The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available in paperback.


Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

As the 2012 Newbery winner will be announced tomorrow morning, I thought this was a good time to review one of last year's Newbery Honor books Turtle in Paradise (Random House, 2010).

Two-time Newbery Honor winner (the other was Penny from Heaven in 2007), Jennifer L. Holm taps into her family history for this honoree. It's 1935 and 11-year-old Turtle's mom is offered work as a live-in housekeeper. Unfortunately, her new employer can't stand children. With jobs scarce, Turtle's mom has no choice but to take the job and send Turtle to live with her sister in Key West, Florida.

Turtle is none to happy about this, less so when she discovers this means living with a bunch of boy cousins with strange names like Beans and Porkchop. Boys who call themselves The Diaper Gang and earn candy by watching neighborhood children. Boys who the live by the code NO GIRLS ALLOWED.

Slowly, Turtle finds her place in her mother's hometown, striking up an unlikely friendship with the grouchy Nana Philly, the local fishermen and artists (with a cameo appearance from Papa himself) and exploring the Keys with a treasure hunt that leads the Gang into a dangerous storm.

I found some of the similarities between Holms' book and the Newbery winner of the same year (Moon over Manifest) kind of odd (must have been a big year for kids-sent-to-live-in-their parents'-hometowns-during-the-Depression-books), but Turtle in Paradise is a delicious peek into Floridian life during a time when Little Orphan Annie ruled the funny papers and Shirley Temple was the darling of the silver screen. 

Written for grades 4 to 6, it shows us that everyone's definition of such a place is a little different and that family is a more important treasure, even than pirate gold.

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