Turtle in Paradise

Book review by
Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media
Turtle in Paradise Book Poster Image
Depression-era story teaches history, meaning of family.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 11 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

This story is based on actual family tales, and claims to give a true look at life during the Depression in Key West. Places are real, and even Ernest Hemingway makes an appearance. The author includes photographs and notes and suggests other books and websites readers could explore.

Positive messages

Turtle learns the real world right under your nose might be a whole lot better than the dreams you are trying to grasp. And even tough people have a soft side. 

Positive role models & representations

Turtle is tough on the outside, with a soft underbelly, just like a turtle. She is smart, strong, helpful, generous, and pretty wise for an 11-year-old.

Violence

Main character tells the story of how mischievous boys lit her cat's tail on fire, and a couple of boys have a fist fight. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism

References to 1930s entertainment.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

One minor character is running rum from Cuba to Key West.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this Newbery Honor book focuses on a young girl who is sent to live with relatives in Key West during the Depression. There are mischievous boys who make some trouble, including setting the tail of the main character's cat on fire, but little else to worry about. This story is based on actual family tales, and claims to give a true look at life during the Depression in Key West. Places are real, and even Ernest Hemingway makes an appearance. The author includes photographs and notes and suggests other books and websites readers could explore. Readers will relate to Turtle: She is tough on the outside, with a soft underbelly, just like a turtle. She is smart, strong, helpful, generous, and pretty wise for an 11-year-old. In the end, they will be touched by her growing understanding of what "family" means.

User Reviews

Adult Written byhugs-from-me-to... January 27, 2011
Adult Written byhamstergurl09 May 29, 2012

Good

This is a good book for kids around third to sixth grade level. The characters are eccentric and fun to read about. Turtle is a sometimes cynical and usually fu...
Kid, 12 years old March 19, 2014

Great!

For my school we had a reading contest. I wanted a good book so i picked this one. I have to admit its one of the best books ive ever read. I really do think ki...
Kid, 8 years old August 10, 2012

Don't know what to say...

I don't know what to say about this book, just that it's really good. I don't really think that Turtle is a good role model, or that the book exp...

What's the story?

When her mother gets a job as a housekeeper for a rich woman who will not abide children, 11-year-old Turtle is sent to live with her relatives in Key West. This all happens during the Great Depression, and no one is living too high off the hog, especially the Conches. However, a place is made for her, and her cat, and they all make do. Turtle pitches in with the group of boys that include her cousins and their friends, fishes for sponges with Slow Poke (who turns out to be her dad), builds a relationship with her grumpy grandmother, searches for treasure -- and finds it. In the end, she learns important lessons about what having real family means, and that life often does not have a "Hollywood ending," even when it turns out.

Is it any good?

Kids will find it easy to get swept up in this award-winning book, which is full of adventure, humor, and historical detail. 

Except for the fact that everyone is dirt-poor, living in Key West during the Depression seems like a good life for kids. Readers will enjoy watching Turtle and her new friends run around barefoot, explore on their own, or work together to run a business, trading babysitting for candy as part of The Diaper Gang. Everyone in town seems to be related and has a telling nickname -- which means Turtle's story is packed with eccentric characters, ranging from the ragtag boys who are often up to some kind of harmless mischief to sponge fishermen who speak of pirates and treasure. This book imparts a sweet lesson about family, but it is also just plain fun to read. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the author's blending of fiction with fact, including her own family's history. Why do you think she chose to write the story this way? Could you tell what she made up and what was real?

  • How can fiction books like this one or like Moon over Manifest teach you about The Depression? Did you learn anything that surprised you about that time? Is it easier for you to learn history this way -- or from more factual books?

Book details

For kids who love history

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