In Kevin Henkes' new title, Penny and Her Song (Greenwillow Books, February 28, 2012) Penny arriving home from school has a new song. Both her Mama and Papa think the song is beautiful and wonderful but the babies are sleeping. Going to her room she voices the melody to herself in the mirror and to her glass animals but it's not the same now, is it?
Sitting down to eat the tune again bursts forth from her lips but Mama and Papa remind her not at the table and after dinner. Well worth the wait, Penny sings her short rhyming musical poem. Enjoying the praise of her parents and siblings, she repeats the song a smile on her face.
All share in the next singing and in the next, donning costumes as they move to their own rhythm. Lovingly surprised the singing accomplishes the opposite of what Mama and Papa thought it might do. Morning brings fulfillment of her parent's goodnight promise to Penny.
Within thirty-two pages and two chapters Kevin Henkes brings to his intended audience, employing an economy of words, the precise emotional impact. Penny's song is simple, yes, but exactly what a joyous child is apt to voice over and over; enjoying the use of perhaps a newly learned word or the thrill of learning to count. Her parents' requests are fair and firm; spoken with love. Their responses are what anyone with joy to share longs to hear.
Henkes mirrors the lifting of hearts, that reawakening of spring, in his choice of colorful pastel hues; apricot endpapers, warm yellows, pinks, purples and blues. Even the song's notes are shades of these same colors. The floral border on the jacket and cover are found again in the flower-filled meadow Penny crosses, on the wallpaper in her home and sprinkled on the fabric of her bedspread.
Henkes' mice are memorable; this family in particular. The opening illustration of Penny walking up the porch steps, door open with outstretched arms ready to greet her, shows readers this is a home filled with warmth. Her parents have boundaries but Penny does not pout or get angry. Knowing her joy will be validated at the right time, based upon the past, she goes about her business of being a little girl. When the narrative reveals her faith in her parents to be well founded, readers can almost hear the music flowing from the pages.
Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes is filled with such joy readers will catch it quickly smiling and humming their own version of her song. I've already made up my own tune to sing when I share this with my students. Will you?
Xena's Mom's version of Penny's Song