Holm, Jennifer L. 2010. Turtle in paradise. New York: Random House. ISBN 9780375936885
2. Plot Summary
It’s 1935 during the Great Depression and jobs and money are hard to come by. Turtles’s mama takes a housekeeping job with a wealthy, mean, kid hating woman. So Turtle, an 11 year old girl, is sent to live with relatives she has never met in Key West, Florida. There she discovers her grandmother, who she was told was dead, and many ragtag boy cousin. In the end Turtle discovers what family really is. Turtle in Paradise is full of adventure, funny stories, and historical details.
3. Critical Analysis
Turtle in Paradise is based on true family tales and inspired by Holm’s Conch great-grandmother Jennie Lewin Peck, an immigrant from the Bahamas in the late 1880s. Holm is related to the Curry family of Curry Lane in Key West. The author uses realistic characters, such as Turtle, to show the way of life in Key West. Turtle is a perfect name for the character because she is tough on the outside (because she has to be when her mother “falls apart”) yet soft and vulnerable at times. The theme of family is well developed through out the book.
The setting is during the depression, life in Key West may be hard, it seems to be a wonderful paradise for children. This is depicted through the “Diaper Gang”. The gang consists of boys Pork Chop, Kermit, Beans, and Buddy who trades babysitting for candy. Kermit explains, “We watch babies. Bad ones”…”The crying kind,” Pork Chop says. The use of nicknames for each character is consistent with the real life Key West tradition of locals having nicknames for everyone. Papa, the writing man. is actually a reference to Ernest Hemingway who is a native of Key West and was actually called Papa.
The author conducted extensive research in preparation for this book; the history and everyday life of people in Key West is accurate and compelling. Children will be drawn to the adventures of the mischievous boys and treasure hunting. Holm intertwines historical details with humorous dialogue and every day events in the lives of the characters. The Author’s Notes are extremely helpful to the reader. The notes include great details of what is actually true history or based on true historical events within the story. The photographs add a personal touch to the book. Holm also includes the resources and websites used in preparation for writing Turtle in Paradise.
4. Review Excerpts and Awards
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2010:
Starred Review – “Sweet, funny and superb”
Booklist, April 15, 2010:
Starred review – “Turtle is just the right mixture of knowingness and hope; the plot is a hilarious blend of family dramas seasoned with a dollop of adventure.”
School Library Journal, April 2010:
“This richly detailed novel was inspired by Holm’s great-grandmother’s stories. Readers who enjoy melodic, humorous tales of the past won’t want to miss it.”
2011 Newbery Honor Book
ALA Notable Book
Booklist Editor’s Choice
Texas Bluebonnet List
Kirkus Review Best Children’s Book of 2010
Introduce the students to other Newbery Honor Books by Jennifer Holm.
Have students research the Great Depression and write a report.
The students will also be able to discuss some of the historical facts that they were able to verify in the Turtle in Paradise after their research.
Other stories Historical Fiction stories with depression themes are: Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Taylor; and Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Curtis