Hesse, Karen. 1997. OUT OF THE DUST. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN 0590371258
2. PLOT SUMMARY
OUT OF THE DUST is about a young girl named Billie Jo Kelby who keeps a journal over two years about her family struggles living in Oklahoma. From the beginning Billie Jo seems to do everything wrong and is always getting in people way including her mother and father. The one thing that she does really well and makes her happier than anything in the world is playing the piano. After a horrible accident of a pail of kerosene and the stove, Billie Jo’s mom is severely burned and later dies from giving birth to a baby boy who also dies. During the accident Billie Jo also gets burned but mainly on her hands which make it very painful to play the piano and therefore taking away her only passion. Over the next year Billie Jo and her father don’t have much of a relationship because Billie Jo blames herself for her mothers death and her father doesn’t really know to raise a child be himself. After Billie Jo gets her dream of leaving the dust in Oklahoma she realizes that she really wanted something else and it is back in Oklahoma.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Karen Hesse is an amazing story teller and a beautiful poet. As you are reading through the book you are so engrossed with the story that you forget that each chapter is a poem combined to make this story. The language Hesse uses to describe the setting and emotions of Billie Jo is perfect. You could close your eyes and picture the house, school building, and characters in the story. Also, how she describes Billie Jo on the second page is funny yet awkward. “.. always getting in Ma’s way with my pointy elbows, my fidgety legs.”
There are also several times when the lines of the poem are different from this rest of the book, which makes me think she wanted those poems to stand out. One of those poems is titled ‘On Stage” and this signified the first time Billie Jo got to play the piano in front of an audience. “It’s the best I’ve ever felt, playing hot piano..”
The topic of this book is Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl during the Great Depression and the story of this young girl growing up. Since there are so many topics covered in the book I think students of all ages could enjoy this book. It is also a book that students could share with their parents and grandparents who lived through these times.
OUT OF THE DUST received the 1998 Newberry Award and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction.
4. REVIEW EXCERPTS
*Publishers Weekly- “This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma along with the discontent of narrator Billy Jo, a talented pianist growing up during the Depression.”
*Children’s Literature- “The always-inventive author of A Time of Angels has done it again. She's found a new approach to telling a compelling historical tale. In this "novel" she renders the story of a young girl struggling to survive the dust bowl through first person narrative poems.”
*The ALAN Review- “Please read this book. You will agree with me (and with the committee which selected it for the 1997 Newbery Medal) that it is a distinguished novel, richly meriting as wide a readership as possible among teens, among adults. It is very good.”
*Read other books by Karen Hesse. COME ON, RAIN! ISBN 9780590331258
*Discuss the events of the Great Depression and research its affect on people throughout the United States.
*Students can write about objects or people that make them happy and why.