The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and If It Rains: Jennifer L. Wright on how a classic inspired her new story

June 29, 2021


In the new historical novel If It Rains by Jennifer L. Wright, two sisters cherish a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as they struggle amidst harsh realities of the Dust Bowl. If It Rains has subtle nods to this classic tale. Read on to learn why Jennifer wove hints of the story into her own book and why The Wonderful Wizard of Oz meant so much to her heroines.

Like most parents, my own have a favorite story they tell about me as a child.

From a very early age, I had an obsession with the movie The Wizard of Oz. I watched it almost daily, and I even insisted on dressing up as a green witch (not just any witch—it had to be a green witch) for Halloween.

The only problem? The movie scared the absolute living daylights out of me.

Despite my demands to watch, I would hide behind my father’s chair every single time the Wicked Witch of the West came on screen. And when the Flying Monkeys were introduced, I couldn’t even stay in the same room. As anyone who has seen the film can attest, this meant I spent a fairly large chunk of time cowering in fear.

So why in the world did I keep asking to see it?

To my parents’ great amusement, I couldn’t give them an answer back then. To this day, I’m still not even sure why I kept torturing myself so. All I know is there was something about The Wizard of Oz movie that resonated with me as a young child, something that continued as I got older and immersed myself in L. Frank Baum’s books. Something that eventually, all these years later, wove itself into the core of my first published novel, If It Rains.

At the heart of Melissa and Kathryn’s relationship lies a deep love of books, with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz holding special significance to the two sisters. The land of Oz is a magical escape from the oftentimes harsh and mundane reality of life on the Plains; later, as the drought settles in and circumstances begin to pull the girls apart, it is Oz that reminds them not only of happier times, but of their unbreakable bond. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and others become a source of stability—a comforting, tangible constant in a world of unimaginable change, when even the ground beneath them becomes an ever-shifting nightmare.

Though I am so thankful not to have lived and experienced the horrors of the Dust Bowl, my life has also been a series of continual changes. After spending my first twenty-four years in a fairly ordinary, small-town existence, I found myself in the whirlwind of military life. I married an Air Force pilot and, within months, moved to Germany . . . then South Korea . . . then Nevada . . . then Arizona . . .

And on and on and on.

For over twenty years, I’d lived in one state. With the exception of a few minor changes (going away to college, for example) I’d had the same group of friends, the same life experiences, the same background of cornfields and gently rolling hills. Suddenly nothing was the same. New people, new landscape, even a new language, in some cases. My slow, steady, predictable life was now a lesson in consistent chaos.

The one thing I had—besides my relationship with the Lord, of course—was books. Books went with me wherever I moved. I never had to say good-bye to them. I never had to leave them behind. In a lifestyle where relationships started and ended in the snap of a finger, I clung to books like a raft in the middle of a storm. Books kept me grounded. Books kept me steady. And books—especially ones from my childhood—connected me to home.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Charlotte’s Web. Matilda.

And The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

When I began my research into the Dust Bowl, I was struck by the strength of those who lived through it, both those who fled and those who stayed behind. Each option came with its own hardships, its own adaptations, and its own heartaches. Uprooting your family meant a new life away from everything familiar—starting over, often with nothing more than memories and a dream. Staying behind, on the other hand, meant adopting a whole new way of doing life; when the earth itself rebels against your efforts to tame it, you must find a way to work with it . . . or risk starvation or suffocation.

As I pieced together Melissa’s and Kathryn’s stories, I knew they would need something to bond them together even as they spent so many months apart. Naturally, I turned to my own source of comfort as inspiration: books. More specifically, my childhood books, and the one whose story and setting drew me in before I could even understand why: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

But even though I’m an adult now and not scared of anything (*cough, cough*), I still left out the Wicked Witch and the Flying Monkeys. Just in case.

Download the book club kit for If It Rains, the new historical fiction novel by debut author Jennifer L. Wright