Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter
Grade Level: Ages 4-8; Kindergarten - Grade 3
Summary: Sitti's Secrets tells the story of Mona, a young girl living in America, who misses her grandmother who lives in Palestine. Mona takes comfort in thinking that as the sun sets in America, it is just beginning to rise over her grandmother on "the other side of the earth". She remembers visiting Palestine with her father, and how at first she could not communicate with her grandmother who speaks Arabic. In time, Mona and her grandmother, "Sitti" in Arabic, learn ways to talk to each other without words. Through the story, Mona recalls more Arabic words, and the customs and way of life in the village. When Mona returns to America, she writes a letter to the President telling him about her grandmother and her growing concerns about the situation in the Middle East. This book tells the story of a strong family connection that is unbroken by language barriers, world politics, different cultures and hundreds of miles in between.
How It Relates To Element 1: This story relates to Element 1, "Self-Love and Knowledge", because it shows Mona's exploration of her Palestinian culture, something that seems foreign to her at first. The story shows the language, customs and traditions of Palestinian village life, and how Mona begins to share a strong bond with her grandmother and culture, even without words. This book allows children to gain an insight into Palestinians, as well as Arabs and even Arab-Americans, by depicting them as people who have families, play games, bake bread and live life just as we do in America. Through remembering her visit to see her grandmother, you can tell that Mona is proud of her Arabic heritage, and the letter that she writes to the President upon coming home shows her hope that Americans will be able to see her grandmother just as she does.
Activity: Discussion questions following reading this book could include: Does anyone in your family live in another country? Speak a language other than English? How do you communicate? In the story, Mona plays marbles with her cousins because they don't need to speak to each other to have fun - what are some games that you could play?
For younger children, students could create a Venn Diagram comparing Sitti's life in Palestine with their life in America. What things are different? What things are the same?
For older children, the teacher could use the book as an opening to a unit discussion the issues and politics surrounding the Middle East. Students could explore geography and time zones through looking for the Palestinian territories on a map.
Students could also be asked to create persuasive essays, to the President or another authority, on behalf of someone in their family or about another pre-determined issue.