Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (InfoSoup)

Released August 30, 2016.

This companion novel to Holm’s Newbery Honor Book, Turtle in Paradise, returns readers to the world of Depression-era Key West. The main character is Beans, Turtle’s cousin. It’s 1934 and the streets of Key West are filled with piles of garbage since there isn’t any money for trash pick up anymore. There are no jobs on the island, especially for a kid. Beans’ mother takes in laundry to make ends meet and his father heads north to New Jersey to see if he can find work there. Beans needs to find a way to provide for the family and for himself, so he tries jobs like searching the stinking garbage piles for cans. But when he doesn’t get paid what he’s been promised, Beans realizes that all adults lie. His best option seems to be working in the smuggling business, but that will have consequences that Beans is not prepared for at all.

Holm writes with a natural ease that is deceptively easy to read. Her writing allows readers to explore Key West in a time just as it is becoming a tourist destination due to the New Deal and its workers. Beans’ personal story is clearly tied to the story of Key West with his own despair and lack of money mirroring the city’s. His own journey through to honesty and truth follows that of the city as well. It’s a clever dynamic that makes both roads to change all the easier to relate to and believe.

Beans is a dynamic and wonderfully funny character. He cares deeply for his family even as he spends time avoiding his baby brother and feeling burdened by his younger brother, Kermit. Still, when others are hurting, Beans is there to help in his own way, one that is so deeply himself that readers will adore it. Throughout Beans grows and matures but steadfastly remains the same character, just a little older and wiser. He is brilliantly drawn and a joy to read.

A great follow-up novel to the award winner, this book is a great read aloud for classrooms and families. Children will howl with laughter at Beans’ adventures all the while learning about the Depression and the value of honesty. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Books for Young Readers.


Book Review: Junonia by Kevin Henkes


Junonia by Kevin Henkes

Alice always celebrates her birthday on Sanibel Island in a beach cottage named Scallop.  This annual vacation from winter in Wisconsin is filled with the familiar.  Her parents accompany her, her aunt stays with them, and their neighbors in Sanibel are people she considers her extended family.  But this year, when Alice is turning 10, nothing is familiar.  First, some of her beloved neighbors do not come to Florida this year.  Then her Aunt Kate joins them along with her new boyfriend and his daughter, Mallory.  The entire vacation is thrown into chaos in Alice’s eyes, as she struggles to accept the changes and the new situation that is so different from her planned perfection of a trip.

This short novel looks deep into Alice as she searches for perfection embodied by the junonia shell that she has not yet found.  This deep look is not always flattering for Alice, as she can be jealous, petty, and prickly at times.  Yet the book speaks to acceptance of the reality of life and not constantly seeking the perfect birthday, the perfect day, the perfect circumstances.  It would never have worked as a novel to have Alice be an ideal protagonist.  Instead, seeing her with her flaws allows readers to see themselves in her.  It is a beautiful, quiet point Henkes is making.

Henkes writes of emotions with great detail, capturing Alice’s many moods.  He manages to put a name on the feeling and then create imagery that builds beyond that label.  In other words, he is carefully creating a book that children can read and understand, but that will lead them on into something deeper as well.

Henkes also captures Sanibel and its beaches and wildlife with beautiful imagery.  The images are ones that children will relate to.  Here is one of my favorites from Page 49:

“From their table on the deck at the restaurant, Alice could see the ocean perfectly.  And the sunset.  The sky and the sea were full of colors – yellow, peach, pink, blue, green, purple.  The water was like liquid color, like melted glass swirling around.”

This book is about big things understood through small.  It is about emotions, acceptance, forgiveness, disappointment and delight.  It is about life.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed on digital galley format from HarperCollins via NetGalley.

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm

Because her mother gets a job with a woman who doesn’t want a child around, Turtle has to move across the country from Pennsylvania to Key West to live with her aunt and cousins.  Set in 1935 during the Depression, the book captures the unique character of the Florida Keys as well as the poverty and joblessness of the time period.  Turtle finds herself surrounded by boy cousins who have started their own business that pays in candy.  They look after babies by pulling them around in a wagon for a few hours to give mothers a break.  They also have a secret diaper rash formula that helps keep them in business.  Their small town is filled with characters all with interesting nicknames.  Turtle discovers a lot during her summer in the Keys: the ties of family, the power of hurricanes, and how to find buried treasure.  This book is an ideal summer read.

Holm packs such a great story in this brief book thanks to her stellar writing.  It features a heroine who is smart, sassy, and very brave.  She has specific ideas about things and is never afraid to say them, even though they will have readers cringing at her bald honesty.  Holm beautifully creates a town of characters who are constantly surprising, always more complex than expected, and delightfully depicted.  Her writing is clean as an ocean breeze, moving along at a brisk pace.  Dialogue is at the heart of the book and is written with a great ear and accuracy. 

Highly recommended, this book based on Holm’s family history, offers a window into the Great Depression and into Key West with a Little Rascals feel. It would make an excellent read aloud but an even better beach read.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House.

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