Scholastic, 2009. 978-0590371254
Synopsis: Billie Jo lives in the Dustbowl town of Joyce City with her parents, dreaming of a day when her piano playing will earn her a ticket out of the dust-filled life she leads. This is a chronicle of a year of tragedy, small victories, and learning to understand herself and the people around her in the midst of the Great Depression.
Why I picked it up: It won the 1998 Newbery medal and since the new list of winners will be released in the coming weeks, I wanted to take a look back at some past winners.
Why I finished it: Billie Jo’s story is one shared by many American families that suffered through living in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression, many of which finally settled in the southern San Joaquin Valley where I currently reside. The sparse nature of the free-verse prose that Hesse uses provides the reader with a gripping account of a year of great change in the life of one girl. We are instantly drawn into Billie Jo’s world: Hesse takes care to describe the desolation of the landscape and the thin layer of dust that coats every inch of the people, the homes, the furniture, and in some cases, even the food. But our heroine is hungry for something more than her dust-filled town, and it is the strength and the desire for a better life that endears the reader to her and keeps us rooting for her as she overcomes death and destruction of the land around her. Hesse’s novel is a compelling look at a piece of American History that addresses a serious subject in a palatable manner.
Other related materials: Rose’s Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression by Marissa Moss; The Great Depression: A History Just for Kids by KidCaps; Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley; Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan; Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool; Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor; Witness by Karen Hesse; Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez; Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech; A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck; A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson