Review of Nour’s Secret Library

Nour’s Secret Library Nour’s Secret Library
by Wafa’ Tarnowska; illus. by Vali Mintzi
Primary, Intermediate    Barefoot    32 pp.    g
3/22    978-1-64686-291-7    $17.99
Paper ed.  978-1-64686-292-4    $9.99

Nour and her cousin Amir are busy making plans for a secret society (with code word and handshake, natch) when war erupts in their neighborhood. It’s the early days of the Syrian civil war. As things rapidly worsen, the family shelters in a basement; food becomes scarce; and shops and schools close. Amidst shelling and sniper fire, Nour and Amir collect books from piles of rubble and abandoned apartments, creating a “secret library” in a partially destroyed building. The library becomes integral, “a safe port in a sea of war.” Bright red and teal-blue pencil and gouache illustrations by Mintzi (Osnat and Her Dove, rev. 3/21) overlap colors, at times superimposing two images to heighten dimension and the sense of the passage of time. Rubble and ruin are added with charcoal, which visually contrasts war’s destruction with the children’s hopeful bibliophilic quest. Additional appended background on Syria, historic libraries, and war’s effects on material culture reveals that the book is based on a true story of a secret library started by youths in Daraya, just outside of Damascus. This dual story—one of destruction, and one of preservation and hope—focuses on the importance of reading during war and the cultural role of libraries and knowledge, especially during times of crisis.

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Hakim Azzam

Julie Hakim Azzam is the assistant director of the MFA program in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds a PhD in literary and cultrual studies, with a specialization in comparative contemporary postcolonial literature from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Southeast Asia. Her most recent work focuses on children's literature, stories about immigrants and refugees, and youth coping with disability.

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