When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring. Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great... read more
Caught in the middle of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, all Billie Jo Kelby, a fourteen-year-old girl, wants to do is get out of the dust. She is a sassy redhead who loves apples and has a strong hunger for playing fierce piano. When her father puts a pail of kerosene next to the stove and her... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Caught in the middle of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, all Billie Jo Kelby, a fourteen-year-old girl, wants to do is get out of the dust. She is a sassy redhead who loves apples and has a strong hunger for playing fierce piano. When her father puts a pail of kerosene next to the stove and her pregnant mother thinks it is water, she pours it into the coffee pot to make Daddy coffee, but a burst of flames comes back out at her, and she runs outside to get help. Billie Jo pours the kerosene out into the yard, but she doesn't se Mama coming back, and she burns her mother all over her body. Billie Jo's hands got burned badly, so she couldn't play piano without it hurting, but the burns for her mother and her unborn baby brother were fatal. Mama died when giving birth to her first son, Franklin, named after FDR, and the baby boy died soon after coming into the world. At this point, Billie Jo feels excruciating pain in her heart. Her relationship with her father is crumbling down and blowing away with all of the dust that's around her. She aches for her mother, because Mama always knew the right thing to say, but nothing can be done now. She dreams of playing the piano again, but is afraid because of the scars and scabs on her hands. When the world is so dry it starts going up in flames, Billie Jo can't stand it anymore. She sneaks out of her house in the middle of the night and gets on the next train out of the dust. On the train, she meets a man who changed her life. He was covered in dust, he needed a shave and a haircut, and the shirt on his back was dirty and ripped. But, he told her the story of his family, and how he had to leave them because he couldn't feed his children. Billie Jo decided to head back to Oklahoma, because she couldn't find anything more wonderful than what she had there: a home. When she got back, things began to clear up between her and Daddy. They talked again, and she met the woman Daddy met while she was gone. Her name was Louise, and she was a perfect fit for their family. In the end, even though Billie Jo didn't get out of the dust, she started to play fierce piano again, and to her, that was just as good.
“I think once she had bigger dreams, but she made herself over to fit my father”
“I couldn't tell her. I couldn't bring myself to say......her apples were gone. I never had the chance. Ma died that day, giving birth to my brother.”Billie Jo
“(trying to play the piano after she was burned) My fingers leave sighs in the dust.”
“The way I see it, hard times aren't only about money, or drought, or dust. Hard times are about losing spirit, and hope, and what happens when dreams dry up.”Billie Jo
“And I'm learning, watching Daddy, that you can stay in one place and still grow.”Billie Jo
“She wears a comical hat, with flowers, in December, and when she smiles, her face is full enough of springtime, it makes her hat seem just right.”Billie Jo
“"I keep the kids out and listen behind me, praying for the sound of a baby crying into this world, and not the silence my brother brought with him. And then the cry comes and I have to go away for a little while and just walk off the feelings.”Billie Jo
This book uses simple language and clear imagery to depict a scene that will be readily understandable to children of all ages. Some of the concepts and situations in the book might be more suitable for slightly older readers but the book will resonate with students from age 9 to 19 and beyond. An excellent introduction to the Dust Bowl with a strong female protagonist - ideal for budding historians and feminists.
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