A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

39227988Lynn: “I tried to make August last because September, and school, didn’t look good. We were not only newcomers, but we were P.K.’s – preacher’s kids. So everybody’d be gunning for us, and we’d be living in a fishbowl.” 11-year old Bob has a lot to worry about. Not only is his family new in town with school starting soon but they moved in next to a haunted house and its terrifying inhabitant – Grandma Dowdel. “Everybody knew she didn’t neighbor…She was not only cranky but well-armed.”

A Season of Gifts (Penguin/Dial, Sept. 2009) brings back one of my favorite characters of all time. Still a force of nature, Grandma Dowdel’s activities are seen through the eyes of her young neighbor, Bob Barnhart. She may be almost 90 but she hasn’t lost a step. Whether she is dealing with bullies, befriending a lonely little girl, or helping herself to whatever she needs, Grandma Dowdel does exactly what she wants – and takes care of her town in the process. Richard Peck hasn’t lost any steps either and this third installment of Grandma Dowdel’s adventures is warm-hearted and hilarious. He perfectly paints a small Illinois town, capturing each season as dusty August yields to December, concluding with a Christmas season story that I promise will bring tears to the eyes of even the most cynical. This laugh-out-loud book is perfect for reading aloud.

Cindy: I was thrilled to see another Grandma Dowdel book, as she is one of the great characters of children’s literature, and a personal favorite. While Peck’s nostalgia is not every teen’s cup of warm milk, we have middle school students who love Grandma Dowdel too, and will be eager to read her latest exploits. For instance, this time she sets a naked, tied-up boy free from her privvy without embarrassing him further and later deals with the boys who put him there. Set in 1958, this outing is full of references to Burma Shave signs, S&H green stamps, Elvis posters and other memorabilia of the day that may be unfamiliar to today’s students, but the details lend to the charm and bring the era alive. While the teens will enjoy the antics of revenge and retribution for bullies and the clandestine first car driving experience, adults will appreciate Peck’s nostalgic look at simpler times. There’s lots of subtlety in between the hilarious bits that younger readers will miss, making this even more appropriate for reading aloud as Lynn suggests. Besides, Peck’s prose always sings and his dialogue is spot on, especially when Grandma Dowdel gets “as tetchy as a bull in fly time.”

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

7 Comments on "A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck"

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  1. janssen.everyday@gmail.com' Janssen says:

    Oh, I loved this book. All of Richard Peck’s books are terrific.

  2. I liked this book very much. In fact, fwiw, I liked it better than the earlier Dowdel books. I think it may be because she is a neighbor and not a grandmother and so the narrator sees her and describes her quite differently. He isn’t related to her so he can be scared of her, admire her, and show us bits and pieces of her, but it is a different sort of situation from those of the earlier books.

    I have to disagree with you on one thing. While I do think Peck does a superb job of evoking the time period, I’m not sure I’d describe this as “a nostalgic look at simpler times.” I mean, that episode ending in the outhouse is pretty horrific. I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1952, but by 1958 we were in East Lansing, Michigan (in your neck of the woods!) and I do remember Burma Shave, green stamps, and Elvis (the girl who babysat us was besotted with him). Of course, this is way more small town than where I lived, but aspects of it were familiar and it just didn’t feel nostalgic (as some of his other books do) to me as much as accurate to the time and place.

    The other Dowdel books take place much earlier, don’t they? Aren’t they based on Peck’s family history rather than firsthand experience? This one feels different because it seems based more on his own youth (as was the non-Dowdel title ON THE WINGS OF HEROES).

  3. Monica, the other Dowdel books are set earlier in the late 20’s and early 30’s I believe with her grandkids and this one has a small guest appearance from one of her great grandchildren. I do like the more distanced look at Grandma from the neighbor who is encountering her for the first time. You may be right about my choice of words, but my intent was to say that some of the book seems to have an adult sensibility about it rather than a youthful look at an earlier time. I do think the time period is portrayed realistically, but perhaps described more as an adult would looking back, than as a teen living during that time. Does that make more sense? There’s been a lot of discussion over the years (Patrick Jones has been quite vocal) that these books are favorites of librarians more than teens. I do have teen fans, some very avid, but I think they are best as read alouds for a broader audience. How about the rest of you? How do your target audience respond to Peck’s historical fiction?

  4. sdillon@lrei.org' Stacy says:

    I am planning on “teasing” this one to my 4th graders. I loved it, maybe best of all, since I love Grandma D so much. I will let you know how it goes!

  5. jhoekema@gmail.com' Janna says:

    I can’t wait to read this and am so glad to see Grandma Dowdel is out there again! I’m leaving a note here because I don’t know where else to write it–I would love to see you create a category on foster youth. I mentor a number of 11-19 year olds through a camp program for such youth and would really like to find more good reads about their situations. FYI–I found you from down here in NC through the GR press article. Thanks! Janna

  6. lisa.snyder@sbcglobal.net' Lisa says:

    Yay! Grandma Dowdel! I can’t wait! Why am I so sporadic in checking your blog?! And the new fairy tale. . .oh, my goodness. . .you know that’s my favorite (Okay, ONE of my favorite) genres! Oh, if there were only more time. . .

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