Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story
Written and illustrated by Malak Mattar
Crocodile Books, an imprint of Interlink Publishing, July 2022
A full-color picture book for children aged 4 to 7 years
Hardback, 32 pages, $18.95
Available at The Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem, www.interlinkbooks.com, online booksellers, Bookshop.org, and Amazon.
Written and illustrated by Palestinian artist Malak Mattar, Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story is a sensitive and heartwarming story of how a little girl in Gaza finds strength and hope through her discovery of painting.
Growing up in Gaza, Malak Mattar was like a lot of other children her age. She loved going to school, playing with her friends, and having fun days out with her family. One of her favorite activities was visiting her grandmother’s house every Friday, where she and her family would eat Sitti’s homemade maqlouba and visit with Sitti’s pet bird. Malak loved to help feed Sitti’s bird, but she wondered if, like the bird, their family lived in a cage.
“Habibti, you can fly in your dreams,” Sitti told her. Malak thought about this on the way home that night and the next morning when the airstrikes on Gaza began (in 2014).
For 50 days, Malak was trapped at home with her family – like other families all across Gaza – and was unable to go to school, visit friends, or see Sitti. She felt her city shake and rumble around her. She was scared, confused, and constantly worried. But then, she opened her school backpack to find some forgotten paint and brushes and began painting what she saw in her mind, including her family, her friends, and even Sitti’s beloved bird. She finally found an outlet that made her feel better.
Sitti’s Bird: A Gaza Story is a unique children’s picture book that brings to life Malak’s inspiring story. Through vivid illustrations and thoughtful text, Sitti’s Bird brings warmth and wonder to young readers who watch a young Malak come into her own as an artist. It is the story of a young girl whose love for her family and discovery of art help her channel her fears and overcome traumas that few of us can imagine – traumas shared by countless children in Gaza and around the world.
Malak began painting at age 13. Unable to leave Gaza, she built a reputation for her artwork through social media, garnering attention and praise from around the world. Now Malak’s paintings have been featured in exhibitions in the United States and Europe, and she continues to be an important Palestinian voice on social media.
“Palestine is the place where I was inspired by the first art piece I saw, the place where I started painting, and where I grew up with a family who supported me on my journey,” says Malak. “The struggles and the injustice that I have witnessed in my life in Gaza have inspired me to advocate for Palestine and Palestinian women through art and storytelling.”
“It’s not something that can be let go of, shaken off; it seeps into you and becomes a part of you,” Malak told the Middle East Eye. Sitti’s Bird is Malak’s first book, and she hopes that it will inspire and comfort young readers who face the same kind of trauma she experienced in Gaza.