Karen Hesse

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Karen Hesse
Hesse karen download 1.jpg
Hesse in 2002
Born (1952-08-29) August 29, 1952 (age 63)
Baltimore, Maryland
Nationality American
Education Towson State College
Alma mater University of Maryland, College Park
Notable awards Newbery Medal;
MacArthur Fellow
Spouse Randy Hesse

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 (Scholastic, 1997).


Karen was born in Baltimore, Maryland. She studied poetry at nearby Towson State College and married Randy Hesse in 1971 before completing her studies.[2] She attended college at Towson University, 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.


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 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]


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 of 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 is based on the true story of an 11-year-old boy who stowed away on Captain James Cook's ship Endeavour in 1768.

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


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