Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm
I had read another novel by the author, Jennifer L. Holm, set in Key West, with some of the same characters, Turtle in Paradise, and had throughly enjoyed it as did many of my students. I have never been to Key West and so I learned a bit as I read the novel as well.
Full of Beans is about the same family as Turtle in Paradise but set earlier in time. Key West is suffering in the depression as is Beans' family. Dad ends up in New Jersey hoping for work and his mom is taking in laundry to make ends meet. Beans is the oldest child and has two younger brothers and he is keen to make money and help the family and himself.
He has a healthy scepticism about adults and the world in general although he does love his parents deeply. He is an entrepreneur in the making with many interesting schemes, some more successful than others. And in one case he actually gets involved in bootlegging with unforeseen repercussions.
I love the picture of Key West in this time period. We learn how many of the early inhabitants originally came from the Bahamas and were called Conches. When the book opens Key West is a mess, garbage isn't getting picked up, businesses are closed etc. But Key West has been selected as a possible tourist destination and New Deal money starts being used to make the community more appealing. Beans is initially sceptical about the whole scheme but after he realizes his skirting of the law causes problems and is somewhat falsely viewed as a hero, he really gets involved.
I really like everything about this novel. I love the characters and the vivid picture we get of the town during this period. Ernest Hemingway is briefly acknowledged as the writer, not a particularly good one, and Beans suggests to poet Robert Frost, who arrives in town looking for a place to stay, that he might look him up.
If you are teaching this novel, it would be fun to look at recent history, when the Conch Republic actually declared independence from Florida, a very interesting story.
I think grades four to even grade seven students would really enjoy this one. Release date for official publication is August 30, 2016.