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Karen S. Hesse (born August 29, 1952) is an American author of children's literature and literature for young adults, often with historical settings.[1] She won the Newbery Medal for Out of the Dust (1997).

Karen Hesse
Born (1952-08-29) August 29, 1952 (age 67)
Baltimore, Maryland
EducationTowson State College
Alma materUniversity of Maryland, College Park
Notable awardsNewbery Medal;
MacArthur Fellow
SpouseRandy Hesse

Early years and educationEdit

Karen Hesse was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She studied poetry at nearby Towson State College and married Randy Hesse in 1972 before completing her studies.[2] She attended college at Towson University, the University of Maryland and College Park. She earned a B.A. in English with double minors in psychology, and anthropology,[3] during which she began writing poetry.


After graduating, she moved with her husband to Brattleboro, Vermont, had two children, Rachel and Kate, took jobs in publishing, and started writing children's books.

Her first novel was a rejected story about meeting Bigfoot, but her next proposal was published by Henry Holt in 1991 as Wish on a Unicorn.[2]

Out of the Dust is a story of a girl living through the dust bowl of the Depression. The mother of the central character dies giving birth to her stillborn brother Franklin. After the mother dies, Billie Jo and her father try and continue on with their lives.

Hesse tackled a more disturbing subject in the 2001 verse novel Witness. The Ku Klux Klan, re-invigorated in the 1920s (in this book, 1924 and '25) tries to take over a small Vermont town. The book is written from the perspectives of several people - Merlin Van Tornhout and Johnny Reeves, both members of the Klan; Sara Chickering, a farmer; Esther Hirsh, a six-year-old Jewish girl; Leonora Sutter, an African American girl; Iris Weaver, a restaurateur; Harvey and Viola Pettibone, shop owners; Reynard Alexander, a newspaper editor; Fitzgerald Flitt, the doctor; and Percelle Johnson, the town constable. In Witness Hesse continued the distinctive poetic/prose style she pioneered in Out of the Dust.

Hesse also wrote The Music of Dolphins, about a girl who was raised by dolphins.

Stowaway, first published in 2000 by Simon & Schuster USA, is based on the true story of an 11-year-old boy who stowed away on Captain James Cook's ship Endeavour in 1768. The UK version of this book is published under the title Young Nick's Head. It is in the format of a diary written by Nicholas Young, the cabin boy on the Endeavour.

Brooklyn Bridge is based on the true story of the family who created the teddy bear in Brooklyn in 1903.

At age 66 years, she was living with her husband, still in Brattleboro, Vermont.


Hesse was a MacArthur Fellow in 2002. For Out of the Dust (Scholastic, 1997), she won the Newbery Medal from the American Library Association, recognizing the year's "most distinguished contribution to American literature for children", and the annual Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction. Letters from Rifka (MacMillan, 1992) won an International Reading Association Award and a National Jewish Book Award. In 2012 Hesse and Letters from Rifka received the Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association, recognizing the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award.[4]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Karen Hesse" Archived 2013-03-13 at the Wayback Machine. Children's Literature Network. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
  2. ^ a b Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Karen Hesse Books, Author Biography, and Reading Level - Scholastic".
  4. ^ "Phoenix Award Brochure 2012"[permanent dead link]. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
    See also the current homepage, "Phoenix Award" Archived 2012-03-20 at the Wayback Machine.

External linksEdit