Saturday, August 23, 2014
The Turtles of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye
This was a lovely, quiet book. It was not what I was expecting. When the book started and it was about a boy nervous about moving, I assumed the story would be about his nervousness, the move, being new, and then making new friends and realizing everything was fine. That was not the story at all. In fact, Aref does not even leave Oman for Michigan in the book. It was entirely about Aref and Sidi enjoying the time they have together, doing things that Aref loves, and gradually learning to accept the move.
Aref struggles with the idea of leaving his home. His father has gone on ahead to get their apartment ready, and Aref and his mother and packing up their home and getting ready to leave. At least, that's what Aref is suppose to be doing. He can't quite start packing his suitcase. What can he possibly bring from his home? None of the important things, like his friends or his cat or his entire rock collection. Aref tries to express to his mother how he is feeling, but his mother, who clearly loves him very much, is busy and assures Aref that this is an adventure and he'll make friends and everything will be fine.
Aref finds solace and empathy in his grandfather Sidi. Sidi lets Aref talk. The two take a camping trip together, and go see sea turtles lying on the beach. Turtles are Aref's favorite. Sidi allows Aref to come around in his own time and his own way. He is the one who finally helps Aref to pack his suitcase, and helps him to feel better about his cousins living in his house while he is away.
Over the course of the story, I was aware of how old Sidi was. He gets tired sometimes, and is stiff. Sidi mentions not being quite as spry as he once was. I kept thinking how it was possible that Sidi might die before Aref and his family returns. They will be in the U.S. for three years. I think this was intentional. I wonder if middle grade kids will pick up on it?
This is one of those books that might be a hard sell. It's beautiful, but not a whole lot happens. It's thoughtful and lovely and paints a beautiful picture of the country and family and life. Maybe a good book to be read in a book group or in class where a discussion can be invovled.
The Turtles of Oman comes out August 26, 2014.