Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Out of the Dust (1998)


Although I have access to all the Newbery winners in print form, with the new semester starting and three more interlibrary loan books (that I haven’t started) to finish in the next 5 to 15 days, I’ve been listening to Newberys on my commute. I’ve finished all audiobooks available to me that had not been reviewed to date, so for a while I'll be posting on some that others have already reviewed.

Like Flusi, I read (and loved) Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. The day before my book club discussed it, on February 24, 2007, I experienced my first dust storm (this photo was taken about 40 miles south of me). It gave me a taste (literally) of what it was like for those portrayed in Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, the 1998 winner.

There’s not a lot I can add to Flusi’s and Sandy D.’s posts. The audiobook was performed by Marika Mashburn, an Oklahoma native who was then a theater student at SMU in Dallas. She has a convincing accent, and the slight lisp she has/used added the right touch of youth to the performance of Billie Jo. When read aloud, you can’t really tell the book was written in free verse, it sounds more like journal entries, which is how Hesse framed the narrative poetry.

A few other interesting tidbits I uncovered: In her Newbery acceptance speech, Hesse said, “I based the accident on a series of articles appearing in the 1934 Boise City News,” a daily paper published in the Oklahoma Panhandle during the time that Hesse obtained on microfilm from the Oklahoma Historical Society. That paper provided the view into day-to-day life in the Dust Bowl that Hesse used in her novel.

Hesse also said, “I began my literary life as a poet.” However, she found that raising her children made writing poetry difficult, and it wasn’t until they were grown that she began Out of the Dust. “I never attempted to write this book any other way than in free verse. The frugality of the life, the hypnotically hard work of farming, the grimness of conditions during the dust bowl demanded an economy of words. Daddy and Ma and Billie Jo's rawboned life translated into poetry…”

I agree with Sandy D. that this book is more appropriate for an older reader, age 11 /6th grade, and up. The book has a message that is still important today: “It was about forgiveness. The whole book. Every relationship. Not only the relationships between people, but the relationship between the people and the land itself.”

1 comment:

Linda Martin said...

I too listened to the audio version a few years ago and didn't realize the book was written in verse. It was an excellent, soul-stirring experience. Great book! I enjoyed reading your review.