Mother, and I think it is appropriate for even young children to see. Sarah Dvojack manages to convey raw poverty and family closeness in hear beautiful art. This is a terrific biographical text of a momentous time in US history.


Back matter includes an author’s note, a bibliography and page on how the “Migrant Mother” came to be.

Duckster’s Education site facts on the Great Depression

SocialStudies.Org lesson plans for 5th grade on Great Depression

NEA Tools, The Great Depression for Kids

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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7 Responses to Ruby’s Hope – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. What a wonderful way to help children understand the great depression. I was not familiar with the famous photo of the Migrant mother. I learned a great deal. And I watched both your videos. My parents were young children and I they shared stories about that time period. They lived on farms.

    I was interested in the video discussion about Roosevelt’s CCC and YCC (youth) camps put people back to work. I know the camps were still around in some of our state parks in the 1970s. Made me wonder how many exist around the country and might they provide work to those in need today and help the environment at the same time. Sorry — am always thinking outside the box.

    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I always so appreciate the thoughtfulness of your comments. You so often help me think further about the topics and issues of these lovely books.

  2. Patricia Nozell says:

    Great review! I’ve requested this from my library. BTW, MoMA has a Dorothea Lange exhibition starting February 9th that I can’t wait to see.

  3. I just read this book. It’s an interesting approach to create a story around this iconic photograph, helping the story strike a chord with young readers. Some of the illustrations reminded me of Matt Phelan’s graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, also about the Dust Bowl era. Have you read it?

  4. I read this one for the Cybils. Glad it made it into the top 8. It is a remarkable historical fiction PB. This is a great review. I love your activities! And I’m also struck by Pat’s musings.

  5. That photo has been one of my favorites – so I definitely need to get ahold of this book! Thanks for sharing your review. You really add context.

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