Monday, May 14, 2007

South of Illinois, but NOT Southern!

newbery Newbery Challenge 2007

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

2001 Newbery Medal Winner
Main Characters: Mary Alice and Grandma Dowdel
Setting: Chicago to rural Illinois
Time Period: Post-depression, 1930’s
Plot: Mary Alice is sent to live with her ancient grandmother in a hick town south of Chicago. Mary Alice learns it isn’t the age or the place that confines her from learning.

The story is rich with humor and inter-generational play between a grandmother and her granddaughter. I don’t know about most people, but I consider my grandmother’s generation a hoot. They tell the best stories and they have the oddest names for everyday objects. My grandmother insist that I roll the glass down (window), and always wants to know where my pocketbook (purse) is.

Peck brings the feel of small-town America, with its limits and freedoms, to Mary Alice’s awareness. Knowing all in town has its advantages; until, one who knows you, won’t give you a chance. For instance, I have enjoyed stage fright all my life. People in my hometown know this, and cater to my problem. I was given parts where emotions could run high, such as I could yell a part and be red in the face because of acting and not fear. When I moved to the small town of Como, I was eager to get back on stage, so to speak. I performed a solo within a year of living there. I wasn’t nervous, my voice didn’t quiver, and the experience was rather liberating. I contribute it all to people not knowing my history, thus not pooh-poohing me into lesser demanding roles.

Loved this book and highly suggest it to other readers. Not as innocent as Anne of Green Gables, and a little too slow for the Harry Potter types, this is a possible read-aloud in 5th or 6th grade class. I think it complements Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer, because of the inter-generational relationship.

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