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Florida, a Diaper Gang, the Great Depression and a Mysterious Pirate Adventure! Turtle in Paradise awaits…

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm

Lately I have been on a reading kick with historical fiction, especially for the middle grades. There are some amazing books out there and I was thrilled to discover Turtle in Paradise. How did I miss this book when it won the Newbery Honor in 2010? I don’t know! But I’m so glad that I found Jennifer Holm’s book – it is a must read! Turtle in Paradise is set in the Florida Keys during the Great Depression.turtle Turtle, our main character, is an eleven year old girl who doesn’t care for Shirley Temple and does not appreciate any comparisons! She is sent to live with her aunt and cousins (new family members!) in the Florida Keys. She quickly discovers that life in this strange place involves the Diaper gang (some of her cousins who watch babies in a wagon that they pull around town), interesting characters and nicknames (Pork Chop, Slow Poke, Kermit, Beans, Pudding), a mysterious Grandma Nana Philly and of course, secret treasure.


Right away, Holm introduces unique characters who are three dimensional and fascinating! This book presents an excellent opportunity to teach readers about characterization. Perfect for a character study!

  • Character name (and nickname) What does the name and/or nickname tell us? Why do you think this nickname is appropriate for the character?
  • List three interesting things that you learned about the character.
  • Find two important quotes in the book about your character or something that your character does. Using a double entry journal style page, write your own thoughts about why these quotes are important in the right hand column. Why are your quotes important? What do we learn about the character from the quotes?
  • Think about an image for your character (perhaps something from the book or something that you create for your character). What is the image? Draw your image and write one paragraph about why this image is a good representation for your character.

Foreshadowing and Plot

The structure and storyline of Turtle in Paradise lends itself well to discussing plot and foreshadowing. A few places for stopping to discuss and make predictions (and an excellent opportunity for open-ended journals before discussion).

  • Chapter 3: Lucky as an Orphan. This is Turtle’s arrival in Florida and introduction to the Diaper Gang. It’s a great place to stop and talk about the chapter titles and make some predictions about what might happen to Turtle in the Florida Keys.
  • Chapter 11: Ladies Who Lunch. Turtle’s introduction to Nana Philly is a good place to discuss characterization. What do we learn about Turtle? What do we learn about Nana Philly?
  • Chapter 13: Believing in Monsters. Adventure! What happens that causes excitement for the kids? Why do you think the author called this chapter “believing in monsters?” Is this chapter suspenseful? Why?
  • Chapter 16: The Rescue Party. A great chance to make some predictions! What has surprised you about the story so far? What do you think will happen after the rescue? What will Turtle’s future be when the kids return?
  • Chapter 18: Paradise Found. The final chapter when Turtle’s adventure comes to a close. Why is this chapter called “paradise found?” What are the good things that happen, even after the disappointments?

Turtle in Paradise is a novel that readers will enjoy and a great opportunity to learn about characterization, foreshadowing, plot and suspense. And if you are interested in using other books to help readers learn more about the Great Depression and the time period of Turtle’s story, check out the following picture books and history resources. A good chance to create a text set and let kids explore!

Great Depression Picture Books to Accompany Turtle in Paradise

Potato: A Story from the Great Depression by Kate Lied

Born and Bred in the Great Depression by Jonah Winter

Rudy Rides the Rails: A Depression Era Story by Dandi Mackall

The Lucky Star by Judy Young

More Resources (some longer books worth the read!)

Children of the Great Depression by Russell Freedman

Children of the Dust Bowl – The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp by Jerry Stanley

The Great Depression: A History Just for Kids by KidsCap

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