The eccentric, larger-than-life Grandma Dowdel is back in this heart-warming tale. Read more...
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The eccentric, larger-than-life Grandma Dowdel is back in this heart-warming tale. Set 20 years after the events of "A Year Down Yonder," it is now 1958 and a new family has moved in next door: a Methodist minister and his wife and kids. Soon Grandma Dowdel will work her particular brand of charm on all of them: ten-year-old Bob Barnhart, who is shy on courage in a town full of bullies; his two fascinating sisters; and even his parents, who are amazed to discover that the last house in town might also be the most vital.
As Christmas rolls around, the Barnhart family realizes that they've found a true home, and a neighbor who gives gifts that will last a lifetime.
"Pitch-perfect prose, laced with humor and poignancy, strong characterization and a clear development of the theme of gifts one person can offer make this one of Peck's best novels yet--and that's saying something."--"Kirkus" (starred review)
"The type of down-home humor and vibrant characterizations Peck fans have come to adore re-emerge in full."--"Publishers Weekly" (starred review)
"With a storyteller's sure tone, Peck has once again created a whole world in one small Illinois town, a place where the folksy wisdom and generosity of one gruff old woman can change lives."--"School Library Journal" (starred review)
"Publishers Weekly" Best Books of the Year
"Kirkus Reviews" Best Books of the Year
"Booklist" Editors' Choice
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 59.
- Review Date: 2009-07-13
- Reviewer: Staff
The type of down-home humor and vibrant characterizations Peck fans have come to adore re-emerge in full as Peck resurrects Mrs. Dowdel, the irrepressible, self-sufficient grandmother featured in A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago. Set in 1958, his new novel is told from the point of view of 12-year-old Bob Barnhart, Mrs. Dowdel's new neighbor, who is distraught about having to move from Terre Haute to a “podunk” town, where his Methodist minister father has been called to shepherd a meager sprinkling of parishioners. Mrs. Dowdel is a source of entertainment, and some fear, for Bob and his sisters (“she could be amazingly light on her big pins. We'd already seen her take a broom and swat a Fuller Brush man off her porch”). But more important, she proves useful in outsmarting bullies and attracting new members to Mr. Barnhart's fold. Not all of Grandma Dowdel's gifts to the Barnharts (and in some cases the entire community) are as tangible as the windows she donates to the church, but her actions exude as much warmth and wisdom as they do hilarity. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)
A grandma with staying power
Grandma Dowdel lives! Fans of Richard Peck’s Newbery-winning books A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago know that this is indeed good news. If you haven’t met this feisty heroine, you’ve got a treat in store with A Season of Gifts.
This time, the year is 1958, and Elvis is King. A preacher, his wife and three children move next door to Grandma Dowdel in a small Illinois town. The Barnhart family includes Ruth Ann, about to enter first grade, her big sister Phyllis, who adores Elvis, and 11-year-old Bob, our narrator. Bob describes how the town bully and his minions drag him to a nearby creek, strip him of his clothes and duct-tape his mouth shut. It is indeed a horror story, but in Peck’s version, things turn out all right, and justice is finally served. The bullies end their fun by stringing Bob up over Grandma Dowdel’s privy. When she discovers him there, she swears that she will never let anyone know she has witnessed his humiliation.
Grandma quietly helps out all of Bob’s family in the short time that they are next-door neighbors. The Barnharts have little money, and their father’s church is in disrepair with no congregation. Luckily, rumors soon begin to fly that Mrs. Dowdel’s melon patch is haunted by the ghost of a native Kickapoo princess. Hundreds of folks come out to try to get a glimpse. When the crowds become overwhelming, Mrs. Dowdel presents Mr. Barnhart with a box containing, she claims, the princess’ remains. After he preaches a stirring funeral for the circus-like crowd, both his congregation and popularity begin to grow.
Peck’s lovingly written historical fiction provides a wonderful glimpse into times past. Grandma Dowdel fends for herself by canning produce, catching and cooking a turtle, gathering walnuts and hunting birds. Her gifts don’t come from stores, but they certainly last forever in these fast-paced adventures.
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.