Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Sparking Nonsense

on June 10, 2012

Next month, my local SCBWI chapter (MD/DE/WV) will host its annual summer conference.  The theme this year is “Creating Sparks: Kindle the Fire of Imagination.” Since I wormed my way into the inner circle (i.e., planning committee) of this region, I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of the best authors, editors, and agents children’s literature has to offer. Of course, I do work pretty hard as the registrar for these events (It’s a much tougher job than even I imagined.), but it’s always worth what I get out of it.

I try to read ahead and get to “know” the authors a bit. (Yes, I did always do my homework in school. Don’t you just hate that?) Our speakers for this conference include Sally M. Walker (!), John Proimos (J), Bobbie Pyron (yay!), Deborah Wiles (love her), and (wait for it) Richard Peck. (I know I’ve forgotten some important writers, but I couldn’t wait to get to Richard Peck.)

So, what do I love about Richard Peck? As a writer, that is.

Characters. How can you not adore Grandma Dowdel? In some ways, my grandmother was just like her. Well, my mother’s mother, anyway. If she doesn’t remind you of someone you know, you’re missing something in your life. She appears not to care for her fellow citizens, but she is actually deeply ingrained in Midwestern practicality. She only helps those unable to help themselves. She tricks others into doing the same. And she does so with unparalleled grace. She appears to be uneducated, but she’s educated in the ways of the world and insists that Mary Alice get every ounce of formal schooling she can.

Mary Alice is also a great character, but her traits are so subtle, the reader may not recognize them at first. She goes along with her grandmother but is constantly questioning and assessing.

Gotta love a postmistress who poses nude (or was that naked?).

Setting. I grew up in Iowa. Although Des Moines is my hometown, I have more than a passing familiarity with Midwestern small towns. After reading A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, so will you. In small towns, everyone thinks they know all your business but it’s not difficult to let appearances speak for you and serve pumpkin pie, made with stolen pumpkin, to the owner of the pumpkin patch. My in-laws got perverse enjoyment in waiting for the gossip to filter back to them on some little project they were engaged in. My uncle, who lived in village of about 300 souls, used to complain that the citizens would drive to the bathroom if they could figure out a way.

Plot. Life lessons are everywhere. Mary Alice spends so much time trying to figure out Grandma Dowdel – or not figure her out – that she fails to recognize she is becoming more like her every day.

Voice. Peck’s writing is funny, sad, insightful, and hopeful all at once.

I heard Peck speak at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and was thoroughly entranced. Can you tell I’m eager to hear him again? Also a lttle eager to read his next book, Secrets at Sea.

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4 responses to “Sparking Nonsense

  1. Edie Hemingway says:

    Sue, you have sparked my interest in hearing Richard Peck face-to-face even more, if that’s possible! My favorite book of his is THE RIVER BETWEEN US.

  2. Hi, Sue. That’s great that you read up on all the authors before the conferences. Sounds like you are having a good time doing it, too! I also can’t wait to hear Richard Peck (and the other speakers). Sounds like it is going to be a great conference!

  3. Ellen L. Ramsey says:

    Great post! I love Richard Peck’s books and yes, Grandma Dowdel does remind me of one of my farming aunts who lived in southern Ohio. And my favorite book of his also is The River Between Us..

  4. Sue Poduska says:

    Thanks. Guess I’ll have to read The River Between Us next.

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