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December 12, 2008

Out of the Dust

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Out of the Dust

Author: Karen Hesse

Page Length: 227

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Realistic Fiction written in Verse

PLOT SUMMARY: 14-year-old Billie Jo Kelby is the main character who narrates the story written in verse.  Billie Jo lives with her parents on a wheat farm in the Oklahoma Panhandle.  It is 1934, The Great Depression, and they live in the heart of the dust bowl.  In each entry, Billie Jo reveals that dust is around her and everything she touches. 

While barely making ends meet, the family learns that the mother is pregnant.  However, a terrible accident with a bucket of kerosene left beside the kitchen stove, burns Billie Jo and her mother.  Her mother dies in childbirth as well as losing the baby.  Billie Jo’s hands are scarred, and she no longer attempts to play the piano, which was her one pleasure in life. Billie Jo and her father become distant after the accident, and Billie Jo eventually leaves to join others who have fled the dust, in search for a better life in California. She soon learns that “dust” is apart of her life and returns home to find what the future holds.

REVIEW: Written in free verse, the book is somewhat like a diary or journal written from 1934-1935.  The character of Billie Jo is developed demonstrating courage, strength, and great emotion.  This book would be a good book to use when teaching journal writing or free verse.  It could be used in addition to a social studies unit about the 1930’s depression.

AREAS OF TEACHING: Verse writing, Historical Context, Setting, Character, Cause and Effect

RELATED BOOKS: The Grapes of Wrath

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS: The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The American Experience: Surviving the Dust Bowl (PBS, 1999)


REVIEWED BY: Shirley Wagner

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