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A Season of Gifts

Wry humor and Midwestern sensibility mark this Depression-era tale of Grandma Dowdel and her unorthodox ways.

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If ever there were a character whose time has come, it is Grandma Dowdel. Able to bamboozle a banker into forgiving a widow’s mortgage and feed a train’s worth of hungry men from one day’s fishing, Grandma Dowdel should replace Superman as national hero for the duration.

Her Depression-era exploits – as narrated by her awed grandkids in “A Long Way From Chicago” and “A Year Down Yonder” – won her creator, Richard Peck, a Newbery Honor and a Newbery Medal. (He also picked up a National Humanities Medal – making him the only children’s writer ever to receive that honor.) Now, just in time for the holidays, Peck gives us A Season of Gifts.

It’s 1958, and a new family has moved in next to the last house in town. Grandma, nearing 90, still eschews indoor plumbing and makes her own soap in a caldron over an open fire. Bob and Ruth Ann Barnhart are convinced she’s a witch – because she couldn’t possibly be a ghost.

“So we Barnharts had moved in next door to a haunted house, if a house can be haunted by a living being,” 11-year-old Bob says. “She looked older than the town. But she was way too solid to be a ghost. You sure couldn’t see through her. You could barely see around her.”

Bob meets Grandma when the town boys tie him up and leave him – naked – dangling from a spider’s web of rope in her privy. Grandma famously has little patience for bullies, and she takes the Barnharts under her copious wing.

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