Hesse, Karen. 1997. Out of the Dust. NewYork: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0590360809
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Out of the dust is a novel in verse through the eyes of a young, red-haired, 14-year-old girl named Billie Jo Kelby. The setting is in
All her dreams are dashed when a personal tragedy hits the family. Billy Jo’s father leaves a pail with kerosene in the kitchen. Her mother uses it thinking it is a pail of water and ignites a fire. While trying to help to put out the fire, Billy Jo accidentally causes her mother further injuries and burns her own hands in the process. Billy Jo’s mother and her unborn brother die subsequently. “Under their words a finger pointed”, she says to herself as she hears whispers about the incident. Her feelings of guilt intensify as her remote father becomes even more withdrawn after the accident. The rest of the story describes Billy Jo’s grief due to her inability to play the piano, her loneliness, her ambivalent feelings about her father, and her love/hate relationship with the land.
Eventually Billy Jo runs away. She meets a drifter who has no family and realizes that "Getting away wasn't any better, just different and lonely." She adds: "And I know now that all the time I was trying to get out of the dust, the fact is, what I am, I am because of the dust." The relationship between father and daughter improves as Billy Jo decides to forgive her father and herself. The rain comes, Billie Jo’s father finds a woman who loves him, and Billie Jo starts healing emotionally and physically.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Even though the narrative poem is based during the dust bowl in the 1930s, most families, especially those who live in tornado zones, or hurricane regions, or in rural areas, can relate to the verses. The concern about lack of water, bad weather affects, and loss of income affects family members, young and old any time.
Karen Hesse has a way with words to illustrate the characters in the poem. She describes
Billie Jo as: “a long-legged girl…with a fondness for apples and a hunger for playing fierce piano.”
Here is a verse that demonstrates Billie Jo’s resentment toward her undemonstrative mother when Billie Jo achieves academic success.
“I wish she’d give me a little more to hold on to than
“I knew you could.” /Instead she makes me feel like she’s just/taking me in like I was/
so much flannel dry on the line”.
The author also uses simile to compare Billy Jo to wheat and her father to sod:
“I tell him he is like the sod./And I am like the wheat,/And I can’t grow everywhere,/But I can grow here./ With a little rain,/With a little care,/With a little luck”.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
From Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly, 01/11/1999
In a starred review of the 1998 Newbery Medal winner, set during the Depression, PW said, "This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of
Gr. 6-9. "Daddy came in, / he sat across from Ma and blew his nose. / Mud streamed out. / He coughed and spit out / mud. / If he had cried, / his tears would have been mud too, / but he didn't cry. / And neither did Ma." This is life in the
School Library Journal, 09/01/1997
Gr 5 Up?In the midst of the Dust Bowl, 13-year-old Billie Jo loses her mother and unborn brother in an accident that she is partly responsible for and burns her own hands so badly that she may never again find solace in her only pleasure?playing the piano. Growing ever more distant from her brooding father, she hops on a train going west, and discovers that there is no escaping the dust of her Oklahoma home?she is part of it and it is part of her.
Display the poem in the classroom or library. Use it to teach about the Dust Bowl period in 1930’s in the history of
Other books by Karen Hesse:
The Music of Dolphins 0-590-897985
Letters from Rifka 0140363912
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Criss Cross by Perkins, Lynne Rae 0060092726
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Jazmin’s notebook by Nikki Grimes 0803722249