Stories don't have to come in books, but for me, some of the best come from books. With that I thought I would share my favorite stories so you can add them to your Summer Reading list. Feel free to share your favorites with me.
Today, I introduce you to Richard Peck. My pre-teen son and I were driving across the western states to attend a family reunion. In an effort to help melt the miles of driving before us my brother loaned us the audiobook of On the Wings of Heroes. Masterfully narrated by Lincoln Hoppe, we were instantly swept back to 1939 and the world according to a boy named Davy Bowman.
Before the war the evenings lingered longer, and it was always summer when it wasn't Halloween, or Christmas. Long lazy light reached between the houses, and the whole street played our version of hide-and-seek, called only by olly-olly-in-free and supper time. Before I could keep up, I rode my brother's shoulders, hung in the crook of Dad's good arm. I rode them across the long shadows of afternoon, high over hedges, heading for home base, when our street was the world, before the war, when there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
After I returned home from the reunion, I headed straight for my library and checked out every Richard Peck book they had. I was miles behind on his work and I didn't want to waste another minute.
If there is one pre-eminent character that stands out in all his works, it is Grandma Dowdel. The feminine version of a tall-tale character if there ever was one. She baked, cooked, farmed, neighbored, carried a gun, and saved the day a million times over. No grandma existed like her. She was a grandma for the ages.
Fortunately for readers, Richard Peck stepped away from his stand alone history and gave Grandma Dowdel a full series of her own. Every autumn I crack them open and enjoy, but summer is just as good.
It was always August when we spent a week with our grandma. I was Joey then, not Joe: Joey Dowdel, and my sister was Mary Alice. In our first visits we were still just kids, so we could hardly see her town because of Grandma. She was so big, and the town was so small. She was old too, or so we thought - old as the hills.
My Personal Favorite
Before Richard Peck became a successful writer, he was a teacher. He claims his students made him a writer. If that is true, I sincerely thank them. Every one of Richard Peck's books is woven with deeper insights than just a fun tale. Though never preachy or moralistic, a gentle nudge of encouragement toward the best in life is always found. However, in some of his books, he takes a stronger stance on a topic, all while never leaving his gift for storytelling.
My favorite is The River Between Us. To the very final paragraph the intent of the story catches readers by surprise. The tale isn't set as a mystery but as a history. Yet it unveils life details we never imagine. Told to us through the eyes of young Howard Leland Hutchings, we travel back in time before the Civil War.
To me, the best part was that we'd make the trip by car. When I say car, I mean a Ford, of course, a Model T touring car, and they don't make them like that anymore. In those days it was a big thing to drive a car out of town, let alone a hundred miles each way of Southern Illinois dirt road. I thought the journey itself was going to be the adventure.
Each of Richard Peck's books fit perfectly in a backpack or beach bag. They can be read in a day or so, and are worth the time. So while the sun runs long and we are creeping back to normal, grab one or more of his books. Treat yourself. It will be worth it.
Thank you Mr. Peck for your gift of words that keeps on giving.