Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books.  Written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya.  Illustrated by Susan L. Roth.  Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012. Publisher recommends for ages 3-5 years.  ISBN: 9780803737471.

In Egypt there is a library called the Alexandria library. The building is, according to the book, the most beautiful building in Egypt. It houses over 1 million books that include many children’s books and many books that tell the history of Egypt. It’s on the site of an ancient library that was intended to hold all the knowledge in the world. The ancient library burned down in ancient times.

In January of 2011 the Egyptian people rose up against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.  They protested in the streets. The protests sometimes became violent. The protests started in Cairo, but expanded to include Alexandria. The author was part of the protests in Alexandria. She heard about violence such as the burning of cars. The protesters were moving closer and closer to the library. The head of the library came out and said there was no good way of protecting the library.  One of the marchers moved up to take the hand of the librarian. Soon many marchers stood holding hands encircling the library. They put their bodies on the line to protect the library.

This is the story of nonviolent political action. It’s also a story of how precious books are to a culture.

The book is illustrated with brightly colored collages. The collages of people are very similar to one another, but not the same, just as the protesters were not all the same. And some of the protesters decided to risk their lives to save the library.

In the back of the book there are photographs of the event and of the library. These are instructive, but not nearly as beautiful as the collages. There’s also a section on the ancient library at Alexandria, the current library at Alexandria and the 2011 revolution in Egypt. The sections are interesting and instructive. A list of other resources is included, as well as a note from Susan L. Roth.

This book is physically beautiful and tells a beautiful story. It leaves me with one question, however. The uprising took place over a period of approximately two weeks. Was there a human chain around the library for the entire two weeks or was it just for the first day of protests in Alexandria?

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2 thoughts on “Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books

  1. Thank you for such supportive comments about our book! Susan and I have both been to the Alexandria library, but not during the revolution. Our narrator is modeled after Shaymaa Saad, a librarian who is pictured and mentioned in the back of the book – and who in fact blogged on our website http://handsaroundthelibrary.com/blog/entry/guest-blogger-shaymaa-saad recently.

    And in answer to your very good final question – people held hands around the library for just a short time on one day, but it was long enough to send the message that the library was a special place that was to be protected, not damaged just because it was a government building. The same happened at the Cairo Museum – there was some damage, then protesters stood around it for a short time, and there was no further vandalism.

    Karen Leggett Abouraya
    handsaroundthelibrary.com
    facebook.com/handsaroundthelibrary

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