Nour's secret library

Wafa' Tarnowska

Book - 2022

"Forced to take shelter when their Syrian city is plagued with bombings, young Nour and her cousin begin to bravely build a secret underground library."--Provided by publisher.

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War fiction
Picture books
Concord, MA : Barefoot Books 2022.
Item Description
Based on the author's own life experience and inspired by a true story.
Physical Description
32 unnumbered pages : color illustrations, color map ; 28 cm
Main Author
Wafa' Tarnowska (author)
Other Authors
Vali Mintzi (illustrator)
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Books prove "a safe port in a sea of war" when conflict comes to Damascus in this affecting picture book, based on an occurrence during the Syrian civil war and drawn from Tarnowska's experiences during Lebanon's civil war. Amid combat and aerial bombardments, Nour and her cousin Amir find their lives upended, with schools and shops closed. When Amir heads out to buy bread during breaks in the fighting, he begins to collect abandoned volumes scattered en route. And as the collection grows, the pair create a secret library, taking over an abandoned basement, filling it with tomes in several languages, and attracting a range of patrons seeking knowledge and hope. Alongside Tarnowska's sensitive, uplifting telling, Mintzi's thoughtful illustrations use charcoal to depict the ruin of war and boldly hued gouache to capture the children's endeavor. Back matter includes a glossary, further info, and creators' notes. Ages 6--10. (Mar.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 1--4--When Damascus, once a city of blooming roses, cherries, and apricots, becomes destroyed by war, Nour and Amir are forced to take shelter with their families in the small basement of their house. Despite the scary bombings, they start collecting books from the rubble and start a secret library called "Al-Fajr," or "dawn." This is a beautiful and poignant coming-of-age book. Everything about childhood is as it should be: a busy neighborhood, the sights and smells of a thriving community, bustling markets, and happy school children, who are dreaming and plotting their secret missions and imagining a world bigger than their dreams. It is a universal tale of how creative a child's mind can truly be. However, this book also takes readers on a heartbreaking journey and offers insight into how bombardments and warfare destroy a community and affect the most vulnerable. This book shows the spirit of the children and communicates that no matter the devastation around them, they will still find a way to dream of a better world. Black-and-white charcoal illustrations of the battered city are overlaid with the colorful world to depict the wrecked city. Back matter and the glossary provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Syria and famous libraries of the Middle East. VERDICT Based on the author's and illustrator's personal experiences, this unique war story is full of hope and resilience that shines through even the worst of situations.--Noureen Qadir-Jafar

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Horn Book Review

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. Julie Hakim Azzam March/April 2022 p.(c) Copyright 2022. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

As their city is ravaged by war, two children and their community create an oasis of hope amid the destruction. Nour, a young girl whose name means light in Arabic, calls Damascus her home. After school, she and her beloved cousin, Amir, read stories about detectives and dream of finding treasure, camping, and creating a secret club. After months of planning, they are finally ready to launch their club; however, on the day of the first meeting, the fighting draws near to their part of town, forcing them to shelter with their families in a neighbor's basement. There, they are often without water or electricity, and sometimes food is scarce. From a small street-facing window, the children can see active shelling and watch buildings collapse, "spilling the things inside onto the streets like open suitcases." The kids start collecting books from the rubble, and the Al-Fajr (Dawn) Library is born. Some of Mintzi's beautiful pencil, gouache, and charcoal illustrations in warm earth tones capture the vibe of Damascus in peaceful times, showing minarets, houses hugging each other, busy streets, and orchards. Based on a true story of the Syrian civil war from the resistant town and people of Daraya, this book demonstrates the power of hope and community in difficult times and uniquely portrays people in conflict zones as educated and rich, culturally and intellectually. (This book was reviewed digitally.) A warm, engaging, and informative book that's a valuable addition to children's literature about war and conflict. (glossary, additional facts, author's note, illustrator's note) (Picture book. 9-13) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.