It is not often that I find a book that takes place in the Middle East, let alone a children’s book. The Turtle of Oman by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow, 2014) is a unique look into not just the culture and traditions of living in a different country but also the sweet geographic feature and animals that dot the land. The poetic descriptions as well as the special bond between a young boy and his grandfather make this a book to treasure.
Aref is an eight-year-old boy facing the prospect of moving from his home country to move to the United States with his parents for three years. Throughout this last week before his move, we see the bond between him and his grandfather, and glimpse the aspect of Omani life that Aref is so loathe to leave. His anxiety is palpable to the young reader, but throughout this adventure with Sidi, he comes to recognize his own ability to return home, just as the sea turtles he so loves will return to their home beach to continue the cycle of life.
Aref is curious and friendly. Throughout the middle grade novel, passages and lists from his personal journal share the animal facts he has recently learned, thus emphasizing his curious nature as well as the creatures, people, and places that he loves so much in Oman. His adventures with Siti take him to the sea turtles’ beach, a desert camp ground where he learns about falconry and camps under the stars, to a roadside stand with a little old lady selling melons, shopping in the souk, out into the Gulf of Oman with a fisherman, and onto Sidi’s roof where they again sleep under the wide sky.
Sidi’s wisdom also strengths Aref. He constantly gives bits of wisdom to Aref.
“You will be like my falcon. You will fly away and come back. Just as he did. That was beautiful.”
“What makes a house smile is–people. When they come in and out. When people talk and laugh together, the house is having a good dream.”
[talking about sea turtles] “It’s . . . a popular activity. Going away and coming back. . . . Don’t forget everything you love about your country is buried safely in the sand at our beach. Eggs hatching soon.”
The language was poetic and the tone was definitely subtle but friendly. Their adventures too was quiet, but so interesting due to Aref’s curiosity. It is a character book, a “thinking” book. The Turtle of Oman drew me into the beauty of this small country in Middle East in a way a nonfiction book never would have. I loved Sidi, Aref, and their beloved home country.
I read The Turtle of Oman first a year and a half ago with my then-fourth grader. This month I reread it (in preparation for reading the sequel) simply because I remembered how it drew me in, and I sincerely wanted to revisit Oman.
Kid thoughts: Our third grade book responses were more summary than anything else, but my daughter was excited about the sea turtle theme so we also set up a sea turtle coming out of its shell to represent this book.