A Long Way from Chicago was written by Richard Peck, a writer, playwright, and speaker, in 1998 and won a Newbury Honor in 1999. Its sequel, A Year Down Yonder, was published in 2000 and won the Newbury Medal in 2001.
The book tells the story of Joey and his sister Mary Alice, city children from Chicago who visit their Grandma Dowdel in her sleepy, rural town during eight summers between 1929 to 1942, the years of the Great Depression. Grandma Dowdel is an unusual woman with much energy and a seize-the-day attitude, and Joey and Mary Alice have several unexpected adventures with her. The book is written in “novel in stories” style, also called short story cycle, in which a collection of short stories is presented in a way that makes reading the whole more enhanced than reading each individual part. This is well suited for the eight separate adventures that take place.
Peck based the setting of the book on Cerro Gordo, Illinois, a rural area, and he states that he writes about rural scenes from decades long past in order to preserve it “for kids in suburbs who don’t know that time or place.” He himself grew up in a rural area, and he says that he bases Grandma Dowdel on his own boisterous great aunts, and he describes her as “the great American tradition I came from.” In this way, A Long Way From Chicago can be read as an exaggerated autobiography, a caricature of Peck’s own childhood.