If you’re looking for a quick, witty read look no further than Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm. A 2011 Newbery Honor Book, Turtle in Paradise follows the story of an eleven-year-old girl named Turtle who is sent to live with her Aunt in Key West, FL, because her mother has taken a position as a housekeeper and the employer hates kids.
We travel back to Depression-era Florida where Key West was struggling to survive as most everyone else was. It turns out Turtle is related to almost everyone on the islands. She adjusts fairly rapidly, hanging out with the Diaper Gang (her cousins who take care of babies for mothers during the day in exchange for candy) and helping take care of her grandmother by taking her lunch.
It’s on one of these lunch excursions that Turtle finds an old map hidden in her grandmother’s broken down piano. She recruits the Gang and they all “borrow” a boat to go and hunt it up. They find a bag of coins; however, the kids forgot to anchor the boat which drifts off. Marooned on an island, the kids become discouraged and have to rely on one another. A hurricane blows by one night and all they have is a small, dilapidated shack for shelter.
After the storm, they are rescued and brought back. Turtle’s mother returns with her new husband who immediately steals their money and flees to Cuba. However, Turtle realizes her real treasure is her family and friends. “Maybe the real treasure has been right here on Curry Lane the whole time–people who love Mama and me. A home.”
A delightful, quick read full of wonderful, colorful characters who spring to life and are authentic. Highly recommended.
The setbacks of today can quickly become the forging blades of greatness for tomorrow.
The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick is a delightful tale of a twelve-year old boy who is determined to find his brother who was illegally sold into the army during the American Civil War. Orphans, Homer and his brother are being raised by their mean uncle, Squinton Leach. Squint sells Harold and Homer sets out to find him.
“A person has only two options in life, to do something or to do nothing,” Homer is told. For Homer, “Nothing is not an option.”
He runs into some slave catchers who try to use Homer in their schemes to collect runaway slaves and return them to their owners. In this process he meets a nice, rich man named Jebediah Brewster, a Quaker, who puts Homer under the guardianship of a preacher and gives him money to find his brother. On the train ride, the guardian, Mr. Willow, is duped by con artists and the money is stolen. Homer finds himself thrown into a pig pen.
The pig pen leads to Homer being cast into a traveling medicine show who performs for troops. They follow the army until the leader, Fenton Fleabottom, is caught as a Confederate spy. Homer escapes by climbing into an air balloon, which lands in a nasty pond on the side of the Confederates. Taken as prisoner, Homer is soon freed due to the Battle of Gettysburg.
Homer flees on a horse, through the raging battle, and finally meets up with his brother who has been labeled a deserter. However, every man is needed in the battle so Harold gets his chance to fight. Homer, so afraid Harold will die, tries to stop him. He shoots a bullet at him to scare him but it rickochets into his leg. Homer ends up being the flag bearer and then the Confederates surrender. Both are adopted by Jebediah Brewster back in Maine and end up leading a happy life.
Newbery Honor Book for 2010, this book is full of fun and unbelievable twists and turns. Homer likes to fudge the truth, which lands him in all of these precarious situations but also gets him out of them. Great historical read that depicts the 1860’s turmoil perfectly. Highly recommended for all ages!
Greatness is a bunch of small things done well, added up over time, that most people think are too small to matter.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly, a 2010 Newbery Honor Award winner, is the story of an eleven-year old girl at the turn of the twentieth century. She is the only girl in a family of seven kids and is expected to act like one when all she wants to do is play outside with her brothers. Her chores are around the house. She must take piano lessons, knit, and cook. Her expected life is one of a wife and mother.
Enter her grandfather, Captain Tate, who’s a war hero from the Civil War. He started a cotton gin company, which Calpurnia’s father now runs so Captain Tate spends his days trying to distill liquor from pecans and exploring the scientific world around him.
Calpurnia’s brother, Harry, had given her a notebook to write down her scientific observations. Confused on the color of grasshoppers, Calpurnia went to her grandfather for help. Here blossomed over the summer of 1899 a relationship of mutual hobbies. Calpurnia spent every possible moment with her grandfather, learning, observing, and assisting him in his endeavors all the while learning everything possible she could. He gave her a copy of The Origin of Species and she plugged through that as well. The most exciting event is when Calpurnia and her grandfather discover a new species of plant and send off to Washington DC to have it confirmed.
Calpurnia’s mother dislikes all the time she is spending with grandfather and begins to make her take more and more time to learn to sew and cook. Calpurnia hates every minute of it but slowly begins to understand what her expected role in this world will be. However, she dreams of going to university and becoming a scientist.
At Christmas that year, Calpurnia is given a book. She is so excited until she reads the title: The Science of Housewifery. She is devastated and defeated. She begins to wonder if her dream will always be a dream.
Finally, word comes of the plant: it is confirmed! It’s a new species and named after them! Calpurnia realizes then how grandfather had been “the greatest gift of all” and she can do whatever she desires. “There are so many things to learn, and so little time is given us.”
Instead of resolutions, Calpurnia makes a bucket list of things she wants to see before she dies, one of which is snow. And guess what? The next day it snows for the first time in decades in Texas. “Anything was possible.”
Great read about defining who you are, believing in yourself, and following your dreams.
If you choose to do what others won’t, eventually you’ll get to do what others can’t.
My value comes from who I am, not from what I do.