A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

Paperback, 2004



Call number

PB Pec

Call number

PB Pec

Local notes

PB Pec


Scholastic, Inc. (2004), 148 pages


A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.


Original publication date


Physical description

148 p.; 7.3 inches


0439240921 / 9780439240925



User reviews

LibraryThing member rdg301library
This 1999 Newbery Honor Book is “a novel in stories” of humorous happenings during the week-long visits two Chicago children, Joey and Mary Alice, made to their Grandma Dowdel's rural Illinois home during the Depression years of 1929 through 1935.

I was born in the Chicago suburb where my dad grew up and my grandparents lived for many years, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins still live in that area. Some of my ancestors were from Springfield, Illinois. They owned a haberdashery and sold a hat to Abraham Lincoln, so the story where Grandma Dowdel tries to pass off a stovepipe hat from her attic as his rang true to me.

I found Grandma Dowdel to be the most interesting character. In his Newbery acceptance speech, Peck described Grandma Dowdel as “the American tall tale in a Lane Bryant dress. There’s more than a bit of Paul Bunyan about her, and a touch of the Native American trickster tradition; she may just be Kokopelli without the flute.”

In the December 2001/January 2002 issue of The Reading Teacher, Peck said she “is the great American tradition I came from. She is all of my great aunts, and while she is not much like my grandmother—except physically—all were imposing women…It was a matriarchy, and Grandma Dowdel represents that. Notice she is often cooking? To her, that is not a subservient role, that is feeding the world…Their kitchens were their temples.”

“Joey expresses his awe at the power of a mighty grandmother and, perhaps, of all women,” Peck says in the Newbery acceptance speech. “Mary Alice tells of finding in an unexpected place the role model for the rest of her life.”

This book could have been set in just about any rural small town in the country during 1929-1935. I think the humor in the book would be enjoyed by both boys and girls about age 9 and up (reading level is about grade 4.6-5.0).
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LibraryThing member KimJD
This had been on my "need to read one of these days" and I'm so glad I finally did. From the time that Joey is 9 and Mary Alice is 7, the two children spend a week each summer with their Grandma Dowdel, who is very different from any adult the two have ever met. Her combination of strong personality and-- yes, often underhandedness-- steamrolls any of the folks in her small town who get in her way. While this is disconcerting for her grandchildren at first, they grow to take her in stride and even enjoy the ways that she outwits townspeople who seem to deserve it. Short vignettes cover each summer from their first with her in 1929 to their last visit in 1935. As the narrator, an adult Joe looks back at his childhood, and his voice is frank and thoroughly engaging.
Humorous historical fiction.
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
A 1999 Newbery Honor award winning book that I absolutely loved!

This is a touching, memorable walk down memory lane told from the perspective of 15 year old Joey Dowdel. This book was written before Peck's 2001 Newbery Medal winner A Year Down Yonder.

Each chapter is a separate story of a summer spent with Joey and his sister Alice who travel from Chicago to rural Illinois to visit their down and out, no frills, salt-of-the earth grandmother.

As I read these stories spanning seven wonderful summers, I was moved to tears and laughter. The author wove accurate historical depiction of troubled economic times in the US. There is a marvelous feeling of the folk who quibble, but hang in there together.

While living a hermit like existence, Granny Dowdel still has knowledge of the pulse of the town and the quirky personalities of the members. She is incredibly inventive in exposing the hyprocrites, finding ways of helping those less fortunate, and in leaving a legacy of laughter and memories to her grandchildren.

A must read.
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LibraryThing member abbylibrarian
Joey and his younger sister Mary Alice go to visit their grandma in rural Illinois in the 1930s. In a series of hilarious stories, their grandma plots revenge on a band of prank-playing brothers, bakes gooseberry pie for the state fair, and causes general upheaval in her small town. The narration of the audio recording is great. Ron McLarty does great voices, including a fantastic voice for Grandma. Laugh out loud funny, this is a painless historical fiction to recommend to students and the cd is appropriate for family listening.… (more)
LibraryThing member idcstaff
A soft, funny story about Joey and Mary Alice visiting their excentric grandma for the summer.
LibraryThing member librarymeg
This book is made up of several short stories about Joey and Mary Alice's summer visits to their Grandma Dowdel's home in a small Illinois town during the Great Depression. The stories are all beautifully written, evoking small town life and all its little quirks. Grandma Dowdel is a larger-than-life character whose eccentricities will guarantee her a spot in every reader's memories. After all, who could forget a woman who would calmly pass the sheriff by in his stolen rowboat with a basket full of illegal fish caught on private land? The book will leave readers with a vivid picture of small town life in the early twentieth century, and more importantly will have you wishing you could spend a hot summer week following Grandma Dowdel, watching to see what she'll do next.… (more)
LibraryThing member Mluke04
The style of this book is effective because each story builds the reader's knowledge from the last story. Each chapter is from another year so as the characters grow, the detail in the stories change. The reader gets to know Grandma Dowdel as Joey and Mary Alice get to know her.
This is an example of historical fiction because the story takes place in 1929-1935. The stories are written as if it still was that time period.
Media: N/A
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LibraryThing member aleahmarie
Mrs. Dowdel is no ordinary grandmother. This shotgun wielding, no nonsense grandma is tough as nails and she makes a mean gooseberry pie. Summer visits to their grandmother's house during the 1930s take Joey and his little sister, Mary Alice, a long way from their Chicago home. Initially reluctant to leave the big city, Joey and Mary Alice soon find life in grandma's small town more exciting than anything they'd find in Prohibition era Chicago. The escapades that this trio get into will have you laughing out loud. A Long Way From Chicago is a charming collection of stories sure to please.… (more)
LibraryThing member bibliophile26
Unfortunately I read A Year Down Yonder first (I hate reading serial books in reverse order). Already familiar with what an eccentric character Grandma Dowdel is, I was pleasantly surprised that many of her antics made me drop my jaw or laugh out loud. While this book is technically YA and is narrated by a child, it doesn't read that way because everything revolves around Grandma's kooky adventures. I also liked how the book read as a series of short stories (with the same characters) instead of having a central plot. Highly recommended, even to those adults who don't like kiddie lit.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauraklandoll
This is the story of two children from Chicago and their grandmother from a very small rural town. The siblings spent two weeks every summer with Grandma. When they were very young, the trip was not looked forward to, but, as they grew older, they became more appreciative of her. Many colorful stories are related in this book.

I loved this book. The grandmother was very crusty and non-conforming, she reminded me of my own mother. The grandmother worked hard and understood so much more than her grandchildren thought she did. How unfortunate we don't take advantage of our grandparents when they are young enough to enjoy us.

This story would be great for children who don't have grandparents, to understand how valuable they are. This would be good for learning about small town life.
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LibraryThing member nules
This was a good book. I liked the grandma character quite a bit, and the humorous stories.I didn't quite see much into the main character, though, except as far as he perceived things, which can be enough sometimes (but I think it could be more personable otherwise). Mary Alice's habit of taking to doing things her grandmother did was interesting (somewhat sly, the way it was).Anyway, I'd recommend the book. It doesn't have much to do with an airplane, though (I was glad about that personally). That's just part of one of the stories (it's a collection of consecutive stories that make a novel, or a novel in stories, they say).The narration of this book was great, and helped to establish an atmosphere suitable for the geography.… (more)
LibraryThing member mmburks
This is a book about brother and sister who go and visit their grandma every summer. It takes place during the Great Depression. The two kids go through many adventures with their grandma and learns a lot from the crazy old lady.
LibraryThing member EmilyAnnSp
Joey and Mary Alice spend a week every summer with their grandmother. Their grandmother is an interesting character who is well known in the town and respected. They get into all kinds of antics during their week and learn a lot of life lessons along the way.
LibraryThing member BrentwoodBranch
Mrs. Dowdel is no ordinary grandmother. This shotgun wielding, no nonsense grandma is tough as nails and she makes a mean gooseberry pie. Summer visits to their grandmother's house during the 1930s take Joey and his little sister, Mary Alice, a long way from their Chicago home. Initially reluctant to leave the big city, Joey and Mary Alice soon find life in grandma's small town more exciting than anything they'd find in Prohibition era Chicago. The escapades that this trio get into will have you laughing out loud. A Long Way From Chicago is a charming collection of stories sure to please.… (more)
LibraryThing member readermom
Just to start, having spent some months in Chicago, I think being a long ways from there is a good idea. No one but farmers should have to put up with that kind of weather. My sister-in-law and then my mother-in-law recommended these books. I was especially happy to see them at the library. This is not the type of book I would just pick up to read, mostly because they take place during the Depression and I have learned to avoid those type because Depression seems to be an accurate description of most books set in that time period.
The characters of the novel are what set it apart. Not only is the Grandmother hysterically funny, but the first person narrative voice of the child is very genuine. It was hard to believe that these books were fiction. They felt so real that you wanted them to be real.
I read a lot of YA fiction and this was the first time I have ever wished that a book was written for young people. The first person narrator is a child, and sees the other characters, especially his grandmother, as a child sees her. All we know of the Grandmother is what this boys sees of her. We know very little of her history, what made her such a formidable figure. The next book, while showing a girl's perspective on Grandma, still has the limitations of the voice. Reading this book as a child, or even as a teenager, I don't think I would notice a lack. But as an adult woman I want to know more about Grandma. I want to know when she married, where she grew up, how many kids she had. What made her such a strong woman, one who cares for the people on the edges and tries not to show it?
Grandma was the heart and soul of the books and I want to know more about her. I suppose it shows how good the books are that I have these questions. I laughed at the stories, and would definitely recommend them, especially to a teen reader, but I sure wish there was an adult version somewhere.
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LibraryThing member Suzieqkc
I laughed all the way through this book about Mary Alice and Joe's summer visit to their Grandma Dowdel's house.
LibraryThing member mbuch
The main character, Joey, and his sister Mary Alice, take annual summer trips to visit their grandmother in a small rural town. Their grandmother is a unique, whimsical, and fantastic character! The experiences of each visit are unforgettable and full of lessons learned. The details of each story are captivating and very funny.

With a well-developed plot and exciting events always taking place, the story creates relatable, humorous scenes for readers to experience and enjoy. This is a great book that should be used in every U.S. History classroom! The historical facts in this book are taught in a relative and necessary manner which helps readers to gain a deep understanding about the 1930's.

Honors and Awards:
Newberry Honor Award (1999)
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LibraryThing member jnfalvey
Joey and Mary Alice leave Chicago--home of Al Capone and Bugs Moran!--to visit their Grandma Dowdel every summer. Over the course of seven visits to her sleepy Illinois town, they siblings take part in a wide variety of adventures. Grandma Dowdel might live in the country, but it is there that Joey and Mary Alice see their first corpse, commit their first crimes, and maybe even see a ghost.… (more)
LibraryThing member BrittneyFields
this is a story about two siblings who visit their grandma. They go every summer to their grandma's house in a little town in Illinois. They go on many crazy adventures when they are there.
LibraryThing member chinquapin
In this humorous Newbery Honor book, a brother and sister from Chicago visit their Grandma for a week every summer in her home in a small rural town in southern Illinois. It is set in the 1930's, so the country is in the midst of the Great Depression. This and other historic events from that period are scattered through the stories. Each chapter is a story covering that year's visit, so the kids get one year older each chapter. They are ages ten and eight in the first chapter, and ages 15 and thirteen in the last chapter.

Grandma is quite an odd character. She is somewhat cantankerous, but she always manages to find a way to help the right folks out. This book had me laughing outloud at some of the pranks and tricks she pulled on the town's "stuffed shirts." I felt like the book gave you an excellent sense of place and time, rural Illinois in the midst of the Depression. I love all the little bits and pieces of history that are mentioned throughout the book, like when John Dillinger was shot and they displayed his corpse for public viewing in the basement of the morgue.
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LibraryThing member yourotherleft
Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel are growing up in Chicage during the 1930s, the age of gangsters, bank robbers, and the Great Depression. One would think they would see all there was to see in Chicago, but as it turns out, their more interesting life experiences come from the week they spend with their grandmother in a small town south of Chicago each summer. According to a much older Joey looking back on those life-altering August weeks, Grandmas was as large as life, if not larger.

Now I'm older than Grandma was then, quite a bit older. But as the time gets past me, I seem to remember more and more about those hot summer days and nights, and the last house in town, where Grandma lived. And Grandma. Are all my memories true? Every word, and growing truer with the years.

A Long Way from Chicago consists of a short story for each year that Joey and Mary Alice visit Grandma. Each year, the kids grow up a little more and grow to understand Grandma a little better. Each year, Grandma's antics make for the kind of family stories that become almost mythical in the telling and re-telling. With a strong sense of justice, a veiled capacity for kindness, and a clever way of putting people in their place when they need it and helping people out when they can't help themselves, Grandma proves herself to be nothing if not a person of action. As Joey and Mary Alice grow older they go from not quite knowing what to expect from their stern, practical grandma to always expecting that she'll be up to something.

A Long Way from Chicago is an immensely enjoyable little book about a grandma that's tough as nails on the outside but, on the inside, is the sort of decent and resourceful ally you'd want in your corner. It's obvious that beneath her rough exterior she loves both her grandchildren fiercely. Whether you're young or old you'll get a kick out of Grandma's way of handling her town's busybodies, but if you're looking closely, you'll also find a story subtly woven with a grandmother's love, never more profoundly shown than in the last chapter, which brought me to tears.
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LibraryThing member bloftis
A Long Way from Chicago tells the story (well, actually a series of stories) about Joey and his younger sister Mary Alice's yearly summer trips to visit their grandmother during the 1930s. Joey and Mary Alice are exposed to a very unique individual in their grandmother, and the book reveals their increasing maturity while learning valuable lessons from their grandmother.
The book is extremely enjoyable because of the unique and often outlandish antics of Grandma Dowdel. The unique perspective Joey and Mary Alice witness when visiting their grandmother allow them to witness a sometimes outlandish, but still effective means of achieving one's goals and desires and even get justice when necessary. The book also exudes nostalgia.
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LibraryThing member mkschoen
Delightful tales - two children visit their Grandmother Dowdel in teh country during the Depression. Usually a moral, and twist ending, but very funny. Good 4-6.
LibraryThing member JordySizemordy
Each chapter in A Long Way From Chicago depicts another summertime shared between two young children and their humorous and unconventional grandmother. She is constantly finding ways to make her grandkids laugh and enjoy each adventure they have. It is important to have fun during the summers with their grandmother because the two children are growing up during the time of the Great Depression. Their life during the 1930's is made more enjoyable each time they spend a week with Grandma Dowdel.

Personal Reaction
The historic aspects of this book really make it stand out among other stories. Although most of the pages are filled with silly anecdotes or the process of building a relationship among family, the bits of history and fact about life during the Great Depression really help paint a picture for the reader. It also had a way of tugging at my heart when I think about my own relationship with my grandma.

Extension Ideas
1) Instruct the class to break into groups of three-five students each, and have them find one fact within this story that they believe to be most interesting. Then spend the next day or so researching that fact in rder to share with the class.
2) Keeping in mind that not all students have a grandmother or grandfather, assign the topic to journal about the special relationship they share with any adult in their life.
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LibraryThing member BoundTogetherForGood
So delightful I read the sequel, A Year Down Yonder.




(448 ratings; 4.2)
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