The turtle of Oman, by Naomi Shihab Nye
I’m pretty sure I picked this one up after hearing another MMGMer recommend it. But, it’s been long enough that I can’t remember where it was I heard it! If you see this post, please jump up and down and yell ‘Me, me, it was me!’ so I can thank you properly. 🙂
The turtle of Oman is about a little boy, Aref, who doesn’t want to move. He’s fine and happy just where he is, with a polite thank you for asking! However, his parents have decided to go to school in the US for a few years, and the book begins with his father actually catching a flight out. The rest the book is devoted to the last few weeks Aref has in Oman, as he says goodbye to his homeland with a less than willingly outlook. I rather enjoyed it–starting with the gorgeous cover!
Now, the truth is I mentioned having really enjoyed it because I’m going to start with a few things that irked. However, I think most of them were of a personal nature, so I want you to hold in the back of your head the fact that I really enjoyed it–okay? Alright, here goes. First up, the writing vacillated between gorgeous and fluid and so lovely to hear…and seriously klunky. It would have been easier for me to enjoy if it had picked a happy medium and stuck with it, because as is it felt a bit like listening to a kid practicing your favorite classical piece on their beautifully tuned new instrument, and doing a great job aside from their botching the tricky parts. Second, I found the mom a too long suffering. That sounds like a horrible criticism (and maybe it is–I did mention this might be personal!) but it seemed to me like it wouldn’t have ogreized her or damaged Aref if she’d sat him down at some point and said ‘listen, I get that you don’t want to move. You’ve made that very clear, and I won’t tell you how to feel. But, sometimes in life we need to make the choice of being positive even when we don’t get what we want. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to practice that, now, so I’m hereby requiring that you tell me two positive things about your life–including this move–for every three things you complain about, from now on. Deal?’ And Aref could have seen how many great things were still going on in his life, and ‘discovered the new thing’ of being able to see the silver lining around the cloud. But, that’s probably just me! Because, sometimes his unyielding negative perspective got old, and he started sounding like a broken record. So, that–his attitude–was my third thing I didn’t enjoy…even as I recognize that kids are often like that. And, finally, my last irk was that this child’s age/voice was all over the place! Sometimes he seemed six, and sometimes at least ten. I never did figure out approximately what age he was, though I may have missed a clue.
Okay, so that was a fair amount of negative! Usually when I have that many negative things to bring up about a book, I skip it because I’m not really interested in bashing books on here. But, this one kept pulling me along and kept me reading every time my irks added up to wanting to stop. And over time, I fell in love with Oman, and came to have a sneaking suspicion that no one would ever willingly leave Oman and Aref was taking the only reasonable perspective, after all. Since I’m quite sure that’s not true, and it isn’t in fact Eden, that says to me that the book was highly successful in what it set out to do–create a sympathetic character and bring his loves out in such a way that they became my loves.
So, that’s probably the number one reason I think this book belongs in classrooms and on kids bookshelves. Not because it’s the best ever parenting (though it’s true that while his mother may be overly long-suffering, she’s also a saint) or even because I came to realize that Aref’s unique ability to live deeply in the moment and connect strongly to his roots, plus perhaps some fears over living without Siddi while his parents are overly distracted, created in him the deep unwillingness to move that he demonstrates throughout the book. Despite those pluses, the main reason this book got an MMGM spotlight was that it does an amazing job of transporting the reader to what is (for many of us) a totally foreign clime and helped us fall in love with a land that could easily be ‘other.’ Possibly the best job I’ve ever read. There is so much of fear and ignorance in this world. Books that tear those negative views down by growing love and respect in their place should always be cherished. Those are the books we need on our shelves.
And, finally, because Aref’s grandfather–called Siddi–could be the most priceless gem ever brought to life through pen and ink! Would that every child could have a Siddi in their lives. He reminded me of my own Grandpa, whom I loved dearly and always new something about everything and taught me to see my world and love it, too. Only, Siddi is even better than any real Grandpa could be–he’s perfect, actually. The Grandpa mold need never be cast again. 🙂
Let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
Like many cats, Apricot doesn’t much care for water, but she does enjoy watching those things such as turtles that do enjoy it. Alas, if readers pick up this book looking for reptiles, they’re going to be disappointed. In this book, Aref is the turtle–metaphorically speaking–in that he’ll be voyaging off in the big world and coming home again, eventually. However…maybe kids will overlook his lack of a hard shell and take up his practice of making lists of those new things he discovers every day. That was another of my favorite things, from the book. And, truly, all of those favorite things added up to much more than the irks! It may not be the kind of book you can’t put down and rush to get back to, but it is the kind of book you’ll be grateful you read.
For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday spotlights, interviews, giveaways and reviews, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!