There Once Was a Penny by Mark Restaino, Illustrations by J.P. Alcomendas

There Once Was a Penny by Mark Restaino, Illustrations by J.P. Alcomendas

Reviewed by A.R.K. Watson

  • Genre: Children’s Literature / Nursery Rhyme
  • Year Published: 2018
  • Author’s Worldview: Catholic
  • Themes: Self-Worth, Self-Value, Mental Health, Children of God, Prayer, Intercession, Faith
  • Audience: Ages 2-6

This cute little rhyme follows the adventures of one shiny copper coin named Penny. As she goes from a cash register, to a collector’s store, to a woman’s purse and finally into the hands of a small child, her goals change. She tries to figure out what would make her happy and give her life meaning. In the darkness of the cash register, she wishes only to see the world. Once out in the world, she is at first pleased to be liked and called unique in the collector’s case she ends up in. However, as the days pass and people ignore her she changes her goals and instead wishes to be desired.

Eventually Penny gets her wish and a rich young woman buys her, puts her in her purse and then promptly forgets about her. So Penny’s goals change again and this time she wishes she were useful, like all the other items in the woman’s bag. But when she gets her wish this time she becomes even more unhappy. The woman uses her to scrape some gum off her shoe and then leaves her in the mud. Penny feels “dirty, worthless and used.”

In the end Penny becomes useful when the little girl, who picks her up out of the mud, uses her to cast a wish to make a new friend in the town she is moving to. Cleaned by the symbolic waters of baptism, Penny becomes the little girl’s prayer and finds true happiness that isn’t tied to how others treat her. The book ends with a charge to young children to make wishes and have faith, because “with faith even pennies can move mountains.”

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It’s a fun little book with a well-written poem that any young kid will find entertaining. It’s not as symbol-laden as Restaino & Alcomendas’ other books, but that might also make this book more accessible a gift to secular families. There is a quote from Mathew 17:20 about faith as small as a mustard seed being able to move mountains, but otherwise the religious values in this book are more covert than usual for a children’s book.

This book teaches young children the value of faith and how it can help a person to value themselves for more than the world might value them. If your child is hurt by unkind treatment at school or by peers, this might be an encouraging book to read to them. Parents can ask their children if they ever feel like Penny as she gets discouraged in looking for value through other people’s eyes. Parents can use this story to encourage their children to pray for the people that disappoint and hurt them and maybe then they’ll feel happy like Penny does at the end of her story. This puts that very adult problem at the level even a young toddler might be able to grasp.

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