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Penny from Heavenby Jennifer L. Holm
Synopses & Reviews
Me-me says that Heaven is full of fluffy white clouds and angels.
That sounds pretty swell, but how can you sit on a cloud? Wouldnt you fall right through and smack onto the ground? Like Frankie always says, angels have wings, so what do they have to worry about?
My idea of Heaven has nothing to do with clouds or angels. In my Heaven theres butter pecan ice cream and swimming pools and baseball games. The Brooklyn Dodgers always win, and I have the best seat in the house, right behind the Dodgers dugout. Thats the only advantage that I can see to being dead: You get the best seat in the house.
I think about Heaven a lot. Not because of the usual reasons, though. Im only eleven, and I dont plan on dying until Im at least a hundred. Its just that Im named after that Bing Crosby song “Pennies from Heaven,” and when youre named after something, you cant help but think about it.
See, my father was crazy about Bing Crosby, and thats why everyone calls me Penny instead of Barbara Ann Falucci, which is whats on my birth certificate. No one ever calls me Barbara, except teachers, and sometimes even I forget that its my real name.
I guess it could be worse. I could be called Clementine, which was the name of another Bing Crosby song that my father really liked. I dont think Id make a very good Clementine.
Then again, who would?
Uncle Dominic is sitting in his car. Its a 1940 Plymouth Roadking. Its black with chrome trim, and the hubcaps are so shiny, you could use them as a mirror. Uncle Dominic pays my cousin Frankie to shine them up. Its an awfully nice car; everybody says so. But then, its kind of hard to miss. Its been parked in the side yard of my grandmother Faluccis house for as long as I can remember.
Uncle Dominic lives right there in his car. Nobody in the family thinks its weird that Uncle Dominic lives in his car, or if they do, nobody ever says anything. Its 1953, and its not exactly normal for people in New Jersey to live in cars. Most people around here live in houses. But Uncle Dominics kind of a hermit. He also likes to wear slippers instead of shoes. Once I asked him why.
“Theyre comfortable,” he said.
Besides living in the car and wearing slippers, Uncle Dominics my favorite uncle, and I have a lot of uncles. Sometimes I lose track of them.
“Hey, Princess,” Uncle Dominic calls. I lean through the window and hear the announcer on the portable radio. Uncle Dominic likes to listen to ball games in the car. Theres a pillow and a ratty-looking blanket on the backseat. Uncle Dominic says the cars the only place he can get any rest. He has a lot of trouble falling asleep.
“Hi, Uncle Dominic,” I say.
“Games on,” he says.
I start to open the back door, but Uncle Dominic says, “You can sit up front.”
Uncle Dominics very particular about whos allowed to sit in his car. Most people have to sit in the back, although Uncle Nunzio always sits up front. I dont think anyone ever tells Uncle Nunzio what to do.
“Whos winning?” I ask.
“Bums are ahead.”
I love the Brooklyn Dodgers, and so does Uncle Dominic. We call them Dem Bums. Most people around here like the New York Yankees or the Giants, but not us. Uncle Dominic is staring out the window, like hes really in the ballpark and watching the game from the bleachers. Hes handsome, with dark hair and brown eyes. Everyone says he looks just like my father. I dont remember my father because he died when I was just a baby, but Ive seen photographs, and Uncle Dominic does look like him, except sadder.
“Got something for you,” Uncle Dominic says.
All my uncles give me presents. Uncle Nunzio gives me fur muffs, and Uncle Ralphie gives me candy, and Uncle Paulie brings me fancy perfumes, and Uncle Sally gives me horseshoes. Its like Christmas all the time.
Uncle Dominic hands me something that looks like a big dark-brown bean.
“What is it?”
“Its a lucky bean,” he says. Uncle Dominic is superstitious. “Just found it this morning. It was packed away with some old things. I got it for your father before he died, but I never had a chance to give it to him. I want you to have it.”
“Whered you get it?” I ask.
“Florida,” he says.
Uncle Dominic loves Florida and goes to Vero Beach every winter, probably because its too cold to live in the car then. Even though he lives in this car, he has another car that he uses for driving, a 1950 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Frankie says he bets Uncle Dominic has a girl down in Florida, but I kind of dont think so. Most women want a new Frigidaire, not a backseat.
“Put it in your pocket,” he says. “Itll keep you safe.”
The lucky bean is big and lumpy. It feels heavy, not the kind of thing to put in a pocket, but Uncle Dominic has this look about his eyes like he might just die if I dont, and because he is my favorite uncle, I do what I always do.
I smile and say, “Thanks, Uncle Dominic.” For a moment the strain leaves his eyes.
“Anything for you, Princess,” he says. “Anything.”
From the Hardcover edition.
"Newbery Honor author Holm (Our Only May Amelia) conjures a nostalgic 1953 New Jersey summer in this novel with a plucky 11-year-old narrator at its center. Penny divides her time between two extremes: her overprotective single mother (who is 'afraid of just about everything that involves fun') and the maternal grandparents with whom she lives, and her deceased father's colorful Italian family. Despite her passion for the Brooklyn Dodgers and gentle comic voice, Penny emerges primarily as an observer witnessing the antics of her more zany relatives, including her favorite uncle Dominic who lives in his car, her scheming cousin Frankie (who doubles as her best friend) and her perennially black-clad grandmother Nonny, who lives to feed people and feuds with her daughter-in-law, an ex-Rockette. In the conflict between Penny and her mother's beau, the narrative offers a fresh take on a familiar plight. The relaxed pace picks up after an accident lands Penny in the hospital and she overhears a rumor about her father. Holm includes telling historical details, including information about WWII Italian internment camps and how Penny's mother will not allow her to swim in a public pool or visit a movie theater because of the risk of polio. Readers will enjoy observing Penny's growth, how she mediates a peace among her family members and offers a glimmer of heaven. Ages 8-12." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Its1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothings that easy in Pennys family. For starters, she cant go swimming because her mothers afraid shell catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her favorite uncle is living in a car. Her Nonny cries every time her fathers name is mentioned. And the two sides of her family arent speaking to each other!
Inspired by Newbery Honor winner Jennifer Holms own Italian American family, Penny from Heaven is a shining story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in Americas history, not all that long ago, when being Italian meant that you were the enemy. But most of all, its a story about families—about the things that tear them apart and bring them together. And Holm tells it with all the richness and the layers, the love and the laughter of a Sunday dinner at Nonnys. So pull up a chair and enjoy the feast! Buon appetito!
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Jennifer L. Holm is the author of several highly praised novels, including Our Only May Amelia and the Babymouse series. She lives in Fallston, Maryland, with her husband, Jonathan Hamel, their son Will, and a rather large cat named Princess Leia.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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