Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is a novel written in verse, set in Oklahoma during 1934 and 1935. It won the Newberry Award in 1998. Review these study questions to help you comprehend this novel.
The Beginning of the Novel
These study questions for Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse will guide you through the beginning of the novel. Understanding what happens to Billie Jo at the beginning is important for you to comprehend the entire novel. You have to think about the plot and the characters both. Remember, Billie Jo and her family lived in the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma where sometimes it was very difficult to survive, especially in the 1930s.
- Describe what life was like for Billie Jo and her family in Oklahoma. Was life easy or hard? Did they get along?
- What are three adjectives that describe Billie Jo?
- This novel is written in a different style than you are probably used to seeing. It's called free verse. Do you like the way the book is written and the author is choosing to tell the story? Why or why not? Can you hear Billie Jo's voice?
This book is historical fiction. What does that mean? What are some facts you are learning about this time period and place from Out of the Dust?
- What makes Billie Jo happy in the beginning of the novel?
Once you have answered these questions and understand the setting and main character, you are ready to learn more about the plot.
The Middle of the Novel
Some events in Out of the Dust are very upsetting, and they cause great problems and distress for Billie Jo. This section is going to guide you through these events and the effects of them on the characters.
1. What is the accident that happens to the family?
2. How does the accident affect Billie Jo? How does it affect her father? How do the townspeople react?
3. Do you think the family will recover from this accident? What do you think they will have to do?
4. How does Billie Jo feel about the accident? Describe her feelings, and find one or two quotes from the book that show she is feeling this way.
5. Do you agree with Billie Jo when she tries to run away from her problems? Have you ever tried to run away from a problem? Does it work? Does the problem go away? Did this strategy work for Billie Jo?
Once you understand the accident and its effects, then you are ready to tackle the end.
The End of the Novel
Although there are tragic events in the story, Billie Jo learns from her life and becomes stronger as a result. These questions will help you comprehend the novel events and draw conclusions about the plot and the characters.
1. What does Billie Jo think about the accident at the end of the novel? Do her feelings change throughout the book? Why or why not?
2. How does Billie Jo feel about her father at the end of the novel? Have her feelings changed for him? Why or why not?
3. Do you think Billie Jo ever gets "out of the dust?" Why do you think Karen Hesse chose this as the title of her novel? Do you think it's a good title? What's another title you can suggest?
4. Which character in the story do you think is the bravest? Why? Give at least two specific examples from the story that show this character's bravery.
Did you get all the answers? What did you think of the book?