• Happy birthday Miriam Bourne (Dog Walk), Helen Frost (Diamond Willow), Peggy Rathmann (Officer Buckle and Gloria), David A. Carter (Love Bug), and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants Series).
  • It’s the birth date of Johann David Wyss (1743–1818), Swiss Family Robinson, and Meindert DeJong (1906–1991) The Wheel on the School.
  • In 1791, John Adams is sworn in as the second ever United States president, succeeding George Washington.
  • Happy birthday Chicago, incorporated as a city in 1837.
  • In 1877, Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake" premieres at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. Read Swan Lake adapted and illustrated by Rachel Isadora, Swan Lake retold and illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, and Swan Lake by Mark Helprin, illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg.

On March 4, 1791, Vermont became the 14th state admitted to the Union. Certainly at the time, the event did not seemed connected to the children’s book community. But by the beginning of the twenty-first century, Vermont had emerged as one of the best environments for those who create books for children and young adults. Part of this seems due to the incredible work going on at Vermont College’s MFA program for children’s book writers in Montpelier. Life in this still largely rural area encourages time for reflection. A very active library and bookstore community supports Vermont writers and illustrators. Our second National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Katherine Paterson, lives in Vermont, as does Caldecott winner Mary Azarian. In addition M. T. Anderson, Eileen Christelow, Leda Schubert, Tanya Lee Stone, Laban Carrick Hill, and Bonnie Christensen live full or part time in the state, as did Stephen Huneck and Norma Fox Mazer. The list goes on and on and includes our author of the day, Newbery Award Winner Karen Hesse.

When Karen took a road trip from Vermont to Colorado with author Liza Ketchum (a part-time Vermonter), Karen fell in love with the Kansas plains, a landscape very different from the one she looked at every day. Later she thought about this landscape, when writing a picture book, Come on, Rain!, about a child longing for rain showers. As she ask herself why a child might want a rain shower, she thought about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in the 1930s and set her next novel there. In the book for eleven- to sixteen-year-olds, Out of the Dust, explores the life of fourteen-year-old Billie Jo. Crops blow away like tumbleweeds, tractors get buried under dust drifts, and Billie Jo’s mother dies in a tragic accident that physically scars the young girl. In this grief-filled landscape she and her father must make the best of what they have left.

In Out of the Dust Karen explores the longing, anguish, and pain of living and shows how people heal from tragedy. Written in free-form poetic verse, Karen polished every word, phrase, and line break with care from the opening sentence to the final one: “And I stretch my fingers over the keys, / and I play.”

After Karen wrote the first draft of the manuscript, she went out to find photographs of what her characters might look like, placing them around her studio. But she never admitted to this writing method, because it might seem “hokey.” So Karen was amazed when her editor Brenda Bowen chose the photo of Lucille Burroughs by Walker Evans for the cover; it was the same photo that Karen herself had used while writing the book—although she had never told her editor.

Happy Vermont Statehood Day to Karen and all those in the children’s and young adult book community in Vermont. I’m so glad we are near neighbors. You rock!

Here’s a page from Out of the Dust:


Originally posted March 4, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Great Depression, History, Newbery
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Out of the Dust


  1. G. Perry says:

    I thought this was a superbly crafted book. Just outstanding. I also found it quite sad.

    I love the things I learn on this site every morning. What a gift.

  2. Jude says:

    My son read Out of the Dust in 4th or 5th grade and was so moved by it he insisted I read it, too. I’ll never forget the dramatic death of Billie Jo’s mother.

  3. Helen Frost says:

    I love OUT OF THE DUST, and I love sharing a birthday with Meindert DeJong (SHADRACH is my favorite), which I’ve known for some time. What fun to learn that I share a birthday with these others as well. Also Richie Partington. Thanks, Anita!

  4. Anita says:

    Helen: All the Almanac readers wish you a very happy birthday. DeJong was one of our great storytellers — as are you.

  5. Rebecca says:

    As I read this from Vermont myself I am particularly enjoying this entry… and although I don’t know Out of the Dust, Come on Rain has long been one of my favorite picture books, both for the lovely prose and for Jon J Muth’s lively drawings (my favorite is the one where all you see are the girls’ feet, dancing in the rain – it’s just perfect!). I am glad to have another suggestion by the talented Hesse.

  6. Dan McKey says:

    I showed the entry on Out of the Dust to a group of 6th graders this morning. After some additional praise of the book from their teacher, we asked how many would like to read it over the weekend. Every student took a book. So, we have nearly 20 6th graders in Ohio spending their weekend reading about the Dust Bowl in Kansas! (It seems a bit ironic that here in Ohio we are dealing with flooding right now!) Thanks for the entry, and thanks for a great visit to our schools!

  7. Anita says:

    Dan: Thanks for sharing this story with me. You not only have the best behaved students I have ever seen — you have the best readers I have met. You and your teachers deserve great praise for creating that environment.

  8. Alyson says:

    Every year for our 6th grade poetry unit, we use this book as our touchstone text. The students all create an autobiographical book of poems that mirrors Hesse’s style and theme. They are the most beautiful poems the students write all year. We love this book. I’m also a student at VCFA Writing for Children and YA. I love it! Thanks for the post!

  9. Erica S. says:

    I love the story about Hesse’s editor and the picture – thanks for another interesting tidbit of information!

  10. Briana C. says:

    I am only in the 5th grade, and my class read this book. It made some of us cry because of what happened to Billy Jo’s mother after the gasoline fire. Even though the book is made of poems, they are ALL beautiful!!!Karen Hesse is a really great author, and I admire her as an aurthor!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Briana C. says:

    I just love books without pictures because you can picture what is happening in your head. That’s the EXACT reason I LOVE “Out of the Dust”!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Helen Frost says:

    Hi again, and thank you again! I was in Chicago yesterday (writing this on March 5th), and didn’t know we were sharing a birthday!

  13. Margaret Mennone says:

    I read this book after I had shelved it multiple times while working in a library. When I finally sat down to read it, I was really surprised at the writing style. From the outside, I had no idea that this book was going to be written in a poetic verse style. It was very impressive and a quick read. The story was extremely emotional (it made me cry) and Hesse paints what seems like an authentic picture of the dust bowl. I didn’t actually know that much about the dust bowl before I read this book, but I was captivated by the story. Great pick!

  14. Momo says:

    Isn’t it interesting that verse novels often contain such emotional stories. I am thinking also of Love that dog by Sharon Creech and one here from Australia called Farm Kid by Sherryl Clark. Out of the Dust is a book I often give to adult readers who visit my library and each time I do this people comment about how much this book moved them. We live in a huge world but a book like Out of the dust has allowed me to experience life in a part of America I might never have known about.

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