Once again Richard Peck has given us a beautifully crafted story set in
rural Illinois. This time, with "A Season of Gifts," the story revolves
around the Barnhart family as they move in next to Mrs. Dowdel. From the
perspective of 12-year-old Bob, we meet them as they settle into a new town
that looks far from promising.
Dad is the new Methodist minister of a very poor, struggling church.
Older sister, Phyllis, is a freshman in high school, wanting desperately to
fit into the popular crowd while appearing as grown up as a 14-year-old can
be. Ruth Ann, a first-grader, is the voice of truth and innocence, while
maintaining a typical child's perspective on the events and feelings that
befall and transform the family throughout the autumn and winter of 1958.
This is a family in need, even if they do not know it. Of course, they will
find that help from an unlikely source.
For readers of Mr. Peck's award-winning "A Long Way From Chicago" and "A
Year Down Yonder," the next-door neighbor, Mrs. Dowdel, is a familiar
character. For those meeting her for the first time in this story, they will
be enthralled with the character within the first couple of chapters. She is
the over-the-top, feisty old woman used to taking care of all situations for
herself. Gruff on the outside, dressing without thought to the conventions
of the day, she is lord of her home and a commanding presence in the
community. Mrs. Dowdel declares that she "never neighbors" and wants only to
be left alone, although she is the one who quietly (most of the time) goes
about seeing that the town runs well and its people receive what they need.
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"A Season of Gifts," full of laughter and rejoicing, is a gift to
the reader of a simpler time when neighbors knew your family (warts
and all) but accepted that people still retained the ability to rise
above their acts with the help of those around them. Even the more
notorious characters in the novel are ones we end up hoping will
find a better pathway in life, without excusing their mistakes or
having them suffer the consequences of their actions.
Do not miss this book. For young readers, it is a walk that shows
how we are important to those around us and does so without becoming
heavy-handed or boring. For adults, it is a walk down memory lane
and is full of names and places in Illinois that bring a smile of
Mr. Peck's ability to re-create small-town character and life is
amazing. That he does so in such a relatively small number of pages
speaks volumes to his profession. How refreshing to hold a book that
does not task your hand muscles! Come into the library and
experience this book and many others by Peck.
[Text from file received from
Lincoln Public Library District]
(Ms. Lou's blog: