#76 Out of the Dust

20 Oct

I love verse novels.  I love historical and period fiction.  Hence, my five-star rating to Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse.  Loved it.  But instead of raving about how wonderful it is, I wanted to take a few posts worth of writing to share with you two verses from the novel.

First, a short synopsis.  Billie Jo is a fourteen-year-old living with her pregnant mother and father during the Oklahoma dust-bowl.  While there seems to be not much to hope in, she finds pleasure in listening to her mother play piano, as well as play piano herself.  Her dad is a quiet man, but he works hard to take care of his family.  Told in free verse from Billie Jo’s point of view, the novel spans a period of just under two years, in which we get the insiders view of life during the Dust Bowl.

Now, on to the beautiful poetry. . .

Mr. Hardly’s Money Handling

It was Daddy’s birthday

and Ma decided to bake him a cake.

There wasn’t

money enough for anything like a real present.

Ma sent me to fetch the extras

with fifty cents she’d been hiding away.

“Don’t go to Joyce City, Billie,” she said.

“You can get what we need down Hardly’s store.”

I slipped the coins into my sweater pocket, the pocket without the hole,

thinking about how many sheets of new music fifty cents would buy.

Mr. hardly glared

when the Wonder Bread door

banged shut behind me.

He squinted as I creaked across the wooden floor.

Mr. Hardly was in the habit of charging too much for his stale food,

and he made bad change when he thought he could get away with it.

I squinted back at him as I gave him Ma’s order.

Mr. Hardly’s

been worse than normal

since his attic filled with dust

and collapsed under the weight.

He hired folks for the repairs,

and argued over every nail and every little minute.

The whole place took

shoveling for days before he could

open again and

some stock was so bad it

had to be thrown away.

The stove clanked in the corner

as Mr. Hardly filled Ma’s order.

I could smell apples,

ground coffee, and peppermint.

I sorted through the patterns on the feed bags,

sneezed dust,

blew my nose.

When Mr. Hardly finished sacking my things,

I paid the bill,

and tucking the list in my pocket along with the change,

hurried home,

so Ma could bake the cake before Daddy came in.

But after Ma emptied the sack,

setting each packet out on the

oilcloth, she counted her change

and I remembered with a sinking feeling

that I hadn’t kept an eye on

Mr. Hardly’s money handling,

and Mr. Hardly had cheated again.

Only this time he’d cheated himself, giving us four cents extra.

So while Ma mixed a cake,

I walked back to Mr. Hardly’s store,

back through the dust,

back through the Wonder Bread door,

and thinking about secondhand music

in a moldy box at the shop in Joyce City,

music I could have for two cents a sheet,

I placed Mr. Hardly’s overpayment on the counter

and turned to head back home.

Mr. Hardly cleared his throat and I wondered for a moment

if he’d called me back to offer a piece of peppermint

of pick me out an apple from the crate,

but he didn’t,

and that’s okay.

Ma would have thrown a fit

if I’d taken a gift from him.


Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

Originally published in 1997


Posted by on October 20, 2010 in top 100 children's books


2 responses to “#76 Out of the Dust

  1. Debi

    October 21, 2010 at 11:16 am

    I love absolutely everything about this book as well!!! (And I have to admit that that quite surprised me.)


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