Customer Reviews: A Long Way From Chicago (Puffin Modern Classics)
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on May 31, 2000
A Long Way from Chicago is a touching and very funny book. The narrator, Joey Dowdel, shares the experiences of visiting his thrifty, hardworking, no-nonsense grandmother. Each chapter tells the adventures his sister and he have with his grandmother during each of seven week-long summer vacations. Long Way takes place during the Great Depression (1929-1935), so I learned some history while enjoying a great story. The coolest part of the book is when Grandma gets Joey a ride in an old biplane; the funniest is when the sheriff and his deputies drunkenly sing about Paddy Murphy while they're wearing only their underwear at the Rod and Gun Club. My favorite character was Grandma Dowdel because of her use of words and the way she loved people without saying it. I didn't pick out this book -- my mom chose it as one of our read-alouds -- but, like everything she picks out, this was really terrific. We shared a good cry at the end because we realized that Grandma is a lot "softer" than her tough words and actions showed. Happy reading!
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VINE VOICEon January 26, 2002
I have to admit a certain attachment to this book. As a boy who grew up on one of those stops down the train line from Chicago, I felt a real connection to the story told in this book. Of course, unlike Joey, I didn't just spend the summers in the small Illinois town downstate. I lived my life there and didn't take the train upto Chicago until I was 17 and headed for college. Still, Peck has certainly caught the flavor of small town Illinois.
The bulk of this book takes place over the summers from 1929 to 1935. And yet, it's amazing how much of those attitudes depicted in this novel still survive. My grandmother grew up during the Depression and much of the quirkiness and toughness balanced by family feeling shown in the character of Grandma Dowdel I remember in my own grandmother. That's what makes Grandma Dowdel such a wonderful and realistic character.
And yet, there is also a glimpse of history here. Many things from the 1930's--some good and some bad--are gone now and it's fun to travel back in time through the pages of this book. I don't know if kids today are effected much by stories of the past. The flashiness of twenty-first century culture is stiff competition to a story no matter how well-told but I certainly enjoyed this book. The best "childrens' books" can be read and enjoyed by adults but I hope there are some younger readers out there who give this book a try. It will take you to a place that is sadly disappearing from the American landscape.
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on April 12, 2007
I generally don't write book reviews because sometimes it's hard to describe in a short review what it is I like about a book. This one, though, is easy. It's hilarious!! Mark Twain style humor. Wink, wink, you're in on the joke type stuff. I love this book, so do my teenagers and preteens. My younger kids will probably like it as well, when they're old enough to enjoy it.I would recommend this book for ages preteen on up, not due to difficulty in reading but more from an enjoyment viewpoint, since the humor is often indirect. Funny stuff!
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on May 5, 2007
I love this book. And, I have now read it to both of my children (son and daughter) when they were each ten years old. I love acting out the different characters for my kids. It's such a joy to hear them laugh out loud, as "Grandma" does another outlandish thing. The main character is the same age as my deceased grandmother, and by reading the book out loud, it's given me a chance to talk about my grandmother with my kids. The book is not only funny, but an excellent way to start a dialogue about the love between a grandmother and her grandchildren, the Great Depression, thriftiness, honesty, history of the 1920s and 1930s, gangsters, and the "country way" of living.

Children can read the book themselves, but I don't think they will get some of the really clever descriptions and inferences without an adult's help.

If you haven't read to your pre-teen child recently, get back in the habit and start with this book.

Also, this would be a perfect book to be used in the classroom.
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on May 29, 2002
A Long Way From Chicago is about two children, Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel, who spend every summer with their grandmother. Each chapter is another year explaining many of the adventures that take place. Joey, Mary Alice, and Grandma have many adventures, some of which include, the legend of the Phantom Brakeman, feeding all of the homeless, entering Grandma's famous blackberry pies in the town fair, flying planes with a famous pilot, and much more.
My favorite character is Grandma. She is a loving grandmother who has many little quirks about her. She is funny, yet she can be very serious at the same time. Another thing about Grandma is that she is very wide and tall. I think it is very fun to read about her because she is a very funny and strict person. I think that my grandmother seems very much like Grandma Dowdel. The only difference is that my grandmother is not nearly as big as Grandma Dowdel, but they both have the same personality. One of the things that I can relate to is when Joey receives a ride from the amazing pilot. I can relate to his excitement of flying because Joey loves planes and has always wanted to fly in one. I think it is cool to be in a plane, it is neat to be so high up and you look down and see everything really small.
I like this book because it has so many adventures all completely different. The book never really seems like it is going to end. My favorite part in the book is when Joey, Mary Alice, and Grandma all go to the town fair and have a big and very funny adventure. The adventure involves entering Grandma's her famous blackberry pie in the baking contest. Grandma thinks that the person next to her will win so she switches the two pies and it ends up that her pie wins! I think that I don't have a least favorite part because it is all so exciting and I loved every bit of it. I wouldn't change one part of the book because it isall so good.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who feels like reading a very thrilling adventure story. Someone who enjoys reading books set in the late 1800's with tons of humor would love to read this. I think that Richard Peck did a great job in writing A Long Way From Chicago. I hope whomever reads this will like it just as much as I do.
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on October 13, 2003
A Long way from Chicago is about a boy named Joey and his sister Mary Alice. Every summer they always go to their grandma's house, down in the country, and they spend a week there. While they are there, they have some very "unique" things happen to them, such as their grandma putting a mouse in some milk and her uncle jumping off of a float to go beat someone up. The author's (Richard Peck) style of writing was funny, but at the end it got serious and sad. The main character Joey is a serious kid. He is always maturing! I couldn't relate to Joey, but I could relate to how he felt when he was leaving his grandma's house for the last time. I liked A Long Way from Chicago and I would give it a 3/5. I gave it a 3/5 because it took a while to get me hooked on the book, but overall it was a good book.
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on November 14, 1999
I was skeptical at first as to whether I was going to read this book or not. It look all to familiar to the new over-glamoured novels that are just so-so reads in fancy covers. It was short, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to read in between school assignments over the weekend. After the first chapter, I could tell that this book was going to be really good. Somehow, Richard Peck had managed to give a new style to old charm, because the stories reminded me of some other authors writing styles, but with a new twist. The day after I finished, I went online to look for more of his books, in the hopes of finding another winner, and I think that even though other's of his will be good, A Long Way From Chicago will be his best.
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on December 8, 2001
It seems that GrandMa Dowdel lives in her own little world. She apparently disdains contact with her neighbors and thinks them all to be 'horse's patooties'. Once you get to know her better, you learn that her worst enemy may in fact be her best friend. The way she cons and browbeats the town banker into coughing back up the house recently foreclosed upon, free and clear, well it must be read to be enjoyed fully. Each chapter, a week the kids are 'dumped on Gandma so Mom & Dad can go fishing', reveals another action packed adventure in the constantly turning mischief mill that is Grandma Dowdel's mind. I was given this book by my ten year old son after he finished it in record time, and I knocked it off in just one day. I cried at the end, as the boy, now a man heading off to war is on the troop train. He telegrammed his Depression-era Grandmother he would merely pass through without stopping, and after many delays, is treated to a heart warming experience I'll let author Richard Peck handle in his inimitable style.
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on May 27, 1999
What a fun read! Peck presents 8 short tales which span several summers in rural Illinois during the Depression, when two kids make annual visits to their eccentric Grandmother. Narrated by the boy (two years old than his sister), these outrageous yarns create a wonderful atmosphere of wacky individualism and family bonding.
It would be hard to find a literary granny as feisty, resourceful and fearless of authority as Grandma. Things are never dull when she stirs her stumps to create a mild uproar in that pompous little town. Her nefarious schemes range from a one-woman crime wave to appointing herself Champion of the helpless and downtrodden. Don't get on the wrong side of Mrs. Dowdel--if you value your reputation or your hide! Grandma remains undaunted and unflappable through bizarre but comical events. Peck's tongue-in cheek humor will bring many a chuckle as you are drawn into her slightly-shady activities. This book will delight kids of all ages--a winner, perfect for summer reading!
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on October 16, 2015
To my surprise, A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck is a novel told in stories rather than a straightforward narrative. As I began to dip into the stories, I also discovered that the real heroine of this short story cycle isn’t a young person but Grandma Dowdel. Despite not being what I expected, I enjoyed Peck’s touching and funny novel.

Eight stories depict several summer vacations as spent by Joey and Alice with their grandmother who lives in a rural Illinois town. The first tale starts with the riveting line, “You wouldn’t think we’d have to live Chicago to see a dead body.” No truth was better spoken for not even the big city crimes of Chicago offered as much excitement to the two siblings than the larger-than-life Grandma Dowdel who tricks a reporter into believing in ghosts, rescues the town from the terror of the Cowgill boys, sets illegal fish traps to feed drifters, bakes a pie to save her town’s honor, comes to the aid of mismatched lovers, outwits a banker, and has a showdown with her closet friend over whose family has the world’s oldest veteran. Each lengthy story is narrated by grandson Joey, as he looks back to share adventures riveting enough to make your heart race and reflective memories of his grandmother that will make you smile. The latter results in poignant lines such as there’s all different kinds of truth and we all grow up faster than we wish.

Not only does rural Illinois offer more excitement than Chicago, but Grandma Dowdel is far from your ordinary relative. Whether or not her deceased husband used a twelve-gauge, double-barreled Winchester Model 21 to ducks, it comes in handy more than once against trespassers and supposed ghosts. In front of her grandchildren, she tells whoppers to a reporter and deliberately pretends her milk has been spoiled by neighborhood hoodlums drowning mice in it. She also sets illegal traps to catch catfish and steals a boat from the town sheriff. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea from my list that Grandma Dowdel isn’t above playing the part of a con artist or even of breaking the law. Now the truth is she’s kind of like a Robin Hood and all other those outlaws who felt serving the people gave them a right to their actions. Despite being a reclusive, Grandma Dowdel makes it a point to help keep law and order in her community, feed the hungry and homeless, ensure her grandson won his coveted ride on an airplane, and keep the bank from foreclosing on the house of her sworn enemy and friend. Her influence becomes on her grandchildren becomes apparent when they become involved in their own charade.

All eight stories are memorable but I have to admit my favorite is “The Day of Judgement”. In this short, the town banker’s wife asks Grandma Dowdel to bake a pie for the country fair. The town wishes to keep their name in front of the public and believes Grandma can do it with her gooseberry pie. To convince Grandma, a ride is even offered to both her and the grandchildren. Grandma spent three busy days preparing for that fair. In the end though, she couldn’t pull off first prize. I like this story best, because it shows a vulnerable side to an otherwise tough woman. The town felt fine with the results, because a second place ribbon still did them well. She however had her pride and her grandson to consider. The first-place winner would win a ride in the airplane and Grandma desired this prize for Joey.

This week has given me a promising introduction to Richard Peck, but already I wish to check out more of his writings. To date, I have read his memoir, some of his poetry and short story collections, and A Long Way Home from Chicago. In other words, I still need to regular one of his more straightforward novels.
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