Friday, January 28, 2011

Turtle in Paradise

Christmas break was fast approaching and I had just finished a read aloud with my class. I was in need of a new book, preferably one that I could finish within a month's time. Sadly, I'd never read a Jennifer L. Holm book before but had heard great things about TURTLE IN PARADISE. With only 178 pages and 15 school days left before break, this one would suffice.

It's 1935, smack in the middle of the Great Depression, and Turtle's mother is in no position to turn away work. So when a job as a live-in housekeeper comes calling, and her new employer hates children, Turtle must travel to Florida and stay with her relatives for the summer. Thing is: Turtle hates kids too! And Shirley Temple.

My students and I had a blast reading this book together. I have never gotten as many genuine laughs from a read aloud as I did from this book. From the character names (Pork Chop, Beans, Slow Poke), to Buddy peeing his pants all the time, there were laughs on nearly every page. I loved Turtle's voice, so snarky and full of cynicism. Mucho props to Holm for bringing it out so sharply. Turtle, the Florida Keys setting, and the 1930s come alive through Holm's great use of figurative language and imagery. Get a load of this writing:
  • (After Mr. Edgit touts his new hair-growing serum Hair Today) "Can't you see the new hair, Turtle?" he asks, pointing at his shiny bald head. I don't see anything. It must grow invisible hair.
  • Mama's always falling in love, and the fellas she picks are like dandelions. One day they're there, bright as sunshine - charming Mama, buying me presents - and the next they're gone, scattered to the wind, leaving weeds everywhere and Mama crying.
  • It's so hot that the backs of my legs feel like melted gum, only stickier.
  • We've dug a dozen holes all over the key, and all we've found is a whole lot of nothing. It's like looking for hair on Mr. Edgit's head.
  • It's drizzling and we're all scratching at our mosquito bites. My face feels hot and tight. I wonder what Shirley Temple would do in this situation. Probably sing a song about how fun it is to be stuck on an island.
The only issue my students and I had with this book was the ending. The hunting for treasure on a deserted Florida key required a slight suspension of disbelief but left the reader on such an emotional high. As the summer comes to a close and Turtle's mother returns the reader fully expects all involved to live happily ever after. But not so fast. This is the Great Depression. People were desperate for money and a better way of life. I almost thought Holm was tricking us and a twist was coming. But then the story comes to a close and the reader realizes the surprise has already been revealed. It's such an emotional 180 degree turn, it sort of left me confused. I'd love to ask Holm why she ended the story the way she did . . .

But even that can't change how I feel about these characters and this story. Turtle's voice is so great, the setting is so strong, and the writing is just perfect. My class exploded in cheers and applause while watching the presentation of the 2011 ALA Youth Media Awards online, when TURTLE IN PARADISE was awarded a Newbery Honor, Holm's third such honor!

Final Grade: A-

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this really seems like a good read. I can relate to that confused feeling after a particularly unexpected ending - it sort of makes you feel like you want something very badly but, at the same time, seem so powerless about it. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Romantic Florida Getaway