A Season of Gifts


One of the most adored children’s book characters of all time is the eccentric, forceful, bighearted Grandma Dowdel, star of the Newbery Medal—winning A Year Down Yonder and Newbery Honor—winning A Long Way from Chicago. And it turns out that her story isn’t over–not even close.

It is now 1958, and a new family has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel–a family in desperate need of her help (whether they realize it or not). There’s twelve-year-old Bob, shy on courage in a town full ...

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One of the most adored children’s book characters of all time is the eccentric, forceful, bighearted Grandma Dowdel, star of the Newbery Medal—winning A Year Down Yonder and Newbery Honor—winning A Long Way from Chicago. And it turns out that her story isn’t over–not even close.

It is now 1958, and a new family has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel–a family in desperate need of her help (whether they realize it or not). There’s twelve-year-old Bob, shy on courage in a town full of bullies; his Elvis-obsessed older sister, Phyllis, who just might be on the verge of spinning out of control; Bob’s little sister, Ruth Ann, ready and waiting for a larger-than-life role model; and even Bob’s two parents, the young minister and his wife, who are amazed to discover that the last house in town might also be the most vital. As Christmas rolls around, the whole family will realize that they’ve found a true home, and a neighbor with remarkable gifts to share.

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Editorial Reviews

Kristi Jemtegaard
Full of read-aloud lines that hover between humor and heartbreak, this third installment, which begins in the dog days of summer and ends under a Christmas star, is an invitation to families everywhere to begin a tradition of giving gifts that will endure.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
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.)
Horn Book
Irascible, independent, and unorthodox as ever, Grandma Dowdel makes a welcome return...she's entered that rare pantheon of unforgettably great characters.
There's plenty to admire here . . . Highly recommended for reading aloud. , starred review
VOYA - Pam Carlson
Junior high school student Bob Barnhart, older sister Phyllis, first grader Ruth Ann, and their parents move to a small Illinois town in 1958. Their nextdoor neighbor is the indomitable and often fearsome Mrs. Dowdel of A Year Down Yonder (Dial, 2000/VOYA December 2000) and A Long Way From Chicago (Dial, 1998/VOYA December 1998). Mrs. D., although she "doesn't neighbor," proves to be an unexpected giver of gifts big and small, from fruitcakes to boosting Bob's self-confidence to restoring Ruth Ann's belief in Santa. Bob's preacher father has trouble attracting a crowd until the skeleton of the "Kickapoo Princess" is found buried in Mrs. Dowdel's backyard. His inspired preaching at the funeral for the remains establishes his reputation among all the churches of the community. Finally being the preacher's son pays off for Bob. Meanwhile a secret alliance between Mrs. Barnhart and Mrs. Dowdel helps end Elvis-obsessed Phyllis' sneaking out with Presley look-alike, bad boy Roscoe. There are so many wonderful throwaway lines that that the entire book begs to be read aloud to get the full flavor. In speaking of a fellow senior citizen, Mrs. Dowdel states, "And you think she's bow-legged now. You should have seen her as a girl. She'd try to cross her legs and miss." Do not miss this memorable gift of Peck's offbeat characters and uncommon situations interwoven with droll wit. Reviewer: Pam Carlson
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Bob Barnhart recalls living next door to Mrs. Dowdel the autumn of the year he was twelve and his preacher father was assigned to a small dilapidated church in a rural Illinois town. It was 1958. Bob's fourteen-year-old sister Phyllis, who had a crush on Elvis Presley, despised living in the small town. His lonesome little sister Ruth Ann slowly but surely became Mrs. Dowdel's sidekick. Although she is described as "real cranky, but well-armed" Bob discovered over time that this old lady had another side to her. She bestowed upon each member of the family gifts that are both tangible and intangible, and Bob's account of that year enables readers to discover what it means to be a neighbor. Peck artfully captures small town life in the 1950s. Readers familiar with Peck's A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago will be thoughtfully entertained with Mrs. Dowdel's reappearance. Although older in this book, she is still as feisty, self-reliant, wise, and quietly compassionate as ever. Peck's novel is storytelling at its finest; here we find graceful prose peppered with exquisite wordplay and understated humor. A finely drawn full-page pen-and-ink illustration introduces each of the three sections of the book, offering a glimpse of what is to come. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Grandma Dowdel (A Long Way from Chicago [1998], A Year Down Yonder [2000]) is back in Newbery Award-winning author Richard Peck's latest novel (2009, all Dial). It's 1958 and the Barnhart family—12-year-old Bob, his two sisters, his preacher father, and his mother—moves into the house next to Mrs. Dowdel. The unconventional touches of the wise, 90-year-old woman are felt throughout this story from the moment she rescues Bob from a stunt pulled by the neighborhood bad boy. Told from Bob's perspective, Peck's characters are all fully voiced by Ron McLarty, giving listeners clear images of Bob's Elvis-obsessed older sister and the other quirky characters in this small Illinois town with a big heart. The lessons that Bob learns in the year that he is Mrs. Dowdel's neighbor are gently portrayed as listeners discover the true gifts she has given to the entire town. Fans of the previous books will not be disappointed, and new listeners will feel at home.—Stephanie A. Squicciarini, Fairport Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
According to 12-year-old Bob, "We Barnharts had moved in next door to a haunted house, if a house can be haunted by a living being." Bob's first encounter with its owner, Mrs. Dowdel, is inauspicious, as she discovers Bob strung up naked in a spider's web of fishing line inside her privy. But Mrs. Dowdel offers the gift of friendship to Bob's six-year-old sister Ruth Ann, and by the end of this 1958 Christmas season, each of the Barnharts will have been touched by gifts she has given. Peck's challenge in his third Grandma Dowdel novel-Mrs. Dowdel now-is how to make the redoubtable lady the central character when she's the next-door neighbor. He succeeds admirably, bringing to life each of the five Barnharts and subtly infusing their lives with the presence of their remarkable neighbor. 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. (Historical fiction. 10 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780739385463
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/22/2009
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Peck is the first children’s writer ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal. His extensive list of honors includes the Newbery Medal (for A Year Down Yonder), a Newbery Honor (for A Long Way from Chicago), the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Scott O’Dell Award (for The River Between Us), and the Christopher Medal (for The Teacher’s Funeral). He has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. He lives in New York City.
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