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(Column) Rice: Just Another Gal from Casper – reading ‘A Long Way from Chicago’

Kate Rice


I love finding Children’s books that are entertaining for both kids and adults, like Richard Peck’s 1999 Newbery Honor Book, A Long Way from Chicago

It’s a chapter book, great for ages approximately 5 to 105, which makes it ideal for reading with kids, on a lunch hour, in between classes…anytime you have a few minutes to spare.

Each chapter, beginning in 1929, represents a summer week that Chicago kids Joey and Mary Alice Dowdel (9 and 7 at the start) spend with Grandma Dowdel in small-town Illinois. It’s apparent that she’s not your average Grandma. The way she navigates situations often starts off confusing, becomes amusing, and ends up being extremely satisfying. She may seem like a loner (who, according to young Joey, “could tell some whoppers”), but Grandma Dowdel’s got a heart as big as her oversized frame. 

When a nosy city reporter comes looking for a story about one recently deceased townsfellow, Grandma Dowdel gives him just that — and more — in “Shotgun Cheatham’s Last Night Above Ground.” As several of the townsfolk lay vigil for Ol’ Shotgun in Grandma Dowdel’s front room, what should be a solemn affair ends in entertaining chaos. (Let’s just say Old Man Cheatham wasn’t the only shotgun involved.)  

Later, in 1930s “The Mouse in the Milk,” Grandma knows just how to exact revenge on the troublesome, property-destroying Cowgill brothers. Joey summarizes the climax quite nicely with this statement: “Listen, Mrs. Wilcox. Grandma blew up all four of their boys with a cherry bomb. Now she’s got them pinned down with a shotgun.” 

A Long Way from Chicago‘s stories are soaked in “small-town, back-in-the-day” ambiance, humor, and heart. For me, this book’s a keeper. 

Experience the joys of life with Grandma Dowdel in A Long Way from Chicago, available at Wind City Books in downtown Casper. I used to wish we had “a large chain bookstore” in town — but turns out, we don’t actually need it. Wind City Books has a fabulous selection, awesome salesclerks, and if the items you’re craving are available but not in store, they’ll order them for you. Don’t just take my word — stop into Wind City Books, or visit them online at windcitybooks.com.