Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Turtle in Paradise, a 2011 Newbery Honor book by Jennifer Holm, takes readers to Key West, Florida in 1935.  Main character Turtle had lived with her mother, a housekeeper, until her mother got a job working for Mrs. Budnick, and Mrs. Budnick can’t abide by noise - and children are noisy.

So Turtle is sent to live in Key West with her Aunt Minerva, her mother’s sister, and her sons Beans, Kermit, and the perpetually pantsless Buddy.  Turtle arrives before the letter announcing her arrival, causing stress for Aunt Minnie and an education for Turtle, thanks to Aunt Minnie’s words about her sister.  “This is just like Sadiebelle.  She never thinks.  As if I don’t have enough already with three kids and a husband who’s never home.”

Turtle is introduced to the Diaper Gang - that’s Kermit, Beans, and his buddy Pork Chop - and eventually earns her way into the local crowd.  She tricks the ice cream man into a free cone (“The nickel was in the bottom of the can, mister.”), befriends Nana Philly (“She’s meaner than a scorpion!” Buddy says.), and finds a map that leads her and the whole gang on an adventure.

I’ve been to Key West a couple of times, and I enjoy everything that makes it unique, especially its history, so Turtle in Paradise already had a foot in the door of my good graces when I began reading.  But meeting Turtle and her family, getting to know life on the island during the depression, and seeing how even Turtles with extremely hard outer shells can eventually show their soft sides once in a while was what won me over in the end. Turtle in Paradise was wonderful - as warm as Key West at the end of March.

I enjoyed getting to know Turtle and her conch cousins, but the more I read, the more I pictured all the places mentioned in the book that are still there today.  I’ve been to Sloppy Joe’s, where Slow Poke’s former first mate got bit by a shark - a shark named Margaret.  I’ve walked Duval Street where crazy old Mr. Alvarez once ran naked.  I’ve been to the beach at the end of Duval Street where kids can make a cut-up for lunch.

But I hadn’t been to Curry Lane or Francis Street or Pepe’s, where a writer by the name of Papa used to hang out.  Which meant it was time for a literature-guided tour of Key West.  Here’s what I found:

Curry Lane, where the whole Curry clan lived. It's easy to see why Mr. Edgit and Turtle couldn't find it. I drove right past it twice.

This is one of the houses on Curry Lane.

Another house on Curry Lane.

Another house on Curry Lane. Just to be clear, the Diaper Gang traveled with a wagon, not a golf cart.

The corner of Curry Lane and Frances Street where Turtle tricked Jimmy the ice cream man into free ice cream with the old nickel-in-the-bottom-of-the-cup trick.

The Diaper Gang cools off on a small beach at the end of Duval Street.  At one end of  Duval - or close by anyway - is Mallory Square where we found something other than a small beach.

Although we didn't get here, there is a beach at the other end of Duval Street. (Picture from here.)

Pepe's has been a restaurant in Key West for a very long time. Now located on Caroline Street, it used to be on Duval Street and was frequented by Slow Poke and a writer who went by the nickname Papa.

Durty Harry's is the location of the original Sloppy Joe's, where Slow Poke's former first mate was bitten by a shark - a shark named Margaret.

The current Sloppy Joe's is just down the block from the original. It appears to have outgrown its original space.

And finally, here's what I'd imagine a Twenty-first Century Beans would look like if the Diaper Gang didn't have any babies. Or Kermit when we was told to get inside and take a nap. Or Buddy knowing he lost his pants again - except, of course, that this young lad has his pants. Thankfully.


  1. Wow! The Diaper Gang approves!
    --Jenni Holm

  2. This is fantastic! I just finished reading Turtle and writing about it for my Children's Lit course, and this is a fantastic walk through the real places...used as a reference to use for future teaching with Turtle!

  3. Fabulous! Thank you! I just finished listening to the book and adored the local color. I've never been to Key West and appreciate your tour. I always love to see where my favorite characters live.


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