A Long Way to Chicago

richard peck

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

 Goodreads says: And there’s more, as Joey and Mary Alice make seven summer trips to Grandma’s — each one funnier than the year before — in self-contained chapters that readers can enjoy as short stories or take together for a rollicking good novel. In the tradition of American humorists from Mark Twain to Flannery O’Connor, popular author Richard Peck has created a memorable world filled with characters who, like Grandma herself, are larger than life and twice as entertaining.

Peck won a 1999 Newbery Honor for A Long Way from Chicago, and it’s easy to see how this book of tall tales about two siblings visiting their Grandma in Chicago was awarded this high honor.  I wish I’d only found this in my library fifteen years ago; it’s a great summer young adult read, especially for those who may dread going to visit Grandma! I love how Peck follows the traditions of great oral storytellers and makes up these tall tales about Grandma’s life in the 1930s.

The book is divided into summers of which Joey and Mary Alice travel out of Chicago to visit their Grandma in between St. Louis and Chicago.  The details of Grandma’s home make the reader thankful for indoor plumbing and modern kitchens. Grandma’s small town adventures and conflicts, while not obtusely moral, give the reader much to think about the humanity of people in a small town.

“The cat in the coffin gave Grandma Dowdel her chance. She didn’t seem to have any time for Effie Wilcox, whose tongue flapped at both ends, but she had even less for newspaper reporters who think your business is theirs.  Courtesy of each cat, she’d fired a round, so to speak, in the direction of each. {…} The story of Shotgun Cheatham’s last night above ground kept The Coffee Pot Cafe fully engaged for the rest of our visit that summer.  It was a story that grew in the telling in one of those little towns where there’s always time to ponder all the different kinds of truth.” (Peck 16)