Awards : 2001 Newbery Medal
Subject Area : Language Arts
Reading Level : 4.9
Fifteen-year-old Mary Alice is a long way from Chicago — again. After spending a memorable summer with crazy Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois, she returns to this "hick town" for a yearlong stay. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, award-winning author Richard Peck paints a heartwarming and humorous picture of country life, seen through the eyes of a displaced city girl. Through all the characters' wild adventures (and misadventures), Peck shows that when times are tough, laughter is the best remedy.
Students will personally connect with characters. As a result, they will enhance their understanding of how to write from a character's perspective.
Standards: Makes connections between the motives of characters or the causes for complex events in texts and those in his or her own life. Understands elements of character development (e.g., development of characters through their words, speech patterns, thoughts, actions).
Ask students to write in their journals about a time when they were in a new place or situation.
Use the following prompts to get started:
Where were you?
Why were you in this new place/situation?
How did you feel?
What did you think, wonder, worry about?
How did you adapt to the new situation?
For example, students might write about their first day in a new school or moving to a new home, city/town, or country. Encourage them to be detailed and descriptive in their writing.
Discuss as a class what it feels like to be in a new situation. Students may wish to share some of their responses to the Warm-up Activity.
- Discuss how Mary Alice, who used to live with her parents in Chicago, felt staying with Grandma Dowdel in rural Illinois. How did she react to this new place and situation? Ask students to use specific passages and details from the book to prove their points. Introduce the figurative expression "like a fish out of water." Do students feel this is an accurate way to describe Mary Alice's situation?
- During the story, Mary Alice mentions that while she wrote back and forth to her mother and father, she "didn't tell them everything" about life with Grandma (p. 116). Write a letter from Mary Alice to her mother telling about a significant event or memorable moment from her "year down yonder." For example, students might write about Mary Alice's arrival in the town, the first day of school, Halloween, or one of Grandma's late-night adventures. Remind students to write from Mary Alice's perspective. Include her thoughts and feelings at the time. Would she tell her mother the whole truth? Or would she omit certain details? Get inside her head and be creative! During the writing process, students will draft, revise, edit, and finally publish their work. They can also address and design envelopes to "send" their letters.
Have students swap letters and write responses from the mother's point of view. How would Mary Alice's mother react? What would she say? What is on her mind back home in Chicago?
Other Books About New Surroundings
Because of Winn-Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo
A young girl moves to rural Florida with her preacher father and makes friends with a lovable dog. As she adapts to her new life, she learns about the importance of friendship and acceptance.
Hope Was Here
by Joan Bauer
A young girl moves to a new town and becomes involved in local politics.
Other Books by Richard Peck
A Long Way From Chicago
Strays Like Us
Are You in the House Alone?
Secrets of the Shopping Mall
The Ghost Belonged to Me
Teaching plan written by Lauren Gold