A youthful voice serves Sealey well as narrator of this offbeat period piece chronicling the colorful experiences of 11-year-old Penny Falucci during the summer of 1953. Penny plans to have a dream summer vacation spending time at the local pool, eating butter pecan ice cream and listening to her beloved Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio with one of her many uncles or cousins. But not all happens according to plan when she suffers a devastating household accident. As Penny struggles to recover, she learns an ugly truth about her father's death years ago and comes to understand the estrangement between her mother's family and her father's boisterous Italian clan. Holm's plot has surprising twists and turns and plenty of evocative flavor, all of which give Sealey room to stretch a bit. Her crisp, even rhythm complements the pace of the unfolding drama. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Judy Crowder
Penny has heard two different theories about her name. One is that her father's favorite song was Bing Crosby's "Pennies from Heaven." The other is that Penny, whose real name is Barbara, was called Penny after her dying father said, "That baby is like a lost penny I'll never hold. A lost penny." Sometimes the appropriate name has a way of attaching itself onto an individual no matter what name may be on a birth certificate. Newbery Honor writer Holm has penned a compelling book about a twelve-year-old growing up and finding her place in the larger scheme of things in 1953 New Jersey. She has also introduced the young adult reader to a little-known injustice during World War II: the registration and labeling of Italians living in the USA as "enemy aliens," the prohibition against their living in costal zones, and even the imprisonment of these people if they were caught speaking or writing Italian or even owning a radio capable of short wave communication. Penny is an enchanting character. She is a fiercely loyal Brooklyn Dodgers fan, calling them, "Dem Bums," she'll avoid her maternal grandmother's cooking as much as she will salivate over her paternal grandmother's Ricotta-ball soup and pasteria. Her mother, a nurse, refuses to let her go to the public swimming pool or the movies because of the polio scare. Penny endures these restrictions but she demands to know the truth about her father, whom no one will talk about. Penny's life is full of family. Her cousin, Frankie, is her best friend, she lives with her mother and maternal grandparents in one house and spends much of her time with her father's family just blocks away. These two worlds are very different and veryseparate, but they are forced to come together when Penny is seriously injured by a washing machine wringer. Holm's writing is warm and fine; reading this book is as good as time travel into the life of the 1950s. A real treat awaits the reader at the book's end when the author writes about loosely basing Penny on her mother, complete with family pictures, a photo of the old Ebbets Field, plus a picture example of the records kept on Italian Americans during the World War.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Take a trip back to 1953 in Jennifer L. Holm's charming story (Random, 2006). Eleven-year-old Penny lives in New Jersey and walks a tightrope between two families. On one side are her widowed mother, her irascible grandfather, and her cooking-disabled grandmother with whom she lives. On the other side are her deceased father's Italian family with an abundance of loving aunts and uncles and a Nonny who makes the best cannoli around. The two families don't interact and Penny understands it has something to do with her father's death, but nobody will talk about it. Penny's biggest problems this summer are convincing her mother she won't catch polio from the community pool, keeping her cousin Frankie from scrapes with the law, and discouraging the milkman from courting her mother. Told in vignette style, Amber Sealey's narration enhances the telling. She effortlessly slips in and out of voices ranging from a young girl, a mischievous boy, a sobbing Italian grandmother, and a Brooklyn inflection that would make Tony Soprano proud. Inspired by the author's Italian-American family, the plot is a bit weak, but warmth and humor abound.-Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Penny, almost 12, is caught between two extremes: her mother's small, uptight, WASP family, and her dead father's large, exuberant, Italian one. Summers, she moves freely between them, mediating as best she can between the two. Her best pal is her cousin Frankie, with whom she delivers groceries from her uncle's store, worships at the shrine of the Brooklyn Dodgers and gets into trouble. No one talks about her father's absence, and that's beginning to bother her more and more. And even worse, her mother has begun dating the milkman. Holm has crafted a leisurely, sprawling period piece, set in the 1950s and populated by a large cast of offbeat characters. Penny's present-tense narration is both earthy and observant, and her commentary on her families' eccentricities sparkles. Various scrapes and little tragedies lead to a nearly catastrophic encounter with a clothes wringer and finally the truth about her father's death. It takes so long to get there that the revelation seems rather anticlimactic, but getting to know Penny and her families makes the whole eminently worthwhile. (Fiction. 9-13)
From the Publisher
"Penny and her world are clearly drawn and eminently believable."--School Library Journal
"Holm impressively wraps pathos with comedy in this coming-of-age story, populated by a cast of vivid characters."--Booklist
"Penny's present-tense narration is both earthy and observant, and her commentary on her families' eccentricities sparkles."--Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
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? Wouldn’t 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 there’s 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. That’s 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. I’m only eleven, and I don’t plan on dying until I’m at least a hundred. It’s just that I’m named after that Bing Crosby song “Pennies from Heaven,” and when you’re named after something, you can’t help but think about it.
See, my father was crazy about Bing Crosby, and that’s why everyone calls me Penny instead of Barbara Ann Falucci, which is what’s on my birth certificate. No one ever calls me Barbara, except teachers, and sometimes even I forget that it’s 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 don’t think I’d make a very good Clementine.
Then again, who would?
Uncle Dominic is sitting in his car. It’s a 1940 Plymouth Roadking. It’s 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. It’s an awfully nice car; everybody says so. But then, it’s kind of hard to miss. It’s been parked in the side yard of my grandmother Falucci’s house for as long as I can remember.
Uncle Dominic lives right there in his car. Nobody in the family thinks it’s weird that Uncle Dominic lives in his car, or if they do, nobody ever says anything. It’s 1953, and it’s not exactly normal for people in New Jersey to live in cars. Most people around here live in houses. But Uncle Dominic’s kind of a hermit. He also likes to wear slippers instead of shoes. Once I asked him why.
“They’re comfortable,” he said.
Besides living in the car and wearing slippers, Uncle Dominic’s 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. There’s a pillow and a ratty-looking blanket on the backseat. Uncle Dominic says the car’s the only place he can get any rest. He has a lot of trouble falling asleep.
“Hi, Uncle Dominic,” I say.
“Game’s on,” he says.
I start to open the back door, but Uncle Dominic says, “You can sit up front.”
Uncle Dominic’s very particular about who’s allowed to sit in his car. Most people have to sit in the back, although Uncle Nunzio always sits up front. I don’t think anyone ever tells Uncle Nunzio what to do.
“Who’s 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 he’s really in the ballpark and watching the game from the bleachers. He’s handsome, with dark hair and brown eyes. Everyone says he looks just like my father. I don’t remember my father because he died when I was just a baby, but I’ve 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. It’s like Christmas all the time.
Uncle Dominic hands me something that looks like a big dark-brown bean.
“What is it?”
“It’s 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.”
“Where’d you get it?” I ask.
“Florida,” he says.
Uncle Dominic loves Florida and goes to Vero Beach every winter, probably because it’s 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 don’t think so. Most women want a new Frigidaire, not a backseat.
“Put it in your pocket,” he says. “It’ll 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 don’t, 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.