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Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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I would only read this book to upper elementary classrooms due to the graphic nature of parts of this novel. I myself found this book to be disturbing at points because of the vivid language the author uses. Overall though I think this is a great historical fiction novel that describes how life was during the Dust Bowl. The protagonist experienced dust storms and not being able to clearly see while walking outside during one of them. The protagonist also describes how dry the environment was and how her father was unable to farm any sustainable crops. I would fore-warn my students before reading the chapter in which the protagonist accidentally sets her mom on fire. That chapter still haunts me to think about. ( )
  bmsherid | Nov 11, 2014 |
Summary: Billie Jo lives in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Billie Jo lives with her mother, father, and unborn brother. She loves to play piano and is able to make little money doing what she loves. One night tragedy strikes Billie Jo's family. Her house catches on fire and her mother also catches fire. Billie Jo's mother dies while giving birth to her brother and days later her brother also passes away. During the fire Billie Jo was severely burned and it is hard for her to play the piano. In the end, Billie Jo learns to forgive herself and her father and they are able to move on with life.

Personal reflection: this story hits close to home. Growing up in Oklahoma and experiencing the harsh winters and summers. It also made me think of my grandparents who lived in those times. Not knowing how you were going to eat or make a living. Sad but awesome story.

Extension Projects:
1. Make a bottle tornado and see if you can make a dust bottle also. Show the different weather conditions.
2. Compare and contrast the past and the present.
3. Have students look up information about the Great Depression and the dust bowl.
  BethanyKisner | Nov 11, 2014 |
Out of the dust was a beautiful depiction of a terrible time in our nation. The author captured the life of an eight-grade girl named Billie Jo as she and her parents lived through the nightmare of the Dust Bowl of the 1930's in Oklahoma. The daily trial of scraping by when crops failed and the thick dust carpeted everything around them was what their life consisted of. Billie Jo has hopes and dreams like any 14-year-old girl but has them dashed day after day as her family struggles to just survive. She longs to escape from the life that is smothering her, but she eventually comes to realize that she is right where she needs to be and begins to see herself satisfied and hopeful that things will be better. Hope was the commodity that had been the scarcest through those Dust Bowl years.

I wanted to read Out of the Dust because I want to learn more about what it means to be from Oklahoma. The strong spirit that develops through trial shows itself in the people of Oklahoma. The author wrote in free verse through the eyes of the main character and colorfully described the look, smell and even taste of the dust-covered land, homes, furniture, clothes and even food. Experiencing all that she did with her family through that terrible time, Billie Jo learned to appreciate even the smallest blessing. I was reminded on every page of how fortunate we are today.

More study of the dust bowl years would help students understand what Billie Jo and her family experienced. It would also help to look at disasters we have today and what is being done for disaster relief.

A look at how the State and the Federal Government have changed the landscape to provide more lakes, water resources and smart land use since the 1930's to help prevent another dust bowl. ( )
  barbarapatt | Nov 6, 2014 |
I enjoyed reading "Out of the Dust" by Karen Hesse for several reasons. One reason I enjoyed this book was because of the unique style of freelance poetry. Most chapter books usually are not written in a poetic form, but being that this book was, it made for an easy read. I also felt that the poems allowed for the reader to connect on a deeper level because of the different formatting that was use. For example, when Billie Jo was describing the of her mother and baby brother she wrote, "I couldn't tell her, couldn't bring myself to say her apples were gone. I never had a chance." Then there was a break in the poem and she wrote, "Ma died that day giving birth to my brother." This reveals the brokenness Billie Jo felt from the deaths and provided a visual of that brokenness for the reader by breaking up the poem. Another reason I enjoyed this book was because of the historical aspect it gave. Since this story was based during the time of the dust bowl, it gave a real sense of what life was like for people during this time. It described the hardships Billie Jo and her family faced such as the crops dying, causing many families to flee Oklahoma. The main idea of this story is that family, relationships, hopes and dreams can always be rekindled with love and determination. This book also emphasizes the importance of family and the strong bond it holds. ( )
  KaraHankins | Nov 3, 2014 |
I really liked this book for two reasons. One of the reasons why I liked this book was how the author developed the characters. She made them so believable and you are really able to connect with them throughout the story. At one part Billie Joe said "If Ma could put her arm across my shoulder sometimes, or stroke back my hair, or sing me to sleep, making the soft sounds, the reassuring noises, that no matter how brittle and sharp life seemed, no matter how brittle and sharp she seemed, she was still my ma who loved me," This part in the book really jumped out to be because every little girl can connect on this level with how they think about their mother. All of the little details that were added into this paragraph made it so much more realistic and it allowed for the reader to connect to the story as well. Another reason why I liked this book was the way that it was written. It was written in poems which made for a really easy read. The pages flowed really well and I never felt like I had to force myself to just read a couple more pages because I would always accidentally read forty five without noticing. One part where the poetry stuck out to me the most was on the entry where her mom died. I felt that the choppiness of the last two lines added a really neat effect to the story. In it the author said, "I couldn't tell her, couldn't bring myself to say her apples were gone. I never had a chance." The author skipped two lines down and then wrote, "Ma died that day giving birth to my brother." I thought that this added a dramatic effect to the story that you wouldn't have gotten if it had all been connected. The main idea that I got from this book is that no matter how hard life seems at home, it is home and you will never find any place better. ( )
  kelleemorcomb | Nov 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 233 (next | show all)
Could you imagine being in the great depression and being in dust! I read “Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse. The narrator is Billie Jo Kelby. Her name sounds like a boy name because Billie Jo’s dad wanted a boy. This book is historical fiction written in poetry. The protagonist (Billie Jo) learns that she’s never going to get “Out of the Dust.”
This story takes place in Oklahoma from January 1934 to December 1935. The protagonist is Billie Jo and Billie Jo is a “long-legged girl with a wide mouth and cheekbones like bicycle handles. She has red hair and freckles. She loves to play piano.”The secondary characters are Ma, Pa, Arley, and Maddog. The quote that she was long-legged was important because it describes Billie Jo. The page number was page 3 if you want to look at the quote when you get the book.
In “Out of the Dust” the main conflict is Billie Jo’s ma died. Billie Jo accidently killed her ma by throwing a pail of kerosene on her that pa put next to the stove. After this event Pa and Billie Jo feel self-pity. The characters who are involved in this main conflict is Billie Jo, Pa, Ma. The quote to support the conflict is, “Daddy put a pail of kerosene next to the stove. Ma was fixing breakfast thinking the pail was full of water and she lifted it to makes daddy’s coffee and poured it, but instead of making coffee ma made a rope of fire.” This quote shows that the fire starts from the pail of kerosene. This quote was on page 60.
The resolution was that later in the book pa married this girl named Louise. This solved the problem because Billie Jo doesn’t need to feel lonely anymore. The protagonist (Billie Jo) learns that no matter what, she will always have family by her side. The reader learned that living in the 1930’s in Oklahoma is hard.
This book was really boring because it goes all over the place in the book. For example, it went from “A tent of pain” to “Drinking.”One connection from this book “Out of the Dust” is dust connects to “Esperanza rising.” It connects because dust storms are in each book. I think this book was humorous. For example they had a rabbit war, they shot rabbits. I think the weakness is that there is not enough action. For example the only action was when ma got burned. I didn’t like that it was written in poetry form either. Overall I think this book is humorous and not enough action so I would rate this book a 3/5 stars.
3/5 stars
added by Allisen | editMs. Moore's Classroom, Gabe (Apr 11, 2014)
Could you imagine being in the great depression when the dust bowls were going on? When you are only 14 and having your mom and baby brother die. The main character of “Out of the Dust” a historical fiction poetry story written by Karen Hesse is Billie Jo. The narrator of this story Billie Jo because it is written in first person. In this story Billie Jo (the protagonist) learns to live with the changes in her life.
“Out of the dust” takes place in 1934-1935 in Oklahoma. The protagonist is Billie Jo she is very good at piano and she is “long legged and wide mouthed”. She is also very happy at times but then again depressed at times. She is also very smart. Some of the other characters are Ma, Pa, Arley and Maddog. The quote in the story that proves she is smart is that “she scored top in the eighth grade on state tests. I found this on page 30
In “Out of the Dust” Billie Jo faces the problem of Ma dying. Billie Jo accidently killed her Ma by throwing a pail of kerosene on her that Pa put next to the stove. The characters that were involved in the problem were Ma, Pa and Billie Jo. It said in the story “ Daddy put a pail of kerosene to the stove and Ma fixing breakfast thinking it was filled with water, lifted it, to make Daddy’s coffee but instead she made a rope of fire”. This quote was on page 60.
Although the problem was solved! It was solved by another girl named Louise coming into Pa’s and Billie Jo’s life. This solved the problem because Louise took Ma’s spot in the family. For example she started to cook and clean for them. The protagonist (Billie Jo) she will always have family by her side. The reader can learn that living in Oklahoma in the 1930’s can be hard.
This book was boring almost all the time in my opinion because it didn’t really have any action or exciting moments. It did have one suspenseful moment When Ma died but that was it. I made a connection to the book “Number the Star’s” when I read this because they both won Newberry awards medals, they both are written in first person by two 14 year old girls. They both took place during the 1930’s. The strengths of this book is that it creates a picture in your mind while you’re reading. For example when the fire happened you could picture it. The weaknesses are that it didn’t have enough excitement and the format was not good. It was just boring overall. I would give this book a 2/5 stars.
added by Allisen | editMs. Moore's Class, Izayah (Apr 11, 2014)
Has something bad happened to you like your getting covered in dust, you killed your own mom and the baby she was having? How about burning your own hands and your talent is gone? One more thing all of this happened and you and your dad feel like strangers? Probably not. Well a 14 year old girl named Billie-Jo did all of this. Billie-Jo is from the book “Out Of The Dust” by Karen Hesse. The main character is Billie-Jo and the protagonist is also Billie-Jo.
Billie-Jo lives in the 1930s in the great depression or (dust bowl). No one wanted to be there at that time. Everybody during that time was sad ad really depressed. In the story the protagonist is the main character in this case its Billie-Jo. She is the protagonist because she’s good she try her best at things even though there were a few accidents. Another character is Billie-Jos ma and dad but ma doesn’t last very long. Billie-Jos dad tries his best, but didn’t really bother with her till the end again. Something that Billie-Jo always says is that “dads digging his own grave not a pond. That’s important because it seems dad can’t take the pressure that ma is gone.
The main problem in this story is that ma dies and its dad and Billie-Jos fault. When Billie-Jo says dads digging his own grave not a pond, he’s doing that because to much stuff is going on it was easier with ma. That’s a big problem because that turns into little problems like Billie-Jo runs away.
The solution to that is when Billie-Jo runs away and she learns where she had to be and where she belongs and where she belongs is home with her dad. So Billie-Jo called her dad and went back home. That’s also what Billie-Jo learned. What I learned from the book is that people belong with their family even if it’s a terrible time. People belong where they were bon where the people that love them are.
My personal opinion about this book is PICK IT UP AND READ IT! It’s a great book its depressing but amazing. I give this book a 4/5. Another book I can connect it to is Esperanza Rising. I say that bok because some events happen like in both books there are dust storms and a lot of people are are depressed. What I liked was that there’s a really high climate and what I don’t like is that its kinda predictable so I give “out of the dust” a 4/5.

added by Allisen | editMs. Moore's Class, Cai (Apr 11, 2014)
Have you ever thrown a pail of flaming kerosene on your mother? Had your hands fried off? Or even ran away? In “Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse, Billie Jo does all these things. Billie Jo learns that she can’t run away from her problems.
“Out of the Dust” by Karen Hesse starts in the August of 1920, Billie Jo’s birthday, but then jumps to the winter of 1934 in Oklahoma when Billie Jo is almost 14. Billie Jo’s father helps her realize the problem. In the book, Billie Jo says to her father “I can’t be my own mother and I can’t be my own father and if you both leave me what am I supposed to do?” This Quote by Karen Hesse on page #205 shows how Billie Jo realized the problem.
The main problem in Out of the Dust is that Billie Jo’s mother dies and Billie Jo runs away, Out of the dust. The Quote “Getting away wasn’t any better, just different” by Karen Hesse on page #204 shows that when Billie Jo runs away, she realizes she should go back home.
After Billie Jo runs away, she realizes she can’t run away from her problems. At the end, Billie Jo meets “The Other woman” (Pa’s new girlfriend) and begins to like her. The reader can take away that like Billie Jo, you can’t run away from you problems.
In this book, some parts about just the dust are boring. And some parts are exciting. The exciting parts are suspenseful and you might even say action packed. This book is similar to Esperanza rising because it is in the same time and some similar events. In conclusion, I would rate this book 4/5 stars.
added by Allisen | editMs. Moore's Class, Ian (Apr 11, 2014)
Claire Rosser (KLIATT Review, March 1999 (Vol. 33, No. 2))
This novel has won just about all the possible prizes, including the Newbery Medal, so most of you must already know about it. This trade paperback edition is sturdy, with a picture of Billie Jo in a straw hat on the cover. It should hold up well for classroom use, which is a certainty. The story of tragedy, despair, and finally hope is told in poetry form, with Billie Jo as the youthful narrator, her story unfolding in chapters. The story begins as Billie Jo is 14 years old, with her parents barely eking out an existence in dust-choked Oklahoma in the 1930s. Her mother is pregnant, her father works stubbornly on their failing farm, and Billie Jo gets some joy out of playing the piano and earning some money. This life seems grim, but it gets even grimmer when an accident scars Billie Jo's hands and causes her mother's death. How she recovers from the pain and the guilt, and how she and her father remain on the farm, with the dust ever thicker, smothering them, is the struggle of the story. Students will be fascinated that Hesse tells this gripping, emotional story through poetry; and the form will inspire them and their teachers to explore poetry in their own storytelling. KLIATT Codes: J*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior high school students. 1997, Scholastic Apple/Signature, 227p. 20cm, $4.99. Ages 13 to 15.

added by kthomp25 | edit(KLIATT Review, March 1999 (Vol. 33, No. 2)), Claire Rosser
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To Brenda Bowen, who is so much more than an editor.

I extend heartfelt thanks to Eileen Christelow, Kate, Rachel, and Randy Hesse, Liza Ketchum, Jeffrey and Bernice Millman, Maryann Sparks, and the Oklahoma Historical Society.
First words
As summer wheat came ripe, so did I, born at home, on the kitchen floor.
They didn't talk
about my father leaving kerosene by the stove.
They didn't say a word about my father
drinking himself
into a stupor
while Ma writhed, begging for water.
They only said,
Billie Jo threw the pail of kerosene.
She went to college for two years
and studied and worked,
and didn't notice how lonely she was
until she met Daddy and fell into the
big hurt of his eyes.
And I'm learning, watching Daddy, that you can stay in one place and still grow.
When I rode the train west, I went looking for something, but I didn't see anything wonderful. I didn't see anything better than what I already had. Home.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
This Newbery-winning novel in verse tells the story of a young girl living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. She survives tragedy and great anger; she loses the gift of music in her life (though only temporarily); she decides to run away to California but ends up back home before long; she sees hope and moves forward to overcome her obstacles. It's beautifully written; the narrator's voice is perfect and the conflicts believable. Worthy of lots of class discussion with junior-high readers and up. Maybe a little dark for intermediate grades.

A terrible accident has transformed Billie Jo's life, scarring her inside and out. Her mother is gone. Her father can't talk about it. And the one thing that might make her feel better - playing the piano- is impossible with her wounded hands. To make matters worse, dust storms are devastating the family farm and all the farms nearby. While others flee from the dust bowl, Billie Jo is left to find peace in the bleak landscape of Oklahoma- and in the surprising landscape of her own heart.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0590371258, Paperback)

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, and her fans won't want to miss The Music of Dolphins or Letters from Rifka. (Ages 9 and older) --Gail Hudson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:04 -0400)

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In a series of poems, fifteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.

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