Name of Book: Penny and Her Marble
Author: Kevin Henkes
Illustrator: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers
Audience: This book, written for new readers, provides an excellent opportunity for parents or teachers and children to engage in meaningful discussion; written for ages 4-8.
Summary: Penny, a young mouse with a vivid imagination, enjoys strolling her dolly up and down the street. One day, Penny sees and takes a pretty marble from her neighbor’s lawn. Soon, her imagination and sense of right and wrong intrude upon her joy over having the marble. She begins to feel worse and worse for having taken the marble. Feeling guilty, Penny decides to return it. When she does so, she soon discovers that her neighbor had intended all along that she find and keep the little treasure.
Literary elements at work in the story: This simple story explores the universal human emotions of both joy and guilt. The central conflict for Penny – of having taken something that does not belong to her – works to create tension in the reader. As the reader worries about Penny’s dilemma, he or she can feel both Penny’s anxiety and her desire to set things right. As always, Henkes’ gentle illustrations and wonderfully imaginative characters provide an inviting context for exploring the difficult themes of guilt and regret.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability: Penny and Her Marble does not explicitly address issues of race or class. However, Henkes’ use of mice of various colors provides for a diverse depiction of Penny’s neighborhood. In terms of economic standing, Penny appears to live in a suburban neighborhood with comfortable homes, sidewalks, and neighbors who are known to one another. Because all of the characters are female, this story does not provide a wide perspective on issues of gender.
Theological Conversation Partners: Throughout this story we see Penny struggling with a sense of guilt and regret. We eventually see her experiencing the freedom that comes from reconciliation, too. Although Mrs. Goodwin intended for Penny to take the marble – which may negate the sense of wrongdoing for some of the children – Penny’s guilt and anxiety are real. Her freedom and joy, following her confession to Mrs. Goodwin, closely match the kind of freedom and joy we all experience as we are reconciled to one another and to God.
Because a majority of the story deals with Penny’s sense of guilt, this story would be an excellent conversation partner for Psalms 51:1-12 and 38:1-11, 21-22. Both Psalms speak to the crushing pain that comes with the awareness of our own sin, as well as the assurance that we can cry out for God’s saving action in the midst of our utter despair.
Faith Talk Questions for Elementary-Aged Students:
- Begin your class time together by sharing a time when you were a child and did something that you knew was not right. How did you feel? What did you do?
- After reading Penny and Her Marble, ask the students to identify Penny’s emotions throughout the story. Help students to identify emotions beyond “happy” and “sad.” If you have a multi-age classroom, rely on your older students to discover and explain feelings such as regret, anxiety, elation, reconciliation, and so forth.
- Explain to students that the word “sin” means “to miss the mark.” We use this word to describe those things that we say or do, or neglect to say or do, that “miss the mark” that God sets for us – just as an arrow missed the mark when it fails to hit the bullseye. We often know what God wants us to do, but when we do not do it, we have “missed the mark.” Ask students to think of stories in the Bible where people have missed the mark and sinned.
- Tell the students that people sin all the time – even when they do not want to! Read aloud a child-friendly version of the Psalm of your choosing, either 38:1-11, 21-22or Psalm 51:1-12. Ask students to listen for the emotions that the psalmist expresses, as well as the words the psalmist uses to discuss sin. Work together to compare the psalmist’s emotions to the emotions Penny demonstrates. Consider together what Penny might see as her sin.
- Activity: Use white boards and markers (or laminated cardstock) to have students write down or draw situations in which they have sinned and felt bad. Remind them that sin is a part of everyone’s life. After writing or drawing their situation, read aloud the Psalm(s) again. Ask students to quietly erase their drawing and words as they listen to the words of the Psalm.
- Pray together, using a time for guided and silent confession.
- Close together by telling the children that God rejoices when we turn away from our sin, and we can rejoice when we do the same. Just as Penny practically danced with joy on her way home from Mrs. Goodwin’s, we can dance with joy when God lifts our sin from us.
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary graduate Catherine Lovejoy.