Title: The Turtle of Oman
Author: Naomi Shihab Nye
Publisher: Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins
Pub. Date: August 26, 2014
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 8-12
More by this author: Habibi
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Aref is already homesick for Muscat and he hasn't even left yet. Forced by his parents to relocate to the foreign world of Ann Arbor, Michigan from Oman, Aref can't help but fixate on all the things he must leave behind: his friends, his grandfather, and the sights and smells of Oman. The one small thing that brings him comfort is a pamphlet detailing the turtles native to Michigan, different, yet the same as the giant sea turtles he has come to love in Oman. With the help of his grandfather, Aref prepares to leave the comfort of Oman behind and embrace the adventure that awaits him in Michigan.
The Turtle of Oman is a smart little novel that successfully illustrates that differences in culture and location are no match for universal feelings of fear, familial love, and the anxiety of starting over in a new place.
Though it takes him some time to admit it, one of Aref's biggest fears is that he will not be accepted in Michigan; that the way he speaks, dresses, and acts will set him apart and prevent him from making friends. Eventually, he realizes that, in Oman, he is used to meeting and accepting Americans who are far from home and it has never once prevented him from welcoming them and embracing them. Also helpful is easing his fears are messages from his father, who has already left for Michigan, detailing the excitement and cultural diversity he's been enjoying in Ann Arbor.
In order to process and accept the move, Aref researches Michigan, attempting to connect with the place that will soon be his home. He makes lists with details about the customs and wildlife and, little by little, he finds that Michigan might not be such a horrible place after all; different, he realizes, does not equal bad.
Though there are many things Aref is loathe to leave behind, his grandfather is perhaps the most difficult. No one understands and listens to Aref like Sidi and he cannot fathom being separated from him for three whole years. It is Sidi who Aref spends his final days in Oman with, making memories that he can carry with him to Michigan, bouyed by the promise that Sidi will hone his email skills so that he and Aref can always be close, even when they are separated by oceans. I adored Aref's grandfather, a wise old man who recognized the adventure that awaited Aref, as well as the importance of experiencing different cultures and places.