Monthly Archives: February 2018

JUST LOVED READING: A Long Way from Chicago

JUST LOVED READING: A Long Way from Chicago

Just Loved Reading:

A Long Way from Chicago

Middle Grade Fiction

Peck, Richard. A Long Way from Chicago. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1997.

In A Long Way from Chicago, the protagonist reminisces about his annual trips as a child from Chicago to his grandmother’s house in a small town in rural Illinois during the Great Depression. Joey  (9) and Mary Alice’s (7)  mother informs them that they will be spending a week every August with Grandma Dowdel – as it turned out, every year from 1929 to 1935.

The narrative consists of eight short stories with Joey, Mary Alice and Grandma Dowdel at the center of the action. Grandma Dowdel is gruff, practical and has no problem telling people where to go. Her unique outlook on life merely embodies her small town values and her insistence on living in another era. Her adventures run the gamut from newspaper reporters to Civil War veterans.

Joey and Mary Alice share each of those experiences thanks to Grandma Dowdel.


A Long Way from Chicago is an easy read. The characters Peck draws are real and funny and will remind the reader of the odd-ball characters we may all know in our own lives. Peck is a master at infusing humor into his novels, able to make a serious narrative lighthearted and poignant. He is also a master at evoking the era in which A Long Way from Chicago takes place. The last chapter, “The Troop,” will bring a lump to the reader’s throat.

A Long Way from Chicago was  – justifiably – nominated as a National Book Award finalist.




Share Button

JUST LOVED READING: A Christmas Memory

JUST LOVED READING: A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory


Truman Capote

Middle Grade/Fiction


Capote, Truman. A Christmas Memory. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.

Seven-year old Buddy and his older cousin and best friend live with other cousins of his mother’s in Monroeville, Alabama. He also has a dog named Queenie.

The story begins one cold morning when the cousin declares that it is time to make fruitcakes for Christmas. They have spent a whole year saving their money to buy the ingredients which includes whisky made by a Native American named Haha Jones. They give the cakes to people they have met once or twice or not at all like Franklin Roosevelt, President of the United States.

The effort to make the cakes takes four days including distributing and mailing them.

When that task is completed, they take a walk far into the woods and cut down a pine tree and enough boughs to make several wreaths for the windows. The family is poor so Buddy and his cousin make the decorations for the tree.

Their next effort is to make the Christmas gifts for each other and the other relatives. Every year Buddy and his cousin make kites for each other and this year is no different even though they want their gift to be a surprise.

Christmas morning, they try to eat the flapjacks and other treats made for the holiday but they are too excited. They want to open their gifts.The usual gifts of clothes and hand-me downs disappoint Buddy but he loves his kite. Later, he, his cousin and Queenie go out to the pasture and fly their kites and eat oranges. Queenie buries the bone they bought for him for Christmas.

Ominously, this is the last Christmas the three will spend together.


A Christmas Memory is based on Truman Capote’s childhood memories living with his mother’s relatives in Monroeville, Alabama during the Great Depression. Few people were immune from its effects and the repressive atmosphere of Jim Crow that pervaded the South. But this story is really about two outcasts who loved and supported each other during difficult times.

Share Button