There’s not a lot I can add to the great reviews by Sandy, Flusi, and DebNance. I listened to the audiobook, and was laughing so hard I was inspired to read Richard Peck’s prequel, A Long Way from Chicago as well. The latter book stars Grandma Dowdel as well as a younger Mary Alice and her brother Joey, and is written from his viewpoint, but it’s not necessary to read it before A Year Down Yonder.
This book gives a wonderful view of small-town life during the 1937-8 recession following the Great Depression. It’s an uplifting story, one that doesn’t deny the hardships of the time, but doesn’t dwell on them either. Even though it’s set in southern Illinois, I feel the book could have been located in just about any rural small town in the country at that time. I think the book would be enjoyed by both boys and girls about age 9 and up (reading level is about grade 4.5-4.9).
American actress Lois Smith narrated the audiobook. She did a marvelous job creating unique voices for Grandma Dowdel and other interesting characters such as Wilhelmina Weidenbach, Mildred Burdick, Miss Butler, Effie Wilcox, and Aunt Mae Griswold. I only had a couple of complaints. One was her voicing of Mary Alice – it sounded too whiny and too immature for a 15-year-old.
The other complaint was the way she pronounced pecan. Okay, I’m from Texas, and it’s our state tree, and they grow all over the Brazos and Colorado river valleys where I live, and most everyone here pronounces it “puh-kahn,” with a little more accent on the second syllable than the first. Smith pronounced it as “pee-can,” with almost equal accent on both syllables. I’ve also heard “pee-CAN” and “pi-KAHN” (heavy accent on second syllable in both cases) and even “pee-kahn,” and dictionaries give a variety of pronunciations, so all are right. Since she was voicing rural residents of southern Illinois, I would appreciate any insight from Newbery Project readers who might know how those folks typically pronounce pecan.
[A variation of this post, including a review of the sequel, A Year Down Yonder, appears on my book blog, Bookin' It.]