Tag Archives: Richard Peck

Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death

Author: Richard Peckblossom culp and the sleep of death

My rating: 4 of 5

Blossom Culp, vol. 4

The year is 1914, and Blossom and Alexander are in their freshman year of high school. Things are beginning to change–like the popular girls’ crushing on Alexander, his newfound obsession with getting into the elite high-school fraternity, or the new suffragette history teacher who’s bent on educating the freshmen about ancient Egypt. Some things never change though–like Blossom’s spunkiness, Alexander’s complete disavowal of his ability to interact with spirits, and Blossom’s mother’s sticky fingers. So when an ancient Egyptian relic turns up in Blossom’s mother’s pocket, naturally Blossom gets interested. And when the ghost (ka, whatever) of an ancient Egyptian princess demands Blossom’s help, well, of course she’s got to get Alexander involved, though she’ll have a time and a half dragging him away from the miseries of his fraternity initiation. Well, while she’s at it, she might as well make the initiation a bit more interesting, too. . . .

Richard Peck’s books are superb, and I think the ones set in Illinois and thereabouts around the turn of the century are some of the best. He has such a feel for the atmosphere of the time, making it alive rather than stuffy and historical. Plus, these are some of the most absurdly funny books I’ve ever read. Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death is all of that and more. Blossom has got to be one of the most amusing and lovable characters ever–while being someone who’d probably drive me nuts if I actually met her. Scruffy, saucy, and smart as can be–that’s Blossom. In this particular story, seeing her and Alexander growing up from children into young adults is really interesting and funny and kind of cute as well. The inclusion of spirits and historical (for Blossom as well as for the reader) mystery is classic for this series, but bringing in an Egyptian princess is something else. It works though, oddly enough. There’s enough historical detail to make it credible without feeling forced. And the combination of eerie mystery and absurd humor is perfect. For any readers upper elementary and older who enjoy a humorous historical story, Blossom Culp and the Sleep of Death is definitely recommended whether you’ve read the other books in the series or not.

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Three Quarters Dead

Author: Richard Peckthree quarters dead

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Life is officially over for Kerry when she is forced to transfer into a new school in the middle of high-school–of course everyone’s already made their friends, formed their cliques, so no one’s interested in hanging out with the new girls. At least, that’s what she thought, until she got an invitation to join the three coolest girls in the school: Natalie, Makenzie, and their queen Tanya. Never mind what they did or asked Kerry to do, of course she’d try to keep up. The three girls became her world. Until they smashed their car into a tree and left her behind . . . . Or did they?

Three Quarters Dead is Richard Peck’s own unique take on the now-popular paranormal genre, and it’s certainly eerie enough. It falls more along the lines of Are You in the House Alone than of his usual ghost stories, and I think that actually works in its favor. Just know, if you’re looking for his hilarious historical fiction, this isn’t the book for you. Kerry’s story is dark–really a ghost story even when everyone is alive. It’s actually pretty terrifying how her entire world shrinks to just Tanya’s group and her time with them. There’s practically no mention of family, hobbies, school–just lunches with the group, hanging on every word that drops from Tanya’s beautiful lips. But the really scary thing is how close Kerry’s situation is to the peer pressure, the necessity of fitting in, that faces kids all over today and the way kids can find themselves drawn so deeply into the situation. And then after the car crash, the way Peck handled the “ghosts” and Kerry’s reactions to them was even more eerie. Brrr. I didn’t love Three Quarters Dead–it’s not really the sort of book you’re supposed to love–but it did creep me out and make me think.

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The Ghost Belonged to Me

Author: Richard Peckthe ghost belonged to me

Blossom Culp, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Alexander has never been one to believe much in ghosts, but an encounter he had in 1913 (the year he turned 13 himself) was one that couldn’t help but change his mind in that regard. His family was one of the up-and-coming social climbers in Bluff City, new money out looking to impress–or at least his mother was. And his sister Lucille was not averse to jumping right in with her. Alexander though, he mostly tried to stay out of folks’ attention. That wasn’t so easy though after his classmate Blossom Culp–a girl that he’d never particularly noticed before–said he was perceptive. To ghosts, that is. And that he had a ghost in the big barn out back. It was true, too, and the events that followed brought Alexander and the ghost to national attention. Although Blossom might have been the one to profit most from the affair. . . .

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it often probably, but I love Richard Peck’s writing. The Ghost Belonged to Me was particularly interesting in that it combined his ghost stories with his humorous slice-of-life stories set in the Midwest around the turn of the twentieth century. And it somehow does both brilliantly! There’s a certain chill to Alexander’s ghostly encounters, although they’re mixed with a compassion for the dead girl whose ghost he meets and for her story. But more than scary, this book is immensely funny. Peck has this incredible knack for crafting characters who are, well, characters. They’re full of quirks that, combined with circumstances, are absolutely hilarious–and the understatement used at points only serves to amplify the underlying humor. Added to that, there’s a lot of solid history woven in so subtly that you don’t really realize how much you’re learning. And of course, the entire tale is told in Alexander’s unique voice, complete with colloquialisms and occasional grammatical lapses; it’s very well done and adds a lot to the writing. I would definitely recommend The Ghost Belonged to Me to anyone (upper elementary and up) who is interested in this time period, as well as to anyone who just enjoys an entertaining, funny story.

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Monster Night at Grandma’s House

Author: Richard Peckmonster night at grandma's house

Illustrator: Don Freeman

My rating: 4 of 5

Toby loves being at Grandma’s house during the day; every day is an adventure there. But at night, things are different. At night, in the dark, the monster comes and Grandma sleeps so far away, completely unawares. It seems like the best thing to do is to hide under the covers and hope the monster doesn’t notice him. But Toby can’t hide forever, and eventually he makes a very brave choice: he’s going to chase the monster right out of the house!

Monster Night at Grandma’s House is unique in that it is, to my knowledge, the only picture book Richard Peck has ever written. But while the writing style is necessarily different for this sort of genre, there are distinct traces of Peck’s style throughout. This is, in some ways, your typical “don’t be scared of the dark” sort of book, the sort you read to little kids who can’t go to sleep because of the “monsters” hiding under their beds. Only, this one doesn’t coddle kids and reassure them that “there aren’t any monsters; monsters aren’t real.” Rather–although it never shows any monsters, and an observant adult can see that Toby’s monsters are most likely the cat and his own shadow–this book never denies the reality of the monsters in Toby’s mind. It shows him having the courage to face his fears, however real or imagined they may be. And I think this is something that a lot of children would benefit from hearing. In addition to being a great story, Monster Night has some incredible ink and watercolor illustrations by Don Freeman which superbly accent the spooky, undefined atmosphere that Toby experiences in the story. I would definitely recommend Monster Night at Grandma’s House, particularly as a read-aloud for younger children (3-5 or thereabouts).

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Past Perfect, Present Tense

Author: Richard Peckpast perfect, future tense

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Stories of bygone days long past, of times that were simpler (sometimes stranger), when exhilarating change was just around the corner. Stories of the world in which we dwell today, with all its troubles but all it’s wondrous possibility as well. And stories of ghosts, that ephemeral something that joins the past to the present in ways we’ll never fully comprehend. Whichever you prefer, Richard Peck has a treat in store for you in this delightful collection of short stories.

I may have mentioned this before, but Richard Peck’s books are always favorites of mine, and Past Perfect, Future Tense is no exception. It’s a wonderful collection of shorts, some previously published in magazines or other short story collections, others new to this volume. Remarkably, I think every single story in the collection hit true, consistent with Peck’s classic style, full of humor and heart and that delicious chill of potential. I laughed my way through much of this book (especially when Granny Dowdel put in an appearance). And as an extra, Peck has included some brilliant pointers on what makes story so important, as well as on what goes in to an effective short story–very insightful, and also fun to read! I would highly recommend Past Perfect, Future Tense to anyone later elementary and up (adults too, definitely); these are the sorts of stories that are just good fun to read, regardless of age or circumstance.

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Here Lies the Librarian

Author: Richard Peck

The year is 1914, and Peewee McGrath and her big brother Jake just about do all right with their garage on the outskirts of nowhere, fixing flats and selling gas to passing travelers. They’re looking forward to the day the government finally gets a paved road out their way, though–then they’ll show those Kirbys. When the elegant Irene Ridpath and her three best friends take the long-vacant position of town librarian, Jake and Peewee find their world in a not-unpleasant sort of upheaval what with lady-like acquaintances in expensive cars, library teas, even dresses for Peewee–not something she’s particularly fond of, for sure. And on top of all the to-do with the updated library, there’s the automobile race Jake plans to win . . . if he can ever get his home-build car up and running.

No matter how many times I read Richard Peck’s books, I’m always impressed by just how good they are–and how much good solid fun they are. Here Lies the Librarian is an excellent example: vintage cars, strong-willed and capable women, nutty old couples still thinking they’re living during the Civil War, a tornado that rips up a graveyard, and numerous showdowns with the other garage in town go into making this amusing story. There’s a nice balance of history, drama, romance, and humor–this is a book with a great story that never takes itself too seriously. As for excellent characters, they abound: Irene and her friends who are ready to take on the world, Peewee who’s trying to find her place in it, Jake the shy car-crazy enigma, Aunt Hat who’s known by all to be crazy, and a slew of others. Whether you’re looking for a solid look at country life in 1914, for an interesting look at vintage automobiles or that time, or just for a good laugh, Here Lies the Librarian is an excellent choice.

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On the Wings of Heroes

Author: Richard Peck

Davy Bowman is at a tender, precious time in his life–a time in his boyhood where evenings are playing with all the kids in the neighborhood, where his heroes loom large in his vision. In particular, two heroes dominate his life and make him swell with pride:  his dad–a WWI vet who hates war and loves to play with the kids–and his big brother Bill–just graduated from high school and joining the Air Force. But just when life seems perfect, the rumblings of WWII stir even in their small town as Bill gets ready to ship out to fight, air raid drills become a normal part of life, and scrap drives become the new “thing to do.” Still, in spite of the fear, tension, and hardship, the Bowman family finds ways to pull together . . . and have fun together.

I’ve said it before, but I’m a big Richard Peck fan; it seems like everything he writes is just wonderful. On the Wings of Heroes is no exception. It’s more poignant, pensive, and tender than most of his books–many of which are rib-cracking laugh inducing the whole way through–yet the mood fits perfectly. This is the story of a boy and his dad, really, at the point where the boy is starting to grow up but is still young enough to both admire his dad and to love being close to him. They have a really sweet relationship. But it’s not like the story’s all serious or anything either; while taking the gravity of the war into account, Peck shows that it’s still possible to laugh and enjoy the small things in life. Rather, that it’s vital to do so to get through the tough times. I definitely recommend reading On the Wings of Heroes as a thoughtful, sweet WWII novel.

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