When I visit schools and libraries I usually start by telling the story of the Penny Book, which began when my husband, Ken Buhler, told me about something he invented to save memories for his son, Jake. Ken is a painter and he knew that keeping a regular diary wouldn’t really work for him. (I’m a writer and it wouldn’t really work for me either—what I write in my many “notebooks” are a sort of conversation with myself, not really meant to be shared). So Ken came up with a structure to help him create something lasting for Jake:
When Ken found a penny on the street, he picked it up, and taped it into a small notebook he called his “Penny Book.” He then wrote a brief memory of what he was doing in the year of the penny, and another sentence or two on what he was doing on the day he found it. This way his son would get a glimpse into Ken’s history and his daily life.
I thought this was such a beautiful and simple idea, and I went home and told my younger daughter, (also named Rebecca) who was about twelve years old at the time, about Ken’s penny book. She looked at me and said: "Oh, Mama, what a great idea for a book!” I thought it really was, and that was the seed of “June Sparrow and the Million Dollar Penny.”
We started our own penny books, and it’s so easy to do, and really fun. If you pick up a penny that has a year from before you were born, you can look up some event that was happening in the world that year, or in your own home town, or ask a family member what they might have been doing that year. (Grown-ups love to talk about the good old days, as you probably already know!) But you might find out something you never knew about them, and it’s a fun way to combine real-live history with your own particular day!
We have this cool downloadable form you can get for free right here, and you can print out as many pages as you like and just staple it together. Or if you are the kind of person that likes to scrapbook, or a stationary nerd like me, all you need is a notebook and a roll of tape to get started!
People don’t always notice pennies, or they leave them behind as if they don’t matter much. But everyone knows that pennies are lucky, and you might find a really old penny, maybe even “The Big One” that June and her best friend, Indigo Bunting, her miniature pig, are looking for in the book. That is a real penny by the way, but awfully hard to find. It doesn’t really matter if you find “The Big One,” what matters is having fun and making a memory book of your own wild and wonderful life!
If you make a Penny Book and want to share it with me, please send me an email via the contact form.
Here are some of Ken’s original Penny Book pages to get you inspired!
And here is Ken with an incredibly cute and fuzzy calf we met in upstate New York.
And here’s a picture of me and Rebecca when she was about June Sparrow’s age