Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

turtle-in-paradiseCindy: When you travel, do you like to read a book that is set in the area you are visiting? I love matching books with locales, seasons, moods, etc. I’ve just returned from Spring Break on a beach in southern Florida, and while I didn’t get to Key West, the setting of Turtle in Paradise (Random House, 2010), I was very close. Turtle (nicknamed for her tough shell) is sent to Key West to live with an aunt and a passel of unruly boy cousins when her mother takes a live-in housekeeping job that won’t allow children. Mama neglects to inform her sister that Turtle is coming, so there are adjustments to make all around.


This book, like a conch shell, slowly builds on itself as each episodic story is added. The boys (Beans, Slow Poke, Kermit and Pork Chop) call themselves the Diaper Gang and earn candy by watching babies for weary neighborhood mothers. The story, set in 1935, is a fun and touching look at a tough time for both Turtle and the Key West community she’s been dropped into. An author’s note  (with family photos) explains that some of the events of the book are based on her personal family stories. I can’t wait to booktalk this with my sixth grade students.

And, while I pretend I’m still sitting on a warm beach with a cold drink (photo from my trip above), I wouldn’t mind hearing about a book/vacation-setting pairing of yours…Do tell.

Lynn: Ohhh – great question. I have a trip to Florence and the Tuscany region coming up. I need to take Susan Vreeland’s wonderful book The Passion of Artemisia with me! But I digress – we’re talking about Turtle in Paradise – another wonderful book. Don’t be fooled by the cover – this is no girlie beach book. Holm packs her story with adventure, a search for buried pirate treasure, an artful con man and the antics of some terrific boy characters. The boys in the story almost steal the show – they are SUCH boys and their business enterprise cracked me up. One minute they’re “running around like a bunch of wild animals” and the next they’re tenderly soothing a baby’s diaper rash with nonchalant panache.

A great strength of the book for me is the way Holm shows us the historical background and infuses the narrative with the period details. The story is never impeded but readers will emerge with a real understanding of the time and place. We never get boring instructive paragraphs on the Great Depression. Instead we see Turtle’s distress at the loss of her Mary Janes, the boys work for candy because there isn’t money to pay them, Turtle’s aunt takes in laundry and her uncle works in a distant town only able to get home occasionally. Tightened belts and making do – a sense of the time and also the community is so skillfully portrayed. It is a place where everyone looks out for everyone else – and a place that for Turtle can be a true home.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

3 Comments on "Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm"

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  1. i hate this new cover my eyes were drawn to the other cover and i really love that book.

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