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A Season of Gifts, by Richard Peck

A Season Of Gifts
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Bobby Barnhart knows that being the preacher's son and a new kid in town might invite problems, but he never expected to be hung upside down and naked in his neighbor's privy. That encounter was just the first of many with the town bullies, but it introduced him (embarrassingly) to his strongest ally, Mrs. Dowdel. Readers of Peck's earlier award-winning books, A Year Down Under and A Long Way From Chicago, will recognize the wily, crafty old woman. The Barnhart family, Bob, his older sister Phyllis, younger sister Ruth Ann and their parents have moved to the small mid-western town so that Bob's father can take a job as a minister. The year is 1958, and while the country is not experiencing a depression, many people exist just barely above the poverty level. The Barnharts are no exception. Until his father can assemble a congregation to support the church, Bob's family has a meager income, but Mrs. Dowdel makes them forget their poverty. Although she seems to be cantankerous and unapproachable, Mrs. Dowdel proves that her kindness, resourcefulness and generosity are only outdone by her sense of justice and fair play. Each of the Barnharts becomes the benefactor of one or more of Mrs. Dowdel's gifts and since the book takes place in the days leading up to Christmas, the title, A Season of Gifts, is most appropriate.

Richard Peck's dialogue, plot and descriptive prose combine to create a delightful audio book that listeners of all ages will enjoy on first reading and will want to hear again. For some, it may become a traditional holiday experience with its message of hope and charity-a book to listen to while decorating, baking and wrapping gifts. However, as irascible as she appears to be, Mrs. Dowdel embodies the spirit of kindness and concern for mankind that outlasts the fruitcake and the Christmas tree. Her no-nonsense approach to life and humanity serves as a moral compass all year long. Ron McLarty's narration makes the listener feel like an actual inhabitant of Bob Barnhart's rural community, because his representation of the characters brings each to life in unforgettable detail. This is a perfect audio book for a family, because listeners of all ages can relate to the situations the characters encounter in the quaint rural community. It invites discussions of what life was like before modern conveniences or without the benefit of discretionary income. Thought provoking and entertaining-a superb combination.

Ruth Mormon

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