A Year Down Yonder [NOOK Book]


Richard Peck's Newbery Medal-winning sequel to A Long Way from Chicago

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. But 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 certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma might ...
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A Year Down Yonder

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Richard Peck's Newbery Medal-winning sequel to A Long Way from Chicago

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. But 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 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.

"Hilarious and poignant." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A Newbery Medal Winner
A New York Times Bestseller
An ALA Notable Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Booklist Best Book of the Year
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Winner of the 2001 Newbery Medal

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Richard Peck, whose hysterical historical novel, A Long Way to Chicago, was a 1999 Newbery Honor Book, does it again. This time out, Peck wins the 2001 Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder, the sequel to his 1999 award winner, which introduced the indomitable and fearsome figure of Grandma Dowdel as viewed through the eyes of her grandson Joey. Once again Peck takes his readers to the tiny Illinois town where this coolly conniving grandmother lives, but now we see her through the eyes of her granddaughter, 15-year-old Mary Alice.

It's 1937, and while rumor has it that the worst of the Depression is over, the "Roosevelt recession" is firmly in place. It's not bad enough that Mary Alice's dad has lost his job, or that her parents are being forced to move into a "light housekeeping" room, or that her older brother Joey has gone off to plant trees out west with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Now Mary Alice must spend a year living with her feisty and formidable grandmother in a hick town where the other kids in school think of her as the "rich Chicago girl." Grandma Dowdel is well known about town and most of the residents cower in fear at the mere sight of her. It's a fear well justified, for the woman has little tolerance for fools, a rifle she knows how to use, and a knack for cooking up outrageous schemes. At first, Mary Alice finds herself an unwitting (and often unwilling) accomplice to some of Grandma's more shocking manipulations, but as time goes by, Mary Alice discovers a knack of her own when it comes to conniving.

Peck evokes a wonderful sense of time and place, depicting the harsh realities and simple lifestyles of these Depression-era folk through catchy colloquialisms and delightful details. Grandma Dowdel is a truly unique and unforgettable character capable of generating awe as well as side-splitting laughter. The supporting cast is equally entertaining, from the bumbling antics of the local farm boys to the snooty-nosed members of the local DAR group. And as Mary Alice struggles to deal with some typical (and not so!) adolescent problems -- peer pressure, poverty, love pangs, and the indignities of using a privy -- Grandma Dowdel teaches her some of the larger lessons in life, including her own brand of justice and the real meaning of unconditional love.

--Beth Amos

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this hilarious and poignant sequel to A Long Way to Chicago, Peck once again shows that country life is anything but boring. Chicago-bred Mary Alice (who has previously weathered annual week-long visits with Grandma Dowdel) has been sentenced to a year-long stay in rural Illinois with her irrepressible, rough and gruff grandmother, while Joey heads west with the Civilian Conservation Corps, and her parents struggle to get back on their feet during the 1937 recession. Each season brings new adventures to 15-year-old Mary Alice as she becomes Grandma's partner in crime, helping to carry out madcap schemes to benefit friends and avenge enemies. Around Halloween, for example, the woman, armed with wire, a railroad spike and a bucket of glue, outsmarts a gang of pranksters bent on upturning her privy. Later on, she proves just as apt at squeezing change out of the pockets of skinflints, putting prim and proper DAR ladies in their place and arranging an unlikely match between a schoolmarm and a WPA artist of nude models. Between antic capers, Peck reveals a marshmallow heart inside Grandma's rock-hard exterior and adroitly exposes the mutual, unspoken affection she shares with her granddaughter. Like Mary Alice, audience members will breathe a sigh of regret when the eventful year "down yonder" draws to a close. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly
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. (Dec.)
Because of a recession in 1937, Mary Alice's family is once more in financial difficulties. Her brother Joey goes out West with the Civilian Conservation Corps and Mary Alice is sent again to her grandmother's house in a small town in Illinois. Now she is 15 years old and must attend the tiny high school where the girls are bitterly competitive. The chapters read like vignettes, offering amusing stories of the eccentric grandmother, who truly seems to enjoy getting the town in an uproar. One escapade is more outlandish than another. The one that stands out is an episode when Mary Alice gets up the nerve to ask the one handsome boy in her class to come over to help her with her math. The two are self-consciously trying to find things to say when suddenly there are shrieks from the attic and the naked postmistress comes racing down the stairs and out the door—with a live snake draped around her body. It seems that the boarder, an artist, was using the woman as a model when a snake (which grandmother encouraged to live in the rafters to keep the bird population in check) landed on the woman's body to create the chaos. "Grandma worked around her to get the front door open. With a scream and a hiss, Maxine and the snake leaped through it. They did a fast Hawaiian hula off the porch and skimmed around the snowball bushes, making for town. That's too good a show to keep to ourselves,' Grandma said." The potential boyfriend edged to the door. "Well, I probably ought to get going,' he said. But...thanks. It was a real interesting afternoon. I never saw a __' But now he was gone...and all my hopes went with him." By the end of the school year, the relationship between Mary Alice and hergrandmother has changed beyond recognition, and Mary Alice feels that she is in her true home. This kind of humor is what Peck can do so well - small-town shenanigans. He is describing a completely different world, one long past, but he certainly makes it interesting. (Sequel to a Long Way from Chicago). KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2000, Penguin Putnam/Dial, 130p, 99-34159, $16.99. Ages 13 to 15. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; January 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 1)
From The Critics
This sequel to Newbery Honor book, A Long Way from Chicago, focuses on Mary Alice's junior year of high school and her deepening bond with her feisty Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois. Mary Alice and her family are living in Chicago, where they are trying to get back on their feet after feeling the effects of the Great Depression. The most intriguing character is clearly the wise and very unconventional grandma, a Depression-era Robin Hood who continues to embarrass and outsmart locals most deserving of her tricks and to help those most needy without making them feel that she has done them a favor. Several other adult characters and a handful of classmates round out this story, including Royce McNabb, another newcomer to the community who announces at the end of the school year that he'll write to Mary Alice from the University of Illinois. In an afterward, Mary Alice returns to Grandma Dowdell's house for her wedding to Royce, which occurs during World War II. She ends the story by telling the reader, "We lived happily ever after." An odd ending to an otherwise entertaining, light read about everyday life as managed by people who survived the Great Depression. Genre: Historical/Growing-Up/Family 2000, Dial, 120 pp., $16.99. Ages 9 up. Reviewer: Sheila Gullickson; Moorhead, Minnesota
From The Critics
Things can't get much worse, or can they? The year is 1937. The Great Depression seems like it will never end. Times are hard, especially for Mary Alice. Her parents' job will not allow her to live with them, so she's being sent to spend the year with Grandma Dowdel. As she climbs aboard the Blue Bird train, she overhears her mother mutter, "Better you than me." She had been to Grandma Dowdel's before but always with her brother Joey, and then those visits were only for a week. But, this was going to be a whole long year in a hick town away from the excitement of Chicago. She would not be able to see her parents or Joey, and worst of all, Mary Alice was going to be alone with Grandma Dowdel. Everyone in town knows Grandma and seems to fear her looming presence. And no wonder. Physically she's large, with a corresponding personality. She's intimidating, imposing, and frankly a bit odd. If Mary Alice had forgotten, she is reminded upon her arrival at the train station where, after a brisk greeting, she's whisked away and, without even the chance to unpack, is taken directly to school. Things don't get much better, with a school devoid of boys and brimming with cliquey girls. But after some initial challenges, she warms to small town living, and her grandmother. Grandma Dowdel is full of surprises. She knows how to deal with bullies—a method involving delicacies from her larder, a pair of boots, and a stolen horse. She is also very creative in acquiring pecans for a pie—some pluck and an old farm tractor required. But mostly Mary Alice learns the endearing qualities behind her grandmother's eccentric behavior. Before she knows it, she feels like she's becoming Grandma Dowdel, andshe doesn't mind at all. Richard Peck is a well-known writer with more than two dozen children's books to his credit. The prequil to A Year Down Yonder, called A Long Way from Chicago (Dial, 1998), earned him a 1999 Newbery Honor Award. His new work promises more accolades. Unlike many sequels, the second book stands firmly on its own. In fact, his characters and sense of place are even stronger in this second book. Especially impressive is his ability to depict Grandma Dowdel's stronger character traits as assets, rather than flaws. Further, he seems to have an innate understanding of the young mind—and heart—making his female characters real and engaging. But if this doesn't win you over to A Year Down Yonder, the book is also deliciously funny. Peck interweaves humor into his delightfully unpredictable plots. But parents should be strongly cautioned, their children should not read the book alone. Why should they have all the fun? 2000, Dial, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Michelle Wehrwein-Albion — The Five Owls, January/February 2001 (Vol. 15 No. 3)
Children's Literature
A Year down Yonder seems more a companion than a sequel to Peck's 1999 Newbery Honor book, A Long Way from Chicago. Peck shows his brilliance in setting up parallel structures and creating two very different books. In the first book, Joey and his younger sister, Mary Alice spend a series of summers with their cantankerous, eccentric grandmother and Joey tells the story. The second book takes place in 1927. Joey is working with the CCC planting trees out west, their father is out of work, and sixteen-year-old Mary Alice must spend a year with her grandmother enrolled in a hick school. There is continuity of place and character in both books. The small town's culture is still the same, those who are snobby have no right to be, those who have no money are rich in some way, and everyone fears Mary Alice's grandmother. Mary Alice's voice and sensibilities are different than Joey's. Her voice is softer, more poetic and inquisitive. As much as Joey loves his grandmother, his understanding comes in glimpses and never runs quite as deep as Mary Alice's perceptions. Shared history and gender has allowed Mary Alice to understand and trust her grandmother's Robin Hood style of justice. She knows the deserving always receive a big slice of pie, whether it is pecan or humble. There are still wonderful similes and colorful dialogue, especially coming from Grandma. She sums out whole stories in a vivid sentence, or two. "When I was a girl," she tells Mary Alice, "a tornado hit an outdoor band concert. It twisted the tuba player four feet into the ground like a corkscrew before we could get help to him." These are the lines that make you laugh out loud. When Mary Alice questions her grandmother about theage of an ancient woman, she answers, "You would have to cut off her head and count the rings in her neck." Soon Mary Alice begins to see, think and talk like her grandmother. From pithy, startling analyses like the time she sizes up a bully and declares, "If you are going to read minds, start with a simple one," to her las
Sequels are a tricky business. Many are pale companions to their originals. With a skillful writer such as Peck, however, sequels can shine and sparkle with new life. Such is the case with this sequel to his Newbery Honor-winning A Long Way from Chicago (Dial, 1998/VOYA December 1998). The year is 1937, and the aftermath of the Great Depression is still being felt by the Dowdel family. Reluctantly, the Dowdels decide to send Mary Alice to live with Grandma for a year. Mary Alice barely has been able to endure summers with Grandma in the company of her older brother. How will she survive a year in this hick town by herself? Present in this hilarious tale are the requisite "villains"—young boys wreaking havoc on Halloween, snooty women who dare to leave Grandma out of their plans, and others too blind to see Grandma as a more than formidable opponent in any fight. Told in a series of interlocking stories as was the first book, the novel never loses its charming sense of humor even though the vignettes ultimately deal with important issues such as class, gossip, and friendship. This book will make an excellent read-aloud to middle school classes. History teachers might want to share a story or two from the novel as a lead-in to the discussion of the society of the Great Depression and the recession that followed. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P M (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8). 2000, Dial, 144p, $16.99. Ages 12 to 14. Reviewer: Teri Lesesne

SOURCE: VOYA, December 2000 (Vol. 23, No. 5)

School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Richard Peck's Newbery Award-winner (Dial, 2000) is a multi-layered story of small town life spiced with humor, love, and a bit of history. Although 15-year-old Mary Alice Dowdel is none too happy when she must spend a year with Grandma Dowdel. It's 1937, and her parents are only able to afford a small room in Chicago, and her much-loved older brother, Joey, is off serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps. Mary Alice worries about fitting in at the two-room schoolhouse, and wonders how she'll cope with her crusty, sometimes embarrassingly eccentric grandmother. Harsh Depression era realities are not ignored, but listeners will spend most of their time laughing at the way Grandma outwits a classroom bully, some Halloween pranksters, and the local D.A.R. An itinerant artist, a risqu postmistress, and a community full of memorable characters provide more laughs. After twelve months, Mary Alice feels at home in this tiny Illinois town, and has developed a new respect and abiding affection for her maverick grandmother. Lois Smith's masterful comic timing has a country flair that conveys Peck's humorous and heartwarming book perfectly. This is a must buy for every library with audiobook collections. Even high school and adult audiences will enjoy A Year Down Yonder.-Barbara Wysocki, Cora J. Belden Library. Rocky Hill, CT Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Mary Alice's summers in a hick town with her grandmother are one thing; but when she faces a year with the cantankerous woman, she finds her life challenged with new ideas and a feisty woman who can set the town on its heels. A warm story of very different personalities who clash and learn.
Kirkus Reviews
Set in 1937 during the so-called "Roosevelt recession," tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn't "even have a picture show." This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with "eyes in the back of her heart." Peck's slice-of-life novel doesn't have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader's interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn't an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—"She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites"—and Mary Alice's shrewd, prickly observations: "Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city." Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)
From the Publisher
"In this hilarious and poignant sequel to A Long Way to Chicago, Peck once again shows that country life is anything but boring." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Again, Peck has created a delightful, insightful tale that resounds with a storyteller's wit, humor, and vivid description." —School Library Journal

"With the same combination of wit, gentleness, and outrageous farce as Peck's Newbery Honor book, Long Way from Chicago, 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." —Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440672729
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 12/30/2002
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 84,829
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 610L (what's this?)
  • File size: 150 KB

Meet the Author

Richard Peck
"I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Decatur, Illinois, a middle-American town in a time when teenagers were considered guilty until proven innocent, which is fair enough. My mother read to me before I could read to myself, and so I dreamed from the start of being a writer in New
York. But Decatur returned to haunt me, becoming the "Bluff City" of my four novels starring Alexander Armsworth and Blossom Culp. When I was young, we were never more than five minutes from the nearest adult, and that solved most of the problems I write about for a later
generation living nearer the edge. The freedoms and choices prematurely imposed upon young people today have created an entire literature for them. But then novels are never about people
living easy lives through tranquil times; novels are the biographies of survivors.

"I went to college in Indiana and then England, and I was a soldier in Germany -- a chaplain's assistant in Stuttgart -- ghost-writing sermons and hearing more confessions than the clergy. In Decatur we'd been brought up to make a living and not to take chances, and so I became an English teacher, thinking this was as close to the written word as I'd be allowed to come. And it was teaching that made a writer out of me. I found my future readers right there in the roll book.
After all, a novel is about the individual within the group, and that's how I saw young people every day, as their parents never do. In all my novels, you have to declare your independence from your peers before you can take that first real step toward yourself. As a teacher, I'd noticed
that nobody ever grows up in a group.

"I wrote my first line of fiction on May 24th, 1971 -- after seventh period. I'd quit my teaching job that day, liberated at last from my tenure and hospitalization. At first, I wrote with my own students in mind. Shortly, I noticed that while I was growing older every minute at the typewriter,
my readers remained mysteriously the same age. For inspiration, I now travel about sixty thousand miles a year, on the trail of the young. Now, I never start a novel until some young reader, somewhere, gives me the necessary nudge..

"In an age when hardly more than half my readers live in the same homes as their fathers, I was moved to write Father Figure. In it a teenaged boy who has played the father-figure
role to his little brother is threatened when they are both reunited with the father they hardly know. It's a
novel like so many of our novels that moves from anger to hope in situations to convince young readers that novels can be about them...

"I wrote Are You in the House Alone? when I learned that the typical victim of our fastest growing, least-reported crime, rape, is a teenager -- one of my own readers, perhaps. It's not a novel to tell young readers what rape is. They already know that. It's meant to portray a character who must become something more than a victim in our judicial system that defers to the

"Two of my latest attempts to keep pace with the young are a comedy called Lost in Cyberspace and its sequel, The Great Interactive Dream Machine. Like a lot of adults, I noticed that twelve year olds are already far more computer-literate than I will ever be. As a writer, I could create a funny story on the subject, but I expect young readers will be more
attracted to it because it is also a story about two friends having adventures together. There's a touch of time travel in it, too, cybernetically speaking, for those readers who liked sharing Blossom Culp's exploits. And the setting is New York, that magic place I dreamed of when I was
young in Decatur, Illinois..."

More About Richard Peck

Richard Peck has written over twenty novels, and in the process 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...

Twenty Minutes a Day

by Richard Peck

Read to your children

Twenty minutes a day;

You have the time,

And so do they.

Read while the laundry is in the machine;

Read while the dinner cooks;

Tuck a child in the crook of your arm

And reach for the library books.

Hide the remote,

Let the computer games cool,

For one day your children will be off to school;

Remedial? Gifted? You have the choice;

Let them hear their first tales

In the sound of your voice.

Read in the morning;

Read over noon;

Read by the light of

Goodnight Moon.

Turn the pages together,

Sitting close as you'll fit,

Till a small voice beside you says,

"Hey, don't quit."

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

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Read an Excerpt


It was a September morning, hazy with late summer, and now with all the years between. Mother was seeing me off at Dearborn Station in Chicago. We'd come in a taxicab because of my trunk. But Mother would ride back home on the El. There wasn't much more than a nickel in her purse, and only a sandwich for the train in mine. My ticket had pretty well cleaned us out.

The trunk, a small one, held every stitch of clothes I had and two or three things of Mother's that fit me. "Try not to grow too fast," she murmured. "But anyway, skirts are shorter this year."

Then we couldn't look at each other. I was fifteen, and I'd been growing like a weed. My shoes from Easter gripped my feet.

A billboard across from the station read:


This was to make us think the hard times were past. But now in 1937 a recession had brought us low again. People were beginning to call it the Roosevelt recession.

Dad lost his job, so we'd had to give up the apartment. He and Mother were moving into a "light housekeeping" room. They could get it for seven dollars a week, with kitchen privileges, but it was only big enough for the two of them.

My brother Joey -- Joe -- had been taken on by the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees out west. That left me, Mary Alice. I wished I was two years older and a boy. I wished I was Joey.

But I wasn't, so I had to go down to live with Grandma Dowdel, till we could get on our feet as a family again. It meant I'd have to leave my school. I'd have to enroll in the hick-town school where Grandma lived. Me, a city girl, in a town that didn't even have a picture show.

It meant I'd be living with Grandma. No telephone, of course. And the attic was spooky and stuffy, and you had to go outdoors to the privy. Nothing modern. Everything as old as Grandma. Some of it older.

Now they were calling the train, and my eyes got blurry. Always before, Joey and I had gone to Grandma's for a week in the summer. Now it was just me. And at the other end of the trip -- Grandma.

Mother gave me a quick squeeze before she let me go. And I could swear I heard her murmur, "Better you than me."

She meant Grandma.

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Table of Contents

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Reading Group Guide


Young readers who live in age-segregated suburbs need the wisdom, and the wit, of elders. After all, this is a young generation who no longer even have to write thank-you notes for gifts from grandparents. They rob themselves of their own histories and are once again at the mercy of each other.

But stories are better than that. They champion the individual, not the mass movement. They mix up the generations. They provide a continuity growing hard to come by. And laughter. Best of all, laughter.

Every summer from 1929-1935, in A Long Way from Chicago, Joey Dowdel and his younger sister, Mary Alice, are sent to spend a week with their grandmother in her small Illinois town located halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. Not even the big city crimes of Chicago offer as much excitement as Grandma Dowdel when she outwits the banker, sets illegal fish traps, catches the town's poker playing business men in their underwear, and saves the town from the terror of the Cowgill boys. Now an old man, Joe Dowdel remembers these seven summers and the "larger than life" woman who out-smarted the law and used blackmail to help those in need.


Richard Peck has written over twenty novels, and in the process has become one of America's most highly respected writers for young adults. A versatile writer, he is beloved, by those in middle school as well as young adults, for his mysteries and coming-of-age novels. In addition to writing, he spends a great deal of time traveling around the country attending speaking engagements at conferences, schools and libraries. He now lives in New York City.

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.


Grandma Dowdel and I

Once in a while in a long writing career, one character rises off the page and takes on special life. So it happened with Grandma Dowdel in A Long Way from Chicago and again in A Year Down Yonder. Meant to be larger than life, she became all too lifelike. The letters came in at once: "Was she YOUR grandmother", they ask? Did my own grandmother fire off both barrels of a shotgun in her own front room? Did she pour warm glue on the head of a hapless Halloweener? Did she spike the punch at a DAR tea? Well, no. Writers aren't given much credit for creativity.

Yet writing is the quest for roots, and I draw on my earliest memories of visiting my grandmother in a little town cut by the tracks of the Wabash Railroad. It was, in fact, Cerro Gordo, Illinois. I use that town in my stories, though I never name it, wanting readers to think of small towns they know.

The house in the stories is certainly my grandma's, with the snowball bushes crowding the bay window and the fly strip heavy with corpses hanging down over the oilcloth kitchen table, and the path back to the privy.

I even borrow my grandmother's physical presence. My grandmother was six feet tall with a fine crown of thick white hair, and she wore aprons the size of Alaska. But she wasn't Grandma Dowdel. When you're a writer, you can give yourself the grandma you wished you had.

Perhaps she's popular with readers because she isn't an old lady at all. Maybe she's a teenager in disguise. After all, she believes the rules are for other people. She always wants her own way. And her best friend and worst enemy is the same person [Mrs. Wilcox]. Sounds like adolescence to me, and even more like puberty.

But whoever she is, she's an individual. Young readers need stories of rugged individualism because most of them live in a world completely ruled by peer-group conformity.


  • Describe Joey and Mary Alice's relationship with Grandma Dowdel. Discuss why their parents thought it so important that they get to know their Grandma. What kind of mother do you think Grandma Dowdel was to Joey and Mary Alice's father? Joey says that Grandma frightens his mother-Grandma's daughter-in-law. What characteristics of Grandma make her so frightening?
  • Joe Dowdel is an adult sharing his memories of Grandma Dowdel. He says, "Are all my memories true? Every word, and growing truer with the years." (p. 1) What does Joe mean when he says, "growing truer with years?" What kind of relationship do you think Joe Dowdel has with his grandchildren? Discuss whether the summers spent with Grandma Dowdel might have shaped the kind of grandfather he became.
  • Why does Mary Alice say, "I don't think Grandma's a very good influence on us"? (p. 61) How is she a good influence on her grandchildren? Ask the students to debate whether Grandma is a "bad influence" or a "good role model."
  • Grandma Dowdel never seems to shows affection. How do you know that she loves her grandchildren?
  • Why does Grandma Dowdel display the body of Shotgun Cheatham in her parlor? Discuss what Grandma means when she says, "A rumor is sometimes truth on the trail." (p. 115)
  • During their visit in 1931, Joey and Mary Alice realize that Grandma Dowdel runs illegal fish traps. Why is it important to have hunting and fishing laws? What department in state government is responsible for monitoring such laws? They vow never to tell their dad about this. Discuss what other things Joey and Mary Alice discover about Grandma that they are likely to keep to themselves. Why does Sheriff Dickerson call Grandma a "one-woman crime-wave"? (p. 57)
  • One of Grandma's weapons is blackmail. Discuss the numerous times in the novel that she uses blackmail to help people. What does the phrase "larger than life" mean? How does this fit Grandma?
  • During which summer do you think Joey and Mary Alice learn the true character of Grandma?
  • Joey says, "As the years went by, we'd seem to see a different woman every summer." (p.1) Discuss whether it's Grandma that changes, or Joey and Mary Alice.

Lesson Plans

Curriculum Connections

Language Arts

  • In the summer of 1930, Mary Alice brings her jump rope to Grandma's house and occupies herself by jumping rope to rhymes. Ask students to use books in the library or the Internet to locate popular jump rope rhymes. Then have them create a jump rope rhyme about Grandma.
  • The reader sees Grandma Dowdel through Joey Dowdel's eyes. Discuss how a reader's impression of a character is shaped by point-of-view. Ask students to select another character in the novel (i.e. Effie Wilcox, Mr. Cowgill, Sheriff Dickerson, Vandalia Eubanks, or Junior Stubbs) and write a description of Grandma through that person's eyes.
  • A reporter from the "big city" of Peoria comes to Grandma Dowdel's house to cover the death of Shotgun Cheatham. He streaks out of the house when Grandma fires a shotgun at the coffin. Write a newspaper story that describes this entire incident. Give the story an appropriate headline.

Social Studies

  • Joey and Mary Alice visit Grandma Dowdel each summer from 1929 to 1935. Make a timeline of national events that occurred during this time span. Then have each student select one of the events to research in detail. How did the events of the nation during this time affect life in Grandma Dowdel's small Illinois town?
  • John Dillinger was killed in July of 1934. Why was he considered Public Enemy Number One? Why was he called "Robin Hood?" People all over the nation took great interest in his death. Have students use books in the library or the Internet to find out the details of his shooting. Then have them conduct a radio news program about his death. Include interviews with eyewitnesses.


  • Joey and Mary Alice's father belongs to a conservation club. Ask students to find out the various conservation clubs and societies in their state and the nation. Have students contact a local club and ask about volunteer projects, or how to recreate a local ecosystem.


  • Few people could afford cars in 1929, but the banker in Grandma Dowdel's town, L.J. Weidenbach, drives a Hupmobile. Find out the cost and the special features of a 1929 Hupmobile. Make a plan for financing the car for a three-year period. Determine an appropriate interest rate, and calculate the total cost including interest. What are the monthly payments?


  • In the summer of 1934, Joey and Mary Alice search through trunks in Grandma's attic to find items for the church rummage sale. Why are they surprised when they discover valentines? Think about Grandma's personality and her relationship with her grandchildren. Then make a valentine that Grandma might send to Joey and Mary Alice.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 132 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 132 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2008

    A reviewer

    While this is a sequel to A Long Way from Chicago, it can easily be read and enjoyed on its own. Richard Peck writes the adventures of Mary Alice, spending a year away from her home in depression-era Chicago at her grandmother's house in the country. While grandma is gruff and no-nonsense, she soon enlists Mary Alice in her schemes to influence neighbors - some who are friends, some who are enemies. This hilarious book is great to read aloud, and will leave both moms and daughters in stitches.

    11 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2012


    This book is told from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Mary Alice, a city girl from Chicago in 1937. After Mary Alice's dad loses his job, Mary Alice is sent to her "trigger-happy" Grandma's house for a whole year- how will she ever survive? Stealing pumpkins, driving tractors into trees, and so much more- packed into one phenominal book.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2007

    The reading by Lois Smith is fabulous!

    Lois Smith is perfect as the reader of this book. The story has just the right mix of fun, trickery, and empathy. My kids from 7 years to 15 years all enjoyed it. One time I started the tape mid story while taking three 13 year old boys to the beach and when we got home they didn't want to get out of the car because they wanted to hear more.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2010

    A Year Down Yonder Book Review

    Mary Alice, a 15 year old Chicago girl, has to live with her grandmother for a year, because in the "Roosavelt Recession," her father loses his job and has to sell their apartment. Her brother would come with, but he is in a tree planting program. Her grandmother's town is small, and unlike Chicago, everyone seems to know everyone else. The school is small, too, as is every other buliding there. At school, Mary Alice doesn't have any friends except for Ina-Rae Gage and Royce McNabb, a new student mentioned later in the book. The whole story is about the year that Mary Alice spends with her sour grandmother. There are a lot of surprising twists and turns in the book. It shows that small town life can be fun.
    I liked this book, and I think that it was very interesting, but I also think that the author didn't describe everything very well. But it was also very unpredictable, and there were a lot of different, smaller events that kept the story going. It was a lot of fun to read. Over all, A Year Down Yonder was a really good book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2009

    Year Down Yonder Book Review

    This story is about a 15-year old girl named Mary Alice. Her parents send her to live with her grandma because her Dad needs a job. It is in the time of the Great Depression. Times are tough in Chicago where her parents live, and her Grandmother lives in a small, country town. It's difficult for Mary Alice to get used to living in the small little town. Grandma is zany and harsh. Most people try to steer clear of that old lady. If someone needs to be put in their place, Grandma will see to it. But underneath she has a heart. Mary Alice goes through wild adventures with Grandma. Once she has to run home from school in a tornado because she had to make sure her Grandma was okay. The wild adventures include guns, traps, odd people, and even turkeys. Mary Alice lives with Grandma for one whole year. Her relationship with her Grandmas starts out with cold and distant. But by the end of the story, they have a touching relationship.

    It's a very good book and an even greater adventure. I love how the author describes the characters and tells the story. Richard Peck is an awesome author. He tells the story so clearly, you feel like you are in the room with Grandma Dowdel and Mary Alice. The humor in this book makes it easy to read because you really feel like you are connected to the characters. This book is a sequel to Long Way to Chicago, but it is a great book to read by itself. I hope you love it as much as I did.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2001

    A great Sunday Afternoon Read

    This is a great book. I found it funny and delightful. I loved to see the generation gap close between Mary Alice and her grandmother. This is a good book for children of all ages.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    this book was awesome!

    Mary Alice is a 15-year-old girl from Chicago whose family is getting hit hard by the Roosevelt recession. this causes her dad to lose his job. as a result, Mary Alice has to go down to her grandmothers house for a year until her dad can get his job back. all she brings with her is her cat bootsie and her portable radio, along with every stitch of clothing she owns. Mary Alice thinks going to her grandmothers house will be !#$%@ because there is nothing modern. however, Mary Alice starts to respect her grandma while she dumps glue on the heads of halloweners. i give this book 5 stars because it was really fun to read. it had a great story plot, and you didn't have to read the prequel for it to make sense. it tells about the ups and downs of living in small towns. for example, you know everybody by name, but you can't avoid the bullies.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Highly recommended for classroom!

    I would highly recommend the chapter book A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck, to be used by teachers in a fourth or fifth grade classroom. This story is the sequel to Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. This realistic fiction story takes place in a rural town in Illinois during the Great Depression. Fifteen-year-old Mary Alice is the main character. At the beginning of the story, her parents send her on a train from her home in Chicago to the rural town where her grandmother lives. Her parents take a hard hit from the Depression and can't afford to feed her and take care of her while they look for work in Chicago, so Mary Alice is forced to live with Grandma Dowdel for one year. At first, Mary Alice dreads the thought of living in Grandma Dowdel's farming town for an entire year without her older brother and with no friends. This town could not be any more different than Chicago. However, she takes her journey with a grain of salt. Throughout the story, Mary Alice goes through many ups, downs, and more downs, as she learns to deal with bullies at school, her one-of-a-kind grandmother, and most importantly, surviving the Great Depression. From a teacher's perspective, I would use this book as a history lesson. I think this book is a great resource to use when teaching older elementary students about the Great Depression. It is easy to teach children endless facts from textbooks about this life-changing time period in America, but I think that students would be able to get a true glimpse of the lifestyle during this time. Although it is not a true story, many aspects of Mary Alice's journey could be deemed as realistic, from her struggling school life to the uncertainties that food would be on the table each evening for dinner.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2011

    A Year Down Yonder

    This girl named Mary Alice is sent to her Grandma Dowdel's house by her self for a year long stay in rural Illinois. She has to learn to cope with her grandma. She's also 15 and she is learning from being around her grandma,how to be independent. It's taking place at her grandma's house in the country. It's during the depretion in 1937. Mary Alice is from Chicago and it's hard for her to start a new school. She is called the rich girl from Chicago. Everyone is afraid of Grandma but she is really nice.I would give this book one star because it wasn't very exciting. It might be more interesting if you like to read stories about people's lies. It was also kind of boring. I think that if you want to read this book you should start with the first one. It clears things out more.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2011

    good book

    if you want a book wih some humor and a little bit of serious you read this book. the girl mary alice is dragged around by her grandmother in all kinds of funny adventures. you need to read this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2009

    Entertaining book for all ages!

    Mary Alice has to live with her grandma for a whole year. The main characters are Mary Alice and grandma Dowdel .The story is about the trials and tribulations of Mary Alice as she lives with her grandma for a year, they have many fun times as well as hard times. She falls in love with a boy named Royce and he asks her if he can write to her from college. It was an extremely entertaining story with humor and romance too.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2008

    year down the yonder

    when i read this book my favorite charcter is mary alice and her grandma especially her grandma

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    A Year Down Yonder

    ¿A Year Down Yonder¿ by Richard Peck was published in 2000, and it won the Newbery Medal award in the year of 2001. Peck was born on April 5, 1934 and was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois. He has written over 25 novels, and is known for his contributions to modern young adult literature. Peck currently lives in New York. ¿A Year Down Yonder¿ is about a fifteen year old girl named Mary Alice Dowdel who is from the windy city, Chicago. She is forced to live with her grandmother in a small ¿hick¿ town, because of bad situations during the Great Depression, such as ¿Dad lost his job, so we¿d had to give up the apartment.¿ Not only did Mary Alice have to leave her old school and enroll in a new one, but she also was going to live in her grandmother¿s house with nothing modern, ¿no telephone, of course¿ and ¿everything as old as Grandma.¿ When she arrived at her grandmas, she didn¿t receive a warm welcome and things were uneasy between the two. Mary Alice had to go to her new high school when she first arrived, and on her first day, she gets in trouble with the school bully, Mildred, who calls her a ¿rich Chicago girl.¿ As you can see, things for Mary Alice weren¿t easy for her in her new environment at first. Will she ever adapt to her new environment in the so-called ¿hick¿ town? Will she make new friends? Will her relationship with her grandmother grow, or will things between them remain uneasy? You will have to read to find out, and trust me, this is one humorous, heartwarming story you will not want to miss out on. This book is filled with tons of adventures and surprises. This books genre is historical fiction. Subjects touched in this book include the Great Depression, families and social structures, and extended family. I also think many young adults can relate to this book in several ways, for instance, having to transition to a new school and/or environment. I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter tells its own amusing anecdote, which I think is wonderful. I would recommend this book because it was very intriguing and kept my attention. This books age range is 12 and up. Peck, Richard. A Year Down Yonder. New York: Dial Books, 2000.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2007

    Incerdible Story

    You will love this story of a grandmother who is full of surpries!! Richard Peck writes a very visual story of a grandmother and her grandaughter set in the time of the depression.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2007

    A Year Down Yonder is an awesome book!!!

    The book A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck deserves 4 stars with its humorous and exciting plot. After a Chicago girl is sent to live with her tough Grandma in the country. She is enrolled into school on her first day and gets into trouble with the school bully at the same time. Her Grandma takes her on many amusing adventures which include riding a tractor into a tree, causing someone to go bald, and making oodles of pies. She makes a few good friends and meets a cute boy. Her whole life is changed by this experience that was caused by the great depression. Her mother sent her on a train to Grandma¿s because the great depression had drained them of money. Almost all of the money they had was spent on her ticket to the country. She despised the idea at first, but after a year of bonding with her Grandma and meeting all of the interesting country folk she never wants to leave. This book well deserves its 4 stars and has an excellent thought out plot and I would recommend it to anyone. I am a seventh grader in North Carolina and enjoyed reading this great book. I would also like to recommend The Giver and Kira Kira which are both exceptional books.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2013


    Very funny! I liked this book better than Long way from Chicago because it's written from Mary Alice's perspective instead of Joey's. Grandma is my favorite character. She's is so hillarious!!!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    I would recommend this

    I thought this book was a 3/5 stars. It had good start and a lot of action. The characters were okay and there was good details. I still will recommend this book to others. Mary Alice is a 15 year old girl who has to stay with her grandma. The only thing she has is her cat Bootsie and her radio. She has to go to high school when she bumps into Mildred Burdick. Mildred follows her home and asks for a dollar, grandma tricks him by untieing his horse leaving him a five mile walk home. Grandma still does things that I think are crazy. At one point a tornado strikes and Mary Alice runs home to see if grandma is okay. There is also the fact that both Mary Alice and Carleen Lovejoy like Royce McNabb.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 16, 2011


    i havent read it yet but it looks like a really funny book!

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2011

    Really Enjoyable if you want a good read hears one i highly sudgest this book to all ages

    Up top

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2008

    A Year Down Yonder

    A young woman named Mary Alice lives with her Mom and Dad in the noisy city of Chicago. But she must leave because her parents are going through a 'rough time'. Mary Alice goes to live with her grandmother Dowdel. Her grandma is an old batty woman who dosen't love anyone or anything. Mary Alice's grandmother lives in the hill country side of Illinois. The author describes things well but he doesn't describe all important things. Richard Peck describes the things that have little or no importance to the story. Anyway, Mary Alice has missed two weeks of school and is forced to go to school as soon as she gets in Grandma Dowde's town. She later grows up to marry a nice young man by the name of Royce McNabb. A Year Down Yonder was not my favorite book. I think this beacouse the way the author describes certain events. Or more of how he didn't Richard Peck didn't focus on the important things. He rater spent more time describing the smaller things that have little or no importance to the story. This is why I gave this book one star.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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