Full of Beans

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Full of Beans Book Poster Image
Plucky boy finds conscience, hope amid Great Depression.

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age 8+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Packed with Depression-era history, including period slang, child stars in Hollywood, the New Deal, Key West families and culture, and appearances by Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, artist Avery Johnson, and Julius Stone Jr., who oversaw the transformation of Key West. Back pages include historical notes and links to learn more about the politics, culture, and the history of Key West in the 1930s.

Positive Messages

Ingenuity and resourcefulness help make tough times more manageable. You can't always undo a mistake, but there are always other ways you can atone -- and you can make better choices in the future. Be open to change. Children are an important part of the community, and they can find ways to contribute and be heard.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Beans has a strong entrepreneurial spirit: He comes up with multiple schemes to make money (though they aren't all winners). He works hard for his family and his community. After making a terrible mistake, he dedicates his time and energy to making amends. Parents are warm and thoughtful, and family units are very strong. Dot is treated shabbily by Beans but offers him comfort when he's overcome with sadness. The crew at one fire station continues to work without pay.

Violence & Scariness

Family loses their home during a fire. Kids in clique ostracize one child. Child threatens to box ears of younger child in his care.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Full of Beans is set in Key West during the Great Depression and focuses on children struggling to cope with poverty. It's a prequel to Jennifer L. Holm's Newbery Honor book Turtle in Paradise -- Beans is Turtle's cousin -- but readers don't need to be familiar with the earlier book to appreciate this one. Kids are largely left to themselves to roam the streets and play, and there's some typical kid mischief. One boy is ostracized, and Beans' gang refuses to have anything to do with Dot and other girls. Beans' moral compass starts off a little twitchy -- he isn't above lying or skirting the law to help family and friends. He learns the hard way that those choices cause real harm, and he works hard to help build up his community and make up for the damage he caused. One child has a very serious health scare, and a family loses their home to fire. Secondary adult characters include a rum runner, a mom who sells lottery tickets, an elderly woman who suffers a stroke, and a leper who conceals himself from the community.

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What's the story?

In FULL OF BEANS, it's 1934 and the Great Depression has Key West in its grip. Garbage is piled up on the streets Beans Curry calls home, and most families are barely able to feed themselves. His father heads north in a desperate search for work, leaving Beans to worry about caring for his family and the possibility they might have to leave the island. Beans tries a few plans to make some extra cash, including some unsavory work for a rough character, and finds his escape from reality at the movies. Meanwhile, a curious newcomer has big plans to turn rundown Key West into a tourist hot spot, and Beans has to decide: stick to his old ways,or help try to turn things around.

Is it any good?

Author Jennifer L. Holm artfully blends personal and political history for an illuminating portrait of a remarkable time and place. In this terrific companion to her Newbery Honor-winning Turtle in Paradise, Holm (Squish, The Fourteenth Goldfish) includes plenty to please fans of that novel -- including showing how the Diaper Gang got started -- while making newcomers feel right at home among Key West's Conch families. Kids will learn plenty about the era and particularly Key West through the observant eyes of Beans, whose grit and heart make him an appealing -- and scrappy -- character.

Despite the grim backdrop, the book is full of levity and small joys: the thrill of marble victories, the sense of freedom from spending days outdoors with friends, the magic of the movies, the marvel of seeing a community and a young boy striving to be their best selves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Beans works for Johnny Cakes in Full of Beans. Do you think extreme poverty and need justify his choices?

  • How does Beans' childhood compare with your own? What do you have in common with his Diaper Gang? What's hard for you to relate to?

  • In what ways have you helped to make your community a better place?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age and family stories

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