Name of Book: A Long Way from Chicago
Author: Richard Peck
Publisher: Puffin Books
Audience: Ages 9-15
Summary: Joey and his little sister Mary Alice live in Depression-era Chicago. But they have no contact with the gangsters who reigned over the Windy City. Instead, their great adventures happened in August each year when they are sent to stay a week with their grandmother down state. Grandma Dowdel was “old as the hills” and “tough as an old boot.” When the children were young, the town was dwarfed by Grandma; “[s]he was so big and the town was so small.” Grandma liked to keep to herself, a difficult task in a small town. The book opens in 1929 and ends in 1942 with the troop train carrying Joey to basic training passing through Grandma’s town just before dawn. During the intervening years, Joey and Mary Alice are in the thick of Grandma’s exploits from providing a funeral for Shotgun Cheatum to obtaining a biplane ride for her grandson to saving an old woman’s house from foreclosure to stealing the drunken sheriff’s boat for a bit of fishing. The excitement and danger of gangster-ridden Chicago pale beside the antics of Grandma. This is a wonderful book for grandparents to share with grandchildren, although today’s grandparents would be the children of the children in the book.
Literary Elements at work in the story: The book is told by Joey, age 9 at the beginning and a young soldier at the end. In the prologue, he says that he is now older than Grandma was then, but he remembers clearly and says that all his memories are true and are getting truer every year. The chapters read like short stories; each one recounts events in one week’s visit over nine years of visits.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: Grandma is not your typical grandmother if you think grandmothers are delicate creatures who spend their time baking cookies and pampering grandchildren. This Grandma shoots a rifle, can kill a snake by grabbing it by the tail and snapping it once to break its neck, feeds Depression-era hobos, abets an eloping couple escape domineering parents, and tells “whoppers.”
Scripture: Proverbs 31:10-31; Exodus 20:1-17; Exodus 22:22; Matthew 25:34-45
Theology: Family, Caring for the downtrodden and oppressed, Community
Faith Talk Questions:
- Joey and Mary Alice both get older in this book. Name some other ways in which they change.
- Is Grandma Dowdel a person you would like to know? Why or why not?
- Joey knows that kids tell lies, but doesn’t think adults lie. Why do you think people tell lies? What kind of lies do people tell?
- Grandma not only tells lies; Joey says she tells whoppers. Choose one of her “whoppers.” Why did she tell it? What does she accomplish by telling it?
- Grandma doesn’t show affection to her grandchildren. In fact, she makes them work hard. Does she love her grandchildren? How do you know?
- Share stories about your grandparents. If you are a grandparent, what would you hope your grandchildren will remember about you?
- Proverbs 31 describes a virtuous (KJV) or capable (NRSV) or noble (NIV) wife. Does Grandma fit the description? Why or why not?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Mary Anne Welch
A Long Way from Chicago by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.