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Hesse, Karen.
New York : Scholastic, 1997.
IL 5-8
ISBN 0590360809

(6 booktalks)

Booktalk #1

This book has won numerous awards for outstanding fiction. Set in the Oklahoma Panhandle in 1934 during the Great Depression, this book tells the story of 14 year old Billie Jo. Oklahoma is besieged with dust storms. The crops have failed because of drought. The wind seems to blow constantly and the dust is always in the air. Trucks, trackers and even Billie Jo's piano are lost in the dust. When her mother is killed during a terrible accident, the townspeople hold Billie Jo responsible. Even her father is no help to her. He is caught up in the despair of the Depression and turns to the bottle. This book is written in first person free verse poetry and tells the story of Billie Jo and the courage it takes for her to endure. There is no pat ending to this book and the journey will lift you OUT OF THE DUST.

Booktalk #2

I hope you like living in New Hampshire.  I do.  But, how would you feel if it never rained?  I don't mean for a month or so, but months and months, and when it finally rains, the earth is so parched that it doesn't even matter.  You sweep the dust out of your house, but in moments, everything is covered with dust again.  The dust just finds its way in through the windows and under the doors even though they're closed.  Would you feel hopeless? Well, this is Billie Jo's world.  She's growing up in Oklahoma in the 1930's during the days of the Dustbowl in the United States.  At one point, she describes seventy days of wind and sun, wind and clouds, wind and sand.  A world of gray days and dark nights.  As if the dust is not enough to cope with, Billie Jo has a serious accident that changes her life forever, and shatters her dream of ever getting out of that place. If you've ever gotten dust in your eyes, your eyes have teared.  This book will make your eyes tear as well.  (New Hampshire Great Stone Face Committee)

Booktalk #3

Dust. Dust. Dust. Everywhere I look all that I see is dust. We stuff rags under the doors to try to keep the dust from coming inside our house. That barely helps. When we set the table for a meal we have to turn the plates and glasses upside down to keep out the dust; but the dust still manages to cover everything. You think that you are drinking chocolate milk but really it's a glass of milk filled with dust that turns it brown. The wind blows all the time and the wind blows nothing but dust. Itís bad enough having to deal with the dust on the inside; but my dad has to deal with the dust on the outside as well. He's a farmer who is trying to grow wheat to sell so that we have money to pay our bills; but nothing wants to grow in dust. Rain. It never rains, so how can you grow crops with dust and no rain?
                        If living in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression isn't hard enough, wait until I tell you about a tragic accident that changed my whole life. Itís just three in my family, my ma, my pa, and me. Ma's tried to have other babies, but they all died. Finally we find out she's expecting a baby.  My pa is so excited. I know that he loves me; but I also know that he would like to have a son to help him outside on our farm.  Itís July 1934, and it's almost time for my ma to deliver the new baby when the accident happens.
                    Excerpt from the book: The Accident, July 1934 (Hesse, 60-61).
                   Meet Billie Jo Kelby, a fourteen year old, who blames herself for the death of her mother and her baby brother.  She tries to talk to her father but she knows that he believes it is totally her fault for the bad accident.  She knows in her heart that everyone blames her, but in her mind she keeps asking the question, why did my pa put kerosene beside the stove, instead of the pail of water that was usually there? With no one to talk to, Billie Jo believes life would be better if she leaves her sorrows and searches for a new life somewhere else. Life in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression is tough for anyone; but in an attempt to heal herself, can Billie Jo find the strength to take up roots and leave behind everything she has every known?  Can Billie Jo forgive herself?  Can she regain her father's love? Join Billie Jo and find out if she can rise Out of the Dust.     Discover the strength and courage of Billie Jo Kelby in Karen Hesseís 1998 Newbery Medal winner, Out of the Dust.  Author Karen Hesse brilliantly creates a historical fiction series of free verse poems told in a diary format that emphatically describes the difficulties of everyday life in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.  (Becky Proctor,, school librarian at Dorchester Academy in St. George, SC)

Booktalk #4

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is a novel written entirely in poems. This is not the hard to understand poetry of Shakespeare. These poems are written by a 14-year-old girl named Billie Jo Kelby. They tell the story of her life in Oklahoma in the 1930's during the dust bowl. We have all seen pictures of big storms of dust; whether it was a photograph from this time period or a scene from the movie Mummy. But, movies and photographs cannot come close to describing what it would feel like to live in a place that is plagued by dust day in and day out. The family even has to turn their cups and plates upside down on the table until it is time to eat because the wind blows the dust so hard it comes in through the cracks around the windows and doors. The dry conditions are especially hard if your family depends on farming as Billy Jo's family did.

                    You would think that all of the dust would make Billy Jo sad or depressed, but is doesn't. She is an upbeat young lady who enjoys playing the piano ( she has even gotten some gigs that pay). Her love of music has made her some very good friends. She has a loving mother and father and a new baby brother or sister on the way. Best of all she has hope. All of these things sustain her until the day of the accident. Then her life is changed forever.

                    Will Billy Jo be able to recover from the accident? Will she play the piano again? Will her hope be enough to get her through? Will she get Out of the Dust?  (Kelley Rigdon,, Librarian at Episcopal Day School, Augusta, GA)

Booktalk #5

Have you ever experienced a drought? What about a dust bowl? These are all events that happened in Out of the Dust. If you want to see what Billy Jo experienced you should read Karen Hesse's novel.
        Billy Joe is the main character. She is 9 years old and loves to play the piano. When she played she played for important people. Then something bad goes wrong. She has her hands burned with kerosene. She thinks her piano playing career is over because it hurts to play. She tries to live through the dust without the piano but it's hard.
        Her mom was pregnant with a baby who was named Franklin. Then when the baby was due Billy Joe accidentally poured kerosene on to her mom and burned her. Ma was a really strict mother but she loved her little girl and Billy Joe loved her. After the incident ma gave birth but in the process ma died. The baby died a little later and they were buried together.
        Pa was a very stubborn guy because of the dust. He would never stop planting and thinking that it would grow. No matter how hard the dust blew in he kept trying, and would never stop. He was a salty sailor on the outside but soft and fruity on the inside deep down. He was very depressed when ma died and didn't talk much but the he starts to have a fatherly relationship with Billy Joe.
              During the whole book it takes place on a family farm in Oklahoma where nothing grows. Billy Joe has to try to survive and deal with conflicts like death and despair.
        The book Out of the Dust is a very unique book. The whole thing is written in free verse poem. It is interesting and vivid, and it didn't take much time to read. The vocabulary was lox level and reading didn't really grab you attention because it takes no time to read and it isn't half bad. It's a nice little story.  (Stephen and Bergen, Minturn Middle School)

Booktalk #6

I sensed it before I knew it was coming.
I heard it,
smelled it,
tasted it.

While Ma and Daddy slept,
the dust came,
tearing up fields

It wasnít until the dust turned toward the house,
like a fired locomotive,
and I fled,
barefoot and breathless, back inside,
it wasnít until the dust
hissed against the windows,
that Daddy woke.

He ran into the storm,
his overall half-hooked over his union suit.
ďDaddy!Ē I called. ďYou canít stop dust.Ē

Ma told me to
cover the beds,
push the scatter rugs against the doors,
dampen the rags around the windows.

Wiping dust out of everything,
she made coffee and biscuits,
waiting for Daddy to come in.

Sometime after four,
rubbing low on her back,
Ma sank down into a chair at the kitchen table
and covered her face.
Daddy didnít come back for hours,
until the temperature dropped so low,
it brought snow.

Ma and I sighed, grateful,
staring out at the dirty flakes,
but our relief didnít last.
The wind snatched that snow right off the fields,
leaving behind a sea of dust,
waves and
waves and
waves of
rippling across our yard.

Daddy came in,
he sat across from Ma and blew his nose.
Mud streamed out.
He coughed and spit out
If he had cried,
his tears would have been mud too,
but he didnít cry.
And neither did Ma.

Read Out of the Dust, a historical fiction novel by Karen Hesse about a girl named Billie Jo who has  to live through the dust storm at a young age of fourteen.  Read about have she loves apples and the piano and how the dust storm affected her family and their farm.  (Rebecca Rickman,, college student)

SUBJECTS:     Dust storms -- Fiction
                        Farm life -- Oklahoma -- Fiction
                        Depressions -- 1929 -- Fiction
                        Oklahoma -- Fiction
                       Poetry -- Fiction


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