Sunday, July 26, 2009
A Long Way From Chicago
Call me old fashioned, but this is the kind of story telling that I love. Filled with larger than life characters and slices of Americana, Richard Peck’s stories of Grandma Dowdel are ripe for reading aloud and reading again!
Joey and Mary Alice were shipped off from Chicago to their Grandmother’s house every August starting when Joey was 9 years old. As Joey said, “Being Chicago people, Mother and Dad didn’t have a car. And Grandma wasn’t on the telephone.” (p. 4) so Joey and Mary Alice would be put on the train and sent on to Grandma’s place.
Grandma Dowdel is a big woman who is incredibly self-sufficient. It’s 1929 when the stories start, and Joey and Mary Alice are mad that their folks wouldn’t let them parade past Al Capone’s bullet ridden corpse in Chicago. Little did they know that they’d be sitting in a room with a corpse when they hit Grandma Dowdel’s place. Turns out that Shotgun Cheatham died, and because of his name, some of the bigger newspapers took a liking to his obituary and wanted to find out just exactly who this fellow was. Grandma is the type of woman who likes to keep to herself, but when she hears that folks have been making up all kinds of stories about Shotgun, she lets Joey and Mary Alice in on the kind of man that Shotgun really was.
Then the reporter shows up at her door, and Joey and Mary Alice get a taste of the adventures in store living with Grandma. No sooner does she discount the story that folks in town have told the reporter, but she is spinning a yarn so deep that the kids simply can’t believe it. And the kicker is that they are now sitting in Grandma’s front room, with Shotgun’s corpse laid out for the town and the reporter to see.
This first story gets readers ready and on the edge of their seats for the rest. From make-shift wakes, to out pranking the Halloween pranksters, to beating the law at every turn, Grandma Dowdel will have readers chuckling and gasping out loud. Old fashioned everyday gardening, canning, hunting, community events, and life without the distraction of media pepper the text along with the realities of the Depression era. Wonderfully written, these stories beg to be read aloud. I can’t wait to read the next installment about the family that moves on in next to Grandma!