Hesse, Karen. 1997. Out of the Dust. New York: Scholastic. ISBN: 0590371258.
Holm, Jennifer L. 2010. Turtle in Paradise. New York: Random House. ISBN: 9780375836886.
In 1935, America was in the middle of a depression. Two girls, Billie Joe and Turtle, live in different parts of the country, but they both struggle to find their place in a world that is uncertain and scary. In Turtle in Paradise, Turtle is sent to live with her mom’s sister in Florida since her mother cannot afford to take care of her. There, the only child becomes a part of a big family full of mischievous boys who have their own babysitting service where they are paid in candy. Through funny situations, Turtle comes out of her shell and realizes that even when money is a rare commodity, family is even more valuable.
Across the country, Billie Jo is fighting her own battles in the free verse novel Out of the Dust. After a terrible accident that takes the lives of her mother and unborn brother, Billie Jo has become a stranger in her own home, afraid to talk to her father or face her own feelings. Through music, Billie Jo finds healing and a way back to her father and to herself.
While both of these books are moving tales of young girls finding themselves during a difficult time in American history, they are even more powerful when read together. The common themes of the Great Depression (great historical depiction of the harsh reality of life then), family, and survival are elegantly written and pack an emotional punch. Turtle in Paradise is a Bluebonnet nominee for the 2011-2012 school year. Because of its nomination, thousands of kids across Texas will read this book next school year, and it’s a perfect opportunity for teachers and librarians to pair read (which is on state tests) the two novels. Literature circles as extension of a research project on the Great Depression would work well with these books. After reading the books, the two circles could compare historical information from the book as follow through with their own research on the time period.
While the two girls are in different parts of the country, but their feelings echo one another. In Turtle in Paradise, Turtle writes, “My heart swells like a sponge. Maybe the real treasure has been right here on Curry Lane the whole time—people who love Mama and me. A home” (177). Billie finds herself as well in the poem titled “Music” .
“I’m getting to know the music again.
And it is getting to know me.
We sniff each other’s armpits,
and inside each other’s ears,
and behind each other’s necks.
We are both confident, and a little sassy.
And I know now that all the time I was trying to get
out of the dust,
the fact is,
what I am,
I am because of the dust.
And what I am is good enough.
Even for me” (222).