Saturday, April 30, 2011

Out of the Dust

Hesse, K. (1997). Out of the Dust. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.

Plot Summary:
Billie Jo lives with her mom and dad in the panhandle of Oklahoma. The book begins in the winter of 1934, Billie Jo is 14 years old and after years of trying, her mother is finally pregnant again. Her family struggles to survive in the dust bowl where dust storms are ruining her father’s wheat crops. It is her mother’s piano and Billie Jo’s crazy style of playing which bring her the most joy in life. An accident of a pail of kerosene set by the fire by her father, mistaken to be water by her mother and thrown on the fire, and then hurriedly tossed outside by Billie Jo dousing her mother with it instead, turn the Kelby family’s life upside down. Her mother, covered in burns dies in childbirth, taking Billie Jo’s baby brother with her. Billie Jo’s hands were severely burned and she can no longer play the piano. Her relationship with her father is strained, each dealing with their own guilt and blame for the accident. Billie Jo, predicting the way her unhappy life is going in Oklahoma, hops a train west, only to be returned home by a government agency in Arizona. Her running away begins Billie Jo and her father communicating and begins to mend their little family.

The style in which this book was written was uniquely beautiful. It was a devastating book, with a glimmer of hope at the end, which I’ve found is similar most award winning tween books. I loved the setting for the book, having never read a book set in the dust bowl. The book provided a glimpse of the hard life people who lived in the dust bowl during the depression had to face. Billie Jo is a likable character, spunky and non-conforming to girls her age at that time. I loved reading about her crazy piano playing and was crushed when she could play no longer. As mentioned earlier, this is a really devastating book, but it shows how family is able to overcome incredibly difficult obstacles.

historical fiction

Reading Level:
Ages 9 – 14

dust bowl, loss

Newbery Medal Award Winner
ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Publishers Weekly Book of the Year

Character Names/Descriptions:
Billie Jo Kelby: 14 year-old girl; lives in the panhandle of Oklahoma with her pregnant mom and dad; loves to play the piano; accidently burned her mother
Pol Kelby (Ma): Billie Jo’s mom; pregnant; died in childbirth after being burned over most of her body; played the piano
Bayard Kelby (Daddy): Billie Jo’s dad; a farmer
Arley Wanderdale: teaches music at Billie Jo’s school; invites her to play with he and his band at the Palace Theatre
Mad Dog Craddock: friend of Billie Jo’s; has a great voice; sings in the same shows where she plays the piano; she has a crush on him

Life in the dust bowl during the depression was hard, but after a terrible accident in her family, life becomes almost unbearable for Billie Jo Kelby.

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