A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Lulu and I continued our adventure with Grandma Dowdel that we started a few weeks ago via audiobook, and what a heartwarming and completely entertaining adventure it is!  A Year Down Yonder picks up more or less where A Long Way from Chicago leaves off, only this time Joey is off working for the CCC and Mary Alice is a fifteen year old who has come to stay with Grandma because her parents have been forced to move into a small apartment due to the Depression.  She spends a year with Grandma, so we get to see Grandma in all seasons instead of just the summers of A Long Way from Chicago.  Mary Alice also goes to school, so we also get in a bit of 1930s teenage drama as well as the Grandma-created drama with the community.  Although not quite as episodic as A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder still retains the feeling of going from prank to hijink with Grandma Dowdel, all for the purpose of getting the goats of those deserving of her judgment and scorn.   If this sounds dark or depressing, rest assured that all of the objects of her pranking are completely deserving from the viewpoint of the reader. 😉 (The best comparison I can make between Grandma’s revenge on her “victims” is to Laura’s revenge on Nellie in the tv show Little House on the Prairie–“Have a good ride, Nellie!”)

One of my favorite episodes from the story is when Grandma hosts the George Washington tea for the DAR and drops a bombshell on the unsuspecting society ladies.  It is positively gleeful!  I’d consider this one more of a YA novel than a juvenile pick, or at least I’d offer it up to older elementary students.  Mary Alice is a teen, so there’s a bit of romance. There’s also a Grandma Dowdel episode that’s a little risque (but hilarious).  I had no problem listening to it with Lulu, age twelve, and I’d even be willing to hand it over to Louise, age ten.  (Actually, it’s possible that she’s already read it anyway. 🙂 )

I should probably mention the audiobook narration. When I first started listening to it, I was a little put off by the fact that it is read by a woman (because I was accustomed to Ron McLarty’s narration of A Long Way from Chicago).  Then I realized that Lois Smith’s narration is much more appropriate for A Year Down Yonder since this is Mary Alice’s story and told from her point of view.    Smith’s narration hits all the right notes.

newbery through the decadesThis book definitely keeps Richard Peck at the top of the heap of authors that I love.  Humor, humanity, and heart are what he does best.  It is no surprise to me that he won two Newberys (an honor and then a medal) within three years for his first two Grandma Dowdel novels.   I have A Season of Gifts, which continues Grandma Dowdel’s story, queued up to read aloud at Christmas time.  I can’t wait!

Other reviews here at Hope Is the Word:

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Newbery Through the Decades–the 2000s

newbery through the decades

Is this year flying by, or what?  I can’t believe we’re up to the penultimate month for this year’s Newbery Through the Decades, but we are.  Here we are in the 2000s, and here’s the list:

2009 Medal Winner: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Honor Books:

2008 Medal Winner: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

Honor Books:

2007 Medal WinnerThe Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Honor Books:

Honor Books:

2005 Medal WinnerKira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

Honor Books:

  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
  • The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights by Russell Freedman
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt


2004 Medal WinnerThe Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo

Honor Books:

  • Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  • An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 by Jim Murphy

2003 Medal Winner:  Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
Honor Books:

  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  • Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
  • A Corner of The Universe by Ann M. Martin
  • Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan


2002 Medal Winner:    A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

Honor Books:

2001 Medal Winner:   A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
Honor Books:


2000 Medal Winner:   Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Honor Books:

Now we’re up to the point that I’ve read more of the books than I haven’t, or at least the count is even.  However, many of these books I read before I started blogging, so they’re undocumented.  That means they’re fair game!  Here are my a couple of books I hope to get to this month:

Both of these would be first-time reads for me, but I plan to re-read a few, too.

How about you?  What piques your curiosity from the 2000s?

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Newbery Through the Decades–1990s/August link-up

newbery through the decadesAugust has come and (almost!) gone and I’ve done a respectable amount of Newbery reading for the month. Here are the books I’ve read and reviewed that won a Newbery during the 1990s:

I enjoyed all three of these books a lot and recommend them all!

What have you enjoyed for this month’s Newbery Through the Decades challenge?

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Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples won a Newbery honor in 1990.  I first read it for a children’s literature class when I was in library school a decade and a half ago.  My memories of it were that it is a good story, full of insight about a people group and an area of the world I will likely never see.  Reading it now as a parent gave me a slightly different take on it, though I still consider it a beautifully written (if at times difficult) story.

Shabanu is the story of Shabanu, a young Pakistani girl of the Cholistan desert, and her coming of age.  Coming of age stories are usually a hit with me; I love tracking with a protagonist through their growth pains and realization of who they are and are becoming.  The very plot of this novel turns on Shabanu’s coming to marriageable age.  The story opens with Shabanu enjoying her camel, being outdoors, and essentially being the son her father never had.  Her family is looking forward to and preparing for her older sister’s marriage to Hamir, to whom Phulan has been promised for years.  Shabanu herself has been promised to Murad, the younger brother of Hamir, though their marriage is not in the immediate future.  Shabanu is spirited, even rebellious at times, but she considers her future marriage to Murad with innocent curiosity and even anticipation.  Murad seems like a good match for her.  Of course, all of these pleasant plans are upended by a seemingly innocent turn of events, and we get to see the reality of life in a culture where women are considered property and girls don’t have the option of making up their own minds.  Still, Shabanu keeps her selfhood intact thanks to the support of her very powerful and liberated aunt, and the story ends as well as it can for her.

This story really isn’t for the faint of heart.  There’s a good bit of discussion and understanding about physical maturation and s**, and just the whole arranged marriage discussion is quite jarring to the western sensibility.  However, it is eye-opening.  Also, Shabanu is a very likable character–spunky and smart and self-aware.  And then there are the camels!  Oh, how I love Staples’ depiction of the relationship between the desert nomads and their camels!  The whole nomadic lifestyle is interesting, and Staples paints vivid word pictures of the Cholistan desert, monsoon season, the hardships and joys of desert nomadic life, and the intricacies of the familial relationships.

I’m glad I re-read this one.  I couldn’t hand this off to one of my girls without being willing to discuss some hard things with them,.  However, in the interconnected world in which we live, some of the conversations this book would provoke are needful.  Highly Recommended (with the aforementioned caveats).  (Random House, 1989)

newbery through the decades


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Some new picture books we’ve enjoyed

Going to the library is one of the joys of my life, and my favorite part of going to the library is browsing the new books shelves.  We’ve picked up quite a few winners lately.

This first book is just a rip-roaring delight.  Pirate’s Perfect Pet by Beth Ferry is sure to tickle the funnybone of ‘most anyone.  It’s the story of a pirate named Captain Crave who retrieves a message in a bottle from the deep blue only to learn that it’s from his mum.  She is sending him a checklist from Be Your Best Buccaneer magazine.  He meets all the criteria of the list except a few:  the peg leg is, as he says, “on me to-do list” and he has no pet.  The rest of the book recounts his quest to find his perfect pet.  He and his crew mates visit and wreak havoc in the zoo (and he gets his peg leg, check!) and are then sent post haste to the local pet store.  There, in a most satisfying exchange, he finds his perfect pet.  My DLM loves this book, choosing it over a vast array of other choices.  The text is delightful:  full of rhythm and rhyme and alliteration and clever plays on words.  I don’t want to ruin it with any spoilers at all, so I’ll just say this:  if you can get your hands on this one, do it!  Highly Recommended.  (Candlewick, 2016)

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak is a slow and gentle read that is perfect for this time of year.   It is a conversation:  the child in the book goes for a walk and makes observations by addressing the various parts of nature she encounters, and the plants and animals speak back to her.  The tone of the book is serious and observant.  When I first started the book, the text felt a bit awkward to me.  However, the combination of the conversation of the text and the subtle illustrations worked their magic on me, and by the end of the book I was ready to turn around and read it again.   The illustrations are lovely–watercolor and pencil drawings–and very evocative of the subtly changing seasons.  This is a good one to add to your list of books for autumn.  (Henry Holt, 2016)

This last book is a sweet and comforting one for the younger set.  Safe in a Storm by Stephen R. Swinburne is a lyrical reminder to little ones that they are safe in their parents’ care while a storm rages over them.  The little ones in the book are from many different species:  giraffes, wolves, whales, and many more (even sloths).  Jennifer A. Bell’s illustrations are both sweet and evocative of movement, which is perfect for this book in which the wind is always blowing.  Benny loves this one and gives it a Highly Recommended.  In both tone and rhythm it reminds me of one of our favorite board books, Time for Bed by Mem Fox.  That’s high praise indeed.  (Cartwheel, 2016)

That’s a few of the ones we’ve enjoyed lately.  How about you–any new discoveries in your book basket?

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