A Long Way from Chicago

by Richard Peck

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Topics for Discussion

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1. Grandma Dowdel lies to the reporter from the city about Shotgun Cheatham. Can her lie be justified? Why does she lie? Is it ever okay to lie? Explain your answer.

2. The last sentence of "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground" mentions different kinds of truth. Read the last paragraph and discuss what Peck means in the last sentence. Is this true today?

3. In "The Mouse in the Milk," Grandma lies again. Do you see a pattern here? What is she teaching her grandchildren with this kind of behavior?

4. Mr. Cowgill whips his boys after Grandma catches them in her kitchen intending to steal her gun. How do you feel about that? How do your parents punish you when you are deserving?

5. In "A One-Woman Crime Wave" Grandma does several things that the sheriff interprets as breaking the law. List them. Is this the first time? How do you know?

6. At the end of the chapter, "A Day of Judgment," Joey asks Grandma some questions and makes a confession. Discuss her response. If she switched pies to win and did not win, then what does she mean? Why did she switch pies?

7. Was it wrong for the men at the Piatt County Rod & Gun Club to be drinking? How did Grandma use their embarrassment to her advantage?

8. Why does Alice tell Joey that she does not think Grandma is a good influence on them? Who has a strong influence in your life? Why does that person have influence in your life?

9. Why do Joey and Alice's parents send them to Grandma Dowdel's for a week every summer? Do you visit a relative, or attend a camp, in the summer? What experience have you had that compares to their visit? Are there any similarities between what you do and learn there and what Joey and Mary Alice did and learned at Grandma's?

10. Do you have a grandparent or other older adult in your life like Grandma Dowdel? Compare the two.

11. How does gossip distort the truth? How did gossip distort the truth in A Long Way from Chicago?

12. If Mrs. Wilcox is Grandma's worst enemy, why did she act out the charade with the hat and quilt that helped Mrs. Wilcox regain possession of her home?

13. When Joey and Mary Alice searched the attic looking for items for the rummage sale at church, they found old valentines. What did the valentines reveal about Grandma Dowdel? Why was it a revelation to them?

14. Grandma makes the following statement, "A rumor is sometimes truth on the trail." What does she mean?

15. What is your reaction to the final chapter, "The Troop Train?"

16. Discuss the episodic format used by Peck to present this story. How is it an effective structure for this story?

17. How might A Long Way from Chicago have been different if the children's parents had spent one of the summer vacations with them at Grandma Dowdel's?

18. How are the themes of truth, justice, and ethics portrayed and worked out in this novel? What is truth? What is justice? What are ethics? What is the ultimate authority for truth, justice, and ethics?

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