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A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Cover art of A Season of Gifts. a novel for ages 9-13 by Richard Peck
The Penguin Group

The Bottom Line

In A Season of Gifts, Richard Peck brings back his most unforgettable character in this sweet funny story set in 1958 in rural Illinois. Grandma Dowdel is a strong, independent woman who keeps to herself, but still knows everything about everyone in town. She slyly teaches life’s lessons to old and young alike. Her approach is as original as her appearance. Grandma's gifts of her garden, her time, and her unique way of solving problems are a blessing to the new family next door. This book should find an audience in a classroom, or through family sharing. I recommend it for kids in upper elementary and middle school.
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  • Unforgettable characters
  • Memorable use of humor
  • Crisp writing that keeps the story moving and the reader engaged
  • Excellent depiction of time and place
  • Accessible to tween readers


  • Literary device of a hoax (dead Indian princess) seen by some as derogatory


  • Title: A Season of Gifts
  • Author: Richard Peck
  • Length: 176 pages
  • Recommended For: Ages 9-13
  • Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, A Division of the Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication Date: 2009
  • ISBN: 9780803730823

Guide Review - A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

This addition to Peck’s previous books about Grandma Dowdel (A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder) adds a new twist to this old-fashioned setting. New neighbors move in next to Mrs. Dowdel and they are as mystified and intrigued with her as her grandchildren were in the previous books. In this story we meet Bob, a hapless hero with three strikes against him. Not only is he the new kid in town, but he is a “preacher’s kid” and he has two sisters to contend with. Bob’s father is a new preacher with an opportunity to build a church in the small community, and the family has many obstacles to overcome.

Bob is the target of the town bullies, his older sister Phyllis is pining for Elvis and trying to fit in with the high school crowd, and little sister Ruth Ann longs for a friend. Even though Mrs. Dowdel keeps to herself and isn’t overly friendly, she manages to give each member of the family the kind of gift they most need. Her anonymous gifts of fresh vegetables sustain their bodies, but she finds ways to instill confidence in them, which allows them to grow in spirit.

Mrs. Dowdel manages to give the town bully his just desserts through an act of seeming kindness, to devise a way to bring new members into the church with a funeral service for the spirit of a long-dead Indian princess, and to teach Ruth Ann secrets of how to survive in the world. We see all this unfold through Bob’s bemused eyes, but we feel his strength growing as well. As Ruth Ann would say, “Hoo boy.”

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