Sitti's Secrets

by Naomi Shihab Nye

Hardcover, 1994



Local notes

E Nye


Four Winds Press (1994), Edition: First Edition, 32 pages. Purchased in 2016. $14.95.


A young girl describes a visit to see her grandmother in a Palestinian village on the West Bank.

Original language


Physical description

32 p.; 9 inches


0027684601 / 9780027684605



User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
When Mona and her father travel back to his childhood home in Palestine - no specific location is mentioned, but given the rural setting, and lack of crowding, I'm going to assume it is in the West Bank, rather than the Gaza Strip - the young American girl finds herself warmly welcomed into her extended family, forming a particularly strong bond with her Sitti, or grandmother. As she and Sitti bake together, find a way to communicate, despite the language barrier, and share some private moments, Mona begins to sense her deep connection to the older woman, and to feel that she has been let in on a secret. This connectedness will stay with her, even when she returns to her home in America, "on the other side of the world."

A lovely evocation of family, and a gentle exploration of the importance of cultural roots, Sitti's Secrets is one of the few picture-books I have encountered, depicting a Palestinian or Palestinian-American child, and - in addition to its own inherent merit as a story - is very welcome, for that reason. I'm glad that the Picture Book Club to which I belong chose it as an alternate selection, for our March "Outstanding Women" theme, as I might not have picked it up, otherwise.

That said, like some other readers, I was rather uncomfortable with the insertion, late in the story, of Mona's letter to the President, assuring him that if he (and other Americans) knew her Sitti, they would like her. This discomfort did not arise from any feeling that children's books should not address political themes - clearly, they often do, and often quite effectively. Nor did I object to the obvious subtext of the letter - that Arabs in general, and Palestinians in particular, have been demonized here in America; and that American policy has been unfairly biased in favor of Israel, in contradiction of our obligation to uphold international law - because I feel that this subtext is based upon a realistic and just appraisal of reality.

No, what I object to, with regards to Mona's letter, is its abrupt intrusion into a narrative that does not prepare the young reader for it. No mention is made, in Sitti's Secrets, of the ugly realities of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. No mention is made of American foreign policy, or of American perceptions, with regard to the region. So the letter feels out of place - addressing something that the young reader may, or may not, be aware of. I feel that Nye should either have made her narrative more overtly political, in order to explain the letter, or she should have been satisfied with a story whose focus was familial.

In any case, Sitti's Secrets is still a very worthwhile book, providing a much-needed portrait of Palestinians as human beings, just like you, me, and (presumably) the children reading it. The beautiful illustrations by Nancy Carpenter add to the sense of wonder and discovery. All in all, with the obvious exception of the letter, I recommend it!
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LibraryThing member limeminearia
Sitti’s Secrets is a lovely story about Mona, an Arab-American girl, visiting her grandmother for the first time in Palestine. In lyrical language Mona describes first the distance between herself and her grandmother (“between us are fishes and cities and buses and fields and presidents and clotheslines and trucks and stopsigns and signs that say DO NOT ENTER”,) and then the closeness that she experiences once she meets Sitti. Sitti has bird tattoos on her hands, long hair under her hijab and a clear love for her granddaughter. She shows Mona how to make bread in the old way and calls her habibi, Arabic for “darling.” At the end of the trip Mona has gained not only her connection to Sitti, who is a kindred spirit despite their language gap, but a passionate sense that Palestinians and all people have rights and should be treated with fairness. Mona writes to the President saying “I vote for peace. My grandmother votes with me.” Her conviction is political in a sense but also personal and spiritual. She grows up during the visit and her naturally creative and lyrical voice muses at the book’s end “Sometimes I think the world is a huge body tumbling in space, all curled up like a child sleeping. People are far apart but connected.”
Naomi Shihab Nye is likely the best known Arab-American author for children. Sitti appears again in her award-winning teen novel Habibi. As in Sitti’s Secrets Nye comes out strongly in favor of friendship across cultural lines and an end to ethnic violence. As Lisa Suhair Majaj writes in her article “Arab-American Literature: Origins and Developments,” “The gift of heritage, Nye makes clear, is also a warning: notions of “true” identity are too easily reified into the hard lines of absolutes that lead to bloodshed. What matters, she suggests, is not one’s ethnic identity so much as the care and concern one human extends to another.” This is an excellent book for librarians to suggest to teachers looking for books to address war and pacifism to children in second to sixth grade. The art is gorgeous and complements the lyrical text well. Indeed the book is so sensual and whimsical that younger readers may not grasp the larger issues it hints at, which is why it is ideal for classroom or one-on one discussions. Libraries should make an effort to purchase and retain this title as Arab-Americans in general and Palestinian-Americans even more so are wildly underrepresented in public and school library collections. Although this is often shelved with picture book collections it is a good choice to recommend to readers transitioning into chapter books who are ready for some emotionally complexity but still want pictures and a short text. This is also a good addition to any discussions of, book talks about (or displays featuring) Nye’s other work including Habibi and Going, Going Gone.

Nye, Naomi Shahib. Sitti’s Secrets. Ill. by Nancy Carpenter. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1997. Print

Suhair Majaj, Lisa. "Arab-American Literature: Origins and Developments." American Studies Journal 52. 2008 Web. Mar 14, 2010
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LibraryThing member GayWard
A young girl describes a visit to see her grandmother in a Palestinian village on the West Bank.
LibraryThing member brandib90
“Sitti’s Secrets” is a wonderful book that shows the love that the narrator has for her Sitti (Grandmother). Also the narrator takes the reader through what it was like visiting her Sitti for the first time. This book shows the reader that it is important to cherish and make memories with the people that you love; just as the narrator does when she helps her Sitti make bread and goes on walks with her. The narrator takes these memories back home with her and she will hold them dear to her for the rest of her life. This is how everybody should be when it comes to the people that we care about; we should always try to make memories with them, so that we can always have something good to think about.… (more)
LibraryThing member CatherineWillett
“Sitti's Secrets” by Naomi Shihab Nye is a childrens picture book. I enjoyed this book because it seemed to have an antiwar message in addition to the big picture. One part of the book the granddaughter writes to the president after visiting her grandma, informing him she thinks peace is the best choice. Also, the author writes, “If grandmas ran the world, I don't think we'd have any wars.” which to me seem fairly accurate to me. Not only did this book have an antiwar message, it had a bigger picture. In “Sitti's Secrets”, the big picture is no matter how far away you are from your family, they still love and support you.… (more)
LibraryThing member ljemanuel
This is a book about my heritage. I called my grandmother Sitti and this book was given to me when i was younger and i loved this book. It tells about other places. This is a great book for teaching about other cultures and other parts of the world. Great for all ages.
LibraryThing member Madams21
I liked this book because I think that there are a lot of children who have family living in different parts of the world and it’s a great way for them to talk about it and see how much it can enrich their lives. Sitti lives in the US and her Grandmother is Arabic and lives on the other side of the world. It is also good because it shows that you don’t have to have a language in common to be able to communicate, Sitti and her grandmother use gestures to talk like rubbing their tummy if their hungry. The book is also good because it helps open children’s eyes to individuals rather that stereotyping an entire race. At the end of the book Sitti says that she votes for peace because anybody who knew her Grandmother like she did couldn’t hate her.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarolinePfrang
“Sitti’s Secret” is a story about a young girl who goes to visit her grandmother in Palestine but since she doesn’t speak the language she has to communicate through her dad. This book shows you don’t need language to understand love while teaching about a culture. One of the ways the author shows this message is by the illustrations. I liked that the illustrations in this book were water colors.= as it really fit along with the Palestinian culture and made it feel sort of rustic and rural like where the story took place. The author also showed that the girl loved her grandma by how hard she tried to learn her language and how she used her father to help her talk to her grandma. Also, once she gets home she writes a letter to the president asking for peace with Palestine because she loves her grandmother so much and wants there to be peace within the two countries. The girl spends the story exploring her very foreign heritage and all the customs. It was interesting to see a young girl discover her culture.… (more)
LibraryThing member DayehSensei
This delightful book is based on Naomi Shihab-Nye's own visits to her "Sitti" in Palestine when she was a child. In the book, Mona travels to her grandmother's Palestinian village with her father and after awhile has no difficulty communicating with her "Sitti." The images in this book are accurate and touching, and very sensory based. There is also a beautiful message of peace.… (more)
LibraryThing member GaiaGonzales
I think this is a wonderful book for many reasons. First, the plot was very well written and engaging. The story follows a young girl, Mona (who lives in the US), visiting on her grandmother in Palestine. Although they do not speak the same language, they learn to communicate through gestures. Throughout the story, Mona learns a lot about her grandmother’s culture and her home. Nye did a great job in portraying the relationship with Mona and her grandmother even though there was a language barrier between them; they found that they did not need words to teach and learn from one another. The story was also very believable and relatable. There are many children that may have relatives that live in other parts of the world, so this story is a good introduction to different cultures. The big idea of this story is to introduce readers to the Palestinian culture within a story of family and love.… (more)
LibraryThing member bridgetmcnamara
Sitti's Secrets is a book that I enjoyed reading immensely for multiple reasons. The story was very engaging, the illustrations captured the world and how Mona viewed it in a beautiful way, and the book expressed what it is like to be apart of two very different cultures. In the book there are many translations and views into Mona's two very different worlds: her life at home and then the time she spent with her Sitti (grandmother) in Palestine. One aspect I really enjoyed about the story in this book was that although Mona could not speak the same language as her Sitti, they still had a very strong connection and relationship. I also enjoyed the illustrations and how the illustrator embedded landscapes, buildings, and globes into the pictures. The illustrations showed what Mona was referring to when she talked about everything that was between her and her Sitti in Palestine. This book sends out the message that language is not necessary to have a deep bond with someone far away and that peace can still be abundant even in times of turmoil.… (more)
LibraryThing member Germuth
I liked Sitti’s Secrets because of the illustrations contained in the book. The illustration directly correlated with the writing. For example, there was the world map in the background, which symbolized the distance between Sitti and her Grandmother living in Palestine. On another page there was a tattoo on the Grandmothers hand, which looked like birds flying away. The illustration showed the bird on the Grandmothers hand flying off of her hand and following a plane. This connected to the writing, “Our plane flew to the other side of the world.” I also liked how the book incorporated Arabic words in the book. The author included words, such as Sitti, which means Grandma, babini, which means darling, and mish-mish, which are apricots. I feel by including Arabic words in the story truly enhanced the story. I liked how I was able to learn some Arabic words. The main idea of the story was to teach the readers about daily life of Palestinian people. For example, you bake bread in an old oven next to the house, children play marbles in the courtyard, and men pick lentels in the field… (more)
LibraryThing member eoertl1
This book is great for children trying to learn and understand poverty, immigration, and separation. This book was very insightful and spoke to the importance of immigration and living far away from close ones such as grandparents, parents, and friends. Often time, children don't realize the importance of this and become sad when their grandparents live far away. They are not educated on the differences in cultures and the rules that apply to being an immigrant.… (more)
LibraryThing member NicoleGinex
I both liked and disliked this book. I disliked this book because of an unrealistic situation. In the book, Mona writes a letter to the president of the United States about her grandmother. I felt this situation to be unrealistic because I have never heard of someone doing that. I didn't like that the situation felt unrealistic because it made it seem like a fake story, even though the rest could've been real. However, I like this book because of the introduction to another language. Throughout the book, Mona and her grandmother would exchange words in Arabic. For example, I learned that "habibi" means "dear", and "sitti" means "grandmother." I also liked how the illustrations of the book portrayed specific scenarios. For instance, when Mona plays marbles with her cousins, I got an accurate representation of how they all looked. Lastly, the main idea of this story is that people are always with you even if you can't always see them. Mona and her grandmother live on opposite sides of the world, but they feel like they are always together. I like the big idea because I understand it to be true considering I have family that doesn't live where I do.… (more)
LibraryThing member kbarry9
I loved this book, because you never knew what the author was going to get at until the end. In the end, the letter about how she wants peace in the world, like the peace between her and her grandmother, it opens your eyes that there is a war going on where her grandmother is, and all she does is wish for peace. I did not dislike anything about this book, because it was beautifully written, and there was a bit of bilingual text woven into the book, and I enjoyed that. It did not make it too difficult to read, because those were the only words that you would have to decode.… (more)
LibraryThing member HeatherBallard
This was an interesting book. One thing I liked about this book is the way it showed the distance between the girl and her grandmother, “Between us are many fish, and cities, and buses, and fields, and clotheslines, and trucks, and grocery stores…” This gives the reader a vision of how many things are between her and her grandmother and how far away she is. The girl and the grandmother do not speak the same language so I really liked the way she describes needing her dad to translate by saying she has to talk through him like a telephone. The big idea in this story is to describe a moment in this girls life and give information about having a grandmother from the Middle East.… (more)
LibraryThing member tmalon4
I really enjoyed reading this book about middle eastern culture from a child’s perspective. When I turned to the first page of this book, the illustrations really stood out to me. I was surprised at the abstract nature, and how different faces, textures, and colors all blended so interestingly on the pages. I began reading about the little girl, Mona, who was thinking about her grandmother, Sitti, who lives across the world, and soon realized that the pictures were overlapping to show differences in their two worlds. An example of this is seen on the first page where the author writes, “between us are fish and cities and busses and fields,” and the pages show Mona swinging on a swing during the daytime, and the tip of her sky is half an ocean and half a city. Another part of the book that I found interesting was the way Mona described her visit with her Sitti when she went to visit her across the world, somewhere in the Middle East. She says, “ we talked through my father as if he were a telephone” which I thought was a good way to describe how a translator worked to a child, as well as the language barriers that exist between different countries.
This book’s main purpose was to show different aspects of culture through pictures and storytelling. The illustrations show men picking lentils in a field, different types of food, Arabic words, and other aspects of the Middle Eastern cultures.
After pages and pages of Mona’s beautiful storytelling about her visit with her Grandmother across the world, she has to leave her Sitti’s home and go back to America where she lives. When she returns home, Mona turns on the news and notes that she felt worried about what was going on in the world. In a note to the President of the United States, Mona writes: “Mr. President, I wish you luck on your very hard job. I vote for peace. My Grandmaa votes with me.” I thought this was extremely compelling, because none of the book talked about war. The author waited until the end to mention that there is not peace between the Middle East and the United States. It also will lead children to question what Mona is talking about that she saw on the news, and how anyone would think that the beautiful caring grandmother they had just read about could be in trouble. The author also left her own note at the end of the book, stating “If Grandmas ran the world, I don’t think we’d have any wars” which I thought was not only true, but a nice way to end her book.
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LibraryThing member Mchapp1
I enjoyed Naomi Sihab Nye’s story “Sitti’s Secrets” because she uses rich descriptions to describe the relationship between the young girl and her grandmother. Nye describes Sitti’s voice as having “danced as high as the whistles of birds. Her voice giggled and whoosed like the wind going around corners. She had a thousand rivers in her voice”. She also describes how although Habibi does not speak the same language as Sitti and her other family members she still enjoys spending time with them, and understands that they too enjoy her company by saying “we played marbles together in their courtyard. Their marbles were blue and green and spun through the dust like planets. We didn’t need words to play marbles”. The overall theme of this story is that love can be expressed, felt, and communicated without words. It shows that love is found in the way one interacts with others, not in what they say.… (more)
LibraryThing member lhanso1
In my opinion this is a wonderful book because of the well-developed characters, and the appropriate illustrations that enhanced the story. Both characters, Mona and the grandmother were very well-developed in that even with the language barrier they have I could feel the love and close relationship they share. The illustrations enhance the story by allowing readers to understand how far apart they lived from one another when the illustration was a world that was marked where each relative lived. The illustrations also enhanced the story by facilitating readers understanding of the grandmother's Palliation culture and how it differs from Mona's American culture. The grandmother wears a scarf and makes all of her own food and lives in a small village where homes are made out of clay while Mona lives in a town with fast food and brick buildings. I think the main message of this story is that distance, or differences in culture, does not correlate with how much you are able to care for someone.… (more)




(34 ratings; 4.1)
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