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.
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-