Tag Archives: Childhood Diseases

Penny From Heaven, by Jennifer Holm – The Newbery Project


Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm

I now know what an Iron Lung looks like. (Thank you, Jennifer L. Holm for making me wonder and thank you Google for making pictures of EVERYTHING so easy to find.) The most horrible part about the Iron Lung is that some people who contracted polio ended up using an Iron Lung for life. I mean, look at these things:


I worry every day that O will catch yet another virus from one of the other babies in his daycare and we’ll end up, yet again, hunkered down for the long haul at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Doing a little research on polio makes me feel a little paranoid. These days, there’s almost no chance that your typical immunized kid will come down with a deadly casually transmitted disease. (Thank you, Dr. Salk!) And the next time I get all pitiful about O being hooked up to oxygen for almost three weeks:

2013-03-27 In the hospital...again

Next time, I’m going to remind myself of the iron lung, and the fact that he’ll never get polio. And I’m going to remember to be grateful.

From Jennifer Holm’s website:

It’s 1953 and 11-year-old Penny dreams of a summer of butter pecan ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing’s that easy in Penny’s family. For starters, she can’t go swimming because her mother’s afraid she’ll catch polio at the pool. To make matters worse, her favorite uncle is living in a car. Her Nonny cries every time her father’s name is mentioned. And the two sides of her family aren’t speaking to each other!

Penny From Heaven was an enjoyable flashback to a bygone era, but Turtle in Paradise is still my favorite of Holm’s three Newbery honored books. I listened to Turtle long before I started The Newbery Project. I’ll be reading (or listening to) it again when I’ve finished the rest of the Newbery books from the 2000s. A little piece of me wonders — will I love it as much the second time, now that I’ve read so many other wonderful books for kids?

Stay tuned to find out.

Penny from Heaven, by Jennifer L. Holm; Narrated by Amber Rose Sealey

Newbery Honor – 2007

A.R. Level: 4.0; Middle Grades

Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus – The Newbery Project


Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus

The whole time I was reading Heart of a Samurai, I felt like it was the kind of book my sixth grade teacher would have assigned, claiming that I was going to LOVE it. In fact, it was just a little…stiff. More like an assignment than a novel. Maybe I was biased from having just read the magical Where the Mountain Meets the MoonThat book is a hard act to follow!

I wondered if the Newbery judges picked it for its cultural significance (as opposed to literary beauty?). The general story line is that Manjiro, a boy from a small fishing village in Japan, is shipwrecked and eventually rescued by a ship captained by an American. The captain takes Manjiro home with him and treats Manjiro as a son, but Manjiro nevertheless faces discrimination. Eventually, Manjiro succeeds in returning to his native Japan (after about 10 years, I think), where is he imprisoned as a suspected spy. Manjiro convinces his captors that he is not a spy and that Japan needs to become more open to interaction with foreigners.

It’s based on a true story, which may be the cause of the “assignment” vibe. I think it can be a very difficult task to follow a story line that has already been set out for you, and maintain the creativity and flexibility necessary to write a really compelling book.

I feel a little big crazy complaining about this book — I mean, out of all the books published in 2011, only 5 were honored by the Newbery committee. But it wasn’t my favorite. There. I said it.

Heart of a Samurai, by Margi Preus

Newbery Honor – 2011

A.R Level – 5.4; Middle Grades

Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer Holm – The Newbery Project


Our Only May Amelia

Okay, I admit it. I cried. And cried. And cried. In fact, I’ve been trying to decide for days how I was going to write up this post. My feelings about this book were a lot like my feelings about certain movies I’ve seen that were deep, powerful, moving, and so painful that I couldn’t recommend them to anyone else.

Most of Our Only May Amelia is just purely entertaining. May Amelia is the only girl in a family of seven boys, and in fact, is the only girl in the whole settlement. She wants to do everything her brothers do, and why not? Except that May Amelia lives in rural Washington in 1899. So we get to follow May Amelia as she pushes against the boundaries of propriety, and that part is enjoyable. I was really rooting for her.


Which I guess is part of the point. I was so completely rooting for her, that when bad things started happening, I just couldn’t handle it.

Now I know that life in 1899 was hard. I guess maybe I have no concept of how hard. Or maybe I’m just weak. I had a similar feeling reading Wuthering Heights recently. As one person after another in Wuthering Heights died, I thought either this is the most depressing book of all time, or life was really, really, horrible in England in the 1800s. (For the record, Wuthering Heights IS the most depressing book of all time.) Apparently life was just as hard, and death just as real in May Amelia’s Washington. I know that some my over-reaction is because the one main death that occurs is my worst fear — the thing that wakes me up in a cold sweat at night and causes me to place a hand on baby’s chest to make sure he’s still breathing. So, yes, I am weak, and May Amelia’s pain was so real to me that I still feel overwhelmed with sadness as I type these words — a week after I finished the book.

If you’re stronger than me, read this book. Just keep a box of tissues handy.

Our Only May Amelia, by Jennifer L. Holm

Newbery Honor Book – 2000

AR Level: 4.8, Middle Grades