Penny from Heaven

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Penny from Heaven Book Poster Image
Slow but intriguing Newbery Honor book.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 9 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

A boy wants to be a criminal like his dad. Japanese are referred to as "Japs."


A couple of fistfights, a rather gruesome accidental injury, description of a hospital ward with injured children, mention of wife abuse.


A kiss.


A beer brand is mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and cigars; drinking; alcoholic parent; a 12-year-old sips wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the central event of this story is a rather gruesome injury in which a child gets her arm caught in a wringer machine. She then meets other injured children in the hospital. There is some mention of wife abuse, and one parent is an alcoholic.

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Teen, 16 years old Written byBrigidArmbrust March 22, 2019
Teen, 15 years old Written byJo86 September 26, 2013

Touching story, great and captivating read

Penny from Heaven is a shining story about a 12 year old Italian-American girl, Penny, in the 1950s. Penny often wonders about her father’s death and the reason... Continue reading

What's the story?

Penny's father is long dead, and no one will tell her what happened to him. She lives with her mother and grandparents, who live a rather dull and straitlaced life. But her father's family lives nearby -- grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins -- and they're anything but straitlaced.

Her cousin/best friend, Frankie, wants to be a criminal -- just like his incarcerated father. Penny's Uncle Dominic lives in his car by choice and harbors a sad secret. Her Aunt Gina and her grandmother, Nonny, live in the same house but can't stand each other, so they have separate kitchens. And now, much to Penny's chagrin, her mother is dating the milkman. PENNY FROM HEAVEN includes an Author's Note, a family album of photos, and resources.

Is it any good?

The first half of Penny from Heaven is a slow but evocative and nostalgic slice of life in a '50s Italian family in suburban New Jersey. It makes reference to the fear of polio, saying "swell," rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, eating abundantly, etc. Getting through this part takes patience and real reading experience.

Things pick up in the second half, when a terrible accident leads to secrets revealed and families reconciled. It's all beautifully written and fascinating (though perhaps more to adults than to most kids), and it reveals a true but little-known historical event.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Italian-American internment. Why was it done? Why was it hidden for so long, unlike the Japanese internment? Why do they hide it from Penny? The book offers resources to find out more about it.

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