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Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust

4.1 375
by Karen Hesse

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This gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo's struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression. With stoic courage, she learns to cope with the loss of her mother and her grieving father's slow deterioration. There is hope at the end when Billie Jo's badly burned hands are healed, and


This gripping story, written in sparse first-person, free-verse poems, is the compelling tale of Billie Jo's struggle to survive during the dust bowl years of the Depression. With stoic courage, she learns to cope with the loss of her mother and her grieving father's slow deterioration. There is hope at the end when Billie Jo's badly burned hands are healed, and she is able to play her beloved piano again. The 1998 Newbery Medal winner.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. Unlike her father, who refuses to abandon his failing farm ("He and the land have a hold on each other"), Billy Jo is eager to "walk my way West/ and make myself to home in that distant place/ of green vines and promise." She wants to become a professional musician and travel across the country. But those dreams end with a tragic fire that takes her mother's life and reduces her own hands to useless, "swollen lumps." Hesse's (The Music of Dolphins) spare prose adroitly traces Billy Jo's journey in and out of darkness. Hesse organizes the book like entries in a diary, chronologically by season. With each meticulously arranged entry she paints a vivid picture of Billy Jo's emotions, ranging from desolation ("I look at Joe and know our future is drying up/ and blowing away with the dust") to longing ("I have a hunger,/ for more than food./ I have a hunger/ bigger than Joyce City") to hope (the farmers, surveying their fields,/ nod their heads as/ the frail stalks revive,/ everyone, everything, grateful for this moment,/ free of the/ weight of dust"). Readers may find their own feelings swaying in beat with the heroine's shifting moods as she approaches her coming-of-age and a state of self-acceptance. Ages 11-13. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
This Newbery Medal winner is written as a series of free verse poems by fourteen-year-old Billie Jo who creates incredible images to keep her soul alive in the bleakness of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Depression. Through her eyes we see the dust's coming "like a fired locomotive" that "hisses against the windows" and feel its textures as "my lowered face was scrubbed raw by dirt and wind. / Grit scratched my eyes, / it crunched between my teeth...." She tells of its treachery too, until it becomes almost a character in the book; a setting threatening takeover. And it might, if the character's voice and plot weren't so strong. Billie Jo writes of how she accidentally sets her mother on fire with a bucket of burning kerosene, how she fights to put out the flames, and is scarred physically and emotionally as her mother, nine months pregnant, delivers and dies in agony. "She smells like scorched meat. / Her body groaning there, / it looks nothing like my ma. / It doesn't even have a face." Billie Jo's swollen lumps of hands won't let her help her suffering mother, or play the piano, which once comforted her. The novel is harsh and ugly, strong stuff that made my eleven-year-old cry when we read it aloud. But the similes shine like jewels in dark caves, lighting the heroine, finally, to a resolution she can live with.
The ALAN Review - Ted Hipple
Set in the drought-stricken dust bowl of Oklahoma of the 30s, written in free verse, told by as memorable a heroine as you will meet in YA literature, Out of the Dust will wrench your gut. You will meet fifteen-year-old Billie Jo, not yet defeated by the Grapes of Wrath kind of poverty that grinds families to the very dust that ruins them; she is helped in her resolve by her mother. But then in a bizarre accident, one Billie Jo played an innocent but deadly part in, her mother is killed. Her father cannot cope, and Billie Jo is left with just her own personal resources. These, however, are considerable. 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.
Children's Literature - Gisela Jernigan
It's 1934 in the Oklahoma Panhandle and fourteen-year-old Billie Jo must face the devastation of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Told in a very convincing, first person, poetic style, the listener comes to feel great empathy and admiration for Billie Jo's indomitable spirit. The audiotape version of this Newbery novel is especially well done and the skilled narrator really helps bring this striking free-verse novel to life. It makes for a riveting listening experience for older children, teens and adults. (Two audiocassettes).
Children's Literature - Alexandria LaFaye
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. Young Billie Jo tells her story in a series of thoughtful and touching poems as she tries to come to terms with the horrific death of her mother, the loss of her talent to play the piano, and the threat of losing her father to long cancer. In this testament to the strength of one girl's will, Hesse takes a poetic turn at telling the story of the Oklahoma dust bowl during the Great Depression.
VOYA - Sarah K. Herz
Fourteen-year-old Billie Jo Kelby's story begins in the winter of 1934 in the Oklahoma Panhandle. In a series of evocative, free verse poems, Billie Jo helps us understand important moments and personal experiences within her family and community. Her poetic images and precise details reveal a community of caring people who share economic hardships with quiet dignity. Her love and respect for her Ma and Daddy are evident as she describes their determination to continue despite the dust storms and drought destroying Daddy's wheat crop and Ma's garden. Though the dust invades every crevice of their lives, they ignore it-setting the table with plates and glasses upside down, cleaning the piano keys so she and her Ma can enjoy their music, sweeping the dust aside. She adores her pregnant Ma, so thin and scrawny, and heeds her rules about chores and homework. Billie Jo's life is shattered in the summer of 1934 when Ma and the baby die in a kitchen fire. She and her father bottle their grief inside themselves. Billi Jo becomes an outsider in her community, as she focuses on death and destruction around her-cows are shot, chickens are suffocated. Her grief and the dust are intertwined. In telling her story, Billie Jo learns about courage, truth, and sorrow; and, by the end of her story in the autumn of 1935, she learns that her anger at the dust storms that have torn at her heart and soul also have strengthened her spirit and will to survive. Billie Jo and Daddy realize they must continue as a family and that they have to forgive themselves. The dust storms, the drought, and the Depression cannot destroy what grows in the heart. This novel celebrates the tenacity of the human spirit. Teenagers can identify with Billie Jo's feelings and problems; they will enjoy reading and discussing the poems season by season as Billie Jo's story unfolds. The book could be used as a complement to a social studies unit about the Depression or read aloud before a study of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, or used as a model for a poetry writing unit. A thoughtful and provocative book for classrooms and libraries. Editor's Note: Out of the Dust is the recipient of the 1998 Newbery Medal and among 1998's ten Best of the Best Books for Young Adults VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
The ALAN Review - Cawood Cornelius
Billie Jo, the 14 year old narrator, uses free verse poems to describe her life from the winter of 1934 to the winter of 1935. The dust bowl era of rural Oklahoma is aptly described while the story develops. Billie Jo, an only child, is an aspiring pianist, while her father and mother struggle to keep the farm going during the dust bowl and Great Depression. Her father leaves a bucket of kerosene next to the stove and her mother, thinking its water, starts a fire. Billie Jo, in an attempt to be helpful, throws the burning bucket out the door. Her mother is drenched in the burning liquid as she starts back in the door after running to get her husband. Mother and her unborn child both die after much suffering. Billie Jo's hands are disfigured in the accident. Billie Jo struggles to help her father and herself overcome this tragedy. Finally, after running away, she realizes that she must face her reality. Out of the Dust is a Newbery Medal Book, as well as the recipient of numerous other awards. It is written in very readable verse arranged chronologically in short poems. It would be an excellent addition to a reading list for social studies or language arts. The teacher's edition discussion and study guide is well organized and includes an interview with the author, as well as activities for a thematic unit across the curriculum.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Fourteen-year-old Billie Jo's life is defined by struggle both physical and emotional. She struggles to forgive her father for causing the accident that killed her mother. She fights a daily battle to survive during the worst days of the Oklahoma dust storms. And she strives to heal her body and her soul when severe burns leave her disfigured and unable to play the music she loves. Set during the time of the Great Depression and written in free verse, Karen Hesse's spare but powerful work (Scholastic, 1997) captures every nuance of Billie Jo's emotions, from heartwrenching sadness at the death of her mother and newborn brother to the challenge of rebuilding a relationship with her embittered father. Read with disarming simplicity and straightforwardness by Marika Mashburn, an Oklahoma native, the titled and dated entries span the course of a year during which Billie Jo's reflections lead her to draw on qualities she never knew she possessed. Powerful and moving, this 1998 Newbery Medal winner is a recommended purchase for all school and public libraries.-Cindy Lombardo, Orrville Public Library, OH
Kirkus Reviews
Billie Jo tells of her life in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl: Her mother dies after a gruesome accident caused by her father's leaving a bucket of kerosene near the stove; Billie Jo is partially responsible—fully responsible in the eyes of the community—and sustains injuries that seem to bring to a halt her dreams of playing the piano. Finding a way through her grief is not made easier by her taciturn father, who went on a drinking binge while Billie Joe's mother, not yet dead, begged for water. Told in free-verse poetry of dated entries that span the winter of 1934 to the winter of 1935, this is an unremittingly bleak portrait of one corner of Depression-era life. In Billie Jo, the only character who comes to life, Hesse (The Music of Dolphins, 1996, etc.) presents a hale and determined heroine who confronts unrelenting misery and begins to transcend it. The poem/novel ends with only a trace of hope; there are no pat endings, but a glimpse of beauty wrought from brutal reality.

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Holt McDougal Library, Middle School Series
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
7.62(w) x 5.24(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Karen Hesse is the award-winning and critically acclaimed author of many books for children. Her titles include WITNESS, THE CATS IN KRASINSKI SQUARE, and the Newbery Medal winner OUT OF THE DUST, among many others. She lives in Vermont with her husband and two teenaged daughters.

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Out of the Dust 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 375 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Out of the Dust This is a very touching story written in all poetry. It features a lot of metaphors, like comparing her piano to her mother. I think this book is appropriate for ages 10-13 because you can relate to the characters better at that age. My favorite poem is "On Stage" on page 13 because I play piano and I know how it feels to be on stage. Some parts were boring, but overall I thought it was a good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Out of the Dust is about a young girl named Billie Jo. She lives on the dry flat lands of Oklahoma with her mother and father. Her mother dies giving birth to what would have been her first sibling. Unfortunatly her new born baby brother dies also. What is wost is that the only thing to calm her done is to play the piano which she can't do because her hands are burnt. Her father does not talk to her any more and she can't get over her mother dieing. so she leaves her dad in the middle of the night to catch a trian. But after a few days she calls he dad and tells him were she is and that she is coming home on the next train. After that they were like a family again and there wheat started growing. Billie Jo ends up going to the doctor and her gives her medicine so she can use her hands again.

I would give this book 5 stars. I like it because you can really tell what the charectors are saying doing and feeling. It isn't a fairy tale or somthing like that it tells what happens in real life today. I feel like I am in the blazzing sun of running away with Billie Jo. I loved this book but make sure you have4 a box of tissues by your side.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is a great book and it should be read by Middle School Students because it tells the story of an often forgotten part of United States history from the perspective of a child. I liked the way it was written also, almost like there was dust everywhere during the writing because the author writes as if she doesn't have a lot of time ot elaborate on details due to the situation around her yet she still conveys the message. Good, easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What I am going to talk about is how the book out of the dust. I am going to tell how Billie Jo life changes after her mom passes away after giving birth to her baby brother who dies after being born. I am also going to tell you how Billie Jo and her father try to overcome the great depression and the dust bowl. Then tell you how her life was when her mother got pregnant. I am also going to tell you the theme of this book.

In the story Billie Jo is a hard working girl like her mother. They work all day to keep the dust out of their home. Her mother is pregnant so that makes her work harder to do the stuff she can¿t. When her father finds out he prays for a boy to help him with the wheat. Billie is excited to get a new brother or sister. She covered the house with plastic to keep the dust off the beds and the living room furniture. During the night and covered the beds during the day. While her mom was pregnant Billie¿s father brought gas into the house for the stove while he was eating breakfast the gas spilled and burned Billie¿s hands bad and burned her mother too. The next week her mom went into the labor then the doctor sent Billie out of the room to get some water, then when she returned her mother and her brother where dead. Later that day her father buried her mom and her brother. They named him Franklin like her mom wanted. After that day her mom passed away Billie and her father barely made eye contact. He was busy with the wheat and she was busy with the house, and Billie Made breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was miserable with the dust Billie had to do cover the house to protect it from the dust.

The theme of this book is ¿always expect the unexpected.¿ I chose this as the theme because Billie and her father thought they were going to be a happy family of a new baby but they weren¿t. Then the wheat started to grow when everyone thought it would stay dead and not grow anymore. When Billie thought her mother was haunted her when it was all in her head. Then Billie thought that maddog didn¿t like her and that he hated her.
My conclusion is that I loved the book because it was heartwarming, sad, and so cool. I loved it because it talks about the past and I love reading books about the past. I loved the way Billie played the piano she was really good; I liked her better than her mama. I thought it was sad when her mother and her brother died. This book gets two thumbs up.
Paul Cantu More than 1 year ago
I gave Out of the Dust a 0/16 because it was BORING! It ran on too long. There was to many details to keep up with. For example the middle was had so many details and no action. The ending was horrible! It was long and boring. In my opinion The book was terrible. DONT READ THIS BOOK!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I gave this book a 3/5 because the plot is sometimes slow. However, I really liked the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Out of the dust is a book about a young child in Oklahoma during the dust bowl. The child is not happy with her life and she just wants to get out of the dust (hints the name). I would give this book a 4/5 rating of family freindlyness because some smaller children may not exactly understand the plot... I would personaly recomend this to 5th-10th grades. Thank you for your time!;) (See my post on 'the boy in the striped pajamas)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommended reading the book Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse because how Hesse portrays the life story of Billy Joe, the main character, is very intriguing and always keeps your attention. It¿s a good story of a family and their struggles during the dust bowl and also during the great depression. Karen explains very clearly the emotions of Billy; and the strength, love, and bravery this girl has as she is going through this life changing experience. I love how Hesse always is writing/ talking about in the book of how much hope Billy has for her family and her piano playing, even with her wounded hands. This book really touched me when, her mother died and everyone in town blamed Billy for it, even her father. Though she had to deal not only with the pain of losing her mother but also guilt, that shouldn¿t of been put on her, Billy continued longing for peace until she got it; not only with the town, but also the relationship with her father. I recommend this book for anyone that likes to read historical fiction. Other good books I suggest by Hesse are Witness also a historical fiction. Another that I suggest that has the same theme and is also historical fiction is Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry, and also A Death in the Family, by James Agee. I could read every one of these books over and over again, no bad commentary. By far this book touched me more than any other book has. You should definitely check this book out! I hope it will touch you as much as it did me.
ashley49 More than 1 year ago
This book is one of my all time favorite books. I had to read this book for a project in my childrens literature class and I am so glad that I did. Billie Jo goes through some really hard times for someone at such a young age. After tragedy sticks Billie Jo,s house, she is vulnerable and her fther is not there for her to fall back on. After Billie Jo comes back home, her father and her start to regain that appreciation for each other again. This book shows the love that 2 people can regain for each other after a hardship. This book would be great in a middle school. It shows students what its like to live in the 1930s during the depression and the dust bowl. I think it would make students travel back into a life they have never had. Also, for students that live in proverty, they can sympathize with Billie Jo and travel through her story and relate it to their own.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this was a great book for my Middle schooler. He enjoyed it and got a lot out of it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully written prose poem about life in the Oklahoma Dustbowl. It's geared towards older readers (4th grade and up) and is a very compelling read. My 5th grade son was very intrigued and as a parent, I read it with awe. It really moved me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
"Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse is about a 14 year old girl named Billie Jo living in the dust bowl with her father and mother. She loves music and dreams of being a professional piano player. Her mother dies from a fire which also burns Billie Jo's hands. Billie Jo has to carry on with her life in spite of her mother's death and her burnt hands. Billie Joe eventually decides to stay with her family instead of escaping the dust because even though her life was hard, she loved her home. Parts of the book were sad, but they made a good story. Anyone who doesn't mind some sadness should definitely read this book.
diana45 More than 1 year ago
This book was so original and so touching. It really makes you think about your life and how there are others who are going through so much more than you are. It makes you appreciate what you have and be grateful for your life. I will pass this book along to my family so they can read it too. Amazing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about a 14 year old girl named Billy Jo who lives in Oklahoma where dust has no end. When she loses her mother and her unborn baby brother, she has to get through her life with just her father and her mothers piano.Billy Jo and her family live in Oklahoma where dust is a word that has no end. A tragic thing happens when her mother and her unborn baby brother get burned to death. Billy Jo tries to put out the fire but she ends up losing her hands and the one thing that she loves dearest, playing the piano. She struggles through life with nothing but her father, who doesn't have much to say since the death of his wife, and the fact that nothing is going right because nothing will grow in their farm, the animals are dying, and they have no money. Then her father falls in live with a young lady, named Louise, who is a very intelligent person. She changes the life of Billy Jo and her father by helping them find their true place in this world, Billy Jo at the piano and her father in Louise's heart.Billy Jo finds that she can still play the piano as long as she practices a lot and makes sure she works her hands. Her father falls in love with Louise and they end up living together.I thought that this book was one of the best and most heart felt stories I have ever read. It contained a lot of detail and it made you feel like you were in the story. I advise anyone who has the chance to read this book. You will never be able to put it down.
Anonymous 6 months ago
This is the best book i have read.I love it. Everyone sould read it to the end
Margaret123321 6 months ago
What an intense, heart-breaking book. I knew the Dust Bowl was bad, but Hesse does not hold back any of the dark, gritty details. I feel like I was right there alongside Billie Jo. Written in verse, Out of the Dust gives us exactly the right details. Everything written down was chosen for a reason, and there are some really beautiful bits among all the depressing ones - really, though, there is no way to tell this story without being a bit depressing. Billie Jo does not have an easy life, but despite all the bad, she'll get to that good place again, because she'll keep holding onto hope even when all seems lost. I definitely recommend giving this one a read. Not long at all, I read it in less than a day. I just couldn't put it down.
Anonymous 6 months ago
18876111 7 months ago
I read this in elementary school when I was younger. I loved it then and love it now. What sets this book apart is that it is written in free verse diary entries. The way that it is written makes it a quick read. The content is dark, deep and at times depressing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am doing a project and need to know the relatoin ship of wind mills and the book plz repile to charlotte thanks . (This project is on wind mills not the book so i just need to know the relationship between the two thank you)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dont waste ur money and time on this sucky book
manders204 More than 1 year ago
I read this and learned so much about not only the Dust Bowl and the Depression but about a daughter and her father getting over loss.
Brunette_Librarian More than 1 year ago
Incredibly gritty and heartbreaking, Out of the Dust tells the story of a teenager living during the dustbowl in western America. Rain hasn’t come for quite some time, the crops are dying, the animals are suffering and the people are struggling just to survive. Billie Jo, our main character, sees everyone barely getting by and in the beginning, worries only about herself. Wanting to hang out with her friends, play her piano, and just go to school, Billie sees her parents falling farther into despair. Her life takes a devastating turn, when she accidentally hurts her mother, resulting in her death days later. Now alone with her father, Billie Jo faces growing up by herself and dealing with the guilt of having a hand in her mother’s death. The days flow together in an endless cycle of dust storms and hopelessness. The crops won’t grow, the rain won’t come, and everyone seems to just be getting more desperate. Hesse absolutely brings out the emotion in this novel and in the end, a happy future isn’t assured. At the finish of the novel, Billie accepts that life is hard and sees hope as the rains come. Sad, melancholy, and heart wrenching in parts, the lives of Billie and her family are not happy and they struggle for everything they have or hope to be. An incredible resource for the era with great historical details, Out of the Dust shares what life could have been like for the lower class of America during the dust bowl and during F.D.R.’s presidency
shaniqua pudding More than 1 year ago
I gave this book a 16 because of the details, I also gave it this because of the characters in the story. Also because of how the setting is set up. I would recommend this book to other people because it has lots of details and exciting sentences.