A Year Down Yonder
Richard Peck. A Year Down Yonder. Broadway, New York: Scholastic, 2000.
A Year Down Yonder is an incredibly relatable story for young readers. Everybody, at some point in their lives, matures and deals with difficult people. Like other stories of its kind, A Year Down Yonder can serve to show readers of all ages how one can adjust to new settings, make new friends, and deal with many of life’s difficulties – be they personal, petty, big, or small.
Peck tells the story of young girl from Chicago named Mary Alice who, given the country’s lingering post-depression economic troubles, is forced to leave her home and parents to live with her grandmother – a crotchety old woman with a reputation for bucking the rules.
Mary Alice starts the first day at her new school on the wrong side of class bully, Mildred Burdick, who follows her home. Grandma, however, turns the tables and Mildred soon loses interest in stirring up trouble, which later comes in October, with the name August Fluke, who tries knocking down their privy. Grandma prevents his midnight stunt with a clever trap, and at the school Halloween party, Grandma dishes up home-baked pies that she made with stolen pumpkins and pecans.
Mary Alice and her Grandma’s adventures continue year-round, from the Armistice Day Turkey Shoot, where Grandma stirs things up by making the soup affordable, and the school Christmas Pageant, when Mary Alice is set up against the snobbish Carleen Lovejoy. Tricks and pranks abound when a new boy, Royce McNabb, arrives at school in time for Carleen to develop a Valentine’s Day, but not without Mary Alice and her friend Ina-Rae playing a prank on her to get even.
That same spring, Grandma takes in an artist to pay room and board, and Mary Alice develops her own affinity for Royce. Grandma plays match-maker, she and Mary Alice survive a tornado, and the year finishes up with Royce and Mary Alice promising to exchange letters while they’re apart.
The characters and the relationships that develop and evolve throughout A Year Down Yonder are realistic and relatable while still retaining the imaginative quality and historical relevance that makes the book such a wonderful escape from modern adolescent life – much the way that Mary Alice escapes her own familiar life by spending a year down yonder.
Recommendations for Teachers
A popular argument for the adoption of more recent books to be taught in schools certainly applies to A Year Down Yonder. The book offers fresh classroom (and out-of-the-classroom) material, in contrast to giving students what is considered “classic literature”. It’s nice to have a new voice in literature that has been published in the last decade; even if it’s historic, it’s still “new”, and not just the same stuff that our parents and the parents of our students – be they current or future – read themselves, when they were younger.
Much the way that A Year Down Yonder is an imaginative and engaging story, activities in the classroom can be, with numerous ways to teach English principles for reading and writing, as well as social studies topics.
Some ideas for activities and discussion:
Theme and topic discussions:
About Richard Peck
Richard Peck attended College in at DePauw University in Indiana and in England at the University of Exeter. No stranger to historic and philosophical material, Peck spent some time as a “ghost writer” for sermons as a pastor’s assistant and U.S. Army Chaplain in Stuttgart, Germany. Following his tour of duty, he became a High School English teacher, an experience which he credits towards inspiring much of his work and helping him decide to become a writer. Currently, he writes full-time and has over 30 published novels.
Ever the classicist, Peck writes all his books on a typewriter, saying of his refusal to adopt technology that “it has to be a book from the first day.” An avid traveler, Peck writes both from his own experience and experiences he hears about from his readers and people whom he meets.
Author Richard Peck talks about his writing and what makes a book “for young readers”.
- Full List of Newbery Award Books, 1922-Present – A list of every Newbery Award-Winning Book. Ever.
- Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site – Featured Author: Richard Peck – A website outlining some of Richard Peck’s other books for young readers.
- Literature Guides for //A Long Way from Chicago// and //A Year Down Yonder// – TeacherVision gives some wonderful ideas for teachers using Peck’s books.
- A Long Way From Dectaur – Publishers Weekly article about Richard Peck, his early career, and what makes him tick.
- Richard Peck Papers at USM de Grummond – A listing of everything Richard Peck has published and presented to publishers, with explanations.
- Books for the Readers of the 21st Century – A transcript of Richard Peck’s lecture on Ezra Jack Keats, renowned children’s book author and artist, and young readers.
- Richard Peck Lesson Plans – A vast collection of lesson plans for teachers to use with Peck’s books in the classroom.
- Learning To Give – Another lesson plan for A Year Down Yonder, this one revolving around the Great Depression.