What I’m Reading: Full of Beans

Beans lives in Key West, Florida, during the Depression, where every kid and adult seems to have a nickname. In fact, that’s about all they have, because the Depression has hit Key West hard, and there are no jobs or money available. The cigar-rolling factories have laid off most of their workers, including Beans’s dad, who’s gone up north in search of work. So when local rum runner Johnny Cakes offers 11-year-old Beans a dollar to help deliver illicit liquor around the neighborhood, Beans takes him up on it. After all, he’s not really hurting anybody, is he?

But then Johnny Cakes offers Beans some real money, if he’s willing to do something Beans thinks is really wrong. And now Beans has a decision to make, because his dad hasn’t found a job up north yet, and there’s a new baby in the house, and his family could really use some cash.

That’s the premise behind Jennifer Holm’s Full of Beans, a great book with lots of local color. Holm definitely did her research, because there are tons of fascinating details about life in Key West in the 1930s–everything from the leper colony living on the island to the Shirley Temple movies playing at the local cinema, and of course, the visiting New Deal representatives from Washington, who are trying to clean Key West up and make it into a tourist destination despite the impoverishment (and highly skeptical attitudes) of the local population.

I hope I didn’t make Beans’s situation sound too grim, because this book is pretty hilarious throughout. From his gang, the Keepsies (so-called because they’re the best marble players in Key West, and they play for keeps), to the crazy people who live in the neighborhood, to the addled ways the New Deal representatives try to improve the community, there are plenty of funny characters and situations. It’s aimed at late elementary school students and perhaps middle schoolers, but I think this book has enough humor and historical detail to interest all kinds of readers.

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