Book Discussion – January 2018

Date/Time: Monday, January 8, 7:00 pm
Reading Selection: A Year Down Yonder (2000)
by Richard Peck

A Year Down Yonder: Background

A Year Down Yonder is the second volume in the Living in Chicago Series, a set of three books written by Richard Peck for young people 8 – 12 years old (Grade Levels 3 – 7).  It is the sequel to the first book in the series, A Long Way From Chicago: A Novel in Stories (1998).  The third book in the series is, A Season of Gifts (2009).  The books were written by Richard Peck for young people 8 – 12 years old (Grade Levels 3 – 7) and have won many awards.

In order to provide a setting for this month’s book, A Year Down Yonder, it is helpful to know a bit about the first book in the series, A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories, which is A Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, an ALA Notable Book, and won an ALA Best Book for Young Adults  award.  Amazon provides a brief summary of A Long Way from Chicago:

Each summer Joey and his sister, Mary Alice—two city slickers from Chicago—visit Grandma Dowdel’s seemingly sleepy Illinois town. Soon enough, they find that it’s far from sleepy…and Grandma is far from your typical grandmother. From seeing their first corpse (and he isn’t resting easy) to helping Grandma trespass, catch the sheriff in his underwear, and feed the hungry—all in one day—Joey and Mary Alice have nine summers they’ll never forget!

Reviews of this first book in the series include:

“A rollicking celebration of an eccentric grandmother and childhood memories.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Each tale is a small masterpiece of storytelling.” —The Horn Book, starred review

“Grandma Dowdel embodies not only the heart of a small town but the spirit of an era gone by…Remarkable and fine.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

About A Year Down Yonder

This highly acclaimed sequel to A Long Way from Chicago, is not only a Newbery Medal Winner, a New York Times Bestseller, and an ALA Notable Book, but also is a an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Booklist Best Book of the Year, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.  Goodreads provides a brief summary of A Year Down Yonder:

Mary Alice’s childhood summers in Grandma Dowdel’s sleepy
Illinois town were packed with enough drama to fill the double
bill of any picture show. Now she is fifteen, and faces a whole
long year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up
her neighbors — and everyone else! All Mary Alice can know for
for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma
might turn out . . . better not.

This wry, delightful sequel to the Newbery Honor Book, A Long Way from Chicago, has already taken its place among the classics of children’s literature.  An excerpt from A Year Down Yonder is available by clicking here.  You will find it quite entertaining!

Editorial Reviews of A Year Down Yonder:

“Grandma Dowdel’s back! She’s just as feisty and terrifying and goodhearted as she was in Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago, and every bit as funny. In the first book, a Newbery Honor winner, Grandma’s rampages were seen through the eyes of her grandson Joey, who, with his sister, Mary Alice, was sent down from Chicago for a week every summer to visit. But now it’s 1937 and Joey has gone off to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps, while 15-year-old Mary Alice has to go stay with Grandma alone–for a whole year, maybe longer. From the very first moment when she arrives at the depot clutching her Philco portable radio and her cat, Bootsie, Mary Alice knows it won’t be easy. And it’s not. She has to sleep alone in the attic, attend a hick town school where in spite of her worn-out coat she’s “the rich girl from Chicago,” and be an accomplice in Grandma’s outrageous schemes to run the town her own way–and do good while nobody’s looking. But being Grandma’s sidekick is always interesting, and by the end of the year, Mary Alice has grown to see the formidable love in the heart of her formidable Grandma.

Peck is at his best with these hilarious stories that rest solidly within the American literary tradition of Mark Twain and Bret Harte. Teachers will cherish them as great read-alouds, and older teens will gain historical perspective from this lively picture of the depression years in small-town America.”  [(Ages 12 and older) – Patty Campbell – This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.] – Amazon

“In this Newbery Honor book, Chicago-bred Mary Alice has been sentenced to a year-long stay in rural Illinois with her irrepressible, rough and gruff grandmother. Soon, however, she becomes Grandma’s partner in crime, helping to carry out madcap schemes to benefit friends and avenge enemies. In a starred review, PW called this sequel to A Long Way to Chicago ‘hilarious and poignant.’ Ages 10-14.”
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. – Publishers Weekly

“Grade 5-8-Peck charms readers once again with this entertaining sequel to A Long Way from Chicago (Dial, 1998). This time, 15-year-old Mary Alice visits Grandma Dowdel alone for a one-year stay, while her parents struggle through the recession of 1937 looking for jobs and better housing. With her older brother, Joey, working out west in a government program, Mary Alice takes a turn at recounting memorable and pivotal moments of her year with Grandma. Beneath the woman’s fierce independence and nonconformity, Mary Alice discovers compassion, humor, and intuition. She watches her grandmother exact the perfect revenge on a classmate who bullies her on the first day of school, and she witnesses her “shameless” tactics to solicit donations from Veteran’s Day “burgoo” eaters whose contributions are given to Mrs. Abernathy’s blind, paralyzed, war-veteran son. From her energetic, eccentric, but devoted Grandma, she learns not only how to cook but also how to deal honestly and fairly with people. At story’s end, Mary Alice returns several years later to wed the soldier, Royce McNabb, who was her classmate during the year spent with Grandma. Again, Peck has created a delightful, insightful tale that resounds with a storyteller’s wit, humor, and vivid description. Mary Alice’s memories capture the atmosphere, attitudes, and lifestyle of the times while shedding light on human strengths and weaknesses.” – School Library Journal
[Gerry Larson, Durham School of the Arts, NC  Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.]

“Gr. 6-10. With the same combination of wit, gentleness, and outrageous farce as Peck’s Newbery Honor book, Long Way from Chicago (1998), this sequel tells the story of Joey’s younger sister, Mary Alice, 15, who spends the year of 1937 back with Grandma Dowdel in a small town in Illinois. It’s still the Depression; Dad has lost his job, and Mary Alice has been sent from Chicago to live with Grandma and enroll in the “hick-town’s” 25-student high school. As in the first book, much of the fun comes from the larger-than-life characters, whether it’s the snobbish DAR ladies or the visiting WPA artist, who paints a nude picture of the postmistress (nude , not naked ; he studied in Paris). The wry one-liners and tall tales are usually Grandma’s (“When I was a girl, we had to walk in our sleep to keep from freezing to death”), or Mary Alice’s commentary as she looks back (“Everybody in this town knew everything about you. They knew things that hadn’t even happened yet”). That adult perspective is occasionally intrusive and Mary Alice sometimes seems younger than 15, though her awkward romance with a classmate is timeless. The heart of the book is Grandma–huge and overbearing, totally outside polite society. Just as powerful is what’s hidden: Mary Alice discovers kindness and grace as well as snakes in the attic. Most moving is Mary Alice’s own growth. During a tornado she leaves her shelter to make sure that Grandma is safe at home. In fact, as Mary Alice looks back, it’s clear that Grandma has remained her role model, never more generous than when she helped her granddaughter leave.” Hazel Rochman – Booklist  [Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.]  Also See:  “Community Reviews” at


 Richard Peck is an American novelist known for his prolific contributions to modern young adult literature. He was awarded the Newbery Medal in 2001 for his novel A Year Down Yonder.

Richard Peck was born in 1934 in Decatur, Illinois, a town he describes as quiet and safe. His mother, Virginia, was a dietitian and his father, Wayne, was a merchant who often rode his Harley Davidson to work.

Richard was crazy about cars when he was young and took pride in the fact that he could instantly identify the make and model of each on-coming car.  He grew up during World War II and credits his writing career to the many hours he spent with his mother reading books.  He went to college in Exeter, England, and then served a stint in the army. He then became a junior high school teacher. He taught in Illinois and in New York City. Then his real steps into the writing profession began. While still teaching, he wrote a column on the architecture of historic neighborhoods for the New York Times and contributed articles to the Saturday Review of Literature and the Chicago Tribune as well as other magazines and newspapers. In 1971 he left teaching to become a full time writer. His first novel was Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt (1999)For many years Richard Peck signed on as a temporary lecturer for around the world cruises. These trips enabled him to travel, to teach and to meet people who sometimes appear in his books. He advises young people who want to become writers to get to know people who don’t conform to the group. This is a common theme in many of his novels.

Peck’s work encompasses multiple genres – Children’s Books, Young Adult, and Literature and Fiction.  He was influenced by Paul Zindel (see below), who also worked in multiple genres (Drama, Novels, Screenplays).  Both Peck and Zindel won the ALA YALSA Margaret A. Edwards Award (School Library Journal) for their “significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature” as defined by a specific body of their work.  [Sources: .  Accessed December 19, 2017 and .  Access date: Same. ]


Literary Awards

Richard Peck has become one of America’s most highly respected writers for young adults. A versatile writer, he is beloved by middle graders as well as young adults for his mysteries and coming-of-age novels. He now lives in New York City. In addition to writing, he spends a great deal of time traveling around the country attending speaking engagements at conferences, schools and libraries…Mr. Peck has won a number of major awards for the body of his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award from School Library Journal, the National Council of Teachers of English/ALAN Award, and the 1991 Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi. Virtually every publication and association in the field of children s literature has recommended his books, including Mystery Writers of America which twice gave him their Edgar Allan Poe Award. Dial Books for Young Readers is honored to welcome Richard Peck to its list with Lost in Cyberspace and its sequel The Great Interactive Dream Machine…  [Source:  Amazon’s Richard Peck Page ]

The Illinois Authors Page presents a more complete and “specific-to-the-work” list of Peck’s Literary Awards:

Are You in the House Alone?  (Edgar Allan Poe Award, Best Juvenile, 1977)
A Long Way from Chicago (Finalist, Newbery Honor National Book Award, 1999)
A Year Down Yonder (Newbery Medal, 2001)
The River Between Us (Scott O`Dell Historical Fiction Award, 2001)
Fair Weather (Chicago Tribune Prize for Young Adult Fiction, 2002)
On the Wings of Heroes (ILLINOIS READS Book Selection, Illinois Reading Council, 2015)
The Best Man
E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor, 2017; Student Book Award, Maine, 2017; Honor Award for Fiction, Boston Globe-Horn, 2017; “Best of 2016” lists: The Horn Book, Booklist, New York Times, Amazon, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, School Library Journal, San Francisco   Chronicle, New York Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly and BookPage, 2017; AWARD *ILLINOIS READS Book Selection, Illinois Reading Council, 2017

Body of Work Awards

• Illinois Author of the Year, Illinois Association of Teachers of English, 1977
• Margaret A. Edwards Award for “significant and lasting contributions to young adult literature”, 1990
• Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) Award for “outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature”, 1990
• University of Southern Mississippi Medallion for “outstanding contributions to the field of children’s literature”, 1991
• National Humanities Medal, 2001
• Jeremiah Ludington Memorial Award, 2004


“I read because one life isn’t enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody;

I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;

I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map;

I read because I have friends who don’t, and young though they are, they’re beginning to run out of material;

I read because every journey begins at the library, and it’s time for me to start packing;

I read because one of these days I’m going to get out of this town, and I’m going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.”
Source: See the  Goodreads Richard Peck page for these and more quotes.


  • Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt, 1972
  • Dreamland Lake, 1973
  • Through a Brief Darkness, 1973
  • Representing Super Doll, 1974
  • Are You in the House Alone?, 1976
  • The Ghost Belonged to Me, 1976
  • Ghosts I Have Been, 1977
  • Monster Night at Grandma’s House, 1977
  • Father Figure, 1978
  • Secrets of the Shopping Mall, 1979
  • Amanda, 1980
  • Close Enough to Touch, 1981
  • New York Time, 1981
  • The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp, 1983
  • This Family of Women, 1983
  • Remembering the Good Times, 1985
  • Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death, 1986
  • Princess Ashley, Laural Leaf, 1987
  • Write a Tale of Terror, Pieces of Learning, 1987
  • Those Summer Girls I Never Met, Laural Leaf, 1988
  • Voices After Midnight, Dell , 1990
  • Unfinished Portrait of Jessica, Laural Leaf, 1991
  • Anonymously Yours, Somon and Schuster, 1991
  • Bel-Air Bambi and the Mall Rats, Delacorte Press (New York), 1993
  • Love and Death at the Mall: Teaching and Writing for the Literate Young, 1994
  • The Last Safe Place on Earth, Delacorte Press, 1995
  • Lost in Cyberspace, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York), 1995
  • The Great Interactive Dream Machine, Another Adventure in Cyberspace, Dial Books, 1996
  • London Holiday, Thorndike Press, 1998
  • A Long Way from Chicago, A Novel in Stories, Dial Books, 1998
  • Strays Like Us, Dial Books, 1998
  • A Year Down Yonder, Dial Books, 2000
  • Fair Weather, Dial Books, 2001
  • Invitations to the World: Teaching and Writing for the Young, Dial, 2002
  • The River Between Us, Penguin Group, 2003
  • The Teacher’s Funeral, Dial Books, 2004
  • Past Perfect, Present Tense, Dial Books, 2004
  • Here Lies The Librarian, Penguin Group, 2006
  • On the Wings of Heroes, Penguin Group, 2007
  • A Season of Gifts, 2009
  • Three Quarters Dead 2010
  • Secrets at Sea, 2011
  • The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail, 2013
  • The Best Man, Dial Books, 2016


About Paul Zindel (1936 – 2003)

Zindel wrote a total of 53 books, all but one of them aimed at children or teens. Many were set in his home town of Staten Island. They tended to be semi-autobiographical, focusing on teenage misfits with abusive or neglectful parents. Zindel himself grew up in a single-parent household; his mother worked at various occupations: hat check girl, shipyard worker, dog breeder, hot dog vendor, and finally licensed practical nurse, often boarding terminally ill patients at home.  They moved frequently, and his mother often engaged in “get-rich-quick” schemes that did not succeed. His father abandoned them.  This upbringing was most closely depicted in Confessions of a Teenage Baboon.

In 1964, he wrote The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, his first and most successful play. The play ran off-Broadway in 1970, and on Broadway in 1971, and he received the 1971 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for the work.

Despite the often dark subject matter of his books, which deal with loneliness, loss, and the effects of abuse, they are also filled with humor. Many of his novels have zany titles, such as My Darling, My Hamburger, Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on My Eyeball! or Confessions of a Teenage Baboon.  [Source: .  Accessed:  December 19, 2017.]



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