Review of Behind My Doors: The Story of the World’s Oldest Library

Behind My Doors: The Story of the World’s Oldest Library Behind My Doors: The Story of the World’s Oldest Library
by Hena Khan; illus. by Nabila Adani
Primary    Lee & Low    40 pp.
5/24    9781643794235    $20.95

The Al-Qarawiyyin Library of Fez, which serves as the first-person narrator of this nonfiction picture book, beckons the reader to hear the tale of its founding, glory days, disrepair, and restoration. From a humble start (“I began as a small corner for books”) within a Moroccan mosque founded in 859 CE by Fatima al Fihri, the library becomes a grand part of Al-Qarawiyyin University, a place of tranquility, reflection, and learning. Though the knowledge held within its walls is a constant, amid changing kingdoms and threat from a great fire, the library falls into disuse. Passing by the building as a child, Aziza Chaouni, who holds a familial connection to the library, later returns as an adult architect. Her team restores and preserves the library and its materials for generations of learners to come. Khan’s poetic text is accompanied by Adani’s equally gentle, textured imagery of geometric patterns, tiles, and architectural features of Fez. The digital illustrations are further enriched with small details from Kufic script in the Qur’an to the variety of skin tones and dress styles displayed. An author’s note, a glossary, and references are included in the back matter. A lovingly told ode to libraries, Islamic intellectual history, storytelling, and the role of women in Muslim history.

Pubissue-From the March/April 2024 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Ariana Hussain

Ariana Hussain is a teacher librarian at the Blake School in the Minneapolis metropolitan area. She writes for Kirkus and School Library Journal and is a founding member and blogger for Hijabi Librarians ( She is a lifetime member of APALA.

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