Marie's Reviews > A Long Way from Chicago

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
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's review
Feb 28, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: e-source-audio, historical-fic

Richard Peck’s, A Long Way from Chicago is the first book in the trilogy about larger than life character Grandma Dowdel and her grandchildren, Joey and Mary Alice. (The second is A Year Down Yonder and the last is A Season Of Gifts.) Joey and Mary Alice are sent from Chicago to spend the summer each year with their Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois. The book immediately grabs the reader’s attention: “You wouldn’t think we needed to leave Chicago to see a dead body. We were growing up in there back in the bad old days of Al Capone and Bugs Moran.” Grandma Dowdel is not to be outdone by anyone so she offers to hold the viewing of Shotgun Cheatham’s dead body in her parlor. Late that night when the body moves on its own Grandma takes out her shotgun and proceeds to shoot! (Little did the other participants know that it was just the cat causing the chaos.) Each chapter describes another year (during the Great Depression from 1929-1942) of antics their Grandmother subjects them to. From ghosts to outdoing the banker’s wife the reader is sure to enjoy Grandma’s antics.

Peck grew up in Decatur, Illinois and certainly used his experiences to write this historical and hysterical fiction. Written in the point of view of Joey the readers get a glimpse into how Grandma rids the town of bullies and brings down the “society” class a peg or two! This well written book won a Newbery Honor Award. I enjoyed this book but liked A Season of Gifts even more! In A Season of Gifts Joey and Mary Alice are now adults and don’t visit any longer. But when a preacher and his family move next door the antics start all over again. I could relate to the characters more in A Season for Gifts.

Novelist Plus suggests ages 8 and up but to get the full depth of life during this time I would suggest grades 4th and higher. Activities for this age group might include learning about Chicago gangsters and what life was like during this era. The website: has numerous activities relating to the book, include colloquialisms of the time. One example is “she hightailed it out of there.” Another activity would be a reader’s response journal chapter by chapter to share with peers in discussion groups.
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