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Out of the Dust
Karen Hesse
Medal - 1998




Depression, dust storms, farm life, Oklahoma, poetry


Set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, this is the story of 14 year old Billie Jo. Told in diary form as a series of free-verse poems, the book is a realistic portrait of the Depression-era with entries dated from the winter of 1934 through the winter of 1935. Readers explore the hardships of living on a family wheat farm. Billie Jo's mother dies after an accident with burning kerosene and Billie Jo blames herself and her father for her mother's death. Billie Jo is a talented pianist, but is reluctant to play after burns scar her hands. She leaves home, but soon learns how much "dust" is a part of her. We can almost feel the heat, dust, and wind as she struggles to survive a difficult time.

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Author and Book Connections
Karen Hesse (1952- )
Author Information
Book Information
Student Connections. Explore projects created by students. Check out the We Made Do - Recalling The Great Depression project.
Book Connection. Read another book set during the depression. Compare and contrast the lives of the characters. For example, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is set in the south during the depression.
Music Connection. Billie Jo played the piano. As students work on projects, play Depression-era music in the background.
Related Topics. Explore the following topics: pianos, FDR, government food, moonshine, migrant workers, FERA, CCC, burns.
Cool Classroom Connections
Diaries and Poem. Out of the Dust has a unique combination of diary form and poem writing. Try keeping a diary in this format.
Dust Bowl. Read about the Dust Bowl period. Was the book an accurate depiction of the time period? In four small groups, examine the Song Text, Audio Titles, Photographs, and Performers/Interviewees sections at the Voices from the Dust Bowl site. Pick examples that remind you of a particular story in the book.
Depression. Although Oklahoma was hit particularly hard by the depression, the rest of the country also suffered. How did the depression impact people in different parts of the United States? Using the Timelines page, create charts showing radical changes and prices.
Oral History. Interview a person who remembers The Great Depression and compare their memories with Billie Jo's experiences. Select a picture from the time period. Write a story that includes Billie Jo or the person you interviewed.
Dinosaurs. Fossils were found during the dust bowl. Why were they found during this time period? What types of dinosaurs were found?

Classroom Connections 
My 8th graders just finished Out of the Dust. We took "literary partners" and wrote "literary letters" back and forth during our reading of the book. The students had some remarkable insights and were much more open when writing to a peer. I was amazed by the content they produced.L Meyer
Hi I just wanted to say that this book is really what writing should be about. Every word means something. Every word is important. I think writing it in poems are so much more real and to the point. There aren't unessary sentence in between each stanza like there would be in a normal book. This way it is easy to read. I know a lot of people who liked it not only because it was good but because they could understand it. That helps a lot. Also I liked the ending of the book. It wasn't some perfect ending it was real. It was tolerable. This story could have happened could have actually happened. When I began reading this book I couldn't begin to think of the possible endings for the end. Usually in other books I have the ending all ready figured out by the third chapter. So I just wanted to thank Karen Hesse for writing what was real. It was actually worth my time to read this book. Its a relief to know there are
some gifted writers like her. Also I would like to say that the book Letters From Rifka was outstanding as well. My mom even liked it. Thanks for reading. Lauren 14 yrs., St.Louis Missouri
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Created by Annette Lamb, 10/99. Updated 10/01.

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