Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holm

Grade 5-7–Penny Falucci, 11, lives with her widowed mother and maternal grandparents, but her father's large, Italian family is tremendously important to her, too. It frustrates her that no one talks about his death, but as the summer of 1953 progresses, several events occur. First, her mother begins dating the milkman, and, when Penny's arm goes through the wringer on the washing machine, things come to a head. Finally, the secrets behind her father's death come out. Aunt Gina tells her about a minor incident that had horrifying consequences for him because of the restrictions placed on Italian Americans during World War II. Penny and her world are clearly drawn and eminently believable, made up of seamlessly interwoven details from everyday life. The period is lovingly re-created, from the fear of catching polio to Penny's use of the word swell. An author's note with photos is included. –Faith Brautigam, Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Classroom Implications: Students reach back into life in the 1950's and find themselves in an Italian-American family in Brooklyn. This sparks an immediate discussion around setting and time periods. This book also provides the space for much work to be done around the rich characters in the text. The time line of the text tends to be more episode-driven rather than plot-driven, therefore students will use a different set of skills to negotiate the text (i.e. focus on retelling and interpreting skills).

Skills and Strategies
  • Setting
  • Characterization
  • Interpreting
  • Retelling--episode driven vs. plot driven

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