Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Can Billy Jo Get Out of the Dust?

“The way I see it, hard times aren't only about money, or drought, or dust. hard times are about losing spirit, and hope, and what happens when dreams dry up.”
~Karen Hesse, Out of the Dust

In 1934 Billy Jo and the rest of Oklahoma are experiencing tough times. People are struggling financially, and their crops are not growing. Dust is blowing everywhere and making its way into homes, schools, eyes, mouths, lungs, and hair. Billy Jo’s dad is not able to grow the wheat they need to eat, and he isn’t making any money. Her mom has ideas about ways he can use the land in order to possibly grow other crops, but he won’t listen. Luckily, Billy Jo’s mom taught her to play the piano, and playing the ivories helps take her mind off of the terrible dust storms that blow in unexpectedly and the rumble in her belly. She hopes music will help carry her far away from her dusty home. When tragedy strikes, Billy Jo’s world changes drastically. It's hard for her not to be sad missing all the things she used to have, and her life is now lonely and filled with pain. Dreams are lost and relationships are changed. Of course, she still prays for rain. Can Billy Jo ever forgive herself for what happened? Will she be able to escape the dust? Is it possible for her family survive the terrible tragedy? Will the rain come in time? You'll have to travel back in time with Billy Jo to learn firsthand about the Dust Bowl. 


Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is told in free verse. This was a powerful way to tell this story. Fewer words were needed, but they packed a punch. I loved that I had a clear idea of Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl, and Billy Jo’s personality was strong and clear. It would have been a treat to hear her play the piano as the passion she put into it must have been contagious. While I was reading I couldn’t help but be impressed by the strength of the people who survived the dust storms. How awful to be breathing it in, eating it, sleeping with it, and digesting it with every meal. My heart went out to Billy Jo and her family for the terrible things they had to go through, both with their farm and within their family. The story was beautifully told, and I really connected with Billy Jo. I wished I could erase her pain. She has so much spunk that I would be friends with her if I met her. This is a wonderful book for people of all ages, and I think kids in fourth through eighth grade will especially relate to Billy Jo and appreciate the time period. The book touches on issues in history and allows us to look at life during the 1930s. We get to see what it was like for a typical family struggling to make ends meet out on the plains. I found myself hoping that good things would come their way and was impressed with their perseverance. If you have not read it yet, I highly recommend it. Through verse, history will come to life and you'll sit back and appreciate your own life a bit more.

Has anyone else read Out of the Dust? Or have you read another book by Karen Hesse? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

Stop by Friday for an interview with Karen Hesse and find out more about her story.

Happy Reading! ~L

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41 comments:

  1. Wow, I have not read this but it sounds so intense... I think how amazing these people are to have to deal with all the tragedy and hardships they had. I could never imagine nor do I want to imagine having to breathe in dust, eat it and basically live with it 24/7... I know trials make people stronger but it is difficult to comprehend how much a person can deal with... this sounds like a captivating book xox

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    1. Launna- It is an intense read. I was so amazed at the characters' ability to adapt and keep trying despite the really hard times. I had heard of the Dust Bowl, but hadn't realized how much dust was being breathed in and consumed by people! Thanks for visiting. :) ~L

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  2. I have so much respect for people who write historicals. It's so research intensive. This one must have taken a long time to research and it sounds marvelous!

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    1. Lexa- I have so much respect for HF authors too! Lots and lots of research. :) ~L

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  3. It's a beautiful book. Even though parts of the story are hard to read, I think it accurately depicts this most difficult period of time.

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    1. Bish- Parts of the story are definitely hard to read, but they helped me understand the time period. :) ~L

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  4. When our house had to be completely rebuilt after the flood in 2010, I became fascinated with reading about tragedies--I think I wanted to bond with someone who had been through something similar. For some reason, though, now that it's in the past, I have a really hard time reading about disasters. I think it just reminds me of a bad time!

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    1. Stephanie- I can imagine that when you were experiencing a tragedy you needed that connection to characters going through something similar, but now the memories must be tough. Going through a flood sounds awful! ~L

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  5. Oh, this book sounds wonderful! I would love to read a book set in this time period. My parents grew up in the Depression Era and much of their foundation there stayed with them for life. What a wonderful book to read with your kids - and talk about with relatives from that time period too and have those generational connections. They keep historical fiction and real stories alive!

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    1. Donna- I think people who lived through the Depression definitely carried the time with them and they were very careful with possessions and money. This story brought history to life for me and would be a great one to talk about with people who lived through the Great Depression. :) ~L

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  6. Wow! This sounds great. The Dust Bowl was such a frightening time and those who survived had to endure some horrible circumstances. I haven't read much in verse so I am curious. Thanks for the recomendation.

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    1. Heidi- Because it is written in verse it is a pretty quick read. The style really goes with the story. :) ~L

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  7. How did our forebears survive? So many things which are incomprehensible to us now. When a disaster hits, there are agencies and people to help. Then? Community if there was a community left. Family, ditto.
    This sounds like a powerful read.

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    1. Elephant's Child- Well said! It was a powerful read! In the book the community does come together, even if many of them were struggling to survive. ~L

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  8. I read this years ago when I was teaching fifth grade. It is a beautiful yet sad story. Billy Jo is so brave. I imagine many families went through similar situations during the dust bowl. A great story, especially for lovers of history, like me.

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    1. Beverly- How wonderful that you read Out of the Dust when you were teaching 5th grade. It is perfect for 5th graders. I agree with you about Billy Jo! :) ~L

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  9. this sounds really good Jess, I love this book"

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    1. Gloria- It is fantastic! :) ~Jess

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  10. I'm always impressed by those who can write a story in verse. Sounds like an interesting read.

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    1. The Armchair Squid- Definitely not easy to write a book in verse. Kudos to Karen Hesse! :) ~L

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  11. I need to check this out; I'm not really sure I have ever read a book in verse, but now I'm curious about it.

    Very interesting plot too for that "tough" time in our country's history!

    betty

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    1. Betty- I hope you find a copy and enjoy it. I really liked the style and the story. :) ~L

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  12. I've had this one in my bookcase for ages, but just have never gotten to it. Now I think I will have to. Thanks for this great review.

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    1. Rosi- Oh- take it off your shelves! You will be so happy you did! :) ~L

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  13. Sounds like a wonderfully descriptive story, and I'm intrigued by it being written in free verse.

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    1. Tracy- It is an intriguing story and the free verse added to the story for sure. :) ~L

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  14. It sounds like a wonderful book. I'd rather read it than Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, which we had to read during school.

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    1. Cherie- I think you would love Out of the Dust. It is written with such a unique style and I really connected with Billy Jo. I hope you get to read it! :) ~L

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  15. I'm working on a novel set in 1932 and wow, it was a rough time. I've always heard great things about Karen's book.

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    1. Catherine- I bet your research is really revealing how difficult the 1930s were! Out of the Dust is beautifully written. :) ~L

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  16. I haven't read this one, but it sounds good!

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  17. I haven't read this one, but it sounds good!

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  18. Sounds a great read, thanks for intro.

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  19. My daughter loved another novel by Karen Hesse -- The Music of Dolphins.

    Yvonne

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    1. Yvonne- I read that one too! Very well written. :) ~L

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  20. Yes! Me! I have! Karen Hesse is my favourite (as in, top, the toppest) children's book author. Her brilliance is in using few words to express so much. I read one or two of her novels each year. What I remember the most of Out of the Dust, is the tragic fire scene. I felt my arms melting.

    Though Out of the Dust is probably her best known work, it isn't my favourite. I love The Music of Dolphins and Witness. Brooklyn Bridge was also quite special.

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    1. Claudine- So excited to read your comment. How wonderful that she is your favorite writer. I agree with you that she is a master at using few words to tell a powerful story. I read Music of Dolphins years ago and really enjoyed it. I also thought Brooklyn Bridge was very special (and I received it from a special friend- thanks again). I haven't read Witness- but I have it on my list. I know there will be more Karen Hesse books reviewed on our blog for sure! :)

      I also think the fire seen was very powerful and one I will not forger. I felt the heat too! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. :) ~Stephanie

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  21. I haven't read too many books in free verse which makes the idea of this one very appealing to me. I would love to try it myself and see what I think. It's also a very interesting way to tell a pretty hardship related story!

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    1. Olivia- If you haven't read Out of the Dust you should! The style adds so much to the story and really helps to tell Billy Jo's story. :) ~L

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