• Happy birthday Helen Hoover (Another Heaven, Another Earth) and Lurlene McDaniel (Heart to Heart),.
  • It’s the birth date of Frank Stockton (1834-1902), The Bee-Man of Orn, and Yasuo Segawa (1933-2010), Sleepy Time.
  • Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), author of the autobiographical Up From Slavery was also born on this day. Read Booker T. Washington by Thomas Amper, illustrated by Jeni Reeves.
  • It’s One Day Without Shoes Day highlighting the risk of disease and infection millions of children face who grow up without shoes. Read Barefoot: Escape on the Underground Railroad by Pamela Duncan Edwards, illustrated by Henry Cole, and The Barefooted, Bad-Tempered Baby Brigade by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Tracy Dockray.

On April 5, 1934, Richard Peck was born in Decatur, Illinois. After training to be a teacher, he spent years working with students and did not write his first novel until he was thirty-seven. Then he made up for lost time!

If ever there was a Renaissance figure in the field of children’s and young adult books, Richard Peck would certainly qualify. He has written in all genres for children and teens and has consistently produced one book of quality after another since his first Don’t Look and It Won’t Hurt, published in 1972. After that book he explored some of the toughest issues of teenage life, such as suicide in Remembering the Good Times and rape in Are You in the House Alone? For this work, Peck received the Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award.

Then Peck distinguished himself as one of the finest humorists writing for fourth through sixth grade readers. In the late 1990s he began to develop a series of books about a hard-edged Grandma Dowdel and her two grandchildren who visit her rural Illinois home during the Depression. A Long Way from Chicago won the National Book Award. Its sequel A Year Down Yonder finally brought a long-deserved Newbery Award into Peck’s camp. I cannot even count the number of adults who have said to me that they believe Grandma Dowdel to be the finest adult character to appear in children’s books.

If I had to choose one Richard Peck book (and no one should have to do this), I would select his hysterically funny work of historical fiction, The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, set in rural Indiana in 1904. Starting with the line “If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it,” the novel moves with grace and finesse through the experiences of Russell Culver, who attends a one-room school and has to survive his sister as a teacher. All of Peck’s strengths are evident in this book—great characters, smooth and graceful writing, an ear for dialogue, laugh-out-loud humor, and human compassion and insight.

For forty years Richard Peck—witty, urbane, vibrant, and committed—has logged hundreds of miles visiting schools, libraries, and conferences. He has not only written some of our finest books for children and teens, he has supported the teachers and librarians who bring books to them.

Happy birthday Richard! You are a class act. As someone who speaks best for himself, I’d like Richard to have the final words of his celebration. Here are some signature Peck lines from one of his poems about reading. “Read to your children/Twenty minutes a day/You have the time,/And so do they.”

Here’s a passage from The Teacher’s Funeral:

How we learned this Miss Myrt Arbuckle had turned up her toes gets ahead of the story. This news didn’t reach us till almost midnight, and then under dramatic circumstances.

But it had been a red-letter day anyhow, the main day of the year for me, better than the Fourth of July. It was the day the J.I. Case Company of Racine, Wisconsin, sent their special train down through Indiana. We’d watched for the flyers announcing it all summer. My heart was in my mouth that Dad wouldn’t let us go.

The Case Special came through every August with flatcars of the latest in steam engines and threshing machines. It was better than a circus. Every man and boy from twenty miles around converged on Montezuma to see the Case Special. I walked the floor all night for fear Dad would keep us in the field. I hadn’t figured out he wouldn’t have missed the Case Special himself.


Originally posted April 5, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Award Winning, Family, History, Humor, Newbery, School
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Teacher’s Funeral


  1. Sydnee says:

    I completely agree that Richard Peck has left an astounding mark on literature for children and young adults; it’s hard for me to imagine the cannon without him. I found this particular book on audio, and thought the whole thing was perfect! Although he’s written so many books in his career, Peck certainly has never lost his touch.

  2. Thanks for bringing my attention to this book! I’ve already populated our home library with A Long Way Home and A Year Down Yonder – but had no idea that this gem existed!

    I simply cannot wait to start reading these fab stories to my twins. The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts is also on our wish list now!

    Read Aloud Dad

  3. Richard Peck has a way of making characters not simply come alive, but come out of the page and into his readers’ lives! I often discuss character with young writers by sharing the scene in A YEAR DOWN YONDER where Grandma Dowdel collects pecans from the “ground” around her neighbor’s tree with his “permission.” Richard Peck’s use of language, description, short dialogue, tension–it’s pitch wonderful! Thanks for celebrating him, Anita!

  4. Jude says:

    Richard Peck is a gem. I wouldn’t be able to pick a favorite either. Aside from the Grandma Dowdel books (three of them now) and The Teacher’s Funeral, there are also Here Lies the Librarian and Fair Weather. Here Lies the Librarian is more like The Teacher’s Funeral in tone; whereas Fair Weather is more like the Grandma Dowdel books. We listened to the audio versions of Here Lies the Librarian, The Teacher’s Funeral, and Fair Weather on several car trips to Chicago a few years ago. Dylan Baker is fantastic as the narrator of The Teacher’s Funeral.

  5. Nobody’s mentioned Blossom Culp yet so I feel compelled to. She’s my second-biggest fictional girl-crush ever. I am forever grateful for Richard Peck for introducing me to her and allowing her to be my best imaginary friend when I was in middle school.

  6. PragmaticMom says:

    I LOVE Richard Peck and my 5th grader also enjoyed A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago. I also personally liked Fair Weather but she wouldn’t read it.

    I have a list of Best Books for Reluctant Readers (Boys or Otherwise) Grades 3-6th here http://www.pragmaticmom.com/?p=116 that I wanted to share.

    I hope it is helpful!

  7. phumphrey says:

    Is A Long Way From Chicago the same thing as A Long Way Home?

  8. I don’t know how I have missed this website until today, but I am so glad to have found it!

    I feel compelled to weigh in here, because I love Richard Peck’s work. I heard him speak once, and was absolutely stunned by his eloquence. And I am one of those people who believe Grandma Dowdel is one of the great characters in all of children’s literature. Where there is Grandma Dowdel, there is a hoot. Take this quote, from barely 5 pages in to A Long Way from Chicago:
    “Never trust an ugly woman. She’s got a grudge against the world,” said Grandma, who was
    no oil painting herself.

    How can you not love that sentence? And in the course of A Long Way from Chicago we have the privilege of watching Grandma cut the Cowgill boys down to size (which may not really be that tough, since they “aren’t broke out with brains”), get a whiff of her homemade cheese, which smelled “bad enough to gas a cat”, and listen to her slice through the banker’s wife’s formalities with one sentence: “My stars. The bank forecloses on people’s farms and throws them off their land, and they don’t even appreciate it.”

    Grandma doesn’t give one whit what anybody in town thinks of her. She is ornery, wicked clever, and afeared o’ nothin’. She is fearsome to behold, but she has a compassionate side tucked away somewhere under her white bun of hair. Mostly, she is entirely marvelous to get to know. Hurray for Grandma Dowdel, and hurray for Richard Peck’s brilliant imagination.

  9. Anita says:

    Kristi: I’m glad you found the website, too. Thanks for quoting these fabulous lines — such fine examples of Richard Peck as a stylist.

  10. Dana Fisher says:

    I adore Richard Peck, too. Just one correction: that first Grandma Dowdel book is called A Long Way from Chicago, not A Long Way Home. It was also a Newbery Honor winner.

  11. Anita says:

    Thanks so much; this has been corrected.

  12. Anita says:

    Yes, this was simply a senior moment on my part. The title, now corrected, is A Long Way from Chicago.

  13. G. Perry says:

    I’ve just read the first two chapters of A Long Way From Chicago, and I laughed more during those two chapters than from reading any other book I’ve read.

    Some mighty tall tale telling is going on, and you better say yer prayers partner if you mess with Grandma Dowdel.

    I’ll be looking for The Teacher’s Funeral, and soon.

  14. Anita says:

    Grandma Dowdel is one of the best characters in any novel for children; certainly one of the best adults.

  15. Remy says:

    Hi there Anita

    I am so glad to have found your website here. I am sure to visit here often being a fan of cildrens illustration and being a Kids Illustrator and animator myself.


  16. Allison says:

    I have met Mr. Peck at several workshops and he is a delight.

  17. Susie Highley says:

    Great choice! My mom grew up in Putnam County, and one time while she was in the hospital, I took her this book to read. She thoroughly enjoyed it, more evidence that much of his writing is for all ages. I talked to Mr. Peck at a library conference, and told him how much we had enjoyed this book, and I appreciated the fact that almost everyone in this book acted out of love; he told me that was no easy thing to write and still have a plot!. There were no big villains in this book, yet a lot happens. He explained once that while writing Long Way from Chicago, he read every Time magazine from 1932 (among other research) to make his voice authentic, a practice that makes his books educational while being entertaining.

  18. Sarah Susen says:

    A year Down Yonder and Long Way From Chicago are comfort reading at its best. They are to my soul what meatloaf and mashed potato are to my stomach. There is a third book called A Season of Gifts. Grandma Dowdel is older and Joey is grown up. It is a very good read for Christmas time.

  19. Lisamarch says:

    An outstanding author and speaker. Hoping he will return to Springfield, IL soon for a visit & reading.

  20. Clara Gillow Clark says:

    I adore Richard Peck, too. He is such a gentleman. Of course, I love his books and his characters, especially the feisty, Grandma Dowdel Happy Birthday to Richard!

  21. Sarah says:

    “Secrets of the Shopping Mall” and “Ghosts that I Have Been” are probably my two favorite YA books ever, and two of the best ways I know to get teens to enjoy reading. I am so grateful Richard Peck decided to write.

  22. Beverly says:

    Love, love, love getting lost in a Richard Peck novel! The Grandma Dowdel trilogy has had me laughing so hard I couldn’t focus to read in one chapter, and then crying in another. Any book that hits both extremes of emotion makes my top 10 (25, 100 …?) list. Thank you for acknowledging Mr. Peck today.

  23. Mary Beth says:

    Uncle Miles describing New Orleans to his nephew Alexander in “The Ghost Belonged to Me” captures the city’s
    contradictory nature and ambience. Best wishes to Richard.

  24. Richard Peck was one of my favorite authors growing up, and he still is! I got to meet him about a year ago, and he was so funny and charming! I made it all the way to the signing, handed him my book, and he opened it only to find that I had grabbed my mother’s copy, which she had had signed several years ago. I was embarrassed, but he was very funny and charming about the whole thing and signed it again for me. So I have a twice signed copy of “A Year Down Yonder.” What a wonderful guy, and what wonderful books he writes.

  25. Eliza says:

    I’m off to the library later today to pick up both The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts and the third Grandma Dowdel book. I didn’t know there was a third one out and now I have to read it as fast as possible. Include me in the adults who count her as one of my all time favorite characters. That scene where she’s up late waiting for and waving at the troop train as it passes by always get me. Every. Single. Time.

    I recently included A Year Down Yonder in a list of books for someone looking for books where the pet does not die. One more positive thing about Peck’s book. :-)

    Thank you and your readers for leading me, once again, to some fabulous books. You know what I’ll be reading this weekend.

  26. I love Richard Peck, all his books, and especially his first lines. He is the absolute master of first lines, and this one is my all time favorite in any book. The best part is that the rest of the book always lives up to the promise in that line.

    I know he writes with younger people in mind, but this adult watches for his next book to come out for my own entertainment and enlightenment.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.