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A Long Way From Chicago (Puffin Modern Classics)

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Join Joey and his sister Mary Alice as they spend nine unforgettable summers with the worst influence imaginable-their grandmother!

A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.

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Join Joey and his sister Mary Alice as they spend nine unforgettable summers with the worst influence imaginable-their grandmother!

A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Peck (Strays Like Us) first created the inimitable central figure of this novel in a previously published short story. Although the narrator, Joey, and his younger sister, Mary Alice, live in the Windy city during the reign of Al Capone and Bugs Moran, most of their adventures occur "a long way from Chicago," during their annual down-state visits with Grandma Dowdel. A woman as "old as the hills," "tough as an old boot," and larger than life ("We could hardly see her town because of Grandma. She was so big, and the town was so small"), Grandma continually astounds her citified grandchildren by stretching the boundaries of truth. In eight hilarious episodes spanning the years 1929-1942, she plots outlandish schemes to even the score with various colorful members of her community, including a teenaged vandal, a drunken sheriff and a well-to-do banker. Readers will be eager to join the trio of Grandma, Joey and Mary Alice on such escapades as preparing an impressive funeral for Shotgun Cheatham, catching fish from a stolen boat and arranging the elopement of Vandalia Eubanks and Junior Stubbs. Like Grandma Dowdel's prize-winning gooseberry pie, this satire on small-town etiquette is fresh, warm and anything but ordinary.
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Each summer during the Great Depression, Joey and his sister Mary Alice board a train in Chicago and travel halfway to St. Louis to visit their grandma in a small town in Illinois. There they meet an interesting cast of characters, from the corpse of Shotgun Cheatham, to the bad Cowgill boys who blew up mailboxes and overturned outhouses, and to Vandalia Eubanks and the phantom brakeman. Every year they would learn a little more about their spunky grandmother through her unusual and intriguing interactions with the townsfolk. Peck brings the time period to life through small details, such as selecting a bottle of orange soda from a "sheet-metal vat of ice water with a bottle opener hanging down on a piece of twine," as well as via major symbols of the time such as drifters, gangsters, and that new mode of transportation, the airplane. Warmly nostalgic, beautifully written, humorous, and full of thought-provoking interpersonal relationships.
VOYA - Richard Gercken
With customary precision Peck perfectly describes his book in the subtitle: a novel in stories. Joey and his sister Mary Alice have a series of adventures on summer visits to their grandmother in a small town south of Chicago. While Grandma Dowdel is the central character, young readers will identify with her because she is a rebel at heart, described by the local sheriff as a one-woman crime wave. Grandma's crimes, on behalf of the lonely and needy, involve Joey and Mary Alice in everything from corpses rising out of their coffins to ghosts walking at night. Joey, who is nine in the first story, becomes fifteen-year-old Joe in the last one. His wry humor and shrewd observation of his elders often meet their match in his smart-talking sister as Peck depicts the gender politics between siblings. The book is filled with descriptions, insights, and glowing one-liners. The stories take place in the '30s, and Peck subtly evokes the era. He never explains anything that the characters of that time would take for granted. This book is ideal for the young person in your life who likes to read or the one that you hope will. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9 and Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-When Joey and his sister Mary Alice travel from their home in Chicago to their Grandmother's small town, they don't expect the crazy adventures they encounter there. By Richard Peck. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a novel that skillfully captures the nuances of small-town life, an elderly man reminisces about his annual trips from Chicago to his grandmother's house in rural Illinois during the Depression. When the book opens, Joey and his sister, Mary Alice, nine and seven, respectively, learn that they will be spending a week every August with Grandma Dowdel. In eight vignettes, one for each summer from 1929-1935, with the final story set when Joey's troop train passes through in 1942, Peck (Strays Like Us) weaves a wry tale that ranges from humorous to poignant. Grandma Dowdel, with her gruff persona and pragmatic outlook on life, embodies not only the heart of a small town but the spirit of an era gone by. She turns the tables on a supercilious reporter from the big city, bests the local sheriff, feeds the drifters of the Depression, inspires a brawl between elderly (ancient) war heroes, and more. Peck deftly captures the feel of the times, from the sublime bliss of rooting around the ice bin at the local store for a nickel Nehi during the dog days of summer, to a thrilling flight in a biplane. Remarkable and fine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142401101
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/12/2004
  • Series: Puffin Modern Classics Series
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 145,101
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 750L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.02 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Peck
Richard Peck created Grandma Dowdel in a short story called "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground," which became the first chapter of this book.  He says, "Grandma is too sizable to be confined in a single story, to sizable and mystifying to her growing grandchildren, who in each visit discover in her a different woman."
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Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 80 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2008

    A Long Way From Chicago Book Review Book Response

    The title of my book is A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck, I would have to rate this book four stars. This book deserves four stars because it takes everyday life and turns it into an adventure. The story is about a boy, Joey and his sister Mary Alice as they spend seven summers with their Grandma in the 1930¿s. Events like the Great Depression and World War II are seen through the eyes of this historical fiction family. Each of the stars represents a key aspect in the book. The first star is about the connection between the siblings and their Grandma, at the end of each summer, Mary Alice and Joey are sad that they are leaving their Grandmother and they all do something together. In the summer of 1931, Mary Alice and Joey helped out with the milk wagon every morning. The second star is about the law and order that Grandma had in town. Everyone in the town found out early that Grandma wasn¿t as sweet as most Grandma¿s are, she has a shotgun that hangs above the door and uses it on anyone who would bother her or the siblings like Mrs. Wilcox. The third star is about the dreams that Grandma would give to Mary Alice and Joey. Mary Alice always wanted to fly and Grandma kept telling her never to give up in that dream. The last star is about how the book connects with daily life. Richard Peck does a great job on taking what happened in that time to create a humorous story, making you think you¿re at Grandma¿s house yourself. My name is Ryan Lefler and I am an 8th grade student at Harris Road Middle School in Concord, North Carolina. Some other books that you might find interesting that I¿ve read are On the Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck and My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2000

    Wonderful way to teach about the Great Depression!

    I choose this novel to accompany a thematic unit on the Great Depression. What a wonderful book to use! The stories of Joey and Mary Alice, and their grandma, are halrious! They will keep studnet's attention while they learn!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2013

    A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck A book review by Ginger

    A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
    A book review by Ginger Dawn Harman

    Imagine it is summer 1929 and you live in Chicago. The old days of Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and Prohibition are the headline new interest of the day. You are nine and your younger sister is seven. Oh by the way, you just found out that you are being sent to your Grandma Dowdel’s home in the country for the summer. There is plenty of time to anticipate the summer ahead while on the Wabash Railroad’s crack Blue Bird train. Get ready to laugh, cry, and make a special bond with Richard Peck’s novel, A Long Way from Chicago.

    Richard Peck has been described as an author with magnificent storytelling that is comparable to American humorists Mark Twain and Flannelly O'Connor. I completely agree! Richard Peck has created a memorable world filled with characters who, like Grandma Dowdel, who are larger than life and twice as entertaining. Grandma Dowdel is eccentric, spirited, quick-witted and unafraid of authority. I should also add that she has a mischievous side to her. The story begins in rural Illinois during the Depression; the children arrive at their Grandmothers to encounter their first corpse, Shotgun Cheatham. Word is buzzing at The Coffee Pot Café with many stories surrounding his death. Leave it to Grandma Dowdel to host the viewing and funeral for a stranger who becomes a war hero and philanthropist. Many more exciting adventures happen during those eight years such as spiders and cats that attack Joey and Alice on trips to the privy, the Cowgill boys that bully the townsfolk and sheriff O. B. Dickerson and President of the Chamber of Commerce Earl T. Askew in their underwear while singing The Night that Paddy Murphy died.

    Richard Peck creates a loveable and unforgettable cast of characters such as; Effie Wilcox, Grandma’s arch enemy who is described as ”cross-eyed ugly” and “has a tongue attached in the middle and flaps at both ends.” Yet the author discreetly weaves a variety of political, social, and moral issues into the fabric of the story. Examples include: the way that Grandma takes care of old Aunt Pus saves Effie Wilcox, the outcome of Grandma switching her gooseberry pie with Mr. Pennypacker’s pie at the county fair, and most of all the love that is shared with a family no matter what is going on in the outside world. The primary point is that the book is first and foremost an entertaining and enjoyable historical novel. Readers will find much food for thought and discussion. The savvy teacher or parent can use this book on many different levels. Our son had no idea what a privy or the depression was, or who mobsters were. The character building discussions of what would you do created many vibrant conversations, and what fun is it to hear your father or friend sing Sweet Adeline.

    With unforgettable imagery, impeccable writing, and breathtakingly poignant writing, this novel is a masterpiece of a story. The author maintains the pace and drama by providing unique and believable adventures. It is a page turner. My favorite part was the ending, as I lay beside my son in bed and we read this ending many tears were flowing. I guarantee this novel will light up your heart with the special ending as the train chugs by Grandma Dowel’s house! I highly recommend Richard Peck’s young adult novel, A Long Way from Chicago.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 9, 2012

    First of all, this story is definitely aimed towards younger rea

    First of all, this story is definitely aimed towards younger readers. For me, it was a very quick and easy read. Having said that, I also found it sweet and charming, and very much worth the time to read as an adult, too.

    One of the things I like about this book is its setting and the way it's presented. It has a cozy, old-timey feel to it that makes me think I might have liked to have lived back then. It depicts a time when hard work and struggle were a way of life, but at the same time, there seemed to be a stronger sense of community and neighbors taking care of neighbors than often seems the case these days. Even Grandma, who superficially is rather anti-social and doesn't really take kindly to anyone, deep down, cares about people and tries to do right. She may like to show people up now and again, but it seems to usually be when they are getting a bit too big for their britches in her estimation. As for the presentation, I always like when the narrator presents a story, not as something he is reporting on as it happens, but rather, as an adult looking back on things that happened to him as a child - the events seen through a child's eyes, but reflected on with the wisdom of an adult. It reminds my of the TV show "The Wonder Years" and Jean Shepherd's works, like what the movie "The Christmas Story" was based on, with that similar sort of wry sense of humor about the events included, too.

    I absolutely adore the character of Grandma (I'm sure she would be externally offended, but inwardly pleased, to hear me use those words), and I love how the kids start out sort of wary of her, but as they get older, they kind of wise up to her and start to read her and play along with the things she does. I also enjoyed the author showing how Grandma rubs off on the kids, particularly Mary Alice. I kind of wish I had a Grandma in my own life (although I love my own two grandmothers to pieces- I just think everyone needs a character like Grandma in their life)!

    I will say, I actually got really teary eyed at the end, with the last little two page story. I love the characters and, even though it was a short book, by the end, I felt like I was leaving friends. I am glad to be reading A Year Down Yonder, the sequel to this book, immediately after, to get another part of Mary Alice and Grandma's stories. But at the same time, I found myself wondering/imagining what might have happened to some of the other characters later on, like Joey and Ray Veech and others. I'd like to imagine that they lived happily ever after.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2012

    A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck

    A Long Way From Chicago, a collection of mini-stories told through the eyes of Joey Dowdel, is the story of Joey’s and Mary Alice’s (Joey’s younger sister) experiences with their independent-thinking, large-personality grandma. Each chapter covers one August spent in their grandma’s small town. Joey and Mary Alice, first despising the idea of spending their summer in a small town with “nothing” to do, grow to understand and love their seemingly unsympathetic grandma more with every summer. Mary Alice and Joey tag along with their grandma in illegal fishing, spooking the town bullies, winning county contests and humbling the proud town folk. This clean, delightful book is one delightful adventure after another--each instigated by this one-of-a-kind grandma.

    topics introduced: social order, family relationships, growing up, perception of adult behavior

    Author: Richard Peck
    Age: 5th-7th grade
    Pages: about 150

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2011

    very entertaining

    nostalgia and hilarious, colorful characters. Our entire family enjoyed these short stories!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2006

    A Long Way from Chicago

    A Long Way from Chicago is a series of stories about two children¿s annual week long summer visit to their grandmother, the most unorthodox grandmother that ever was. She tells whoppers without blinking, defies the county police, and never misses an opportunity take the wind out of the sails of any of her overly lofty neighbors. In short, she does a hundred and one things of which Joey and Mary Alice are sure their parents would never approve, but what they don¿t know won¿t hurt them. The stories begin just before the onset of the depression and continue until WWII begins to loom on the horizon. Even the deepest days of the depression don¿t seem to penetrate the walls of their grandmother¿s big old house they are always eating ¿gut busting¿ breakfasts, and the pies (and fun) are never ending. Amid all the scheming, horror, and laughter are some truly touching moments that endear this strange, stolid lady to us. This is a wonderful book for children of all ages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2006

    A Long Way from Chicago

    Sometimes in life the things we expect to dread turn out to be the things we enjoy the most. This is so in A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. In this book, Joey Dowdell and his sister Mary Alice Dowdell go to their grandmother s house every summer. Neither of them wanted to go in the beginning, but they were soon to find out all of the exciting adventures they would go through while visiting their grandmother. The main character, Joey, uses different tones to describe the characters in the story. At first, when he was younger, he would describe his grandmther as 'old as the hills' and 'tough as an old boot (page 1).' As he got older and more mature, though, he becomes more observant and deep. He sees why his grandma is the way she is. He is growing and changing over the summers when he visits his grandma. It was August 1929, and Joey and Mary Alice Dowdell were heading to their grandma's house by train. They were going to see the dead body of Shotgun Cheatnam, who Grandma described as 'an old reprobate who loved poor and died broke (page 6).' Grandma let Shotgun spend his last night above ground in her living room. Joey and Mary Alice were terrified of Shotgun. Then the old tomcat made its way under his coffin and made it seem like he was still alive. Grandma took her twelve-gauge double-barreled Winchester Model 21 and blew off the top of the coffin. Joey and Mary Alice knew that from then on their summer trips were going to be very interesting. A few years later, in the summer of 1932, Grandma was baking a gooseberry pie for the annual cooking contest at the fair. The winner of the contest would be able to have a free plane ride. Joey was fascinated with planes, so he was holding his breath the whole time, hoping for a miracle. Grandma didn't win, but she tricked the pilot into thinking that she had. All the men helped her aboard, although 'Grandma was a tight fit, the plane seemed to bend beneath her (page 75).' The plane could not lift her off the ground, so she let Joey have the ride. He was ecstatic. This was definitely the climax of the story. The main character and plot were well written. Although the main character is not described directly, his personality is shown by the way he describes other chacters. The plot is well written because it does not tell you everything that is going on, but rather gives context clues so you can figure it out on your own. This book was very enjoyabe and wonderfully constructed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2005

    It is a Great Book

    I think that this is a very good book. I am reading this with my class and it is a humorous and and it is a very good book. If you are thinking about reading this, there are many words that you might not understand. I really like this book and I think that you will too. Have fun reading this book and you will get some laughs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2004

    adventurous, funny

    I am a senior in college and took a children's literature class. this was a required reading and I recommend this book to anyone age appropriate. This was a fun book which made you feel as though you were with Grandma.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2002

    For history, fun, and lots of laughs

    From sneaking and stealing the sheriff's boat to planning and trapping the Cowgill boys, summers with Grandma Dowdel are never boring. Joey and Mary Alice leave their home in Chicago every summer during the depression to visit their crazy Grandma in her small Illinios town. Grandma Dowdel always has a trick up her sleeve and never allows a dull moment to pass. Although the kids don't always know how to react, they live through these bizarre experiences with Grandma. Fond memories of the year past and excitement for the future, is always the result. The story conveys how life was during the depression and offers everyone a fun-filled reading experience. If you read this book, you will find yourself laughing out loud no matter where you are.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2002

    Great Read Aloud!

    My 6th grade students cannot wait to hear the next chapter! Grandma Dowdel provides such an interesting character study. This book is such a terrific way to give the students background and peak their interest in the Great Depression.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2002

    HAHAHAHA Very Funy

    It was good, need some more reasons to be a newbery honor book but overall very funny

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2001

    A Great Book for Middle-Schoolers

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book about Joey and Mary Alice, and the wacky adventures they have in their widowed Grandma's small town. Each story is another year, in which Joey and Mary Alice are a year older. As they get older, the adventures just get more strange. Their Grandma is a different character, who is more crafty and sharp-minded than wise, a little withdrawn, and alert. Definitely recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2000

    A Long From Chacago

    A Long way from Chicago is about a stubborn, old, sneaky grandma, who is sometimes surprising and funny. The author develops the grandma better than the kids. This is not my favorite book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 1999


    This book gives great discription of the depression. I love the characters. I would recomend this book to everone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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