Sunday, December 03, 2006

Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse

When I started this book as an assignment for my Children's Literature class, I predicted that I wouldn't like it. I wasn't much interested in the setting---Okalahoma during the 1940s---and I anticipated that the poetry form would be full of abstract metaphors and difficult imagery. I certainly didn't think I would discover a stunning, tragic, beautiful, and powerful story; one that I would want all of my fifth grade students to have the opportunity to enjoy.

Billie Jo, the 14-year-old main character and narrator of this story, lives with her family in the arid, dusty, broken land that was Oklahoma in the 1940s. Throughout most of the story she is determined to "get out of the dust." The character development and plot are very engaging, and the setting is crucial---it shapes the story and creates a vivid, informative picture of life in this time and place. Many of the details are based on primary source materials from the time period, creating a historical backdrop that is both believable and accurate.

I haven't had the chance, yet, to use this book in my classroom. I am hopeful, however, that I will get the chance and that my students will understand the themes, become attached to the characters, and be transformed by the story. I hope, in short, that they will have an experience with this amazing book, that is similar to my own.

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