I’ve been quiet for a while, reading a lot but not writing much. Now I’m back with a review of a children’s book. Baby steps.
It’s impossible not to think of Ukraine when you read Nour’s Secret Library which is set in war-torn Syria.
Nour and her cousin Amir live in Damascus (which means fragrant place) and the illustrations by Vali Mintzi present a life filled with fruit trees and charming houses, gardens and cats. The kids love to adventure together, reading stories and pretending to be detectives. They want to form a secret society complete with a secret handshake!
One day the war arrives with its shelling and loud explosions. Soon all the neighbors gather in a basement where they’re crowded together and hungry, but safe.
They can see the city through the street-level window and it looks just like the images from Ukraine look – everything in ruins.
During lulls in the fighting brave Amir ventures out on his bicycle to find food for his family and friends. Along the way he starts to pick up books he finds on the streets and in crumbling buildings.
Soon Nour and other friends start helping him collect books and next thing you know they decide to find a location for a secret library, one for everyone to enjoy. It would soon become “a safe port in a sea of war.”
It felt safe and wonderful to be surrounded by books from floor to ceiling…”
Author Wafa’ Tarnowska doesn’t mince words or try to hide the realities of having your life uprooted by war. For a children’s book, (ages 6-10) Nour’s Secret Library is a difficult story but Tarnowska tells it intelligently and with empathy. This is another book I can’t imagine a parent handing to their kid – I think it begs to be read and discussed together.
A great children’s book needs engaging and delightful pictures. The illustrations in this book deliver – they’re colored in rich shades of blue, deep reds and oranges, and the art is soft without harsh edges. Overall it’s visually comforting.
The two-page spread above, with its ship of books with a huge sail of books on an ocean of books with the sky overhead filled with birds made of books… I want this as a poster, please, hanging in my bedroom, gently inviting me on a dreamy adventure every night.