Sunday, November 16, 2014

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L Holm

I am putting a little image here of Babymouse because I can hardly believe this but Turtle in Paradise is by Jennifer Holm who also wrote the Babymouse series.

Turtle in Paradise feels like a book from a completely different author. The setting here, for this middle to upper primary novel, is Key West in Florida.  The date is June 1935 and America is in the grip of the depression.  Poverty and hardship pervade life of the characters in this book and it is precisely because of this poverty that Turtle finds herself living away from her mother with her harassed and overworked aunt and boisterous collection of boy cousins.  "Truth is the place looks like a broken chair that's been left out in the sun to rot."

Key West is a tiny community where everyone knows everyone else and nearly everyone is related. Within hours of her arrival everyone knows about Turtle and they know her mum is far away working as a maid.  Aunt Minnie has no time for the new arrival.  "This is just like Sadiebelle.  She never thinks.  As if I don't have enough already with three kids and a husband who's never home ... And you bought a cat?"

The three kids are named Kermit, Beans and Buddy.  Along with their friend Pork Chop these boys are The Diaper Gang - they mind crying babies and change diapers in exchange for candy.  Turtle is not allowed to join this gang because girls are not allowed but she tags along.  What these boys don't know yet is that Turtle is a strong willed and very capable.  She has no interest in Shirley Temple but she does have a huge dream of a special house to share with her mum.  Along with her aunt and cousins, two other important people live at Key West - Turtle's angry grandmother Nana Philly and an old fisherman called Slow Poke.  Within weeks of her arrival Turtle has a job and she has begun to forge a relationship with her cantankerous grandmother.

Here is a flavour of the story - a description of a cut up :

"After we finish swimming, we have a cut-up.  A cut-up is something these Conch kids do every chance they get. Each kid brings whatever they can find lying around or hanging on a tree - sugar apple, banana, mango, pineapple, alligator pear (avocado), guava, cooked potatoes and even raw onions.  They take a big bowl, cut it all up, and season it with Old Sour, which is made form key lime juice, salt and hot peppers.  Then they pass it around with a fork and everyone takes a bite.  It's the strangest fruit salad I've ever had, but it's tasty."

There are only 177 pages in this book but it contains so many fabulous twists and turns you will find yourself spinning and smiling and definitely cheering for our special heroine Turtle.

My only real disappointment with this book comes from never really discovering why Turtle is called Turtle although I think I can make an educated guess.  Here is a good review and if I haven't convinced you that this is a terrific book here is another very detailed review from Jen Robinson.

You might also enjoy Waiting for Normal.

Turtle in Paradise won a Newbery honor (2010) so there are lots of book trailers - here is one that I like.  Here is a set of questions and a vocabulary list. One of the interesting ways I have already used this book was at a parent talk last week.  I think I convinced some of my audience that I had actually been to Florida - I love this aspect of reading when you feel as though you have really been a participant in a book long after you have finished reading.

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