Children's/Coming-of-Age, Hesse, Karen, Newbery Winners by Author

Review of Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

What was it about?

Billie Joe is growing up during the Depression and Dust Bowl period of the 30s in Oklahoma. Her mother has died, she suffers from horrible burns on her hands, and she can no longer relate to her father. In a series of poems written in blank verse Billie Joe describes her hobbies, family, and schooling from 1934 through 1935. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse won the Newbery Medal in 1998.

What did I think of it?

It seems to me that the Association for Library Service to Children likes to award Newbery Medals to really depressing books written for middle grade students. Out of the Dust is one of those books. If it had not been written in blank verse the book would have been unsuitable for children. The subject matter is just too tragic. However, this work is a good introduction for children to an important period in American history. Because it is written in verse, middle grade students should not be too disturbed by the content. My only major criticism is that the narrative style did not really add much to the story. While a few poems left an impression on me, most of them weren’t very memorable. What Billie Joe was trying to communicate could have been communicated just as effectively if not more effectively in prose. All in all, it was a pretty underwhelming read. I don’t know what other children’s books were published in 1997, but I didn’t think Out of the Dust was as good as some of the other award winners.

Favorite Poem

Breaking Drought

After seventy days
of wind and sun,
of wind and clouds,
of wind and sand,
after seventy days,
of wind and dust,
a little

This book counts toward the Newbery Medal Challenge

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