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A Season of Gifts
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2009
Grandma Dowdel is back, and she is as fearless and crafty as ever. Richard Peck manages to convey a child's point of view while fully realizing the adult characters. The figures of speech that come from his characters' mouths add to the humor. Peck's books are always finely tuned, and this is no exception. The setting, southern Illinois in 1958, is clearly drawn. From the first line, "You could see from here the house was haunted," to the last, this slim volume will leave you wanting more. My only fear is that Grandma Dowdel is twenty years older than when we last saw her, and I want her to go on forever.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2009
Mrs. Dowdel (of A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago fame) is back, seen this time from the viewpoint of a preacher's son who has just moved into the house next door. As he and his family try to adjust and survive, they receive more than a little help from their crafty, indomitable next-door neighbor...though all given in her own, unique way.
Richard Peck's writing in A Season of Gifts is as wonderful as ever...if not more so. Every sentence is perfectly crafted, and there are some so perfect, so unique, that they left me gaping. He writes a town you can see and smell and people you could touch (or maybe smack or maybe hug!). The plot is not his strongest...but with writing this crazy good, who cares?
On second thought...we do. Because with this kind of character development, this remarkable crafting, this extraordinary pacing--imagine what a plot with more depth would do. Quite honestly, it would take this from one of the best children's books written this year to one of the best children's books written ever.
And if you're looking for a great Christmas gift for someone with good taste in books...you found it.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2009
Grandma Dowdel is still the same formidable figure we saw in the first two books, but we view her through the eyes of a neighboring boy who doesn't spend nearly as much time, or get nearly as involved, with her adventures as Joey and Mary Alice did. Where once we might have had Joey or Mary Alice report to the reader Grandma's exact reaction to hearing the price of a Christmas tree, we're stuck in this book with, "Mrs. Dowdel had a lot to say, reportedly."

Nor do the adventures themselves pack the same punch that they had before. Aside from the problem of being filtered through secondhand reports, they don't build up to the same sort of climax or punchline as they did before. I think this is because we don't get as many hints about Grandma Dowdel's plots as we did before. Instead, we hear a lot more about how she's busy baking all the time or she's constantly working the garden.

I am also disappointed by the main character. One of the things that made "A Year Down Yonder" great was that Mary Alice started displaying the same backbone and cunning that Grandma Dowdel had. Here, the main character either just takes orders from Grandma Dowdel or observes what's going on. He doesn't display much character depth or growth aside from eventually realizing that Grandma Dowdel is actually a good person. His own colorlessness is what most marred the book for me.

Overall, "A Season of Gifts" is not a bad book, but it isn't an especially good one. I hope we see more of Grandma Dowdel in the next book than we did in this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
I didn't think it could be done, but the return of Mrs.Dowdel and the related cast of characters from A YEAR DOWN YONDER kept me turning page after page, hungry for more. Introducing the new neighbors and using a holiday setting to conclude the tale were brilliant. Hopefully, Mrs. Dowdel will live on in future great books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 31, 2010
Fans of Richard Peck's "A Long Way from Chicago" and "A Year Down Yonder" will welcome "A Season of Gifts" with open arms and lots of laughs, for it heralds the return of Grandma Dowdel, the most unique neighbor one could ever wish for. In this companion novel, it is now 1958 and a new family that has moved in next door to Grandma Dowdel is about to be initiated into the strange life of this small Illinois town. With a wonderful blend of humor and pathos, Peck crafts nostalgic and memorable stories about a fictional town and characters who spring to life in the reader's imagination.

The novel is narrated by Bob Barnhart, the only son of the new Methodist minister in town, who relates the adventures of his two sisters, Pyllis and Ruth Ann, as they encounter the town's inhabitants. Bob is greeted by town hooligans in the most unusual way and rescued by the inimitable Grandma Dowdel. A poor family, the Barnharts are finally welcomed by the town in the most dramatic fashion. Peck begins with the start of the school year and works his way to the Christmas season, offering tales of crime, foolishness, good-natured revenge, superstition, and unorthodox neighborly deeds. All of them send the reader on a rollicking good time mixed with several stories calling up a bittersweet emotion.

"A Season of Gifts" is a fitting companion in the Grandma Dowdel saga, one that will surely make readers wish for more adventures featuring this one-of-a-kind character. Peck is a truly gifted children's writer, whose recent works far outshine many of his earlier works - a difficult task indeed. While obviously written for young adults, "A Season of Gifts" is a story for all ages and for all times of the year.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I picked up Richard Peck's A Season of Gift after it had languished in my TBR pile for quite some time because its cover seemed to indicate the season in question would be Christmas (my copy has an old car traveling down a road with a tree tied to its roof as its cover). Turns out the "season" is an entire first semester of school spent in the small town where Mrs. Dowdel, the fiery grandmother heroine of A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, lives. And that turned out to be all right, too.

As a long time fan of both A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, I was pleased to discover this little companion book. At only 164 pages, it can easily be read in a sitting and its chapters echo both of the other books. This time our stories are told from the point of view of P.K. (preacher's kid) Bob Barnhart, whose family has moved next door to Mrs. Dowdel. Taking place around 25 years or so after the last book, Bob is also a misfit; his dealings with some of the characters are humorous, mischievous, and troubling at once. Mrs. Dowdel, the wild figure that she is, says she "doesn't neighbor" but in truth, her eye is on the family next door and she knows how to set things to rights far better than most.

While the stories are set into sections roughly by months, the common theme is survival, and humor, as always, plays a major part in helping the story along. There's nothing deep to the plot, and Mrs. Dowdel is as lively and delightfully bossy as ever. This book's a slender gem and takes you back to an era when Elvis was king and a boy's remembrances could be more wishful nostalgia than anything. Good clean fun and well written.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
"Then the privy door banged open.
"Filling the doorway and then some was Mrs. Dowdel. A copy of the Farm Journal and three corncobs were in one of her fists. I hadn't seen her up close. I'd never wanted to be anywhere near this close to her. Her specs crept to the end of her nose. We were nose to nose.
"She didn't welcome surprises, and I came as one. All she'd wanted to do was use her privy, and here I was barring her way, naked a jaybird in my own personal web."

Tied up tight in Grandma Dowdel's privy is eleven-year-old Bob Barnhart. Bob is a combination of preacher's son, new kid in town, and walking target for the town bullies. (I immediately surmised -- correctly -- that there is a new crop of Burdicks and a son of Augie Fluke's amongst this generation's crew of ruffians.)

Bob's dad has gained the first pulpit "all his own," and he and Bob's mom have moved Bob and his two sisters into the next-to-last house on the street -- the street on which the last house is still occupied -- here in 1958 -- by Grandma Dowdel.

"'But as the saying goes, if you can't get justice,' Mrs. Dowdel remarked, 'get even.'"

After taking a taste of A SEASON OF GIFTS to be reassured that it was the real deal, I decided that there was time enough to permit the luxury of going back and rereading A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and A YEAR DOWN YONDER before digging in and savoring this next chapter in the world of Grandma Dowdel. It's coming up on a decade since I'd read the stories told by her grandchildren Joey and Mary Alice, and those first two award-winning books are, still and again, an absolute pleasure and a joy to read.

"'Hoo-boy,' Ruth Ann whispered. 'That's the oldest-looking woman I ever saw.'
"Mrs. Dowdel nodded. 'She was only about three years behind me in school.'"

A quarter-century after we last laid eyes on her, Grandma Dowdel is no less of a force to reckon with -- particularly if you are a troublemaker, cheapskate, or a fraud.

To some extent, A SEASON OF GIFTS is reminiscent of one of those specials they put together a decade or so after some long-running and beloved television series finally goes off the air. This is somewhat ironic because if there is a subtle-but-important issue hinted at in this book, it is the isolating effect that the dawning age of television is already beginning to have upon many families in Grandma Dowdel's rural community.

Nevertheless, so many of the characters and so much of the mischief that we came to know and love -- thanks to LONG WAY and YEAR DOWN YONDER -- are still alive and well in 1958. To experience them all once again is certainly a reason to rejoice.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 26, 2010
Though many of us feared her story had ceased, Grandma Dowdel has returned with a new adventure in Southern Illinois with a new generation. Despite being older, Grandma Dowdel is no less entertaining or full of vigor.

From the previous books, Grandma Dowdel's grandchildren have grown up and left the story. In their place to be shocked and bewildered by the elderly woman's antics is a Methodist minister and his family. Bobby takes the duties of narration, with his sisters Phyllis and Ruth Ann being in many of the plotlines. A new generation of the members of the Podunk town act as the foils. As a credit to Richard Peck's writing, sometimes he is better in what he does not say than in what he actually says. The implications and subtleties lend a sense of innocence that keeps this book suitable for a young audience. At the same time, older readers are certain to enjoy.

Far more entertaining and easy to read than Tom Sawyer, Peck's Grandma Dowdel series gives a look a time gone-by. This novel takes us through the autumn and Christmas season. Though the narrator states the preacher's family only stayed in the town one year, but one can only hope we are able to read about the spring adventures of Grandma Dowdel and the family.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2010
This latest book in the series brings the reader back into the world of Mrs. Dowdel in the 50's. While she is aged a bit, she is still as cantakerous and lovable as ever. The story is told through the eys of the young boy next door, a Methodist preachers' kid. While Mrs. Dowdel still delights, one really senses the changes in the world and times, with some real cruelty in the "pranks" of the bullies our narrator faces at school. The bullying may upset young readers. However, if you are enchanted by Mrs. Dowdel it is still worth reading to see how her story continues. As is always the case Mrs. Dowdel comes through in the end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2011
I have read his two earlier books, Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder,so this book I have been anticipating for a long time! His character, Mrs. Dowdle, just warms my heart and really tickles the "funny bone". She is one who takes things on without a blink, cares very much for her people and community, yet takes no credit! They say laughter is the best medicine, so while my mother was recovering from a broken hip, I read the first two out loud to her. She made a speedy recovery and even the nurses would hang out in the hall to hear the next "episode" of Mrs. Dowdle!! I hope Richard Peck will continue the saga!!
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