It’s funny because when I think about the Grandma Dowdel books, I tend to remember not being as impressed by Grandma as the rest of the world seems to be (the children’s literature world, anyway.) But when I actually read the books, I am won over completely. I’m not sure why my memory works that way.
What I particularly liked about this book was that it was a lesson in show-don’t-tell emotions. Grandma Dowdel is a gruff, rough, occasionally mean old woman. But she also has a caring heart, though she refuses to admit it and will likely hurt you if you accuse her of any such thing. As such, she never tells Mary Alice that she cares for her, but she shows it through many little actions: making the Christmas halo, buying train tickets so that Mary Alice can spend the holiday with her family, and, in the end, forcing Mary Alice to go home, and thereby taking the overwhelming decision out of her hands. Grandma Dowdel is said to have “eyes in the back of her heart”, and that is an apt way of putting it. (Oddly enough, the very next book I read after this one, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, used the exact same expression.)
The humor in this book is not as over-the-top as in the Long Way from Chicago, but it’s definitely there. It makes sense that there is slightly less craziness in this book, because Mary Alice is getting to know Grandma Dowdel in much more depth than she did as a child only visiting for a few weeks at a time. She sees the revengeful mean streak, of course, but she also sees that Grandma makes sure the Abernathys are provided for, and rescues mean Old Man Nyquist when few other people would even think to check on him.