Penny from Heaven Book Poster Image

Penny from Heaven

Slow but intriguing Newbery Honor book.

What parents need to know

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.

Not applicable

A beer brand is mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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.

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.

Families can talk 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.

Book details

Author:Jennifer L. Holm
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:July 1, 2006
Number of pages:274
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Award:Newbery Medal and Honors

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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 both sides of her family don’t go along together. Although she lives with her mother and grandparents from her mother’s side, she finds it dull. Her grandmother can’t cook, her grandfather is half-deaf and burps all the time, and her mother never spends time with her or allows her to enjoy her time. Her Italian-extended family are the opposite: they adore her. They understand her and they talk about her father. After a terrible accident, she gains new insights about herself and her family, while discovering the story behind her father’s death. Penny from Heaven is a touching story about coping with changes, seeing the bright side in everything, and always having hope. It is a great and captivating read, I highly recommend it
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written byhaileydi August 1, 2010

A Fantastic Read For Teen Girls

I read this book as a fifth-grader, and I absolutely loved it then. Now, as an eighth grader, I still pull this book of my shelf every once in a while, and I enjoy it just as much as I did when I experienced it for the first time. Penny From Heaven is a must read for girls.
Kid, 12 years old May 25, 2012

Good Book

Penny from Heaven is a sweet, well written book. It is about 11 year old Penny who grows up in New Jersey in 1953. Her late father's side of the family is big and Italian. There is some mention of smoking, only because it is the 50's. Alcohol is mentioned about 6 or 7 times, so take note of that. I wouldn't go as far as to say it has violence, if you count an incident with old fashioned clothing wringer as violence. I put educational value on it because it shows how Italians were treated during World War 2 (SPOILER! Penny's father was sent to an internment camp where he died because Italians weren't allowed to own radios in the 40's). This book is also laugh out loud funny! I highly recommend this book. Again, the only negative is the drinking and smoking. Great Read!!!
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking