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Middle School Monday: Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm (plus bonus interview!)

9780553510362Jennifer L. Holm has written a superb follow up to the Newbery Honor winning Turtle in Paradise. While the earlier novel focuses on Turtle as she travels to Key West to live with her cousins in 1935, this novel focuses on the daily life and adventures of her cousin Beans in 1934. Beans is a scamp with a heart of gold. Times are hard in Key West (it’s the Depression, after all) but Beans is always up for a plan to make some money or win some marbles. He even gets involved in some shadier activities that provide him with a significant amount of money – which he then spends on his long-suffering mother.

I really enjoyed Beans’ story. The writing is so vivid I felt as if I were there, dusty feet running through the streets of Key West, going on adventures with Beans, his brother Kermit, and their crew of rapscallions. Told in a series of episodes from Beans’ adventures, the novel gives a complete picture of life in Key West during the Depression. There are a myriad of details seamlessly woven into the story. My favorites are the fact that those serving jail time were let out every evening to go home for dinner, and the frequent references to Key West’s ‘resident writer.’

Here is what the publisher has to say:

Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

And now for some questions for the author:

What made you decide to venture back into 1930’s Key West to tell Beans’ story?

I blame my son, Will. After Will read Turtle in Paradise (for a book report no less) he wanted me to write a book from the point-of-view of Turtle’s ornery cousin, Beans.

Beans is a Curry, which is a part of your family’s history, yes? Is Beans based on any particular person?

Beans isn’t based on any person per se, but I always heard his voice very clearly in my head. He may have a bit of Will’s snark (but don’t tell him I said that.) We are related to the Curry family in Key West and I still have family that live there.

I love the nicknames (especially Bring Back My Hammer.) Can you tell us a little bit more about this tradition?

Nicknaming was a huge tradition in Key West. A lot of the nicknames were pretty salty.

The detail in the story is so vivid, I feel like I am running around barefoot with Beans. What parts of the story required new research to flesh out? (I’m assuming everyone knows about Turtle in Paradise.)

I had to dive deep into the FERA/Julius Stone thread. The story of Key West being reinvented as a tourist destination felt like a Hollywood movie to me. Also, the leprosy angle which plays a small part was a fun rabbit hole to go down research-wise.

Beans is convinced that all adults are liars – can you expand any on this theme from the novel?

Adults tell white lies to kids all the time. (“Eat your Brussel sprouts! They taste better than candy!”) I guess I’ve become more aware of this as I’ve become a parent myself.

What is up next for you? Do you have any projects you can tell us about?

My brother, Matt Holm, and I are excited to be introducing “Little Babymouse” to younger readers this fall in a picture book – Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes!


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