Title: Out of the Dust

Author: Karen Hesse

Publication Date: 1997

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Price: $17.99

Number of Pages: 240

Awards: Newbery Medal, Scott O’Dell Award

Genre/Subgenre: Historical fiction, coming-of-age fiction


Popularity: 5/5

Quality: 5/5

Reader’s Annotation:

Billie Jo struggles to overcome tragedy and loss during the Dust Bowl.


Billie Jo and her parents are wheat farmers living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl. Billie Jo is a gifted pianist and dreams of getting “out of the dust” and taking her musical gifts elsewhere. The family struggles to maintain what little is left of their livelihood, but the Dust Bowl keeps them from successfully growing crops. When a tragic fire leads to the death of Billie Jo’s mother and newborn brother, Billie Jo and her father fall apart as a family. Additionally, Billie Jo’s hands were badly burned during the fire and she thinks she may never be able to play piano again. Billie Jo decides to run away and go west, but ultimately decides to go back to Oklahoma with her father and try to make things better.


Out of the Dust is beautifully written. Through the use of free verse, Karen Hesse conveys both the tragedy and sparseness of the Dust Bowl. This book reads like a novel and poetry all at once. Billie Jo is a wonderful narrator, presenting the story in a way that is straight-forward yet haunting. I couldn’t put this novel down.

Why I Chose the Book:

The subject matter was personal to me. My grandfather’s family moved to California because of the Dust Bowl.


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Book Talk Ideas

Screen a documentary about the Dust Bowl, such as Ken Burns’ The Dust Bowl.

Discussion Questions

1. What does the free verse style of the novel contribute to the story? How does it shape the way we perceive Billie Jo as a narrator?

2. What role does music play in the novel?


Amazon (2014). Pricing information. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Out-Dust-Newbery-Medal-Book/dp/0590360809/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399672690&sr=1-1&keywords=out+of+the+dust

Goodreads (2014). Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25346.Out_of_the_Dust?from_search=true

Hesse, K. (2006). Out of the Dust [Kindle Edition]. New York: Scholastic Press.

“Out of the Dust.” NoveList K-8. EBSCO, 01 Jan. 2001. Web. 9 May 2014. <http://www.amazon.com/Out-Dust-Newbery-Medal-Book/dp/0590360809/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399672690&sr=1-1&keywords=out+of+the+dust&gt;.

PBS (2012). The Dust Bowl. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl/