turtle in paradise

Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel has one of the prettiest and most colorful book covers I’ve ever seen. And obviously, as a human (aka someone who judges books by their covers), I was drawn to it. I had never read a Jennifer L. Holm book before, but I thoroughly enjoyed this middle grade graphic novel, an adaptation of a book by the same name, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau and colored by Lark Pien. It’s sweet, tart, and endearing – just like a Key lime pie.

turtle in paradise by jennifer l. holm and savanna ganucheau book cover
A graphic novel adaptation of the beloved, bestselling Newbery Honor-winning novel.

Eleven-year-old Turtle is smart and tough and has seen enough of the world not to expect a Hollywood ending. After all, it’s 1935 and money—and sometimes even dreams—is scarce. So when Turtle’s mother gets a job housekeeping for a lady who doesn’t like kids, Turtle heads off to Florida to live with relatives. Florida’s like nothing Turtle’s ever seen before, though. It’s full of ragtag boy cousins, family secrets to unravel . . . and even a little bit of fun. Before she knows what’s happened, Turtle finds herself coming out of her shell. And as she does, her world opens up in the most unexpected ways.

Inspired by family stories, three-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer L. Holm blends family lore with America’s past in this charming gem of a novel, now adapted into graphic novel form by rising star Savanna Ganucheau.


For Turtle, growing up in the South during the Great Depression means that she’s used to uncertainty. She and her mother Sadiebelle (who has her head stuck firmly in the clouds) make due with any situation – even when Sadiebelle’s employer won’t allow children. So Turtle is shipped down to the Florida Keys to live with her cousins and aunt, whom she has never met before. Upon arrival, Turtle is alerted to the existence of a Diaper Gang, barefoot life, and other Conch (Florida Keys native) peculiarities. As she adjusts to life in the Keys, several mysteries unravel – and the only question remaining is: will Turtle finally find her home in Florida? Or will her mother eventually buy them a home in Georgia?


Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel is a gem of a graphic novel – full of shenanigans, feisty cousins, hard-headed Turtle, and the ups and downs of extended family life. For Turtle, who has been an only child, and a practical one at that, it is an adjustment. Turtle’s experiences, illustrated in loving detail and color, are by turns laugh-out-loud funny, bittersweet, and charming. The book reads as a series of connected vignettes, slowly illuminating the mysteries of Turtle’s parentage and lineage, the will-she/won’t-she of being able to keep her cat Smokey, and the all-consuming effort to earn money so that she and her mother can have the sense of security that a home would bring.


I loved the historical tidbits and worries that are particular to Turtle’s time. She’s a product of her upbringing: practical, clever, and able to fit in with any crowd, and yet she has soft spots: for her cat, for her crotchety old grandmother, and for her mother, a dreamer who left Key West and ended up a housekeeper. I also loved the illustrations! Especially those of activities that barely exist in the US any longer: sponge fishing, turtle harvesting, encyclopedia sales, and so on. Through this book, you can feel both the heat and the ocean breeze of the 1930s Keys.


I already adored Savanna Ganucheau’s art from her collaboration with Kevin Panetta in their YA graphic novel Bloom, but this collaboration with Holm and Pien is something special. Ganucheau renders her art digitally in Photoshop, and Holm’s big-eyed characters emote in such a lovely way with those eyes. The art and text combination evoked smells, tastes, visuals, auditory stimulus, and, of course, feeling. In addition, colorist Pien’s pastel sherbet palette of colors is evocative of sun-drenched days and bright light. The combination of all three? A delight.


In all, Turtle in Paradise is a pearl, a peach, a star! of a graphic novel, and one that I enjoyed in one gulp.


Recommended for: fans of historical fiction, anyone who likes Savanna Ganucheau’s art (Bloom!), and those ready for a summer-y middle grade read filled with poignant moments, à la This One Summer and Be Prepared.


Fine print: I received an advanced copy of Turtle in Paradise for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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