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Battle of the Books

Round 2 Match 3: Marching for Freedom vs A Season of Gifts

Marching for Freedom
by Elizabeth Partridge
A Season of Gifts
by Richard Peck
Dial Books

Judged by Christopher Paul Curtis

Richard Peck gives readers another glimpse into the life of Grandma Dowdel, the wonderfully quirky heroine of his Newbery recognized novels A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago.  In this story Peck treats us to Grandma Dowdel in a more peripheral way through the eyes of new-kid-in-town and next door neighbor, Bob Barnhart.  In addition to facing the horrors of trying to adjust to new settings, Bob is also burdened with being the “preacher’s kid” and suffers accordingly.

As in all of Richard Peck’s books the writing is meticulously well-crafted and enjoyable.  A Season of Gifts does, however, lack the emotional kick of Chicago and Yonder.  I think this may be due to the fact that while Bob is the narrator of the tale, Grandma Dowdel is its emotional center.  Peck is at his best when presenting us with the feisty woman’s world, the reader recognizes this and at the end longs for her to be a more integral part of the story. The storytelling is, as always with Peck, a pleasure to read, he has painted an enjoyable portrait of Americana.

Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching For Freedom is one of those books that sneaks up and ensnares the reader.  Even though we all know how the story ends, (it is a re-telling of the Selma voter’s rights struggle) Partridge gives us a fresh perspective as told by the children who took part in the struggle.  We are first startlingly introduced to the movement through the eyes of a ten year old who is being arrested for the first of many times.  Through the children’s eyes, the reader is taken on a journey with an emotionally satisfying conclusion.  Partridge skillfully opens up a part of American history that is either overlooked or forgotten.  Educators would do well to make this book required reading.   One of the more jarring images from the book’s pictures has nothing to do with the Civil Rights movement, it is instead a reflection of a plague that has hit Americans, especially African Americans, particularly hard in the past decades;  our rush towards obesity.  These photos show how what we consider normal is getting larger and larger.

Christopher Paul Curtis

The Winner of Round 2 Match 3 Is…

You know, Chris’s last sentence had me scratching my head a bit as I didn’t remember any pictures of obese people, but then the light bulb blinked on, and I also recalled that there weren’t even pictures of chubby people.  So, this whole point serves to illustrate just how completely and vividly Partridge’s well chosen photographs plunge the reader not just into the harrowing events of the march, but also into the entire milieu of that time and place.  Peck is no stranger to communicating more with less, either.  His books are always a model of clear, precise writing with nary a wasted word.  I can see how Mrs. Dowdel seems like a slightly more peripheral character here than in A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and A YEAR DOWN YONDER, but I’ll take her anyway I can get her.  MARCHING FOR FREEDOM marches on to meet either a graphic novel or an illustrated collection of short stories: The Battle of the Graphic Books.

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt


  1. You made my day,Chris!
    A Season of Gifts is one of the 2 books I didn’t enjoy reading amongst the 16 Battle books. I was totally floored when Peace, Locomotion was beaten by A Season of Gifts. That was unjust.

  2. Marie1163 says:

    I agree with Curtis’ assessment of Season of Gifts. There just wasn’t the same connection between Dowell and her neighbor that there was between Dowell and her grandchildren (the narrators of Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, the companion books to Season of Gifts). While the connection between Dowell and her grandchildren seemed natural, the connection between Dowell and her neighbor seems forced and contrived at times. In addition, Bob Barnhart’s own story wasn’t overly exciting and Dowell just wasn’t as fiesty in Season as she was in the other books (perhaps fiestiness decreases with age). I still enjoyed Season, but Marching for Freedom is the most obvious choice. Though, the comment regarding chubby/obese people also has me puzzled.

  3. I spend some time scratching my head about how to get great nonfiction like Marching to Freedom into the hands of kids I know will enjoy it. Looking at these two books side by side it occurs to me that maybe format plays a part. Grownup trade nonfiction is published in the same format as novels – Glass Castle slots in next to Kite Runner and people tend to forget which book they’re reading ‘for fun’ and which is the nonfiction.

    Maybe the wider flatter shape of books like Marching for Freedom and Truce and everything by Russell Freedman is what signals to kids ‘this is a book for school/work’. I don’t know. All I know is that Season of Gifts will be read til it falls apart on my shelves, and circ on Marching to Freedom will be a fraction of that, and I’ll still be scratching my head.

  4. There goes the symmetry! A good choice, though.

  5. I’m saddened that A Season made it this far because, like yukari, I thought Peace, Locomotion was the better book. it would have been awesome to have a battle of the POC books like we had for the Darwin books. I’m happy that Marching to Freedom moves ahead this round though.

  6. I think his comment was meant to say that the African Americans in the book are all thin – different from the norm now. It may not have anything to do with plot, but I’d have to agree…and not just in the African American community!

  7. Like Jonathan I will take Grandma Dowdel any way I can get her. If she were a mere mention on This American Life I would download it on my MP3 player and listen to it over and over again.

    I tend to think that NPR was created to fill all my non-fiction needs. Although I appricated Marching to Freedom it took me forever to get through. Non-ficiton is kind of like eating broccoli. Necessary but not exciting.

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