Featured Author: Richard Peck

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Richard Peck won the Newbery Award in 2001 for A Year Down Yonder. Those who have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Peck or hearing him speak know that this white-haired, lean and graceful gentleman is witty and charming and dedicated to enlarging the lives and the aims of his readers. In his autobiography Anonymously Yours (Beech Tree, 1995 ISBN 0688137024. Order Info. Review.), he puts that dedication in this form:

"I read because one life isn't enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody;
I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;
I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I'm just beginning myself, and I wouldn't mind a map;
I read because I have friends who don't, and young though they are, they're beginning to run out of material;
I read because every journey begins at the library, and it's time for me to start packing;
I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready."

Richard Peck was born in 1934 in Decatur, Illinois, a town he describes as quiet and safe. His mother, Virginia, was a dietitian and his father, Wayne, was a merchant who often rode his Harley Davidson to work.

Richard was crazy about cars when he was young and took pride in the fact that he could instantly identify the make and model of each on-coming car. He went to college in Exeter, England and then served a stint in the army. He then became a junior high school teacher. He taught in Illinois and in New York City. Then his real steps into the writing profession began. While still teaching, he wrote a column on the architecture of historic neighborhoods for the New York Times and contributed articles to the Saturday Review of Literature and the Chicago Tribune as well as other magazines and newspapers. In 1971 he left teaching to become a full time writer. His first novel was Don't Look and It Won't Hurt (Henry Holt, 1999 ISBN 0805063161. Order Info.).

For many years Richard Peck signed on as a temporary lecturer for around the world cruises. These trips enabled him to travel, to teach and to meet people who sometimes appear in his books. He advises young people who want to become writers to get to know people who don't conform to the group. This is a common theme in many of his novels.

Disliking or maybe we should say disdaining much of modern technology, Richard Peck does not have a computer. He types his manuscripts on a regular typewriter. For some time, he had his friend Paula Danziger's voice on his answering machine. Because of his anti-technology stance, you'll find information about Mr. Peck and some of his speeches on the Internet put out by others but you won't find his website, for he has none.

Richard Peck's books fall into many genres: horror, mystery, occult, social commentary, historical, and realism. In many of his books he develops a theme in which an individual steps away from the group to achieve independence. Another theme in some of his work is that of a young adult adopting an adult role and responsibilities. He's good at characterization through a minimum of description and even conversation. In the book he considers his best, Father Figure (Puffin, 1996 ISBN 014037969X. Order Info.), for instance, Grandmother says very little but she dominates the first half of the book. Speaking of grandmothers, his Grandma Dowdel stands side by side with Blossom Culp as his most memorable characters.

Listed alphabetically, some of his novels are:

Are You in the House Alone? (Puffin; 2000 ISBN: 0141306939. Order Info.)
The obscene and threatening notes and the phone hang-ups were bad enough. High schooler Gail felt utterly alone as she endured the harassment. Then, when a boy she knew raped her, the isolation became complete as she was unable to make anyone believe her story because of the accused's social position. This taut novel reads like the truth Ð injustices and all.

Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death (Yearling Books; 1994 ISBN: 0440406765. Order Info.)
This is the fourth adventure of the Blossom Culp books. Blossom is gifted with second sight in this story set in 1914. We return to Bluff City as Blossom and Alexander are contacted by the spirit of an ancient princess through a scarab and the princess is furious. They are catapulted out of their history class and into ancient Egypt where they must help the princess regain her tomb. Almost simultaneously they must help their history teacher keep her job after a protest suffragette demonstration.

Don't Look and It Won't Hurt (Henry Holt, 1999 ISBN 0805063161. Order Info.)
This was Peck's first novel and it centers around a family in a small Midwestern town. Carol Patterson is in the middle, chronologically and emotionally. Her father left when she was six. Her mother works most evenings as a hostess in a restaurant. Carol's older sister, Ellen, becomes pregnant by a man currently serving a drug sentence. Her younger sister, Liz, is pretty much ignored by the family. It's Carol who tries to keep their mother mollified and their lives intact. Ellen elects to go to a home for unwed mothers in Chicago and her mother clamps down even harder on Carol. Then Carol takes on the role of parent to Ellen and to Liz even going to their father for money to make the trip to Chicago to see Ellen.

The Dreadful Future of Blossom Culp (Puffin, 2001 ISBN 0141310944. Order Info.)
This is the third in the hilarious Blossom Culp series. Outsider Blossom is snubbed by Letty and her friends as they transform an old house into a haunted one for Halloween. Undeterred, Blossom and Alexander explore the house ahead of time only to be catapulted into the present to be faced with computers and modern technology unfamiliar in their world of 1914.

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Fair Weather by Richard Peck. (2001, Dial. ISBN 0803725167. Order Info.) Novel. 140 pages. Gr 4-8.
Fair Weather starts in rural Illinois on the Beckett's farm where Buster, the brother of two teenage girls, Rosie and Lottie, is divesting a squirrel of its skin and tail. He'll sell the tail for a penny and they'll eat the squirrel for supper. The day is hot and boring, but, as the first line in the book tells us, things are about to change. A letter from an almost unknown aunt, their mother's sister Euterpe, invites the children and their mother to her home in Chicago where the wonders of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 await.

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Father Figure (Puffin, 1996 ISBN 014037969X. Order Info.)
Understanding parents is seldom an easy task for teenagers and Jim has had less success in that direction than many. His father left the family years ago and Jim has been the caretaker of his younger brother Byron since their mother became ill. They've been living under their grandmother's well-regulated but emotionally distant regime. Now, after their mother's suicide, the two boys have been sent to spend the summer with their father in Florida. Jim's anger is evident from the first moment the boys join their father. The battle is joined as Jim and his father fight for the affections and control of Byron.

The Ghost Belonged to Me (Puffin, 1997 ISBN 0140386718. Order Info.)
This novel, the first in the Blossom Culp series, combines historical, comical and supernatural events in a most delightful way. The Armsworths of small town Illinois in 1913 are a family of means, although not yet accepted by society, a fact Mrs. Armsworth regrets and intends to remedy. Her pretentions are the comical background against which the story is laid. She is not above manipulating any of her family in her schemes to be one of small town society's most important families. She succeeds in her goal, but not in the way she planned. Read our Featured Book Teachers Guide with review, summary, discussion ideas, activities, related books and links.

Ghosts I Have Been (Yearling, 1987 ISBN 0440428645. Order Info.)
Blossom becomes involved with the ghost of a child who drowned on the Titanic. The lonely child was abandoned by his wealthy parents and Blossom attempts to change history by rescuing the boy. Using her telepathic powers she journeys to the doomed ship and to Buckingham Palace.

A Long Way from Chicago: A Novel in Stories (Puffin, 2000 ISBN 0141303522. Order Info.)
See http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/alongway.html

On The Wings of Heroes by Richard Peck. (2007, Dial. ISBN 9780803730816. Order Info.) Novel. 160 pages. Gr 4-7.
Set in 1940's Illinois this is a home front look at World War II through the eyes of Davy Bowman. The collecting of scrap metal and other efforts to support the war are everywhere but when Davy's brother is sent to serve in Europe the war hits home in a different way. This is a coming-of-age tale which vividly evokes another era. As usual there are the eccentrics and the humor that is classic Richard Peck.

Remembering the Good Times (Laurel Leaf, 1986 ISBN 0440973392. Order Info.)
Buck, Katey and Trav have been friends since seventh grade. Now in high school each has family problems, but Trav is seriously disturbed and eventually kills himself leaving behind guilt and anger in his friends. Learning how to grieve and how to accept help from parents is the focus of this hard-hitting novel.

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A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck. (2009, Dial. ISBN 9780803730823. Order Info.) Novel. 164 pages. Gr 5-8.
Mrs. Dowdel is back in this delightful book. It's 1958 and Bob and his sisters must endure bullying for the double offense of being both the new kids in town and the preacher's kids. When Bob is strung up with fishing line in an outhouse who should rescue him but his beyond-eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel from A Long Way From Chicago.

Strays Like Us (Dial, 1998 ISBN 0803722915. Order Info.)
Molly has been dumped with her Great-Aunt Fay. Her mother has left her many times before and the knowledge we gain of life with the woman Molly calls Debbie is that of homelessness. Molly has learned how to cope. She doesn't try to make friends because she won't be there long enough. Now at Aunt Fay's Molly meets Will, another stray child. Aunt Fay is a practical nurse and treats patients in their homes. One of her patients is the spoiled and self-centered Mrs. Voorhees. Aunt Fay also spends a lot of time next door because of Will's father who is dying of AIDS. Molly finds out several secrets before the year is up as she comes to grips with her lot in life and learns to love and trust.

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The Teacher's Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts by Richard Peck. (2004, Dial. ISBN 9780803727366. Order Info.) Novel. 208 pages. Gr 5-8.
This sparkling story by Richard Peck finds us in rural Indiana. Russell is telling us about the year 1904 when he was fifteen and hoping his one-room schoolhouse will close down after the death of his teacher. No such luck. This is another funny and nostalgic piece with excitement about the technology of the time sprinkled here and there.

Those Summer Girls I Never Met (Dell, 1989 ISBN 0440204577. Order Info.)
A lengthy summertime cruise with his grandmother and sister turns out to be more interesting than Drew imagined. They hardly knew their grandmother until this moment and are surprised to find her the toast of the passengers. This is a witty, funny book.

A Year Down Yonder (Dial, 2000 ISBN 0803725183. Order Info.)
This is the Newbery Award Winner summarized at http://www.carolhurst.com/subjects/newberycaldecott00.html


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