Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Penny from Heaven

Penny from Heaven

Jennifer L. Holm
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2006   ISBN: 037583687X

Sometimes it is as if Penny belongs to two completely separate families. There is the one which includes Me-me, Pop-pop, and her mother. And then there is her dead father’s Italian family with Nonny and the numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. Her mother’s household is quiet and Me-me’s cooking is almost always atrocious. Nonny’s house is always bursting with people, loud noises, and the smell of delicious Italian food. They are two different worlds and Penny is stuck in the middle.

Penny is not at all sure that this summer of 1953 is going to be much fun. Her mother, who is very protective, won’t let her go to the pool or the movie theatre because she is afraid of the threat of polio. So Penny gets a job working in Uncle Ralphie’s store helping to keep the store organized and taking deliveries with her cousin Frankie. And then there are the days when Penny goes to Nonny’s house. She loves the music, the family, the food, and the wonderful atmosphere which pervades the house but she cannot help wishing that her two families could be brought together.

Then things start to go wrong. First her mother starts to date Mr. Mulligan the milkman. Penny decides to hate Mr. Mulligan and her behavior puts a big strain on her relationship with her mother. Then Penny is caught going to the pool and her furious mother grounds her. Finally, to add insult to injury, Penny’s dog Scarlett O’ Hara dies. Surely this summer cannot possibly get any worse? And yet it does and because it does Penny discovers some startling facts about her father’s death and why her uncle Dominic insists on living in a car.

Peppered with delightfully eccentric and colorful characters, this engrossing story is alternately poignant and funny. Readers will be given a very up close and personal view of what it was like to be an Italian-American in the 1950’s and they will discover, possibly for the first time, that the Japanese-Americans were not the only ones who were put in internment camps during WWII.

Based on the experiences of the author’s own family, this unique celebration of family life was awarded the Newbery Honor medal in 2007.