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A Newbery Medal Winner

Richard Peck's Newbery Medal-winning sequel to A Long Way from Chicago

Mary Alice's childhood summers in Grandma Dowdel's sleepy Illinois town were packed with enough drama to fill the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen, and faces a whole long year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up her neighbors-and everyone else! All Mary Alice can know for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out . . . better not. This wry, delightful sequel to the Newbery Honor Book A Long Way from Chicago has already taken its place among the classics of children's literature.

"Hilarious and poignant." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A Newbery Medal Winner
A New York Times Bestseller
An ALA Notable Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Booklist Best Book of the Year
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803725188
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/01/2000
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 574,724
Product dimensions: 5.81(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.69(d)
Lexile: 670L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

RICHARD PECK (1934-2018) was born in Decatur, Illinois and lived in New York City for nearly 50 years. The acclaimed author of 35 novels for children and young adults, he won the Newbery Medal for A Year Down Yonder, a Newbery Honor for A Long Way from Chicago, the Scott O’Dell Award for The River Between Us, the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Are You in the House Alone?, a Boston Globe-Horn BookAward Honor for The Best Man, and the Christopher Medal for The Teacher’s Funeral. He was the first children’s author ever to have been awarded a National Humanities Medal, and was twice a National Book Award Finalist.  

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "A Year Down Yonder"
by .
Copyright © 2002 Richard Peck.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide


Young readers who live in age-segregated suburbs need the wisdom, and the wit, of elders. After all, this is a young generation who no longer even have to write thank-you notes for gifts from grandparents. They rob themselves of their own histories and are once again at the mercy of each other.

But stories are better than that. They champion the individual, not the mass movement. They mix up the generations. They provide a continuity growing hard to come by. And laughter. Best of all, laughter.

Every summer from 1929-1935, in A Long Way from Chicago, Joey Dowdel and his younger sister, Mary Alice, are sent to spend a week with their grandmother in her small Illinois town located halfway between Chicago and St. Louis. Not even the big city crimes of Chicago offer as much excitement as Grandma Dowdel when she outwits the banker, sets illegal fish traps, catches the town's poker playing business men in their underwear, and saves the town from the terror of the Cowgill boys. Now an old man, Joe Dowdel remembers these seven summers and the "larger than life" woman who out-smarted the law and used blackmail to help those in need.


Richard Peck has written over twenty novels, and in the process has become one of America's most highly respected writers for young adults. A versatile writer, he is beloved, by those in middle school as well as young adults, for his mysteries and coming-of-age novels. In addition to writing, he spends a great deal of time traveling around the country attending speaking engagements at conferences, schools and libraries. He now lives in New York City.

Mr. Peck has won a number of major awards for the body of his work, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award from School Library Journal, the National Council of Teachers of English/ALAN Award, and the 1991 Medallion from the University of Southern Mississippi. Virtually every publication and association in the field of children's literature has recommended his books, including Mystery Writers of America, which twice gave him their Edgar Allan Poe Award.



Grandma Dowdel and I

Once in a while in a long writing career, one character rises off the page and takes on special life. So it happened with Grandma Dowdel in A Long Way from Chicago and again in A Year Down Yonder. Meant to be larger than life, she became all too lifelike. The letters came in at once: "Was she YOUR grandmother", they ask? Did my own grandmother fire off both barrels of a shotgun in her own front room? Did she pour warm glue on the head of a hapless Halloweener? Did she spike the punch at a DAR tea? Well, no. Writers aren't given much credit for creativity.

Yet writing is the quest for roots, and I draw on my earliest memories of visiting my grandmother in a little town cut by the tracks of the Wabash Railroad. It was, in fact, Cerro Gordo, Illinois. I use that town in my stories, though I never name it, wanting readers to think of small towns they know.

The house in the stories is certainly my grandma's, with the snowball bushes crowding the bay window and the fly strip heavy with corpses hanging down over the oilcloth kitchen table, and the path back to the privy.

I even borrow my grandmother's physical presence. My grandmother was six feet tall with a fine crown of thick white hair, and she wore aprons the size of Alaska. But she wasn't Grandma Dowdel. When you're a writer, you can give yourself the grandma you wished you had.

Perhaps she's popular with readers because she isn't an old lady at all. Maybe she's a teenager in disguise. After all, she believes the rules are for other people. She always wants her own way. And her best friend and worst enemy is the same person [Mrs. Wilcox]. Sounds like adolescence to me, and even more like puberty.

But whoever she is, she's an individual. Young readers need stories of rugged individualism because most of them live in a world completely ruled by peer-group conformity.


  • Describe Joey and Mary Alice's relationship with Grandma Dowdel. Discuss why their parents thought it so important that they get to know their Grandma. What kind of mother do you think Grandma Dowdel was to Joey and Mary Alice's father? Joey says that Grandma frightens his mother-Grandma's daughter-in-law. What characteristics of Grandma make her so frightening?
  • Joe Dowdel is an adult sharing his memories of Grandma Dowdel. He says, "Are all my memories true? Every word, and growing truer with the years." (p. 1) What does Joe mean when he says, "growing truer with years?" What kind of relationship do you think Joe Dowdel has with his grandchildren? Discuss whether the summers spent with Grandma Dowdel might have shaped the kind of grandfather he became.
  • Why does Mary Alice say, "I don't think Grandma's a very good influence on us"? (p. 61) How is she a good influence on her grandchildren? Ask the students to debate whether Grandma is a "bad influence" or a "good role model."
  • Grandma Dowdel never seems to shows affection. How do you know that she loves her grandchildren?
  • Why does Grandma Dowdel display the body of Shotgun Cheatham in her parlor? Discuss what Grandma means when she says, "A rumor is sometimes truth on the trail." (p. 115)
  • During their visit in 1931, Joey and Mary Alice realize that Grandma Dowdel runs illegal fish traps. Why is it important to have hunting and fishing laws? What department in state government is responsible for monitoring such laws? They vow never to tell their dad about this. Discuss what other things Joey and Mary Alice discover about Grandma that they are likely to keep to themselves. Why does Sheriff Dickerson call Grandma a "one-woman crime-wave"? (p. 57)
  • One of Grandma's weapons is blackmail. Discuss the numerous times in the novel that she uses blackmail to help people. What does the phrase "larger than life" mean? How does this fit Grandma?
  • During which summer do you think Joey and Mary Alice learn the true character of Grandma?
  • Joey says, "As the years went by, we'd seem to see a different woman every summer." (p.1) Discuss whether it's Grandma that changes, or Joey and Mary Alice.

Lesson Plans

Curriculum Connections

Language Arts

  • In the summer of 1930, Mary Alice brings her jump rope to Grandma's house and occupies herself by jumping rope to rhymes. Ask students to use books in the library or the Internet to locate popular jump rope rhymes. Then have them create a jump rope rhyme about Grandma.
  • The reader sees Grandma Dowdel through Joey Dowdel's eyes. Discuss how a reader's impression of a character is shaped by point-of-view. Ask students to select another character in the novel (i.e. Effie Wilcox, Mr. Cowgill, Sheriff Dickerson, Vandalia Eubanks, or Junior Stubbs) and write a description of Grandma through that person's eyes.
  • A reporter from the "big city" of Peoria comes to Grandma Dowdel's house to cover the death of Shotgun Cheatham. He streaks out of the house when Grandma fires a shotgun at the coffin. Write a newspaper story that describes this entire incident. Give the story an appropriate headline.

Social Studies

  • Joey and Mary Alice visit Grandma Dowdel each summer from 1929 to 1935. Make a timeline of national events that occurred during this time span. Then have each student select one of the events to research in detail. How did the events of the nation during this time affect life in Grandma Dowdel's small Illinois town?
  • John Dillinger was killed in July of 1934. Why was he considered Public Enemy Number One? Why was he called "Robin Hood?" People all over the nation took great interest in his death. Have students use books in the library or the Internet to find out the details of his shooting. Then have them conduct a radio news program about his death. Include interviews with eyewitnesses.


  • Joey and Mary Alice's father belongs to a conservation club. Ask students to find out the various conservation clubs and societies in their state and the nation. Have students contact a local club and ask about volunteer projects, or how to recreate a local ecosystem.


  • Few people could afford cars in 1929, but the banker in Grandma Dowdel's town, L.J. Weidenbach, drives a Hupmobile. Find out the cost and the special features of a 1929 Hupmobile. Make a plan for financing the car for a three-year period. Determine an appropriate interest rate, and calculate the total cost including interest. What are the monthly payments?


  • In the summer of 1934, Joey and Mary Alice search through trunks in Grandma's attic to find items for the church rummage sale. Why are they surprised when they discover valentines? Think about Grandma's personality and her relationship with her grandchildren. Then make a valentine that Grandma might send to Joey and Mary Alice.

Customer Reviews

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A Year Down Yonder 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 159 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While this is a sequel to A Long Way from Chicago, it can easily be read and enjoyed on its own. Richard Peck writes the adventures of Mary Alice, spending a year away from her home in depression-era Chicago at her grandmother's house in the country. While grandma is gruff and no-nonsense, she soon enlists Mary Alice in her schemes to influence neighbors - some who are friends, some who are enemies. This hilarious book is great to read aloud, and will leave both moms and daughters in stitches.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is told from the perspective of fifteen-year-old Mary Alice, a city girl from Chicago in 1937. After Mary Alice's dad loses his job, Mary Alice is sent to her "trigger-happy" Grandma's house for a whole year- how will she ever survive? Stealing pumpkins, driving tractors into trees, and so much more- packed into one phenominal book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary Alice, a 15 year old Chicago girl, has to live with her grandmother for a year, because in the "Roosavelt Recession," her father loses his job and has to sell their apartment. Her brother would come with, but he is in a tree planting program. Her grandmother's town is small, and unlike Chicago, everyone seems to know everyone else. The school is small, too, as is every other buliding there. At school, Mary Alice doesn't have any friends except for Ina-Rae Gage and Royce McNabb, a new student mentioned later in the book. The whole story is about the year that Mary Alice spends with her sour grandmother. There are a lot of surprising twists and turns in the book. It shows that small town life can be fun. I liked this book, and I think that it was very interesting, but I also think that the author didn't describe everything very well. But it was also very unpredictable, and there were a lot of different, smaller events that kept the story going. It was a lot of fun to read. Over all, A Year Down Yonder was a really good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is about a 15-year old girl named Mary Alice. Her parents send her to live with her grandma because her Dad needs a job. It is in the time of the Great Depression. Times are tough in Chicago where her parents live, and her Grandmother lives in a small, country town. It's difficult for Mary Alice to get used to living in the small little town. Grandma is zany and harsh. Most people try to steer clear of that old lady. If someone needs to be put in their place, Grandma will see to it. But underneath she has a heart. Mary Alice goes through wild adventures with Grandma. Once she has to run home from school in a tornado because she had to make sure her Grandma was okay. The wild adventures include guns, traps, odd people, and even turkeys. Mary Alice lives with Grandma for one whole year. Her relationship with her Grandmas starts out with cold and distant. But by the end of the story, they have a touching relationship. It's a very good book and an even greater adventure. I love how the author describes the characters and tells the story. Richard Peck is an awesome author. He tells the story so clearly, you feel like you are in the room with Grandma Dowdel and Mary Alice. The humor in this book makes it easy to read because you really feel like you are connected to the characters. This book is a sequel to Long Way to Chicago, but it is a great book to read by itself. I hope you love it as much as I did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lois Smith is perfect as the reader of this book. The story has just the right mix of fun, trickery, and empathy. My kids from 7 years to 15 years all enjoyed it. One time I started the tape mid story while taking three 13 year old boys to the beach and when we got home they didn't want to get out of the car because they wanted to hear more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. I found it funny and delightful. I loved to see the generation gap close between Mary Alice and her grandmother. This is a good book for children of all ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mary Alice is a 15-year-old girl from Chicago whose family is getting hit hard by the Roosevelt recession. this causes her dad to lose his job. as a result, Mary Alice has to go down to her grandmothers house for a year until her dad can get his job back. all she brings with her is her cat bootsie and her portable radio, along with every stitch of clothing she owns. Mary Alice thinks going to her grandmothers house will be !#$%@ because there is nothing modern. however, Mary Alice starts to respect her grandma while she dumps glue on the heads of halloweners. i give this book 5 stars because it was really fun to read. it had a great story plot, and you didn't have to read the prequel for it to make sense. it tells about the ups and downs of living in small towns. for example, you know everybody by name, but you can't avoid the bullies.
NataliePhillips More than 1 year ago
I would highly recommend the chapter book A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck, to be used by teachers in a fourth or fifth grade classroom. This story is the sequel to Peck's A Long Way From Chicago. This realistic fiction story takes place in a rural town in Illinois during the Great Depression. Fifteen-year-old Mary Alice is the main character. At the beginning of the story, her parents send her on a train from her home in Chicago to the rural town where her grandmother lives. Her parents take a hard hit from the Depression and can't afford to feed her and take care of her while they look for work in Chicago, so Mary Alice is forced to live with Grandma Dowdel for one year. At first, Mary Alice dreads the thought of living in Grandma Dowdel's farming town for an entire year without her older brother and with no friends. This town could not be any more different than Chicago. However, she takes her journey with a grain of salt. Throughout the story, Mary Alice goes through many ups, downs, and more downs, as she learns to deal with bullies at school, her one-of-a-kind grandmother, and most importantly, surviving the Great Depression. From a teacher's perspective, I would use this book as a history lesson. I think this book is a great resource to use when teaching older elementary students about the Great Depression. It is easy to teach children endless facts from textbooks about this life-changing time period in America, but I think that students would be able to get a true glimpse of the lifestyle during this time. Although it is not a true story, many aspects of Mary Alice's journey could be deemed as realistic, from her struggling school life to the uncertainties that food would be on the table each evening for dinner.
Abigail Miller More than 1 year ago
if you want a book wih some humor and a little bit of serious you read this book. the girl mary alice is dragged around by her grandmother in all kinds of funny adventures. you need to read this book.
tobyeyre101345 More than 1 year ago
Mary Alice has to live with her grandma for a whole year. The main characters are Mary Alice and grandma Dowdel .The story is about the trials and tribulations of Mary Alice as she lives with her grandma for a year, they have many fun times as well as hard times. She falls in love with a boy named Royce and he asks her if he can write to her from college. It was an extremely entertaining story with humor and romance too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very funny! I liked this book better than Long way from Chicago because it's written from Mary Alice's perspective instead of Joey's. Grandma is my favorite character. She's is so hillarious!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
when i read this book my favorite charcter is mary alice and her grandma especially her grandma
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿A Year Down Yonder¿ by Richard Peck was published in 2000, and it won the Newbery Medal award in the year of 2001. Peck was born on April 5, 1934 and was born and raised in Decatur, Illinois. He has written over 25 novels, and is known for his contributions to modern young adult literature. Peck currently lives in New York. ¿A Year Down Yonder¿ is about a fifteen year old girl named Mary Alice Dowdel who is from the windy city, Chicago. She is forced to live with her grandmother in a small ¿hick¿ town, because of bad situations during the Great Depression, such as ¿Dad lost his job, so we¿d had to give up the apartment.¿ Not only did Mary Alice have to leave her old school and enroll in a new one, but she also was going to live in her grandmother¿s house with nothing modern, ¿no telephone, of course¿ and ¿everything as old as Grandma.¿ When she arrived at her grandmas, she didn¿t receive a warm welcome and things were uneasy between the two. Mary Alice had to go to her new high school when she first arrived, and on her first day, she gets in trouble with the school bully, Mildred, who calls her a ¿rich Chicago girl.¿ As you can see, things for Mary Alice weren¿t easy for her in her new environment at first. Will she ever adapt to her new environment in the so-called ¿hick¿ town? Will she make new friends? Will her relationship with her grandmother grow, or will things between them remain uneasy? You will have to read to find out, and trust me, this is one humorous, heartwarming story you will not want to miss out on. This book is filled with tons of adventures and surprises. This books genre is historical fiction. Subjects touched in this book include the Great Depression, families and social structures, and extended family. I also think many young adults can relate to this book in several ways, for instance, having to transition to a new school and/or environment. I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter tells its own amusing anecdote, which I think is wonderful. I would recommend this book because it was very intriguing and kept my attention. This books age range is 12 and up. Peck, Richard. A Year Down Yonder. New York: Dial Books, 2000.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You will love this story of a grandmother who is full of surpries!! Richard Peck writes a very visual story of a grandmother and her grandaughter set in the time of the depression.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck deserves 4 stars with its humorous and exciting plot. After a Chicago girl is sent to live with her tough Grandma in the country. She is enrolled into school on her first day and gets into trouble with the school bully at the same time. Her Grandma takes her on many amusing adventures which include riding a tractor into a tree, causing someone to go bald, and making oodles of pies. She makes a few good friends and meets a cute boy. Her whole life is changed by this experience that was caused by the great depression. Her mother sent her on a train to Grandma¿s because the great depression had drained them of money. Almost all of the money they had was spent on her ticket to the country. She despised the idea at first, but after a year of bonding with her Grandma and meeting all of the interesting country folk she never wants to leave. This book well deserves its 4 stars and has an excellent thought out plot and I would recommend it to anyone. I am a seventh grader in North Carolina and enjoyed reading this great book. I would also like to recommend The Giver and Kira Kira which are both exceptional books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This Newberry award winner is a very touching story about a teenage girl from the city who is forced to live with her grandmother in the country. She is very quiet at first because she knows she¿s different from her other peers. This book would be age appropriate for ages twelve and up. This novel is something that middle school grade students can relate to in many ways. For instance, transitions to a different school, family, income, or even city or state. The classification for this novel would fall into the fantasy genre because it contained at least one impossible element. It was realistic during the most part except for the ending. The author of this book is Richard Peck which has written over twenty-five novels. Mr. Peck grew up in Decatur, Illinois, and now resides in New York City. Peck, Richard. A Year Down Yonder. New York: Scholastic Inc. 2000.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This 2001 Newberry Medal winner is a sequel to A Long Way to Chicago, which was the Newberry Medal winner in 1999. Richard Peck has produced over twenty-five acclaimed novels, and he has received numerous awards. This book deserves the Newberry award because it is full of life lessons and values. Mary Alice¿s father loses his job, and things get bad. Mary Alice has to live with her feisty hicktown, and all the children in school think of her as a ¿rich Chicago girl¿. Mary Alice¿s visit if full of schemes, romances, and a whole parade of fools made to suffer in unusual ways. Peck, Richard. A Year Down Yonder. New York: Dial books, 2000. Reading level: Ages 12 and up
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is very well written in all aspects. It has scenes of mischef, funny parts, and romance. All together it is a touching story, and I would recomend this book to anyone who likes history, or just a good book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book was well-writen. It was funny, old fashioned, and just plain awsome!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Year Down Yonder is an excellent book to be presented and discussed in class. It describes life in 1937 and the depression as vividly as a photograph. The humor is of a genuine nature and the lessons learned are of great value. The parts of the story discribing how people of 1937 held the value of money is something people of today need to read and talk about. There is great humor in the character of the grandmother and her actions. As you read on, you will be caught by surprise several times. A very interesting, enjoyable story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Year Down Yonder, by Richard Peck. I think this book deserves four stars because it¿s a very good book to read for people who enjoy stories of the old times. These four stars can represent many things about the book. I gave the stars to the book because it can be real serious at times, and then funny at others, which I think makes a book good. All of this is done while teaching a lesson somewhere in the story. Another good thing about it is it¿s all appropriate material. I would suggest it to kids around the ages of 9-12. That doesn¿t mean that most of the younger kids will understand it though. It may be a little confusing at first (especially if you haven¿t read the first one), but you will eventually come to like it. Now, there are some things in the book I wouldn¿t suggest other people doing in there (like some of the ¿adventures¿ that the main character, Mary-Alice, and her grandma have). The book is mainly about ¿adventures¿ that Mary-Alice and her grandma have. Mary-Alice visits her grandma for a short period of time during the summer, so of course they¿ve got to have some excitement in their time together. This book is also filled with things that kids could take home with them that wouldn¿t be too bad (lessons to be learned). These things include: hard work, helping out other people, taking responsibilities for themselves (things they don¿t normally do), and things like that. I think responsibility is definitely one of the main themes in the book. Most things have to do with this theme. Some examples from the book, there¿s supposed to be a party held for members of a certain group that traces their ancestry all the way back to the Civil War (the DAR). They need to make cherry tarts for the party (they don¿t know how). Mary-Alice¿s grandma takes the responsibility to make the cherry tarts, and even holding the party at her house. Mary-Alice helps make them and even some punch for the party. If you ask me, that¿s a lot of responsibility. I wish that I could do something like that at my grandma¿s house!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I was not forced to read it like others. I was just hooked as soon as i read the summary! This is a humorous, sad and all around teriffic book. don't listen to those who say it stink because as soon as you start to read it you'll be hooked.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked that it was humrous I mean I never heard some old lady steeling pumpkins!? But if your like me you probly like your Histery Book better. I was disapointed with the ending it wasnt worth remembering.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read A Long Way from Chicago for school, and that was funny and easy, definitely better than this one. Year Down Yonder was kinda funny and really easy, but boring too. I would only recommend it to people that are looking for a quick, easy book. I'm glad I read it, but I'm glad I didn't buy it. I borrowed it from a neighbor.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Its funny. I had to read it for a book report. i hate book reports.