Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Penny from Heaven

by Jennifer L. Holm

Two Thumbs Up.

This Newberry Honor book portrays the joys, fun, frustrations, and heartache of Penny, an adolescent of mixed Italian and plain old American descent, during the summer she turns twelve.  She is growing up in New Jersey, in the early 50s.  She is a Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  Penny's best friend is her cousin, Frankie, who has a propensity for trouble.

Penny lives with her mother and her maternal grandparents, and her poodle, Scarlett O'Hara.  Her father died when she was young, and it's one of Penny's constant frustrations that nobody will talk about him.

The author has created a cast of colorful, loveable characters; she has skillfully juxtaposed the flair and love of Penny's Italian relatives with the seemingly boring, but constant, plain old American side of her family.

I don't want to give too many details about the historical fiction angle of this book, because Ms Holm leaves the most important aspect of history to the end in a wonderfully fulfilling revelation to Penny.  But I will say that it's a book that highlights an important part of our cultural history, one that isn't often brought to light.

The author has also included as an unofficial afterword, the explanation of how the story coincides with that of her own family.  She includes family history, including pictures, and describes other aspects of the book that are particularly historical and how she learned of them.

I would say the primary audience is late elementary or junior high girls.  Boys or older girls would like it, too, once they started, but they may not want to admit it, since the story revolves around a twelve year old girl.  For read aloud, it would be suitable and enjoyable for a wide range of ages and both genders.   

Penny from Heaven would be a useful addition to any unit study highlighting the homefront angle of WWII America, a study of the cultural aspects the greater New York City/northern New Jersey area, or of immigrant history, particularly that of Italian Americans.

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