Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm

In the midst of the Depression, eleven year-old Turtle and her mother struggle to get by. And so, when Mom finds work as a housekeeper for a woman who doesn't like children, Turtle gets shipped off to Key West to stay with her aunt and cousins. The children are surprisingly resourceful and have a number of adventures. For her part, Turtle learns to appreciate the joys and problems of large families. And the reader learns a lot about Key West in this much earlier era.

This nice gentle middle reader covers a little-known world of the Keys before they were a major tourist destination and when the place and times were a bit more innocent. I always have a soft spot for books that take me places I have never been, so I'll have to recommend this book on that basis alone.

But this book has much more going for it. The characters are vivid and interesting. Many of them break stereotypes (for example, who would have ever dreamed up a babysitting service run entirely -- to many humorous results -- by a gang of boys?). The inhabitants of the Keys are obvious quite quirky and Holm delights in showing them off to us (and we, in turn, delight in learning about them). A fascinating historical end note from the author explains how much of the story is based on fact and may make readers want to learn more. For actual young readers, the scenes where the children have to weather out a hurricane may be a bit scary.

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