Get kids to read without really trying: 1

By Laura Grimes

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck“Why didn’t you tell me a naked lady runs down the street with a giant snake?”

I jokingly chided Mr. Scatter that it was all his fault that I was completely unprepared to read this rip-snorting scene while on a crowded bus and that I was forced to stifle gut-busting laughter until I couldn’t breathe and had to spill out onto the sidewalk.

But before I innocently chatted up Mr. Scatter, I did two things: I made sure one Large Smelly Boy was within earshot and then the other.

“What lady? Where?”

The LSBs immediately drew closer and wanted to know details.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just this book.”

“What book?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It might be too racy for you.”

“What book?!”

“I’m not sure you’d like it.” I turned back to Mr. Scatter. “That outhouse scene was priceless.”

My efforts to ignore the boys were futile, though, and they begged their dad to read out loud A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (a 2001 Newbery Medal winner).

So later, cozy on the couch, Mr. Scatter started from the beginning. But that wasn’t fast enough for the Large Large Smelly Boy, otherwise known as Oscar/Dennis. (The naked lady scene comes much later in the book.) When his dad put the book down for the night, he scooped it up and plowed through the rest of it and then its prequel, A Long Way from Chicago (a 1999 Newbery Honor book and a National Book Award finalist).

Grandma Dowdel, with her wild hair and a shotgun, rides roughshod over a not-so sleepy Illinois town during the Depression.

I opened a page at random to find a teaser:

“Did your late husband go to war?”

“Only with me,” Grandma said, “and he lost every time.”

I stood in the yard, clutching my tin mug. The knitted cap cut a groove in my forehead. My feet were blocks of ice. Grandpa Dowdel’s hunting jacket smelled like dead ducks. But I’d never seen Grandma near this much money. I couldn’t blink till I saw what she was going to do with it.

Curious to know the rest? You’ll have to read it and find out. Just be careful not to talk about it too loudly around the kids. Otherwise you’ll have to fight them for the book.


Remember, literary orgy Wordstock is this weekend at the Oregon Convention Center. While looking over all the offerings something caught my eye. The Dill Pickle Club (now you know why I was sucked in) will be at Wordstock collecting literary and cultural artifacts for a time capsule. The idea is to take a snapshot of Portland’s literary scene right now.


More kids and reading stories to come.