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August 29

Karen Hesse, author of the Newbery-winning verse novel Out of the Dust, was born in 1952.

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Karen Hesse, author of the Newbery-winning verse novel Out of the Dust, was born in 1952.

Grades 7 – 12
Calendar Activity Type Author & Text





From an early age, Karen Hesse had an interest in and enjoyed writing. She aspired to become a professional author, in part because of the encouragement of a supportive teacher. She has authored a number of works of historical fiction which bring history alive for young readers. Hesse's writing offers a view of historical topics varying from the depression-era dustbowl to World War II, the Holocaust, and early 20th century issues of racism and bigotry.




Have your students write original short works of historical fiction in verse format, modeling the style Hesse used to write Out of the Dust. Have students read the book and discuss the ways that Hesse incorporates historical detail into her work. Then brainstorm some of the historical topics they have studied in class during the school year. Tell students they will be writing original works using the history they have studied. Have pairs of students do the following:

  • Select a history topic from the brainstorm list for their story.

  • Research the topic, looking for factual details to include in their stories (names, places, and events).

  • Create a Story Map to develop the details of their story.

  • Work as a team to write the story in verse.

When all pairs have finished their stories, display them in your classroom by having students place them in order along an historical timeline.




  • Karen Hesse's Biography

    This Scholastic resource offers an author biography and interview. There is also a link to an annotated booklist.


  • Karen Hesse: Genius at Work

    This page from Librarypoint provides information about Hesse and her work, including brief biographical information and a link to her 1998 Newbery acceptance speech.


  • Out of the Dust Research Project

    Baltimore Public Schools offers this research project based on Out of the Dust. The project is designed to enhance students' reading of the novel by building their understanding of the historical time period in which it is set.



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Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Traveling the Road to Freedom Through Research and Historical Fiction

Students learn how to walk a mile in someone else's shoes by reading historical fiction about the Underground Railroad.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Looking for the History in Historical Fiction: An Epidemic for Reading

This lesson pairs the reading of historical fiction with nonfiction to introduce students to the large themes of history.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Book Report Alternative: Writing Resumes for Characters in Historical Fiction

Students write resumes for historical fiction characters. They first explore help wanted ads to see what employers want, and then draft resumes for the characters they've chosen.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Supporting Vocabulary Development with EASE

This lesson allows teachers to enrich students' oral and written vocabulary using the EASE sequence of instruction: Enunciate, Associate, Synthesize, and Emphasize the words you want students to use.


Grades   6 – 10  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Blending the Past with Today's Technology: Using Prezi to Prepare for Historical Fiction

To prepare for literature circles featuring historical novels, students research the decades of the 1930s to the 1990s and share their information using Prezi, a web application for creating multimedia presentations.