Hesse, Karen. 1997. Out of the dust. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN 0590360809
Through poetic entries, the author tells the story of an Oklahoma family during the dust bowl era of the Great Depression. The poems are written from the perspective of a young teenager, Billie Jo, who struggles to come to terms with the loss and tradgedy the hard times bring. Just when all seems hopeless and the only option left is to run away from home, Billie Jo discoveres that her home actually resotres her hope.
The author's brilliant choice and placement of words tell a complete story in the form of poetry. This moving journal-like novel completely engulfs the reader in the story of this poor farming family just trying to survive through the tough times. The reader almost chokes on the all-encompassing dust and can't help but be affected by the continuous loss of friendships, livestock, crops, money, life, and hope. The desolation and desperation of this particular time in America's history is truly brought to life but so is the determination and will to overcome.
Professional Review Excerpts
from Amazon.com Like the Oklahoma dust bowl from which she came, 14-year-old narrator Billie Jo writes in sparse, free-floating verse. In this compelling, immediate journal, Billie Jo reveals the grim domestic realities of living during the years of constant dust storms: That hopes--like the crops--blow away in the night like skittering tumbleweeds. That trucks, tractors, even Billie Jo's beloved piano, can suddenly be buried beneath drifts of dust. Perhaps swallowing all that grit is what gives Billie Jo--our strong, endearing, rough-cut heroine--the stoic courage to face the death of her mother after a hideous accident that also leaves her piano-playing hands in pain and permanently scarred.
Meanwhile, Billie Jo's silent, windblown father is literally decaying with grief and skin cancer before her very eyes. When she decides to flee the lingering ghosts and dust of her homestead and jump a train west, she discovers a simple but profound truth about herself and her plight. There are no tight, sentimental endings here--just a steady ember of hope that brightens Karen Hesse's exquisitely written and mournful tale. Hesse won the 1998 Newbery Award for this elegantly crafted, gut-wrenching novel.
from Publishers Weekly 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 Oklahoma. With each meticulously arranged entry Hesse paints a vivid picture of her heroine's emotions."
~ This book offers a wonderful chance to look at the point of view of various characters.
~ This book can also be used to discuss and describe the history of the Great Depression as well as the economics of that time. For that matter, it can be used to help describe and discuss the current economic times as it can be used as a comparison.
~One could also tie this book into a poetry unit.