Monday, June 15, 2015

Sitti’s Secret
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Awards: School Library Journal Best Book of the Year, ALA Notable Children’s Book, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award

A sweet story of a lovely relationship that develops when an Arab American girl goes to Palestine to meet her grandmother for the first time.

In the ‘author’s blurb’ in the back of the book, author Naomi Shihab Nye states: 
“If Grandmas ran the world, I don’t think we’d have any wars.”

I love that statement! And I think I could whole-heartedly agree!

Book Talk
Mona is our narrator and begins the story by explaining in wonderful childlike understandings that her grandmother lives on the other side of the earth. When it is night at Mona’s house, it is day at her grandmother’s house in Palestine. Mona tells readers that there are many miles, much water, many presidents and a million trees between them.

Mona describes the first time that she went to Palestine to meet her grandmother. She called her grandmother, Sitti, which means Grandmother in Arabic—the language that Sitti speaks, but not the language that Mona speaks.  Sitti calls Mona Habibi.

A favorite line from this part of the story:
“She called me habibi, which means ‘darling’. Her voice danced as high as the whistles of birds. Her voice giggled and whooshed like wind going around corners. She had a thousand rivers in her voice.”

Even though Sitti and Mona cannot speak each other’s language, they  quickly develop a language of their own that they both understand. They use hums, claps, winks, whistles and  clicks.  They take walks, do errands and communicate as happily as can be in their new invented language.

Sitti and her Habibi soon developed a warm, loving and close relationship. Sitti brings Mona into her life by teaching her the traditional ways of making lemonade from fresh lemons from her lemon tree and flat bread from a 100 year old recipe, picking bunches of mint, hair combing and well water gathering.

Soon, however, it is time for Mona to return to the US.  The goodbyes are tender and tearful, but the memories and understanding of Sitti’s world are deep and long lasting.

Back home in the US, Mona becomes alarmed with news reports on developments in the Middle East. She writes to the US President all about her wonderful, simple and loving Grandmother in Palestine and lets the President know that she and her Sitti want peace.

Mona ends her story like she begins: describing for the readers how she and Sitti live in different parts of the world. She is getting up and out of bed at the end of the story. But she knows that Sitti will be going to bed soon. And when her Sitti sleeps, she will dream of Mona.     

Suggested Uses as a Mentor Text:
Book Genre: Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Reading Workshop strategies: Connecting, Inferring, Visualizing, Inferring
Writing Workshop genre and strategies: Personal Narrative, Strong Lead,
Curricular Themes: Diversity/ We Need Diverse Books

Info about Naomi Shihab Nye:

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