A Year Down Yonder

Paperback | November 21, 2002

byRichard Peck

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A Newbery Medal Winner

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 

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From the Publisher

A Newbery Medal WinnerRichard Peck's Newbery Medal-winning sequel to A Long Way from ChicagoMary 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 ...

Richard Peck, author of more than thirty novels, is one of the most celebrated children's book writers in the country. He has won the Newbery Medal, the Edgar Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, a National Humanities Medal, and twice been a National Book Award finalist, among many other honors. He lives in New York City.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:160 pages, 7.75 × 5.06 × 0.44 inPublished:November 21, 2002Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0142300705

ISBN - 13:9780142300701

Appropriate for ages: 9 - 12

Reviews

Rated 1 out of 5 by from real crap!!! If you haven't read this book yet don't even bother \ you'll be asleep before you hit page 11 \ boring plot \ boring characters and a nasty excuse for a book !
Date published: 2009-07-07

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Read from the Book

PrologueIt 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.My 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:WASN'T THE DEPRESSION AWFUL?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 had 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.Rich Chicago GirlOh, didn't I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad's Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma's town. The sandwich was still crumbs in my throat because I didn't have the dime for a bottle of pop. They wanted a dime for pop on the train.My trunk thumped out onto the platform from the baggage car ahead. There I stood at the end of the world with all I had left. Bootsie and my radio.Bootsie was my cat, with a patch of white fur on each paw. She'd traveled in a picnic hamper. Bootsie had come from down here, two summers ago when she was a kitten. Now she was grown but scrawny. She'd spent the trip trying to claw through the hamper. She didn't like change any more than I did. My portable radio was in my other hand. It was a Philco with a leatherette cover and handle. Portable radios weighed ten pounds in those days.As the train pulled out behind me, there came Grandma up the platform steps. My goodness, she was a big woman. I'd forgotten. And taller still with her spidery old umbrella held up to keep off the sun of high noon. A fan of white hair escaped the big bun on the back of her head. She drew nearer till she blotted out the day.You couldn't call her a welcoming woman, and there wasn't a hug in her. She didn't put out her arms, so I had nothing to run into.Nobody had told Grandma that skirts were shorter this year. Her skirttails brushed her shoes. I recognized the dress. It was the one she put on in hot weather to walk uptown in. Though I was two years older, two years taller than last time, she wasn't one for personal comments. The picnic hamper quivered, and she noticed. "What's in there?""Bootsie," I said. "My cat.""Hoo-boy," Grandma said. "Another mouth to feed." Her lips pleated. "And what's that thing?" She nodded to my other hand."My radio." But it was more than a radio to me. It was my last touch with the world."That's all we need." Grandma looked skyward. "More noise."She aimed one of her chins down the platform. "That yours?" She meant the trunk. It was the footlocker Dad had brought home from the Great War."Leave it," she said. "They'll bring it to the house." She turned and trudged away, and I was supposed to follow. I walked away from my trunk, wondering if I'd ever see it again. It wouldn't have lasted long on the platform in Chicago. Hot tongs wouldn't have separated me from Bootsie and my radio.The recession of thirty-seven had hit Grandma's town harder than it had hit Chicago. Grass grew in the main street. Only a face or two showed in the window of The Coffee Pot Cafe. Moore's Store was hurting for trade. Weidenbach's bank looked to be just barely in business.On the other side of the weedy road, Grandma turned the wrong way, away from her house. Two old slab-sided dogs slept on the sidewalk. Bootsie knew because she was having a conniption in the hamper. And my radio was getting heavier. I caught up with Grandma."Where are we going?""Going?" she said, the picture of surprise. "Why, to school. You've already missed pretty nearly two weeks.""School!" I'd have clutched my forehead if my hands weren't full. "On my first day here?"Grandma stopped dead and spoke clear. "You're going to school. I don't want the law on me."I could have broken down and bawled then. Bootsie in her hamper, banging my knees. The sun beating down like it was still summer. I could have flopped in the weeds and cried my eyes out. But I thought I better not. Under a shade tree just ahead was a hitching rail. Tied to it were some mostly swaybacked horses and a mule or two that the country kids rode to school. One horse was like another to me, but Grandma stopped to look them over.There was a big gray with a tangled tail, switching flies. Grandma examined him from stem to stern. I tought she might pry his jaws apart for a look at his teeth. She took her time looking, though I was in no hurry.Then on she went across a bald yard to the school. It was wooden-sided with a bell tower. I sighed.On either side of the school was an outdoor privy. One side for the boys, one for the girls. Labeled. And a pump.Grandma slowed again as the bell tower rose above us. She'd never been to high school. She'd been expelled from a one-room schoolhouse long before eighth grade. I happened to know this.Crumbling steps led up to a front entrance. Somebody had scrawled a poem all over the door:Ashes to ashes,Dust to dust,Oil them brainsBefore they rust.Steps led down to the basement under the front stoop. Grandma went down there, closing her umbrella.The basement was one big room. A basketball hoop hung at either end, but it didn't look like a gym to me. Smelled like one, though.A tall, hollow-cheeked man leaned on a push broom in the center of the floor."Well, August!" Grandma boomed, and the room echoed.This woke him up. When he saw Grandma, he swallowed hard. People often did. He wore old sneakers and a rusty black suit under a shop apron. His necktie was fraying at the knot."I've brought this girl to be enrolled." Grandma indicated me with a thumb. She didn't say I was her granddaughter. She never told more than the minimum.I stood there, fifteen, trying to die of shame. Grandma didn't understand about high school. She was trying to get the janitor to enroll me.But I had it all wrong. Thye'd fired the janitor when times got hard. August—Mr. Fluke—was the principal, which made him the coach too. And he taught shop to the boys. And swept up."Well, Mrs. Dowdel," the principal said, "can this girl read and cipher?" Even I saw he was pulling Grandma's leg, which never worked."Good enough to get by in a school like this," she replied.Mr. Fluke turned to me. "Mary Alice, is it? Down from Chicago?" Everybody in this town knew everything about you. They knew things that hadn't even happened yet. "What grade did they have you in up there?""Would have been tenth," I mumbled. "Sophomore.""Let's call that junior year down here," Mr. Fluke said. "It don't matter, and there's plenty of room for you. High school's getting to be a luxury in times like these. So many boys have dropped out entirely, I don't know where I'll find five to play basketball, come winter, or to field the Christmas program."The thought of winter—Christmas—here chilled my heart."Oh, we'll pull a couple of the farm boys back after they get the last of the hay in," Mr. Fluke went on. "But some of 'em won't drift back to school till that last ear of corn is picked in November. You know boys."Grandma nodded. "Boys is bad business," she said, quite agreeable for her. "Though girls is worse."From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTIONYoung 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.ABOUT RICHARD PECKRichard 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. COMMENTARY BY RICHARD PECKGrandma Dowdel and IOnce 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. DISCUSSION QUESTIONSDescribe 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 PlansCurriculum ConnectionsLanguage ArtsIn 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 StudiesJoey 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.ScienceJoey 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.MathFew 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?ArtIn 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.

Editorial Reviews

"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