Friday, September 25, 2009

Grandma Dowdel Takes Home the Newbery

Oh didn’t I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad’s Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma’s town…

Mary Alice’s summer days spent in Grandma Dowdel’s hick town had been packed with enough surprises and drama to fit the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen and facing a whole year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up the local populace. And all Mary Alice can know for certain is this: When trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out… better not.

Richard Peck crafts a worthy successor to his Newbery Honor-winning A Long Way from Chicago in this richly entertaining story. With its masterfully interwoven tales of moonlit adventures, lovesick maidens, and fools made to suffer in unusual (and always hilarious) ways, it’s readers will want to return time and again.

Title: A Year Down Yonder
Author: Richard Peck
Series: Grandma Dowdel, Book 2
Start & Finished: 3/23/09
Published: 2000
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Pages: 130 (hardcover)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction- Newbery Winner

Joey’s story of the summers he and his sister spent with their eccentric Grandma in A Long Way from Chicago earned the author Richard Peck a Newbery nomination but it was Mary Alice’s story in the sequel A Year Down Yonder that actually won the coveted award. Grandma is a larger than life figure in both her grandchildren’s lives and the readers' as well. The format of this book is different than when Joey was the narrator in the first one since they were only visiting Grandma during the summer each year and Mary Alice is actually living with her but it’s also the same as each "story" can stand almost completely alone.

Halloween, Christmas, Armistice Day, and even Valentine’s Day are spent in Grandma’s company during this story, even though Halloween was probably the best holiday. “To Grandma, Halloween wasn’t so much trick-or-treat as it was vittles and vengeance. Though she’d have called it justice.” Then when Christmas came around, “Somehow I didn’t think Grandma and Christmas went together,” then Mary Alice learns that Grandma goes with anything she pleases and she’ll make room for herself if not.

A Long Way from Chicago quickly became on of my favorite stories- or more accurately, Grandma Dowdel quickly became one of my favorite character- so I honestly didn’t think its sequel would measure up even if it did actually win the Newbery. I should have known that spending the year with Grandma would be better (and even more hysterically funny) than the summer no matter who the narrator was. In the end, I believe that Peck’s sequel worked so well because Mary Alice is much more like Grandma. As she puts it, “I hadn’t lived all year with her for nothing. Sometimes I thought I was turning into her. I had to watch out not to talk like her. And I was to cook like her for all the years to come.”

Richard Peck says that Grandma Dowdel is completely fiction but, “The house in the stories is certainly my grandma's, with the snowball bushes crowding the bay window and the fly strip heavy with corpses hanging down over the oilcloth kitchen table, and the path back to the privy. I even borrow my grandmother's physical presence. My grandmother was six feet tall with a fine crown of thick white hair, and she wore aprons the size of Alaska. But she wasn't Grandma Dowdel. When you're a writer, you can give yourself the grandma you wished you had,” and he gives us the Grandma we wish we all had!

Grandma Dowdel Series
A Long Way From Chicago (1998)
A Year Down Yonder (2000)
A Season of Gifts (2009)

First Paragraph: Oh, didn't I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad's Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma's town. The sandwich was still crumbs in my throat because I didn't have the dime for a bottle of pop. They wannted a dime for pop on the train.

Interviews with Richard Peck:
Education Paperback Association (EPA) (under Commentary by Richard Peck)
Notes from the Horn Book

  • A transcript of Peck's Newbery acceptance speech
  • A Year Down Yonder Book Log with quotes from the book and explanations of what they are mentioning- Burgoo for instance.
  • Kids. Librarypoint article about Richard Peck- army man, teacher, and finally author.

Richard Peck at the National Book Festival

Picture Explanations
Philco Portable Radio: One of the few things Mary Alice brings with her from Chicago
Pumpkin & Pecan Pie: Grandma “borrows” the main ingredients to make these for the school Halloween party
Kate Smith: The songbird of the south whose song about
Moonlight is very popular during the time period the book is set in and is mentioned a few times.


  1. Aww, this sounds so fun and cosy.

    PS: I was wondering if you ever got my package? *hopeful*

  2. Love this review, Ladytink :D
    What a delightful grandma! Any story about a grandma has got to be A+ in my book...LOL

    I love all the butterflies on your neat :D

    Have a Wonderful Weekend!

  3. Oh my gosh, what perfect timing. I got to hear Richard Peck speak this weekend and he was amazing. I wasn't familiar with Grandma Dowdel but after hearing him speak, I am a huge fan!

  4. This is one of my all-time favorite books, and Grandma Dowdel is one of the best literary characters out there. Peck made me feel like I was visiting my Great Grandma's town and living it up with DAR tarts, and stolen pumpkin pies.

    My sister and I both loved this book so much we picked it as a double scoop and reviewed it together. (You can read our review here, if you're interested
    Great review!

  5. Nymeth: It was and I did, thanks!

    The Chic Geek: I loved Grandma Dowdel. She's truly the grandma everyone wishes they had! Thanks :)

    Bermudaonion: Oh I bet that was neat! I've only saw a video of him once (the one I included in the post) but I really, really loved listening to him talk.

    Hollybookscoops: I plan on picking up more Peck books in the future because I just love this. Thank you for including your link!

    Naida: Especially grandmas like her!



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