The Turtle of Oman, a novel - Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt
I can see why others might speak of this story as a little slow. There is a build up to the end, but really no exciting crisis requiring action, except in the hearts of the boy, Aref and his grandfather, Sidi. Aref lives in Muscat, Oman, on the edge of the Arabian Peninsula and is moving to Michigan in the United States with his parents who will be spending the next three years studying for their doctorates. And Aref, about ten, has to leave his home, his room, his cat, Mish-Mish (meaning ‘apricot’), his school, his city. He doesn’t want to. The biggest thing of course that he will miss is his grandfather.
The book shows the days before departure as Aref and Sidi spend time together on little adventures, like driving out into the desert to the Night of a Thousand Stars camp, and visiting the beach where sea turtles lay their eggs. Nye sets the tone of learning with Aref explaining that the goal in their family is to learn something new every day, and woven in between the other experiences, the book shows handwritten notes of what was learned that day, like about turtles, Martin Luther King, and possible birds to see on their camping trip. A second thread holding the story is that within each time together, Sidi finds one special rock, explaining why it will help him remember that time. The culture is woven into the story also as Aref says his goodbyes to the traditions in his city, like the calls to prayer.
It’s a nostalgic time of goodbye, with Aref resisting filling his “one” suitcase no matter how many times his mother asks, and with Sidi breaking down only once, on their final night together. The book might be challenging for young children to enjoy if they are looking for great adventure. Yet for some who have moved and had to say goodbye to a beloved home, this might be a good one. And it will also please adults who’ve had to say goodbye to a beloved grandchild who moved away, as I have. Naomi Nye’s writing is pure poetry, no surprise. There is a wonderful passage about home that I will share a little part: “What makes a home, a home?” and “Or maybe it was how the beach air smelled--salty and sweet in whirls. You didn’t have to do anything to feel comfortable here. You just walked inside, took a long breath and thought--Yes. Sure. Here I am.”
Little Tree - written and illustrated by Loren Long
Loren Long’s simple illustrations as the seasons move from summer to fall to winter, and on to spring, and Little Tree hangs on to his leaves. One can imagine some child hanging on to childhood, from young to older. I’d love to have read this to my middle school aged students, wondering if some would admit they would still love to hang on to their toys just a bit longer. Or for the younger children, imagining a tree not understanding that trees might just want to keep those leaves, connecting to the feelings of some kind of loss. It’s a simple and beautiful story.
I loved reading all the details of how engineer and inventor George Ferris persuaded the 1893 World’s Fair Committee that he could build this amazing thing that no one had ever built. And he would make it the tallest, and he would make it safe. Just imagine, for those who had not climbed a mountain, there was no way to get a view from very high except from a building. At that time there weren’t many what we now call skyscrapers. Many, many people and parts were gathered to get this accomplished. Great story, told well in the text and in the gorgeous illustrations filled with views of the fair, the look of the buildings and the people, and of course, many pictures of the wheel.
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova - written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad
This picture book seems nearly like the dancer herself, a fairy tale look for a fairy tale. Anna Pavlova grew up poor, the daughter of a laundress, but one day her mother took her to see a ballet performance, and she was transformed. Finally, after waiting two years, she was admitted to the ballet company. Skinny and underdeveloped, she still thrived and became what many think is the greatest dancer of all time. Her story is told by Snyder as if she was really there, living Anna’s life. And Morstad’s illustrations fill the pages with the magic of ballet and of Pavlova. At the ballet: “Her feet wake up! Her skin prickles. There is a song, suddenly, inside her.” It’s both a story of a gifted person in history that many of us seem to know, and one of sadness because she died so young.
A Bird Is A Bird - written and illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell
I love this book, just right for young children who don’t know very much about birds. Piece by piece, Lizzy Rockwell tells the tale of the puzzle that is a bird. What makes it, and how that works. Beautiful pictures of so many birds, and a few animals who aren’t, help explain the necessary parts.
Next: I have Ruth Sepetys’ Salt To The Sea from Net Galley, excited to begin!
Special News! Three people mentioned they would like to win the farm Christmas book giveaway that I shared last Monday. Here is the basket with the names (old-fashioned way), and here is the winner. If you will contact me with your address, I’ll send it on to the publisher. Congratulations, Jane Heitman Healy!