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penny in the road

Penny in the Road

Author: Katharine Wilson Precek

Illustrator: Patricia Cullen-Clark

ISBN: 0027749703

Summary: In the year 1913, a boy finds an old penny (from 1793) on a country road and imagines who might have dropped it.  As an adult he recalls the story and shares it with his children and grandchildren.


 Unit Prepared by Denise Gregson


The boy in the story displays a lot of maturity by being able to appreciate the worth of something that another person might have easily overlooked. Did you notice how surprised Mr. Bailey was that the boy preferred the coin? Why was he surprised?  Was Mr. Bailey disappointed that he couldn’t have the coin in exchange for the knife?  Did the boy seem to be tempted by the offer of the pocket knife?  Sometimes we have to make difficult choices that require us to sacrifice something we would really like for something of greater worth to us. 


Notice how the boy was extra careful to be sure that the penny would not fall out of his pocket.


Bible – True Treasure

In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus tells that "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Many overlook the value of a relationship with God and choose other things that are appealing. The Proverbs speaks of the discernment of a wise person to know what things are truly important.  Matthew 16:26 says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Bible – Story-telling

Much of history is passed on through story-telling.  God instructed the Israelites to be sure to pass on His “story” to their children.  Deuteronomy 11: 18-21 says Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.”  All history is His story afterall!

The Passover celebration is just one of many examples of how the Israelites passed on the stories of God’s watch care over them to the succeeding generations. Year after year the family would review the events that God led them through and remember His deliverance.  This repetition helped to ensure that the information was indeed passed on in an accurate way.


Social Studies


Did your child hear from the story what the date was when the boy found the coin?


Contrast 1793 to the time of story (1913) --  and then to today.  What things might have changed? List as many things as you can – transportation and roads, electricity, clothing, one room school house, government.


The boy in the story said he had never been in an automobile before.  When was the first automobile? (late 1800’s)


Have your child look at the picture of the boy walking down the path, and describe what that location might like today- e.g. there might be a paved road, more houses or a large school, the boy might be wearing a backpack and riding on a skateboard…


If the road was originally an Indian trail, when might it have been made? Find Pennsylvania on a map. You may want to research more about when Pennsylvania was settled. Was Pennsylvania one of the original 13 colonies?  Who was Pennsylvania named after? (Pennsylvania Colony's founder, William Penn).  Your older student may want to research more about Pennsylvania, the Indian tribes that lived there or William Penn.


Timelines -

If you have a timeline plot out some important dates to better comprehend the passing of time.  If you do not have your own timeline you can simply sketch out your own for the purpose of this lesson using some butcher paper or taping some plain paper sheets end to end.  Following are some suggested markers for your timeline or you can research your own.  (some of the dates must be estimated)  If creating your own small timeline for this lesson, each increment might represent 25 or 50 years.


1600 (approx) Indians may have made the path the boy is walking

1682 William Penn founds Pennsylvania Colony

1700 colonization increases in Pennsylvania

1787 Pennsylvania becomes a State

1793 the coin in the story was made

1850 (approx) a covered wagon, traveling west, passed over the coin

1913 the boy finds the coin on the road

1945  (approx) the man shows the coins to his kids and tells the story

1985  (approx) he is a grandfather and shows the coins to his grandkids and tells the story


Explain to your child what a “generation” means.  How many generations were there since the coin was made? 


Discuss what a “century” is.  In which century was the coin made?  Which century was it when the boy found the coin?  Which century is it now?



What makes something an antique? 


An antique, according to the dictionary, is "a piece of furniture, tableware or the like, made at a much earlier period than the present." There are differing opinions as to how old something must be to consider it an antique. But most agree that anything that is 100 years old deserves the label.


An antique may not necessarily be out-of-date or old-fashioned just because it is old.  Tea pots, well-made furniture or other items may be still “in style” and a person may choose to continue to use them for their intended purpose. In fact, older items are often superior in quality to new items of the same kind.  Old clothing may come in and out of style at various times. Looks can be deceiving.


What makes one antique more valuable than another? You can explain supply and demand.  Something may be valued at a particular price by an appraiser but there may not be a market for it at the moment.  For artwork, if it is original and signed this will greatly increase its value.  The condition of the antique also affects its value as well as how many of its type are still in circulation.  It isn’t easy for someone who doesn’t know the business of antiques to be able to look at something and know how valuable it is.


Visit an antique shop in your area.  Or, if it is available in your area you could watch a little bit of Antique Road Show to give your child an appreciation for the value of some antiques.


Applied Math

Coins and Dates

What were some of the things the penny could have bought back in 1793?  Can you buy much of anything for a penny these days?  How much might a set of bread pans cost today?


The boy describes the one cent piece of 1793.  For a photo of this visit:


If the story took place in 1913 and the coin was dated 1793 how old was the coin when the boy found it?  How old would the coin be now?


Are there any coins that your child may want to save or begin to collect such as a silver dollar. Or maybe you have saved some old coins yourself that you can show your child.  How about starting a collection of the State Quarters or the Presidential $1 coins if you haven’t already?



Enchanted Learning’s website  has a number of worksheets for coins that you may like to check out depending on the level of your student(s). 


Language Arts

Point of View

The story is told in the first person.  This way we are able to enter into his imagination with him, since he didn’t share his thoughts much with others.



Notice some of the old fashioned vocabulary or words not used frequently today. 

Does your child know what these words refer to?






-automobile (don’t assume your child knows this term!)





The illustrator has used Prismacolor and pastel on board as her medium.  Soft, natural, earthy colors were chosen.


Vantage point

Vantage point is the point of view in a work of art-- the position from which the artist or viewer would be observing that which is depicted.  There are a variety of vantage points used in the illustrations.  The first picture shows the long stretch of path the boy is walking, drawing the reader in. Other pictures are close-ups and have as their focal point warm relationships (e.g. last two illustrations).  Other close-ups focus on the attractive jackknife or the two items he had to decide upon as the central focus.  There is also an illustration with a bird’s eye view which helps the reader to dream with the boy as he fills in the story with his imagination of what activity may have happened in that very location.  Lastly there are some illustrations that show illusions of what the boy is imagining which are drawn slightly lighter (and transparent) compared with the actual scenery.


The house at the end of the path in the first illustration of the book appears to be a colonial style stone (fieldstone) house.   Colonial style houses were popular in America from 1690 to 1830. The characteristics of a colonial house are that it is typically square, symmetrical in shape, has a central door, and straight lines of windows on the first and second floor. Colonials usually have one or two chimneys that can be very large




Before 1983 pennies were made of copper. After that time, copper was alloyed (mixed with) zinc when the price of copper increased (this alloy of copper and zinc is called brass).  Modern pennies are bronze -- an alloy (a mixture of metals) of copper and tin. Pure copper is soft and wears easily.

*Note:  a metal may be alloyed in order to decrease the cost or to improve the quality (e.g. strength) of the final product.

Nickels are made out of a nickel/copper alloy.

Dimes and quarters are made out of an alloy (a mixture of metals) of copper and nickel (before 1965, they were made out of silver). Look at the edge of a quarter or dime and notice the different shade of the metal in the middle (copper colored) as opposed to the face of it.

Look around your home (kitchen, jewelry box, workshop/garage etc) and try to determine what types of metals you can find. 


You could very briefly introduce your student to the idea of periodic table and how there are universal abbreviations for the elements (an element has all atoms of the same kind).  Some of the metals mentioned are pure elements and will show up on the table – Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Tin (Sn), Nickel (Ni) - for example- whereas others such as bronze or brass are not there since they are an alloy and not a single pure element.  You might point out that not only are metals in the table but also gases (Hydrogen, Oxygen -- which can lead to where the term H2O comes from ) or elements found in our food such as Potassium (K) and Sodium (Na).  There are 117 confirmed elements.




How does smoking a pipe (cigarette or cigar) affect a person’s health?


Our lungs are located in the chest and are protected by the ribcage.  Take a deep breath and feel your chest expand as air fills your two lungs like balloons.  The lungs are linked to the nose and mouth by the trachea.


Without even thinking about it you breathe in and out thousands of times each day.

Lungs allow us to take in oxygen from the air.  Once inside your lungs the oxygen passes into your blood and moves throughout the body.  Every cell of you body needs oxygen to stay alive.   

Smoking affects our lungs, causing them to work less efficiently.  Less oxygen is carried to your body.  It is in turn harder to fight infection.  When you smoke, thousands of harmful chemicals enter your body through your lungs.  This can even cause cancer.  The lungs of a smoker will age faster than a non-smoker.


Smoking was not known to be harmful to one’s health at the time of the story.  Even though today people are aware of the dangers of smoking, many find it a very difficult habit to quit.