In a note to readers, Jenni Holm explains that when her son was old enough to read Turtle in Paradise (Random House, 2010), “he wanted to know more about Turtle’s sharp-tongued cousin Beans.” He told her, “Beans needs his own story.”
Thankfully, Jenni Holm agreed and has served up Full of Beans (Random House, 2016), a rich, rewarding novel for middle-graders that grapples with hard questions about right and wrong.
Beans Curry’s authentic voice leaps off the page from the first sentence: “Look here, Mac. I’m gonna give it to you straight: grown-ups lie.” It is 1934 and the Depression has hit Key West hard. Work is scarce, and Beans is doing everything he can to help his family survive. After he and his younger brother, Kermit, are cheated out of money for cans they’ve collected, Beans can’t resist the lure of a job from Johnny Cakes, Key West’s resident gangster.
But even though he tries to hide the fact, Beans is really “a good boy.” Whether he’s helping his mother deliver the laundry she takes in or watching his kid brothers, everyone knows they can count on Beans. So when his work for Johnny causes harm to his friend Pork Chop’s family, Beans feels “like a criminal.” Desperate to redeem himself, Beans learns some hard lessons about telling the truth, being a friend, and doing the right thing.
Holm does a masterful job of bring Key West of the 1930s to life. Local and historical details are expertly woven into Full of Beans. There are references to the Depression, WPA artists painting tourism posters, even Key West’s “resident writer.”
Along with Turtle in Paradise, Full of Beans is a great book club choice for 4th, 5th, or 6th graders studying theme, character, or author’s craft. It’s also a great choice to read for fun. And because Full of Beans is a prequel to Turtle in Paradise, you don’t have to read Turtle’s story first.
Full of Beans is full of humor, full of hope, and, most importantly, full of heart. Beans Curry is a character you won’t soon forget. And that’s no lie.