Friday, December 30, 2011
Summer of Butter Pecan Ice Cream and the Brooklyn Dodgers
by Jennifer L. Holm
A Yearling Book
It's the summer of 1953 and eleven-year-old Penny, so nicknamed because her father loved Bing Crosby's song "Pennies from Heaven," thinks Heaven is full of butter pecan ice cream, swimming pools, and baseball games. But Penny's summer's not much like Heaven: She's never been to a baseball game, and she's not allowed to swim in public pools because she might catch polio. Penny's father died when she was a baby; she lives in New Jersey with her mother and grandparents. Me-me, a terrible cook, takes care of Penny when her mother is at work; Pop-pop is obsessed with WWII and has radio conversations with the beloved nephew who died in battle; and her mother has started dating the milkman. The milkman!
Penny spends a lot of time with her father's large Italian family, none of who ever speak of the War. Her uncles shower their fatherless niece with gifts all the time. Her best friend, cousin Frankie, is often jealous of the attention Penny receives, and her mother worries about Penny spending so much time with her prankish cousin. But then her mother doesn't like Penny spending so much time with any of her Italian family: In fact, the two sides of her family don't even speak to one another. Penny's paternal grandmother Nonny loves cooking huge meals for her family, but harbors great sadness. Her favorite uncle Dominic, consumed by his own sorrow and guilt, wears bedroom slippers and lives in his car. At one time he was slated to play baseball for Penny's favorite team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, but something happened and Dominic gave up baseball completely and now works in his brother Ralphie's store. Nobody, not even Uncle Dominic, will tell her how her father died.
Penny from Heaven, an engaging portrait of one Italian-American family in the mid-twentieth century, tackles an overlooked segment of our nation's history: the treatment of Italian Americans during World War II.
To purchase this book from Amazon, click on Penny from Heaven.
To purchase the Bing Crosby CD, click on Pennies From Heaven.