Out of the Dust (paperback)
by Karen Hesse
Out of the Dust is a Newbery Award winner that I’ve always heard of, but never picked up until now. My class is really into novels written in verse, so I thought this would be a great addition to our library. Billie Joe is a fourteen-year old girl living with her mother and father in the dry, dusty panhandle of Oklahoma during the Great Depression when FDR is offering money to people to get back on their feet. However, with the lack of rain and intense and destructive dust storms, Billie Joe’s family is left frustrated. One day, her father accidentally leaves a pail of kerosene on the counter by the stove, and her mother thinks it is water, and creates a rope of fire. Billie Joe accidentally throws it onto her mother, not knowing she was running back into the house after calling for her father. Her mother is burned beyond recognition, and both she and Billie Joe’s baby brother die during childbirth a few days later. After that, Billie Joe and her father begin to drift apart and fall into a deep depression. Between the dust, lack of piano playing, and her burned hands, Billie Joe is left depressed and hopeless.
What I liked about this book is that it is a good way to teach about a time period and location students might not otherwise know much about. Most are familiar with World War II, but they don’t know much about the United States before then. I also appreciated that Billie Joe was in a desperate situation, but also found ways to help and show compassion for others.
What I didn’t like about this book is that it is just so depressing! She felt guilt for hurting her mother, although it really was an accident, and she carried that with her for years. She was also lonely with her father since he also wasn’t able to move on after his wife’s death.
Book 79 of 40
(Book 45 of 2018)