Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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In Out of the Dust, how does Billie Jo react to the hardships of her environment in the spring of 1934?

In the spring of 1934, Billie Jo reacts to the hardships of her environment by trying to stay optimistic and enjoy what she can. She finds comfort in playing the piano, enjoying the flowering apple trees, and anticipates eating desserts made of apples.

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The spring of 1934 is covered in Out of the Dust in numerous chapters from March through May. Billie Jo describes the terrible dust storms, which blow dust and sand through every crack. Even while she and her classmates are in school taking exams, the wind blows through cracks in the schoolhouse walls, making them all cough. She hopes the teacher will give them extra points for their perseverance.

By April, they learn that a quarter of the wheat crop is lost, and what survived is small and poor quality. “And every day we have no rain,/more wheat dies,” and they worry that they will not be able to plant in the fall. Billie Jo is very musical and her family has a piano. Playing the piano in her spare time is a welcome respite, as it helps to immerse herself in something other than the awful weather:

The piano is some comfort in all this.

I go to it and I forget the dust for hours,

testing my long fingers on wild rhythms.

Outside, the apple trees her mother planted years before have somehow gotten enough water to blossom. Billie Jo loves wandering through them, looking at the “delicate … pinky-white” flowers and feeling the petals fall on her like “a blizzard / of sweet-smelling flowers.”

When the trees start to fruit, she anticipates all the delicious desserts they will make from the apples:

and we'll make pies

and sauce

and pudding

and dumplings

and cake

and cobbler.

When the rains come, however, it rains so hard that the “hard green balls” are all knocked off the trees.

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