A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories
A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories

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Annotation: A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.
Catalog Number: #180960
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
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Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
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Publisher: Penguin
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition Date: 2004
Pages: 148 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-14-240110-2 Perma-Bound: 0-605-65877-3
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-14-240110-1 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-65877-6
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 98010953
Dimensions: 20 cm.
Language: English
Horn Book
Using life in a Depression-era small town as the backdrop, Peck regales us with seven thoroughly entertaining stories featuring Grandma Dowdel, a formidable woman whose un-grandmotherly ways are a constant source of surprise (and often shock) to her grandchildren. Each tale is a small masterpiece of storytelling, and taken as a whole, the novel reveals a strong sense of place, a depth of characterization, and a rich sense of humor.
Kirkus Reviews
In a novel that skillfully captures the nuances of small-town life, an elderly man reminisces about his annual trips from Chicago to his grandmother's house in rural Illinois during the Depression. When the book opens, Joey and his sister, Mary Alice, nine and seven, respectively, learn that they will be spending a week every August with Grandma Dowdel. In eight vignettes, one for each summer from 1929—1935, with the final story set when Joey's troop train passes through in 1942, Peck (Strays Like Us, 1998) weaves a wry tale that ranges from humorous to poignant. Grandma Dowdel, with her gruff persona and pragmatic outlook on life, embodies not only the heart of a small town but the spirit of an era gone by. She turns the tables on a supercilious reporter from the big city, bests the local sheriff, feeds the drifters of the Depression, inspires a brawl between elderly (ancient) war heroes, and more. Peck deftly captures the feel of the times, from the sublime bliss of rooting around the ice bin at the local store for a nickel Nehi during the dog days of summer, to a thrilling flight in a biplane. Remarkable and fine. (Fiction. 9-12)
Publishers Weekly
Peck (Strays Like Us) first created the inimitable central figure of this novel in a previously published short story. Although the narrator, Joey, and his younger sister, Mary Alice, live in the Windy city during the reign of Al Capone and Bugs Moran, most of their adventures occur """"a long way from Chicago,"""" during their annual down-state visits with Grandma Dowdel. A woman as """"old as the hills,"""" """"tough as an old boot,"""" and larger than life (""""We could hardly see her town because of Grandma. She was so big, and the town was so small""""), Grandma continually astounds her citified grandchildren by stretching the boundaries of truth. In eight hilarious episodes spanning the years 1929-1942, she plots outlandish schemes to even the score with various colorful members of her community, including a teenaged vandal, a drunken sheriff and a well-to-do banker. Readers will be eager to join the trio of Grandma, Joey and Mary Alice on such escapades as preparing an impressive funeral for Shotgun Cheatham, catching fish from a stolen boat and arranging the elopement of Vandalia Eubanks and Junior Stubbs. Like Grandma Dowdel's prize-winning gooseberry pie, this satire on small-town etiquette is fresh, warm and anything but ordinary. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-A rollicking celebration of an eccentric grandmother and childhood memories. Set in the 1930s, the book follows Joe and Mary Alice Dowdel as they make their annual August trek to visit their grandmother who lives in a sleepy Illinois town somewhere between Chicago and St. Louis. A woman with plenty of moxie, she keeps to herself, a difficult task in this small community. However, Grandma Dowdel uses her wit and ability to tell whoppers to get the best of manipulative people or those who put on airs. She takes matters into her own hands to intimidate a father who won't control his unruly sons, and forces the bank to rescind a foreclosure on an elderly woman's house. Whether it's scaring a pretentious newspaper man back to the city or stealing the sheriff's boat and sailing right past him as he drunkenly dances with his buddies at the Rod & Gun Club, she never ceases to amaze her grandchildren with her gall and cunning behavior. Each chapter resembles a concise short story. Peck's conversational style has a true storyteller's wit, humor, and rhythm. Joe, the narrator, is an adult looking back on his childhood memories; in the prologue, readers are reminded that while these tales may seem unbelievable, "all memories are true." Perfect for reading aloud, A Long Way from Chicago is a great choice for family sharing.-Shawn Brommer, Southern Tier Library System, Painted Post, NY
Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Grandma Dowdel is not a good influence--and that's one good reason why Joey likes visiting her. Each August, from 1929 (when Joey is nine) to 1935, he and his younger sister travel by train from Al Capone's Chicago to spend a week with Grandma in her scrappy small Illinois town. In seven short stories, one for each summer, Grandma lies, cheats, trespasses, and contrives to help the town underdogs (including her own worst enemy) outwit the banker, the Holy Rollers, and the establishment. Part vaudeville act, part laconic tall tale, the stories, with their dirty tricks and cunning plots, make you laugh out loud at the farce and snicker at the reversals. Like Grandma, the characters are larger-than-life funny, yet Peck is neither condescending nor picturesque. With the tall talk, irony, insult, and vulgarity, there's also a heartfelt sense of the Depression's time and place, when a knot of people wait outside the store for the day-old bread to become half price, and Grandma defies the sheriff, poaches catfish, and fries it up to feed the Depression drifters with her home-brewed beer (They didn't thank her. She wasn't looking for thanks). The viewpoint is adult--elderly Joe is looking back now at the changes he saw in those seven years--but many young people will recognize the irreverent, contrary voices of their own family legends across generations. The first story, Shotgun Cheatham's First Night above Ground, appeared in the anthology Twelve Shots:Stories about Guns (1997), edited by Harry Mazer.
Word Count: 35,226
Reading Level: 5.0
Interest Level: 5-9
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 5.0 / points: 5.0 / quiz: 27940 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.6 / points:10.0 / quiz:Q17319
Lexile: 750L
Guided Reading Level: V
Fountas & Pinnell: V

Join Joey and his sister Mary Alice as they spend nine unforgettable summers with the worst influence imaginable-their grandmother!

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