What a Character
Richard Peck wrote the 176 page novel A Long Way from Chicago to delight students ages 11-13. However, the humor in the book can be enjoyed by older students as well. The character Grandma Dowdel is hilarious. Most students will be drawn in immediately to Grandma Dowdel with her antics or the “country bumpkins” who live around her. Many students will want to continue reading about the visits and read, A Year Down Yonder.
The characters in this novel are colorful and could come from many small towns in rural America during the Depression era. Characterization is where an author makes the characters seem realistic. In this lesson, students will complete activities to learn about characterization in Peck’s novel.
Character Descriptive Chart
Students will undoubtedly be drawn to Grandma Dowdel. However, many students relate to the brother and sister duo from Chicago, Mary Alice and Joey. There, of course, are the locals: Effie Wilcox, Mr. Cowgill, Sheriff Dickerson, Vandalia Eubanks, or Junior Stubbs to choose as well.
Once students have chosen a character, they need to make a chart with four columns. Then, they need to come up with four words or phrases that describe the character. Then, students need to find examples of these descriptive words in the novel.
For example, Grandma Dowdel is manipulative, a rule breaker, pushy and funny. Each of these descriptions should be put at the top of each column, and the students should draw a horizontal line below the descriptive words. Next, they need to describe events that show this description. For example, Grandma Dowdel breaks the law when she runs illegal fish traps. This detail should be put in the column under "rule breaker."
The charts should be neat. Pictures of the characters can be drawn to add decoration.
Different Point of View
Each chapter in the novel tells about the adventures that Mary Alice and Joey have with their grandmother from Joey's perspective when he is older. It is always interesting to hear a story told from two different people who were all at the same event.
Before beginning this activity, have two students tell what happened at an event that two students attended, such as a sporting event, lunch, gym class, etc. Have each student tell what happened during this event or class. Usually, there are always a few details that are different. Sometimes, there are many details that are different. The class should then discuss why each person remembered or saw different things at the event or class. It has to do with the person's personality, what is important to him or her, the person's friends and enemies, where the person was physically in the room, etc.
Students should think about how different characters would tell an event or adventure differently. For example, the time when Grandma helped Vandalia Eubanks and Junior Stubbs elope could be very different told from Vandalia and her mother. The story told from Vandalia's perspective would be one of fear of her mother and elation to finally get to be with her beau. From terrible mother's perspective, the story would be one of disgust and need to control Vandalia and her money.
Students need to choose one event in the story. Then, they need to tell it from another character's perspective. It should be written neatly. When students have completed this activity, they can share it with the class.
Opposing Characters Chart
This lesson will focus on antonyms and two characters in the novel. Before beginning this lesson, students should brainstorm a list of antonyms on the board. Antonyms are words that mean the opposite, such as dark/light, evil/good, short/tall, etc.
Next, students need to choose two characters who are opposites, such as Grandma Dowdel and Mary Alice; Sheriff Dickerson and the reporter from the “big city” of Peoria; Joey and the banker, L.J. Weidenbach, etc.
Students need to draw a box and draw a diagonal line through it to make two triangles. In one triangle, they need to write one character’s name and in another they need to write the other character’s name in large letters. Then, they need to write one word that describes one character in the proper triangle, and in the other triangle they need to write the word that means the opposite that fits the character. For example old/young, crafty/innocent, mature/naive, would fit Grandma Dowdel and Mary Alice.
These character activities in this lesson will help students have a better understanding of the novel. In addition, they will have a better understanding of the characters and characterization.