A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck - Book Cover
Book cover for paperback edition. Penguin


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.


  • There are numerous unforgettable characters in A Season of Gifts.
  • Richard Peck has a memorable way of using humor to both entertain and move the story forward.
  • Peck's crisp writing keeps the story moving and the reader engaged.
  • Richard Peck does an excellent job in depicting time and place.
  • The book is accessible and well-suited to tween readers.


  • Peck's use of the literary device of a hoax (dead Indian princess) is seen by some as derogatory and offensive.


  • Title: A Season of Gifts
  • Author: Richard Peck whose books have been recognized with Newbery honors and other awards and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
  • Length: 176 pages
  • Recommended For: Ages 9-13
  • Publisher: Hardcover, Dial Books for Young Readers; Paperback, Puffin Books, Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication Date: Hardcover, 2009; Paperback, 2010
  • ISBN: Hardcover - 9780803730823; Paperback - 9780142417294

Book Review - A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

This addition to Peck’s previous books about Grandma Dowdel (A Long Way from Chicago, a 1999 Newbery Honor Book, and A Year Down Yonder, the 2001 John Newbery Medal winner) 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.”

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

10/19/15 - Edited by Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books Expert