I met Richard Peck through Grandma Dowdel.
She’s not my grandmother. In fact, she’s his. Not in the way you might expect, though.
Grandma Dowdel is a character in Richard Peck’s novels “A Long Way From Chicago,” “A Year Down Yonder,” and “A Season of Gifts.”
I first met Grandma Dowdel when my Aunt Robin — a children’s librarian — gifted “A Long Way From Chicago” to my parents, sisters, and I. The fearless, confident, mischief-making old woman won me over from the first pages. Her spirit of mischief has stuck with me for well over a decade, and I’ve revisited those books numerous times to meet her again.
Grandma Dowdel’s spirit of mischief has heavily influenced all of the Molehill children in my next novel, “The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill.” I keep a copy of Peck’s books close at hand in my writing room.
Peck’s influence on my life as both a reader and a writer made the news of his death this week particularly saddening to me.
Richard Peck has another small influence on my home. When we purchased our house last year, we learned from the previous owners — one of them an English teacher and longtime supporter of the local library — that Peck stayed in their home during his visit to Streator in 2004.
They were honored and overjoyed by having Peck as a guest — so much so that they displayed a plaque in the house and dubbed the guest room as the Peck Room.
They were generous enough to pass the plaque on to us, and it is proudly displayed outside the bedroom door.
After my parents learned of Peck’s connection to my new home, my family became especially devoted fans. Although it’s a small connection, our love of his books made it feel like a bond. One of the housewarming gifts from my parents was Peck’s only picture book, “Monster Night at Grandma’s House.”
Over a 45-year writing career, Peck produced 43 books — nearly a book a year, and the majority of those for children and young adults.
He gave us an extraordinary gift in his stories and writing. I’ll miss seeing his name on newly released titles. But I’m grateful for the literary legacy he left behind.
Thank for the stories, Mr. Peck. Your pen may rest now, as may you.