A Season of Gifts

( 11 )


Relates the surprising gifts bestowed on twelve-year-old Bob Barnhart and his family, who have recently moved to a small Illinois town in 1958, by their larger-than-life neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel.

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A Season of Gifts

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Relates the surprising gifts bestowed on twelve-year-old Bob Barnhart and his family, who have recently moved to a small Illinois town in 1958, by their larger-than-life neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel.

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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: 9780142417294
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 10/14/2010
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 156,973
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Lexile: 690L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Peck
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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 29, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Courtesy of Mother Daughter Book Club.com

    Grandma Dowdel's back, only this time she's known as Mrs. Dowdel to the Methodist preacher's family that just moved in next door. The family, which includes three children, has been relocated from Terre Haute, Indiana to take over what is to be a new Methodist church but what is now a run-down building with no windows, a deteriorating roof and no congregation in a small Illinois town.

    As family members work to adjust to a new life, gruff old Mrs. Dowdel next door seems to know exactly what each needs. Bob, who tells the story, is the middle child on the verge of puberty. He's the easy target of bullies and in need of confidence as well as friends. Phyllis, fourteen going on twenty, is appalled at having to start high school in a place where she knows no one. Her obsession with everything Elvis leads her to take up with an unsavory character and start lying to her parents about where she's going and what she's doing. Six-year-old Ruth Ann is starting first grade, and she's searching for someone to look up to. The dad, of course, needs a congregation, and the mom needs help keeping them all functioning well.

    Fans of A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder will be happy to read more about Grandmas Dowdel's schemes to influence her small town and the family next door for the better. She's just a gruff as ever, but older now. The gifts she bestows are not the kind you can wrap and put under a Christmas tree, but they are the kind no receiver would seek to return. Peck is a master of subtle storytelling, letting the reader reach conclusions about the characters along the way. He's also superb at bringing bygone times to life, and in A Season of Gifts he deftly captures life in a small town during the late 1950s.

    I read this book aloud to the whole family, which includes my husband and two teen daughters. We all loved it, something rare for the four of us with our different tastes in books. I highly recommend it for family reading as well as for children aged nine and up.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Funny As Usual!

    Richard Peck brings together Grandma Dowdel and the kooky castmates that live in that small Illinois town to life again! I love that he wrote a third book as a follow-up to "A Year Down Yonder" and "A Long Way From Chicago." I grew up in a small town in northern Indiana and can imagine all these escapades occuring just as Richard Peck writes. I highly recommend these books (as a Mom and educator) for your children - and for YOU as a parent. They are imagnative and fun :0)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2014

    Great for anyone.

    This is book three of a trilogy BUT can be read as a stand alone book. This book is appropriate for anyone that understands the concept of good and bad behavior. Can maybe find a lesson in here for children. (Parents, read it first).

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  • Posted August 15, 2012

    The third book from Richard Peck describing life in a small town

    The third book from Richard Peck describing life in a small town with
    Grandma Dowdel (the first being "A Long Way From Chicago", the
    second, "A Year Down Yonder", both award winners) is told from
    the point of view of Bob, a young boy who, along with his family,
    including minister dad, mom, older sister Phyllis, and younger sister
    Ruth Ann, has moved in next door to Mrs. Dowdel. While not quite up to
    par, in my opinion, to the first two books, I still greatly enjoyed this
    one. This one is set in 1958, approximately 15 years after we last
    visited. We get a few brief mentions of Grandma's family that we met in
    the first two books, which was nice. Familiar characters, or at least
    their kin, make appearances in this book. We get to see how the town has
    grown and changed over the years (and in some cases, not changed at
    all). And, we get more of Grandma's hijinks and peculiar brand of
    good-heartedness. The only thing that keeps me from giving this book
    five stars like the first two is that it doesn't quite give the sense of
    innocence and realism the first two did. The first two felt like true
    stories that may actually have happened to the author/narrator as a
    young person and have simply garnered some embellishments over time.
    This book feels more like a story someone made up. A good story, but
    still, it doesn't quite get that ring of truth the first two did. In
    addition, in the first two stories we get to know Grandma Dowdel, to
    understand who she is, what she's like, and what her motivations are. We
    understand that underlying her actions is a sense of justice and
    integrity and generosity, and an appreciation for hard work. These
    things are revealed subtly and naturally through her actions and
    interactions in the first two books. In this latest book, these things
    felt a little more forced. Granted, these are really minor quibbles and
    come about only through comparison with the other two books, and
    otherwise, it is still a lovely book. A couple of notes about this
    book: 1) I don't recommend reading it as a stand alone. While it could,
    technically, be read on its own, you get to know Grandma Dowdel and her
    actions and motivations much better through the first two books, which
    allow you to come into this book understanding what she's like. Without
    that background, she may just come across as a loony old eccentric for
    most of this story. 2) Although it's called "A Season of
    Gifts", and the cover seems very Christmas-y, the book is not
    strictly a Christmas story, and could easly be read at any time of year.
    It starts in August, and continues on throughout the fall and into
    Christmas towards the end. So, while it certainly does make a lovely
    story to read around the holidays, it is really suitable for any time of year.

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  • Posted February 25, 2011

    A fun-filled, too similar to real life, humorous story; a surprise book-full of love and kindness.

    The Barnhart family has just moved from a nice township in Indiana to a small, isolated rural town in Illinois, not by choice, but because the head of the household, Reverend Barnhart, just received his first pulpit assignment. In addition to this change, the only house available to them is the house right next door to Grandma Dowdel, the rough old lady who "don't neighbor", best known as the ever-surprising heroine in A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago, both written by Richard Peck. This family of five is not only "short on cash", but completely lacking in the ways of a tiny rural town and the people who live there.
    The children, fourteen year old Phyllis, an Elvis fanatic who acts like she is twenty, twelve year old Bob, a lonely boy with very big dreams and little hope of fulfilling them, and Ruth Ann, a six year old in her own world looking for a role model, fear the worst and see no hope in this small forsaken town. Yet, the Barnhart children gradually come to an unconscious realization that Mrs. Dowdel may be something more than that really old, strange, rough, country lady she appears to be. She has numerous tricks up her sleeve and a sense of humor all her own.
    This virtue filled, humorous fiction by Richard Peck will fill the reader's heart with joy and laughter. It made me look at myself again and again and ask myself "What do I do?" "What can I give?" Mr. Peck has wittingly filled this story with life lessons and numerable gifts that don't come in wrapping paper. I am sure there is a message in this book for any and all of its readers. I absolutely loved this book and have reread it four times. I highly recommend this read for anyone, ages nine to adult.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2010

    Pretty good!

    A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck was a very good book. This book helped me to realize a few things in addition to it being a nice, fun, easy-read. This book was the kind that had action but not so much that you couldn't just sit down with a warm blanket and some hot chocolate and enjoy it. One major thing that I agreed with in this book was that when you are doing something good and giving to someone else, you don't have to make it big, bold, and obvious; and that was something that Mrs. Dowdel and Ellen were good at. For example, when Ellen helped Mrs. Dowdel you wouldn't have known because she was so sneaky about it. Also, there were several things you had to follow throughout this book, including the sorority girls, the bad boys, the progress of the church, the reason the crowd was in the town at the time, and so much more. This book was awesome, and I really enjoyed it. CAR : )

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  • Posted August 10, 2010

    Not Recommended

    This book was not enjoyable. It was boring and not apprehendable. I can't even tell you what it was about. I did not understand it. I would not recommend it!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    Mrs. Dowdel is at it again

    If you have read "A Year Down Yonder" and "A Long Way from chicago" you will certainly want to read this book as well. It is kind of a way to say good bye to Grandma Dowdel. I enjoyed this book but missed the excitement and adventure of the other two books. This is told from a differnt person's point of view. The year this book takes place made me wonder about Grandma Dowdel's age...how old is she and how old was she in the other books written by Richard Peck.
    As an educator and parent I think these are great books for young people to read. My mom read these as well and loved them. So great for all ages.
    I believe the other two books with Grandma Dowdel would make great movies! She is a character like no other. It was fun to hear about her once more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2010

    Mrs. Dowdel rides again

    Richard Peck does a wonderful job returning readers to visit with Grandma Dowdel. She is always the rough, tough older lady with a surprising soft spot. I love Mrs. Dowdel, her view of the world, and the way she handles issues that arise. This is a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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