A young girl describes a visit to see her grandmother in a Palestinian village on the West Bank.
- ISBN: 9780689817069
- Illustrator: Carpenter, Nancy
- Published: 1997 , Aladdin
- Themes: Grandparents
- Descriptors: Middle East, Palestine, Picture Book, Primary (ages 6-9), Realistic Fiction
- No. of pages: 32
7 thoughts on “Sitti’s Secrets”
Sitti’s Secrets was an enchanting and charming tale of a culturally diverse girl proudly sharing her affection for her Grandmother. We both agreed that this would be an excellent book for the classroom and its beautiful illustrations were an added plus. The book would be a valuable resource in class discussions such as cultures, geography, family connections, and customs. We felt that this book mainly focused on family connections and thought that a lesson on family heritages would be most appropriate. The students would be enlightened by their classmates wide array of cultures, customs and be more aware of the diversity that is around them. Another thing that we really loved is that this book provided a very positive and pleasant outlook to a country that has been given so much negative attention. We liked the letter that Mona wrote to the President and thought that it was a clever way to get children to think of themselves as members of society. The children would know that by doing something as simple as writing a letter, children can effect change. To conclude, we thought this book is a must have and would recommend it to many.
We think Sitti’s Secret is a great book for children, because it is relatable and can be easily incorporated into the classroom. Mona is a vulnerable character that children will be able to relate to, with a positive relationship with her grandmother. A lot of children will be able to understand the importance of a positive relationship with relatives. She gives her grandmother the name Sitti, just as a lot of American children give their grandparents nicknames, creating a common theme for children. Sitti’s Secret also does a great job of comparing and contrasting the United States to the Middle Eastern Culture, in a non-bias way. The Middle East is not shown as threatening, but rather just another home to many harmless citizens. The book also does not show stereotypical characters, but realistic cultures and traditions. Sitti is represented as a mortal, vulnerable character, but not as a character that is less than anyone else. This book could be incorporated very easily into the classroom and integrated into various other subjects such as social studies, writing, and even math. The illustrations are soft but lively and really bring the characters and setting to life. Overall, we think that Sitti’s Secret is a great book to show children and students the Middle Eastern culture in a realistic, non-threatening way.
I thought overall this book was great, and could be used to discuss many things in classrooms. Some topics you could discuss using this book would be family backgrounds, geography, culture, and even different customs from around the world. I feel like Carli stated above that most children come to school thinking of all the bad things happening in the world, due to how the media portrays these countries. I feel that this book though could shed light on a culture, that most students do not see. I feel that this book could be easily related to most students, because most students have a special connection with someone in their family just like the little girl’s connection with Sitti in the book. The final part of the book that I love are the illustrations. I loved how detailed they were, and how when I read the book I actually felt like I was in Israel looking at the same things as the little girl. Overall, I loved the illustrations and feel as though this book could be used in many ways to enhance a classroom.
I think that this book would be a great way to introduce different cultures, and show how they are really not all that different from us. I like how the book focuses on Mona and her grandmother, it gives the reader a chance to reflect on their own family and make connections to the story. While I am unsure of how accurate some of the pictures are, this could be an opportunity for students to research that part of the world and learn something new. Overall, I think Naomi Shibab Nye did a great job of showing the commonalities between the cultures, while also pointing out the uniqueness of certain parts of life in Pakistan. I think students could connect to many aspects of Mona’s story, while also learning about a different culture and lifestyle. I also enjoyed the end of the story; Mona’s note to the President asking for peace could easily transition into a class discussion and post reading activity for students on something they would like to see happen in the world. To conclude, I think this book presents many opportunities for students to begin talking and learning about other cultures.
I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think it would be a great book to read to your class because it can teach children that everyone is the same despite where they are from. Also, it can help children understand the geography of the world. Many children may not understand that people who live on the opposite side of the world are waking up when we are going to bed. This book also gives students an understanding that people from different cultures may practice different cultures and religion. During the book, the little girl talks about playing marbles with her cousins, but they do not speak the same language. I thought this was great because it shows children that even if you do not speak the same language as someone you can still communicate with them through play. At the end, I liked how the girl wrote a letter to the president telling him about her grandma. She informs him that her grandma wants peace the same as we do. I thought this was important because sometimes the media only shows the bad things that happen in other parts of the world, and this helps children realize other people in the world want peace like we do. In all, I would recommend using this book in a classroom.
This is a great book to get children thinking about so many different things – geography, family connections, different cultures and customs, and peace. When it comes to the illustrations, I understand that children may get the wrong idea about the current day Israeli people. However, aren’t teachers more than capable of clearing that up for the students? We always talk about wanting children to be exposed to numerous cultures. This book represents one of them… at some point, somewhere. But being multicultural wasn’t the main point that I pulled from this story. First, I think it would be a great way for different children to actually see how much they have in common and discuss family life. Most children have someone who they love that is showing them new things and giving them exciting experiences. This is easy to relate with Sitti. Also, who doesn’t want to promote peace? This book shows a strong and positive connection from here to a place across the world. It is great for children see examples of peace and commonalities with people beside them and around the world. I sure would be interested to see what children would write to Mr. President after reading this book.
Sitti’s Secrets takes us to a country much different from Afghanistan, the setting for the three previous books. The premise of Sitti’s Secrets is unique; a story about seeking peace in Israel occurring in the West Bank, an Arabic area of Israel. Mona lives in the United States and has a grandmother who lives in the West Bank of Israel. Even though they are miles apart, Mona has a strong connection to her sitti (grandma in Arabic) and reminisces about a visit to the West Bank.
I found some very telling references to Arabic life and culture such as, “She eats cucumbers for breakfast, with yogurt and bread.” Children can discover common Middle Eastern foods and think about the geography or climate to grow those foods. Students might identify their favorite foods and compare them to the foods Mona ate while visiting her grandma. Map skills can also be addressed by examining the directions to travel to Israel.
The author, Naomi Shihab Nye, deftly uses the bond between Mona and her grandmother to create a plea for peace. When Mona returns home from her visit, she writes a letter to the President of the United States and appeals for peace. The core concept of Sitti’s Secrets is revealed – once people get to know each other, they will realize how much they have in common and war would no longer be a possibility.
The illustrations in Sitti’s Secrets pose some problems for me. We see pictures of women with water jugs on their heads and text indicating women walk to the spring and retrieve water even though they don’t need to. During a recent visit to the West Bank, I never once saw women carrying jugs of water on their heads. I would like to see some adult men and women dressed in conventional western clothing. Not all women in Israel or the West Bank wear a long dress and scarf as Mona’s sitti wore and not all men wear the traditional scarf and pants seen in the illustrations. It gives the illusion that all men and women in Israel dress the same way. During my time in the West Bank, I saw a wide variety of people and a diverse range of dress. Children reading the story and looking at the illustrations could get an unrealistic picture of modern day Israel.
Randa Abbas, Western Galilee College, Akko, Israel
I believe Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations evolve from the Arab Muslim community in Israel before the 1970s. These images are still true to life in other Middle Eastern Arab countries today. Sitti wears traditional Muslim clothing, not seen where I live in northern Israel. When sitti and Mona get milk from the cow or bake bread in the oven, as children play marble games, or when women carry jugs of water on their head – all of these illustrations represent life prior to the 1970s in Arab communities. My 22 year old daughter, Kathrine, does not know the game of marbles. She loved her Play Station and my 5 year old, Lemar, enjoys time on her iPod. A more realistic portrait of life in Israeli Muslim and Christian communities today can be seen in Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp, where children are seen interacting with remote-controlled robots or swimming at the beach. I hope teachers will explore many texts offering diverse images of Israelis today.
I hear Randa and Amy considering three themes introduced to young students through the book and illustrations in Sitti’s Secrets: the special relationships wrought between a grandparent and grandchild, the message of respect and understanding between distinct cultures, and the need for caution when examining cultural representations.
Nye beautifully weaves the story of a young girl establishing a loving and deep connection with her sitti, even though there is no common language or culture. By experiencing ordinary activities such as cooking together, visiting with extended family and even brushing hair, the two characters become connected. Books like this offer a springboard for conversation regarding activities children like to do with grandparents.
In Naomi Shihab Nye’s book, readers discover the name for grandmother in Arabic is sitti. Children might enjoy doing research and find other names for grandmother across countries. For example, the Hebrew name for grandmother is savta, the German name is oma, in Russian – babushka and the Irish name is bubbe.
The message of understanding and peace in our world is also a theme evident in Sitti’s Secrets. We see Mona and her grandmother strike an understanding that needs no language. Mona also writes to the President of the United States asking for a plea for peace. Other books, such as Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai, might be introduced as other ways for children to think about world peace. Nivola profiles the first woman from Africa to win the Nobel Peace Prize (2004). In a picture book that glows with striking illustration, Nivola presents Maathai, the main character, as a leader who saw community building as one way to resolve problems.
Lastly, I must respond to Randa’s concerns about the illustrations. Before I heard her uncertainty, I found myself appreciating the written text carrying meaningful themes; however the illustrations seemed to lack diversity and realism. We must be cautious and intentional as teachers to ensure we share accurate cultural images with young students.
Charlene Klassen Endrizzi
Unlike Amy, Randa and Diana, I found myself focused not on the images but instead on Naomi Shihab Nye’s ability as a master wordsmith, using her ways with words to plant images in my mind. From the onset I felt connected to this Arab American author since my bilingual grandmother, like Mona’s sitti, brought another way of knowing into my world. Grandparents offer a unique outlook on the past and potentially help children experience the value of differences within their own families. Sitti instilled in her granddaughter a love of lemon trees, cooking and peace. I naturally found myself thinking back to my grandmother’s passion for flowers, religious texts and music, and cooking. I concur with Diana’s suggestion for launching a class study comparing and contrasting grandparents’ interests, as one avenue enabling teachers to understand each child’s family more completely.
Initiating a celebration of grandparents and older citizens in our communities hopefully leads readers to ponder the wisdom offered by elders. Other cross-generational texts to share in conjunction with Nye’s work include The Hickory Chair (Lisa Rowe Fraustino), My Abuelita (Johnston), My Dadima Wears a Sari (Sheth) and Gugu’s House (Stock). Each of these sittis help grandchildren slow down and celebrate their unique heritage.
At times I feel we too easily overlook our ancestor’s bilingual roots. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetic description of a child hearing a different language spoken by a loved one (Her voice danced as high as the whistles of birds) presents teachers with an opening to investigate children’s bilingual roots. I witnessed the power of communication without words this weekend as my son played with three preschool girls, one Israeli Druze child, Lemar, and two Americans, Izzy and Emmy. “Soon we invented our own language together,” aptly depicted the smiles, laughter, and curious dynamics amongst the four. “We didn’t need words to play marbles,” outlines both Mona’s interactions with her Palestinian cousins and I believe Nye’s hopes for children everywhere.
As I explored other Nye texts, I found her returning to the theme of peace, inculcated I imagine from her Palestinian immigrant father and her bi-national childhood, living at times in America, Palestine or Israel. “Why not take the short time we have on this delicate planet and figure out some really interesting things we might do together?”
Distraught after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, she posed this question to Middle East terrorists in an open letter, entitled To Any Would Be Terrorists. Teachers choosing to help students value the diverse perspectives present in the Middle East can begin critical conversations using texts like Sharing Our Homeland: Palestinian and Jewish Children at Summer Peace Camp, (Marx), When Will The Fighting Stop: A Child’s View of Jerusalem (Morris) and How the Shark and the Fish First Met (Shalit). These non-fiction and fictional books set in the Middle East depict unique efforts by Israelis and Arabs to move past their differences, hopefully inspiring young readers to imagine and work towards a more productive world.
We hope teachers consider Randa’s appeal, encouraging us to explore multiple perspectives on the Middle East. Two useful teacher resource websites include the Middle East Outreach Council, with annual book awards for children, and the University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies.