In Depression-era America, young Turtle has a world-weary view: “Everyone thinks kids are sweet as Necco Wafers. But I’ve lived long enough to know the truth. Kids are rotten…some grownups are, too.” Turtle’s mother has sent her from New Jersey to Key West, Florida to live with her Aunt Minnie, who doesn’t know she exists, much less that she’s coming to stay. Turtle’s Mama has promised that Key West is paradise, not realizing that the Great Depression has affected Florida as much as the rest of the world. Then again, Turtle is well aware that Mama has stars in her eyes, and sometimes promises more than circumstances can deliver.
As she settles into Aunt Minnie’s house with her cat Stormey, Turtle slowly befriends her cousins Beans, Kermit, and Buddy, and is finally allowed to join their babysitting service, the Diaper Gang. The Diaper Gang, charmingly, specializes in bad babies, which, according to the boys, are the only kind. The kids get into innocent adventures around Key West, where most adults are friendly and willing to overlook their daily scrapes. Eventually, Turtle and her cousins hunt for a hidden treasure on a nearby island and get rescued after a storm by a Slow Poke, a local conch with a mysterious connection to Turtle.
Turtle In Paradise is adapted from the novel by the same name, and the original’s mix of realism and humor is equally present here. Times are difficult in Key West, with food and jobs scarce. The kids are paid for babysitting in candy, since no one has cash to pay them. Just as in the novel, the thematic focus is on learning how to tell which people are “sweet” and which are “rotten.” Well-placed trust is rewarded, while misplaced trust can have serious consequences. Turtle learns that even adults can be poor judges of character.
Holm is a masterful storyteller, and since she’s written the adaptation, the transition from prose to graphic novel is seamless. Ganucheau’s artwork is tonally similar to that of Jennifer Holm’s regular collaborator Matthew Holm, but it is missing his sharp discerning eye. The linework is slightly fuzzy and indistinct, and some facial expressions are hard to interpret. Overall though, the illustrations support the story effectively. The authors include some characters of color, though most characters are White.
Turtle In Paradise will appeal to readers who enjoy historical stories like Catherine’s War (Julia Billet) or Superman Smashes the Klan (Gene Luen Yang). It will also appeal to those who like stories about growing up in difficult circumstances, like El Deafo (Cece Bell) and Holm’s own Sunny Side Up. Turtle In Paradise is recommended for most graphic novel collections: it is by a trusted author and showcases an accessible interpretation of history, as well as being a great kids’ adventure.
Turtle In Paradise: The Graphic Novel
By Jennifer Holm
Art by Savanna Ganucheau
Penguin Random House Graphic, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)