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Battle of the Books

Round 1 Match 6: Peace, Locomotion vs A Season of Gifts

Peace, Locomotion
by Jacqueline Woodson
A Season of Gifts
by Richard Peck
Dial Books

Judged by Cynthia Kadohata

If you could count the subject matter of every novel ever written, I’d wager that the subject of family would come in first place.  Maybe not, but that’s where I’d put my money.  Family dynamics are endlessly fascinating.  Peace, Locomotion and A Season of Gifts come at the subject of family from different directions.

Peace, Locomotion involves a 12-year-old boy who has been living with one foster family while his 9-year-old sister lives with another.  Their biological parents have died in a fire.  The story is told through letters he writes to his sister but doesn’t send.  He plans to give her the letters when they are older.  The boy, Lonnie, lives with a foster mother who has two sons, one of whom was shipped off to a war.  (I may have missed it, but I don’t believe we’re ever told which war.)  Jenkins, the son fighting in the war, eventually comes home missing part of a leg.  Jenkins says, “This wasn’t the dream I had, Mama.”  His mother replies, “This wasn’t the dream none of us had.  But it’s our lives now and we need to be living it, sweetie.”  Beautiful!  Rather than finding its power through plot and storyline, Peace, Locomotion finds its power through accretion, the buildup of poignant details and beautiful lines.

A Season of Gifts concerns a family who has just moved to a new town.  The father is a reverend trying to build up his parish.  The protagonist is a young boy with one older sister and one younger one.  Peck is a master at what he does.  He is one of those blessed and rare people who can write a quirky, perfectly happy book and not seem hokey or banal.  I will confess that before I received both books, I had already bought A Season of Gifts, as I am a fan of Peck’s.  As I read, I could really picture his happy characters — his sisters, his parents, everyone in the whole quirky town.  If A Season of Gifts were a song, it might be Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

Everybody brings something different to the table when he or she reads a book.  What I brought to the table was that I once stayed in a foster home, albeit briefly, with my sister and I living in a different home than my little brother did.  It was an intense and emotional experience, and I admired the emotions and intensity that Peace, Locomotion offered up.  Still, I found myself wanting more because  the subject matter demanded more.  Instead, Woodson tells how Lonnie feels without ever really convincing me:  “I felt like something was breaking inside of me.  I felt like I could hear our own true Mama looking down at us and biting her lip to keep tears from coming.”  That’s the age-old problem of telling instead of showing, and it happens too often in what is overall a fine book. It’s easy to spot the problem because I do it so often myself.

It could be that Woodson took more risks than Peck, that he simply knows what he does best, and he did it in A Season of Gifts.  But why not do what you do best? It’s a lovely, lovely book and a joy to read.  A Season of Gifts it is.

Cynthia Kadohata

The Winner of Round 1 Match 6 Is…

Happy characters?!?  Wonderful world?!?  Is this the same author who wrote that book, KIRA-KIRA, which made us cry our eyes out?  I thought THE LAST OLYMPIAN would suffer most from sequelitis, but PEACE, LOCOMOTION has now earned that honor because the first book, LOCOMOTION, probably offers more of the raw emotion that Cynthia was looking for.  Of course, A SEASON OF GIFTS is a sequel, too, and maybe that helped this book because, like Cynthia, I just cannot get enough of that crotchety, old woman and will come back for second, third, and *hint, hint* fourth helpings.  This decision sets up an interesting match in the next round—MARCHING FOR FREEDOM vs. A SEASON OF GIFTS—a match that Chris seems uniquely qualified to judge having written (a) in the humorous tradition of Mark Twain (and Richard Peck) and (b) having also written about the historical injustices of African Americans during the civil rights era.  Honestly, we couldn’t script this any better if we tried!  I can’t wait!

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt


  1. I agree with almost everything Cynthia said, although I predicted a different outcome. My prediction for the next round is MARCHING FOR FREEDOM’s victory.

  2. I am just not feeling the judges this year. Although, I felt that Locomotion was a stronger book than Peace, Locomotion, for the very reasons Cynthia Kadohata mentions, I still believe that Peace is stronger, or more relatable really, than Season. I could understand Lonnie’s pain and growth and identified with him so much more. I enjoyed Season but it didn’t stick with me afterwards.

    Hopefully I will fare better in the next round.

  3. Oh, Cyintha thank you for the “What a Wonderful Life” comparison. Grandma D is my favorite diva in all literature. Thanks for sending her on to Curtis.

  4. Hooray! Another one of my favorites moves on. I love the way Cynthia described Season. I am a huge fan of Peck and am delighted at the result.
    Thank you Cynthia!

  5. Genevieve says:

    I haven’t read either of these two, though I chose Locomotion in my bracket based on what I’d read about them. But I came here to say: DC area fans of Locomotion, be glad! For the Kennedy Center has announced that they are doing a play of it next year.

  6. Yay for Grandma D! I read A Season of Gifts just last week, and before that I never realized that it was part of the Grandma D series, but I was pleasantly surprised. I also checked Peace, Locomotion out of the library, but I don’t particularly enjoy letter-format books, so I couldn’t really get into it.

    But I loved Cynthia’s eloquent comparison of ASAG to “What A Wonderful World, because I was actually listening to that song as I was reading at one point. She also kept me hanging on until the second-to-last paragraph as I tried to figure out who she was passing on to the next round! So, way to go, Cynthia, for writing such a suspenseful review/decision.

  7. Great choice. Until it was paired in the Battle, I thought A Season of Gifts was another in a long line of books written to get the Christmas audience. It was marketed as a Xmas book which is too bad because it not only misses the connection with the other Grandma D titles and is probably hard to find now. I had to order a copy. What a great read and memorable characters, the little sister was a hoot. I’d like to revisit the family as well as Grandma D.

  8. Marie1163 says:

    I liked Grandma Dowel as a character better in Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. She lost some of her spunk in this book that she had in the first two. Maybe she has lost some fiestiness with age as this book takes place later than the other two. I also found it to be disappointing that the main child character in Season is actually Mrs. D’s next door neighbor and not the grandchildren featured in the previous two companion novels. It just doesn’t have the same spark between the characters as the previous novels do. However, it is still a lovely book to pull out around Christmas and am happy to see it go onto the next round.

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