Sunday, January 30, 2011

198 (2011 #3). Turtle in Paradise

by Jennifer L. Holm,
read by Becca Battoe

This book was just named a 2011 Newbery Honor book.  Turtle is an eleven-year-old girl whose single mother Sadiebelle has just been hired as a live-in housekeeper by a woman who doesn't like children.  It's June 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, and Turtle is sent from New Jersey to her mother's hometown on Key West, Florida, to live with her maternal aunt Minnie, uncle Vernon, and three boy cousins she's never met.

Turtle and the "Diaper Gang" - her cousins and their playmates, who run a babysittting service and have nicknames like Beans and Pork Chop - have a mostly typical Keys summer, catching sponges, and eating alligator pears (avocados) and ice cream with unusual flavors like sour sop.  There's also the excitement of pirate treasure and a hurricane

It's also a story of family-- not only Turtle's relationships with her aunt and cousins, but with the grandmother she didn't know she had, as well as her mother.  There's a fitting quote on page 17:
Folks have always told me that I look like Mama.  Our eyes are different, though.  I think the color of a person's eyes says a lot about them.  Mama has soft blue eyes and all she sees are kittens and roses.  My eyes are gray as soot, and I see things for what they are.
Indeed, Turtle's trusting mother is often taken advantage of by men.  Turtle's father is someone on the island who didn't marry her mother, and Turtle wonders during the summer just who that might be.

In an author's note at the end of the book, Holm explains that the book was inspired by her great-grandmother "who emigrated with her family from the Bahamas to Key West in the late 1800s."  (Holm's other Newbery Honor books, Our Only May Amelia and Penny from Heaven, were similarly inspired by her great aunt and by her Italian-American family respectively.)  This results in a real slice-of-life novel that accurately portrays some of the unique aspects of being a "Conch" (pronounced "konk"), a native or resident of the Florida Keys.  An example is cut-ups, a sort-of BYO-fruit salad, described on page 85 as follows:
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, guava, cooed potatoes, and even raw onions. They cut it all up and season it with Old Sour which is made from 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.
Holm includes relevant photos in the author's note, which is followed by a list of resources and web sites.

On the audiobook, actress Becca Battoe's youthful voice is perfect for Turtle, who tells her own story.  While I think the cover of the book and audiobook is very pretty, it might be off-putting to boys--which would be a shame, since Turtle is quite the tomboy and not at all a typical girl (she hates babies and can't stand Shirley Temple, but loves comic strips like Terry and the Pirates).  I think this book would appeal to kids around Turtle's age (11).

© Amanda Pape - 2011

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library.  A hardbound copy for reference was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

No comments:

Post a Comment