Archive for April 11th, 2011

April 11, 2011

Turtles, Scorpions, Pirate Treasure, and Diaper Rash

I’ve decided to go searching for some award-winning books, and this seemed like as good one as any to start with.  It won a Golden Kite in 2010, an award given out by the SCBWI, the Society for Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators, which means that it’s a peer award–an award given to writers by other writers.  I like the validation of that, and since I’m a writer and a member of SCBWI, that seemed like a good place to start.  I’m glad I did.  My sister was in town, which meant that I actually had a few minutes to actually read, and this was a great escape.

Title: Turtle in Paradise
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Middle Grade

Summary and Review:

Sometimes a book just gets you with one particularly good part.  This one got me near the beginning, when Turtle was dropped off at a small house in the Florida keys to live with her surprised and overwhelmed aunt and cousins.  She is outside the house, meeting her cousins and their friends when she overhears an older neighbor referring to the boys as the “diaper gang”.  Now, as a reader, I assumed this was his way of insulting them.  Turtle does too, and asks them jokingly if they change diapers.  Now they, in turn, look at her like she’s an idiot and tell her that of course they do.  And that’s her first introduction to the group of misbehaving adolescent boys and their secret diaper rash formula.

The diaper gang are the major players in the book alongside Turtle, but the diapering is only a small part of the story.  Turtle’s mom, a housekeeper, had to send her away because her new employer didn’t want children in the house.

In the keys, Turtle meets family members she never even knew about and some she thought were dead.  She has adventures that include crying babies, diaper rash, hurricanes, and pirate gold.  But in the end, this book is all about one thing: family.  And it will make you want to visit yours.

Another great thing about the book is its subtle historical setting.  You get a good feeling for the poverty and hopelessness of the Great Depression, of the stories of Little Orphan Annie and the stardom of Shirley Temple, but it isn’t rubbed in your face.  An adolescent reader who would turn away historical fiction just because of the word “history” need not shy away from this book.  In fact, don’t even tell them–they might not even notice.

The writing in the book is great.  I love all the little details–the kids who don’t wear shoes, Turtle’s sarcastic cracks at the boys, the nicknames of all the characters (Beans, Too Bad, Slow Poke–almost no one has a real name).  It all just fits together perfectly.  I’m pretty sure that if I headed to South Florida now, I might find this family there, eating Turtle soup, chasing scorpions and running around barefoot.

Follow-up with the kids:

It can’t hurt to bring up the history piece after the fact, can it?  It’s a perfect read in today’s times as a lot of families are feeling the same sense of poverty–that mix of hopelessness and dreams that comes with not having a lot of money in a country where others still have it.

Also, read the afterward with the historical details.  I liked that part a lot, and it gave a lot of context to the book.  I appreciated that it was in the afterward and not stuffed into the book, making it unwieldly like some historical fiction can be.  I also liked the part about the pirate treasure.  Without giving too much away, I can say that the pirate treasure storyline in the book didn’t really sit right with me, but the afterward put it into better perspective.

Another great conversation would be about Turtle and how she never cries anymore–she has to be the tough one in her family, her mom the weaker link.  But then something near the end makes the tears flow freely.  What is it and why was she finally able to cry?  Was it only the sadness of the event, or was it something more, maybe something that finally gave her the courage to show her emotions?