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Treasures in the Dust By Tracey

Treasures in the Dust

Author: Tracey Porter

Summary: Annie and Violet are best friends and neighbors. They live in Cimarron County, Oklahoma, during the Dust Period. Annie is happiest on the ground, sifting through the dust for traces of the past. But Violet is a dreamer always playing make believe to escape, to fly away from the dusty land. In this beautifully crafted first novel, poet Tracey Porter joins together two unique voices to tell a larger story of America, its hopes and dreams, during a time when thousands fled their prairie homes in search of work, food, and shelter.  Annie and Violet's story is one of friendship and courage--treasures shining through in the face of hardship.

Unit Prepared by Helena Gosline



     Locate Oklahoma on your map.  Point out that Annie and Violet lived in the panhandle of Oklahoma.  Show them where that is.  A panhandle is a section of a nation, state, or territory that resembles a panhandle when viewed on a map.  This is one area that was greatly affected by the Dust Bowl.  Using a blank outline map of the United States, I had my children color with a brown crayon the areas greatly affected which were portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico.  (Here is a map showing the affected areas.)  Then with a lighter crayon they colored other areas that were affected but not as much.  This just extended a little from the main points.  They also labeled the four states above.

     Trace the possible route that Violet’s family may have taken when they headed west.  Remember some of the landmarks that she mentioned in her letters.  (Holbrook, Arizona, Route 66, Sangre De Cristo Mountains, Mojave Desert, and San Joaquin Valley)



     Add the Dust Bowl to your timeline.  Sources differ in the exact years but it was basically 1934-1937.  Discuss what the Dust Bowl is.  Poor agricultural practices and years of severe drought caused the dust bowl.  During the years when the crops were plentiful they planted more and more crops.  During the Dust Bowl period nothing would grow.  The ground cover that held the soil in place was gone.  The winds blew across the fields blowing clouds of dust.  No mater how the people tried there was so much dust that they could not keep it out of their house or things.  This time was also known as the Dirty Thirty’s.  One thing the farmers learned from this was to take care of the land.   Parents, you may wish to explore PBS's Surving the Dust Bowl for more information to share as appropriate with your student.


*  We watched the movie Skylark.  This story did not take place during the Dust Bowl but it was about a family who lived on the plains during a drought.


*  Another movie is Grapes of Wrath.  The book is based a lot on this book; however, you may want to preview the movie before you show it to your children.


     The Comanche Indians ~ Annie wanted to be an archeologist.  Archeology is the study of human cultures from around the world and throughout time.  Archeologists find and study items that people from the past have left behind to discover more about the people and the past.  An artifact that Annie found belonged to the Comanche Indians that had lived in her area years before. 


Comanche Indians


Past:  Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, & Kansas


Now:  Most live in Oklahoma and Texas (They do not have a reservation.)


Buffalo meat and other animals they hunted, fruit and vegetables from the land




Men:  breechcloths (Piece of deerskin)

         Winter (robes and high boots)


Women:  loose, long-sleeved dresses often decorated with fringe and beads.



The Comanche Indians were known for being great warriors and horse riders.  They lived by hunting.   When the European settlers came, the Comanche’s fought hard to keep their land.  They also fought for their freedom.  



* Physical Education:  A game the Commanches liked to play was Shinny


·         The game shinny is played like hockey. There are two teams, and they play against each other, both trying to hit the ball into the opponent’s goal.

·         The object is to whack the ball into the opponent’s goal. To do this, you need to pass the ball, or just hit it as hard as you can.


                  One tennis ball

                  Baseball bats/ hokey stick (one for each player)



Divide players into two teams.  Use tape to mark the goal line for each team.  Place the ball in the middle of the playing area.  Stand behind your team’s piece of tape.  When the signal to start is given run onto the playing area.  Use the bat/stick to hit the ball past the other team’s goal line.  Your team scores one point when the ball passes the other team’s goal line.


* Art:  Make a beaded necklace like the Comanches did.


3)     Shirley Temple ~ In the book Violet talks about how much she likes Shirley Temple and she talks about the show Little Miss Broadway.  Look Shirley up in the encyclopedia and discuss her.  (Here is a link to info in the Wikipedia.)  She was a child actress that played an important role during the Depression years.  During such hard times, she brought laughter to people.  Add her to your time line and watch Little Miss Broadway or another one of her shows.



Language Arts:

Readers we used while studying this book

The American Girl Kit Books
Dust for Dinner by Ann Turner
The Dust Bowl by Ann Heinriches
Leah's Pony ( We actually did the lessons for this HSS unit as well)

Other Language Arts Activities:


1)     Letter writing


a.        Friendly letter ~ read one of the letters in the story and identify each of the parts.


(Date) August 30, 2006


Dear ______, (Greeting)



________________ Body ________________________



                                                   Love, (Closing)





b.        Business letter ~ Discuss the difference between the types of letters and when you would use each.


Your Address

City, state, zip



Company name

Their Address

City, state, zip


Dear Sirs, (Greeting)


_________________ Body ________________________





                                                      Your Name


2)     Envelope ~ show how to address an envelope


3)     Creative Writing ~ Have your children write a letter to anyone they want.  The person can be real or someone from the story.  Have them to pretend to be living during the time period of the Dust Bowl.  They are to write letter either as someone who stayed behind or as someone who is traveling west.  Their letter should include some of the struggles they are facing. 


4)     Discuss the parts of a Story and identify each for this story.


a.        Setting ~ where the story takes place

b.        Characters ~ the people in the story

c.         Plot ~ what the story is about

d.        Conclusion ~ what happens at the end of the story   




1)  Soil ~ Annie wanted to be an archeologist.  Archeologist find most of their treasures by digging in the soil.  They must be very careful and they use special tools.  We did an experiment with soil.  We gathered 3 samples of soil.  One from our year, one from the church’s yard, and one from papa’s yard.  We examined each of these samples with a magnifying glass. We glued each sample to a piece of paper labeling where it came from.  Under each sample we recorded what we found in each soil.  Our sample we found rocks, sticks, dirt, and grass.  In the church’s sample, we found clay, grass, rocks, and roots.  In papa’s we found rocks, dirt, roots, pine straw, sticks, and grass.  On the outside cover of their project book they wrote soil contains:  sand, rocks, and clay.

2)  Rocks ~ We made a book which we cut into a shape of something that looked like a rock.  On the first 3 pages of their book they wrote the 3 types of Rocks:  Igneous rocksedimentary rock, and metamorphic rock.   They also defined these three types of rocks.  Igneous rock are formed from magma (melted rock).    Sedimentary rock are formed from smaller bits of matter and bits of other rock that settle.  Metamorphic rocks form when something (heat, pressure, chemical) changes the original rock. 

* We also did some experiments that were fun.  They drew a picture of everything they saw in their rock book.


a.       For igneous rocks we grew crystals.  This took a few days.  They drew what they saw every few days.


b.       For sedimentary rocks we took a clear jar with a lid and put pebbles, sand, twigs, and small leaves in it. Then we added Ľ cup of Epsom salts and water until there was about 2” space at the top.  Put the lid on and shake.  When it is all mixed, let it sit and record  what you see every hour.


Make sandstones (a kind of sedimentary rock).  Mix 2 cups sand, 1-cup water, 1 cup cornstarch in an old saucepan.  Cook it slowly until it thickens.  Let it cool then mold it.  Let it dry and harden then paint.


c.       Metamorphic Rock ~ we loved this one !!!!!!!!!   Materials needed ~ 2 cups mini-marshmallows, 1 cup chocolate chips, smooth peanut butter, waxed paper.  Mix marshmallows and chocolate chips in a bowl.  Add just enough peanut butter so the mixture clumps together.  Take some   mixture and make a “rock” then put the “rock” on the wax paper.  Right now the rocks resemble sedimentary rocks.  Heat the   “rocks” until the marshmallows melt.  Now enjoy your new rock.  The rock changed its form and structure because of the heat




3) Drought ~ an extended period of below-normal rainfall. 


We discussed the Water Cycle:


            Evaporation is when the sun heats up water

in rivers or lakes or the ocean and turns it

into vapor or steam.  The water vapor or

steam leaves the river, lake or ocean and

goes into the air.



Condensation is when the water vapor in the

air gets cold and changes back into liquid,

forming clouds


Precipitation occurs when so much water has

condensed that the air cannot hold it

anymore.  The clouds get heavy and water

falls back to the earth in the form of rain,

hail or snow.



* You may show the phase evaporation by heating a kettle of water on the stove.  The steam you see would be the vapor raising.  The heat could be related to the sun.  Then I took a frozen container out of the freezer and suggested that this could represent when the air gets cold and forms a cloud.  I held the frozen container over the kettle and little droplets began to fall, which showed precipitation


4)     The Soil Conservation Project was the best way to make sure that we have the land we need to live on.  There farmers were taught to prevent the soil from There  farmers were taught to prevent the soil from eroding you need to protect it with grass or plants.  They were give other techniques as well such as rotating your crops .



1)     Graphs -- During your study of this book keep a record of the weather for the week.  (Sun, Snow, Rain, Cloudy)  At the end of the study graph it and see how many days you had of each.  Which one did you have more of/less.  Did it rain?  Does your area have a
deficient at this time?

2) Area and Perimeter:

Perimeter – the distance around a figure like a rectangle/square.

Area – the number of square units in a rectangle/square, found by multiplying the factors, or dimensions.

Draw some rectangles or squares that represent Annie and Violets’ farm and determine the Perimeter and/or Area.


If Annie’s farm was 10’ wide and 5’ long what was the area of their farm?  50’

If Violet’s farm was in the shape of a square and it was 10’ feet long what would be the perimeter of their farm?  10+10+10+10=


Draw pictures of the plains during the Dust Bowl using charcoal pencils.



Our main copy work and memory work for the week was: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1


To go along with the soil and rock topics discuss the following verses: Matthew 7:24 and Matthew 7:26.  We copied the verse Matthew 7:24 and discussed it.  They drew a picture of a house built on rocks.  Then we discussed the Efile Tower and how it was built on solid ground.  They glued a picture of the tower with their verse and picture.   When we copied and discussed Matthew 7:26 they drew a house built on sand.  Then we discussed The Leaning Tower of Pisa and how it was built on soft ground.  They glued a picture of this with the picture they drew.