BookPage Children's Top Pick, September 2016
After Jennifer L. Holm’s son read her Newbery Honor-winning novel Turtle in Paradise, he asked his mom to write about Turtle’s cousin Beans. The result is a fast-paced prequel, Full of Beans, set in Key West, Florida. It’s hard to believe, but during the Great Depression, the bankrupt, stinking city was too poor to pay for garbage collection.
Enterprising, observant Beans Curry is sifting through rubbish, collecting condensed-milk cans for a seedy cafe owner, when he spots a newcomer who seems to be walking around in his underwear (actually Bermuda shorts, which Beans has never seen before). In a novel overflowing with historical details, this man is the real-life Julius Stone, sent from Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration to spruce up the island city and turn it into a tourist destination.
At first Beans doubts both the man’s sanity and mission. What’s more, he’s preoccupied with his own worries as his unemployed father heads to New Jersey in search of work. Beans’ ongoing moneymaking efforts end up backfiring, and his angst intensifies when Stone confesses that the federal government may find it cheaper to simply abandon Key West and relocate its residents than try to save it.
Inspired by her ancestors (Holm’s great-grandmother moved to Key West in the late 1800s), the author seamlessly weaves Beans’ story with local color (sea turtles caught for stew meat, Cuban cooking, wooden houses threatened by fire) and Depression-era history.
Full of Beans’ extensive cast features Beans’ brothers and lively pals, who eventually find their calling as the Diaper Gang, as well as brief appearances by Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost. Like Turtle, Beans is a spunky character with a feisty voice. A movie lover who dreams of Hollywood fame, he is a memorable tour guide who offers a fascinating glimpse into how Key West became a vibrant vacation and cultural mecca.