A Long Way from Chicago

by Peck, Richard. (Dial, 1998 ISBN 0803722907. Hardcover. Novel. Grades 4 and up.
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Richard Peck has been giving us thoughtful young adult novels for many years. In 1998 his A Long Way from Chicago received the Newbery Honor Book Award. I do think it's his finest work. Peck takes us through more than a decade of Americana as witnessed by two kids from Chicago and, in the process, he has given us one of the most delightfully wacky, crafty characters in young adult literature in this grandmother. If you're looking for a sweet, soft and diminutive storybook grandma in the country, look elsewhere.

Every August from 1929 - 1942, our narrator, Joey, and his sister Mary Alice come from Chicago to their grandmother's home in rural Illinois. We join them there every year from 1929 - 1935 and then again, for a last look, in 1942. In the interim the children grow into adulthood but their grandmother remains a constant eccentric presence. Those eccentricities bother the children at first, but they learn to expect them and even enjoy them with her. She cheats and lies or at least twists the truth. There is, beneath all that, a loving and wonderful person, but don't tell her I said so.

Read this one aloud to kids anywhere from fourth grade up. The episodic nature of each chapter makes it ideal and the discussions that may follow should be good ones. There are similarities here between this book and Gary Paulsen's Harris and Me: A Summer Remembered (Bantam, 1993 ISBN 0440409942. Order Online, Paperback, Hardcover.). They both involve eccentric relatives, are episodic in nature and laugh out loud funny.


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