Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm. Random House, 2010 (review copy from publisher)
Jennifer Holm spins the reader back to the perilous economic times of the Great Depression. Set in the 1930s, eleven year old Turtle is sent to live with her Aunt Minerva in Key West, Florida because her single mother has a new job as a housekeeper and the new employer does not want children staying at the house. Turtle settles into life in Key West, eating new foods and trying to fit in with her male cousins.
The Our Gang comedies come to mind as her cousin Bean and the neighborhood Diaper Gang work to provide babysitting and diaper changing services for the mothers in the area. The children pull the neighborhood babies in their wagon and provide a secret cure for diaper rash that is a the stuff of legend. Unlike today, these children enjoy a wonderful freedom, safe within their community and extended families. Turtle meets more of her mother's family for the first time, including her ill tempered grandmother, Nana Philly. Her grandmother is suffering from the after-effects of a stroke and a lifetime of ill humor. Happily, Turtle is not fazed by her grandmother's attitude. Holmes always writes such interesting grandmother characters into her stories. Turtle gains more insight into her mother's early life and the man who might be her father. There is also lost pirate treasure, a hurricane and a cameo appearance from a very famous literary resident of Key West.
Photos of Key West and some of the real life characters in the story are provided at the end. Holm's research and meticulous attention to detail pay off, giving the story a rich sense of place and time.
Jennifer Holm's characters, May Amelia (Our Only May Amelia,) Penny (Penny from Heaven,) and now Turtle are girls I love spending time with.