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Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse, follows the tragic circumstances of Billie Jo Kelby, a little red-headed girl living in Dust Bowl era Oklahoma with her father, "Daddy," and pregnant mother, "Ma." The Kelby family is struggling to survive as tremendous dust storms destroy the crops of farmers in the Northwestern region of the state; even Daddy's own wheat crop, which he was able to plant by getting a loan to finance the process, is eradicated by the poor conditions.

After Daddy leaves a can of kerosene by the stove while Ma is making breakfast one day, Ma accidentally mistakes the flammable liquid for water and starts a fire. Ma flees the house to get Daddy's help; meanwhile, Billie Jo picks the can up and throws it out the door, trying to prevent the whole house from starting on fire. The kerosene douses Ma, who happened to be re-entering the house at that exact moment, and sets her aflame.

Billie Jo tries to put out the fire, but Ma is horrifically burned. Ma ends up going into labour a few days later and tragically dies during childbirth. Franklin, the new baby, also perishes shortly after delivery. These deaths shake Daddy and Billie Jo's world and create huge distance between the once close father and daughter.