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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Penny From Heaven and A Sunday's List

I am so glad Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holm was awarded a Newbery Honor. This nostalgic book, which is somewhat based on Jennifer's mother's childhood, just roped me in ever so quietly. Before I knew it, I totally fell in love with Penny, her cousin Frankie, Penny's larger than life Italian American family and her small tightknit loving family on her mother's side. All I could think about while I read this book is how I wanted to be part of this incredibly loving gigantic family. How cool is it that your mischievous best friend is your cousin, your interesting uncles and aunts totally dote on you, your Italian grandma fixes you your favorite foods and begs you to eat, your dog's name is Scarlett O'Hara and your mother, Me-me and Pop-pop love you so much you can't do a whole lot.

This book sang in its slow nostalgia, warm humor, and playful scenes. The beat picked up as Penny's troubles grew--cousin Frankie wants to be a criminal, her two families won't talk to each other, her mother starts dating the milkman, and Penny is worried her dead father will disappear. She then has a horrible debilitating accident, her mother blames her favorite Uncle Dominic and he quickly disappears. Penny then discovers the mystery surrounding her father's death and the reason her mother's family and father's family don't speak to each other. To top it all off, we get an important lesson on how Italian Americans were treated in the United States after World War II.

Penny From Heaven is a lovely book. It will take you back to a time when life was truly appreciated and savored. And that deserves some noticing.

And now, A Sunday's List of Strong Girl Role Models in Children's Literature:

1. Penny and her mother from Penny From Heaven by Jennifer Holm, ages 9-12: Eleven year old Penny is a sweet, curious, quick thinking girl who misses her father. Penny makes Pat Mulligan the Milkman sweat it out while he is courting her mother. She became Frankie's cheerleader and inspired the adults to give Frankie one more chance. She was brave when it seemed life couldn't get much worse for an eleven year old and found her hope, strength and courage to go on.

Penny's mother realizes she must let Penny know the truth so she could go forward in her own life. She finds love a second time and lets Penny know she has to approve and her father will not be forgotten. She also finds a way to let Penny know her father's family is an important part of her life.

Penny has some other strong women in her life--Me-me, Nonny, Aunt Fulvia and Aunt Gina. All of these women surround Penny with love and their interesting lives.

2. Danitra Brown, teacher Miss Volchek from Danitra Brown, Class Clown by Nikki Grimes, ages 4-8: Nikki Grimes wrote 2 other books about Danitra: Meet Danitra Brown and Danitra Brown Leaves Town. This wonderful book is a treat to read. "Original thinker" Danitra Brown gives her best friend Zuri Jackson encouragement, support and hope throughout the school year. Danitra is true to herself, is there when Zuri needs her, and doesn't care what other children think. When Zuri's teacher asks her what her name means, Danitra gives Zuri confidence.

I lift up my head, and repeat with more pride, "My name
means beautiful, wonderful, good. Anyone with half a brain would steal it, if
she could."

Miss Volchek, the teacher who is not as loved as last year's teacher, seems strict and challenges her students. When Zuri is upset because her mother is sick, Miss Volchek shows her much needed comfort and compassion.

"Danitra wasn't there that day. I felt so all alone until
Miss Volchek pulled me close as if I were her own."

This book will lift your spirits. You'll want Danitra for your friend!

3. Mama Love, The Great Lady of Peace, Patience, The Invisible Princess, The Invisible Princess by Faith Ringgold, ages 4-8: Faith Ringgold says, "She wrote this book after many years of reading fairy tales to her three granddaughters, who always asked, "Where are the African American princesses?" Faith Ringgold weaves love, hope, remorse and forgiveness with the hopelessness of slavery and creates a hopeful, peaceful fairy tale.

Mama Love is strong and asks The Great Lady of Peace to save her baby princess from the mean plantation owner Captain Pepper, even though she knows she will have to give up her child. Captain Pepper's blind daughter sees the Invisible Princess and tells her father how she can see this beautiful glowing princess. Patience finds out about her father's plan to sell Mama Love and Papa Love. Even though she loves her father, she is brave and warns the Invisible Princess of the danger to her parents. The Invisible Princess ends up saving the entire village because of her faith in the Powers of Nature that protected her. The Great Lady of Peace gives Captain Pepper a chance to redeem himself. This graceful fairy tale offers hope for people to live in happiness, joy and freedom.

4. Isabella aka Sojourner Truth from Only Passing Through, The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell, ages 8-12: This picture book biography tells the brave story of a young slave girl named Isabella. Isabella is beaten, is told who her husband would be, and had 5 children. She leaves her home and her children after she realizes her master lied to her about setting her free. Isabella finds out her 5 year old son has been sold to a plantation owner in Alabama. She finds a lawyer who will help her, has her day in court and wins!

"In 1843, Isabella woke from a vivid
dream. A
voice had told her she must leave New York. It said she was meant to travel around the country telling of her time in bondage--telling people what it meant to be a slave. She had to be a voice for all the silent slaves still in bondage."

Isabella's name changed to Sojourner Truth, meaning someone who passes through with messages of the truth about slavery. Talk about a strong, courageous role model!

5. Lucy Rose, her mom, Madam, best friend Jonique from Lucy Rose: Here's the Thing About Me by Katy Kelly, ages 8 - 12: This sassy, "original thinker" is a total hoot. Genevieve recommended this series and I agree, Lucy Rose is fun! She's an older version of Junie B. Jones, who I happen to love. I did have a little bit of a problem getting through parts of the book though because Lucy Rose kept going on and on about different things without taking a breath and while I know this is typical talk for an eight year old girl, it was a bit exhausting reading it at times so every once in awhile I needed to put the book down to take a break from it all.

With that said, Lucy Rose has major problems. She has difficulty with her parents' separation, misses her dad and old friends, adjusts to a new school, makes new friends, and deals with her nemesis Alan Melon. Through it all, Lucy has spunk, creativeness, smarts, charisma and stick-to-it ability. Best friend Jonique is:

"what my mom calls a tough-times friend and somebody
who sticks with you always, even when something bad that happens is actually
your fault."

Lucy's grandma, Madam, writes an advice column. Madam is cool and gives great advice. Lucy's mom tells the truth about mortgages, helps Lucy send things to her dad, surprises Lucy by having her dad over for Christmas, and was very cool when Lucy admitted to lying about why she threw up. You'll have to read this book just to find out about the class pet guinea pig adventure. It is too funny.


Erin said...

Hurray for Penny!!

Little Willow said...

Penny's fantastic.

Did you read The Creek? Holm certainly has her two cents' worth with two fantastic Penny characters.

HipWriterMama said...

Little Willow,
I haven't read The Creek yet. I just picked up Our Only May Amelia. It's funny, I never would have picked these books on my own because I personally like the covers. I'm so glad I read Penny from Heaven.

Yes, Penny is wonderful. I just loved this book.