Thursday, July 24, 2008

Penny from Heaven

Holm, J. (2006). Penny from heaven. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 265pp.

Awards: Newberry Honor Book, ALA Notable Book IRA notable Book for a Global Society, A Bank Street college of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year, A New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing Selection, A Sons of Italy Book Club Selection, Charlie Mae Simon’s Children’s Book Award Grades 4-6

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary: A nostalgic feel good story that takes place in Brooklyn, New York during the fifties. Penny, who gets her name from the Bing Crosby song “Pennies from Heaven,” is beginning the summer of her eleventh year of life. Penny lives with her mother and grandparents in a two story house. Penny’s father died when she was very young and the manner of his death has been kept a mystery to her. Though close to her mother, her maternal grandparents, and her paternal grandmother, no one shares the answers she seeks. To add to the mystery neither side of the family have spoken to each other since her father’s death. Penny, full of questions, spends the summer discovering the truth about her father and she also discovers that her mother is dating another man. Amidst all that weighs on her mind, she shares hilarious adventures with her cousin and some tragic events which will drastically alter her life.

Wonderful, colorful characters fill the pages of this book. Details are so vividly written the characters almost come to life in. Penny is a sweet young girl desperately yearning for the father she never had or at least answers to what happened and it tore her family in two. Her maternal grandparents, white and Methodist, are contrasted in a warm funny way to her paternal grandmother who is Italian and Catholic. I can't forget to mention the slew of Italian uncles who dote on her, especially her favorite Uncle Dominique who lives in his car and wears only house shoes wherever he goes. Her best friend is cousin Frankie. Frankie is mischievous, makes bad choices, gets into trouble but has a good heart and Penny knows she can count on him. All of these characters are interesting and seem so wonderful and so real that the more you read the more you wish you could really be a part of their lives.

I definitely would use this book in my classroom because it has endless possibilities and it would appeal to both girls and boys. I would use it in a small group setting, as an individual recommended read, or possibly as a read aloud. Each chapter is an adventure in itself and would be great for making predictions and inferences. The cultural diversity is rich and it would be fun to study the differences between Italian and American traditions. Also, researching how WWII affected Italian Americans would interest and enlighten students. The themes of death, loss of a loved one, family secrets and squabbles, and friendship are all addressed throughout this story. I would recommend it for upper elementary and middle school students, though; I think many others would enjoy it too.

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