A Long Way From Chicago (1998 Newbery Honor Book); A Year Down Yonder (2001 Newbery Medal winner); and A Season of Gifts (2009) | Dial
written by Richard Peck
Grandma Dowdel is quite possibly the best character written in the past 10-15 years. She is rowdy, independent, fierce, loving, curmudgeonly, domestic, outdoorsy, and even a tiny bit bawdy. She lives in a tiny Illinois town which is located, obviously, a long way from Chicago. In the first book, Joey and his sister Mary Alice are sent to spend the summer with their grandmother, much to their chagrin, during the Great Depression and boy do they have some adventures. Told in short-story-like chapters, each section of these books are a rousing good time for kids and parents alike. Peck's style is fun and thoughtful and seemingly effortless. But to weave together a good set of stories that makes a reader fall in love with characters and laugh and cry all at the same time is no easy task.
In A Long Way From Chicago, the first book, it is 1929 and Joey is 9 and Mary Alice is 7 with Joey as the focus of the story. In A Year Down Yonder, Mary Alice is the focalizer and she's 15. It's 1937 and Joey's gone off to plant trees with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Mary Alice is being sent to Grandma Dowdel's for the entire year after her father is laid off and her parents lose their apartment. Finally, in A Season of Gifts, it is 1958 and a new family has moved in next to Grandma Dowdel--the story is told by Bob Barnhart, a preacher's kid. (Joe and Mary Alice are all grown up by now).
Don't let the time period scare you off. These stories feel as modern as if they were set yesterday. The three together are the perfect gift for every 8-10 year old reader (even the reluctant ones) in your life!