Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books


The inspiring true story of demonstrators standing up for the love of a library, from a New York Times bestselling illustrator

In January 2011, in a moment that captured the hearts of people all over the world, thousands of Egypt's students, library workers, and demonstrators surrounded the great Library of Alexandria and joined hands, forming a human chain to protect the building. They chanted "We love you, Egypt!" as they stood together for ...

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The inspiring true story of demonstrators standing up for the love of a library, from a New York Times bestselling illustrator

In January 2011, in a moment that captured the hearts of people all over the world, thousands of Egypt's students, library workers, and demonstrators surrounded the great Library of Alexandria and joined hands, forming a human chain to protect the building. They chanted "We love you, Egypt!" as they stood together for the freedom the library represented.

Illustrated with Susan L. Roth's stunning collages, this amazing true story demonstrates how the love of books and libraries can unite a country, even in the midst of turmoil.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As she did in Listen to the Wind, the picture-book adaptation of Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea, Roth brings to the fore a hopeful story from a politically charged country. Roth and journalist Abouraya, in her first children’s book, transport readers to Egypt in January 2011 where, after years of living under an oppressive government, “Egypt’s young people decided/ it was finally time/ to let their voices be heard,/ and so they began to march in the streets.” The narrator, a participant in the protests, describes how young people joined the library director to form a human chain around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to protect the library’s treasures and its integrity as a lasting symbol of freedom. Readers will find much to celebrate in this heartening story. In her signature collages, which feature bold colors and an array of textures, Roth incorporates materials and motifs that have particular significance to her setting and subject matter. Information on the artwork, the history of the library, and the events in Egypt is included in several pages of author and resource notes. Ages 3–5. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Paula McMillen
From the prolific author/illustrator Susan Roth and first time picture book author Karen Leggett Abouraya comes this special perspective on the recent uprising in Egypt known as the Arab Spring. When angry protests began to spread outward from Cairo and reached Alexandria, there was fear that their beautiful new library would be damaged or destroyed. As protesters neared the library, the director, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, made a plea that they preserve the library as it preserves the literary treasures of the Egyptian people. At first a few and then dozens of protesters came up to stand beside Dr. Serageldin and joined hands in a protective ring around the library. Bibliotheca Alexandrina stands approximately where the ancient library stood until 400 CE. This beautiful modern structure, completed in 2002, is surrounded by carved stones bearing the letters/signs of five hundred different alphabets. In spite of all the violence that accompanied the protests, the library was spared because it meant so much to so many. Colorful two-page collages portray the many different colors of the protestors and protectors, with architectural elements represented in the background. Annotated photographs of protesters, the interior and exterior of the library, librarians and patrons follow the text. There are also brief summaries describing the ancient and current library as well as the protests. A short list of resources, translations of words on the protest signs, and an author's note are included. This is an excellent resource to help young children understand a big event in a more personal way, and could spark discussions on the role of citizen protests in bringing about change. Certainly the forces that ignited these demonstrations in 2011 continue to fill the news today.
School Library Journal
Gr 3–6—During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, hundreds of young people, led by library director Ismail Serageldin, joined hands around the world-famous Alexandria Library to protect it from damage by the marching crowds. Although much property was destroyed and many people died, the library survived unscathed. Roth and Abouraya invest this story with emotion and suspense by adopting the point of view of a fictional librarian at first caught up in the excitement of the march, then worried about the library, then proud of her countrymen for this act of love and peace. Roth's collage art is, as always, especially appealing to young people. Her naive, frontal compositions are constructed from brightly colored paper in a variety of textures: crinkled, fuzzy, fibrous, corrugated, and even iridescent. Protest signs in Arabic appear throughout the book, and though one page contains images of violence, in general the energy, scale, and potential havoc of the march are skillfully communicated by spreads depicting large crowds. The back matter is especially informative: it includes the history of the ancient and the modern Alexandria Library, a brief discussion of the Egyptian Revolution, a few translations of words on the protest signs, and, perhaps most importantly, photographs of the events described in the book. These pages use collage representations of quilt squares as a border, suggesting that the immense crowds that marched in Egypt were made of a kaleidoscope of unique individuals.—Paula Willey, Baltimore County Public Library, Towson, MD
Kirkus Reviews
Freedom and libraries: an essential combination. During the tumultuous days of the Arab Spring when Egyptians marched to bring down their government, youthful demonstrators and library staff stood together to protect the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, contemporary counterpart to the Great Library of Alexandria, from vandalism. Roth's exuberant collages capture these heady moments, blending photos, papers and fabrics to bring the people's positive actions and the building's intriguing facade together in a celebration of patriotism and libraries. The co-authors personalize the historical events by using Shaimaa Saad, a former children's librarian, as the narrator. The text begins traditionally but quickly changes to indicate that this is a contemporary story: "Once upon a time, / not a long time ago, / many people in Egypt / were sad and sometimes angry, / because they were not free to speak, / or vote as they wished, or gather in groups." Young people one by one join Dr. Ismail Serageldin, the library's director, in a human chain around the building and unfurl a giant Egyptian flag on its steps (also shown in photographs at the end) with palpable ebullience. Extensive and accessible backmatter includes information about the ancient and modern libraries, the January 25, 2011, Revolution, an author's note, resources, protest-sign translations and graphic motifs. A stunning visual recreation of a recent historical event. (Informational picture book. 6-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803737471
  • Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
  • Publication date: 8/30/2012
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 658,766
  • Age range: 3 - 5 Years
  • Product dimensions: 10.80 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan L. Roth is the author and illustrator of many beautiful books for children. To create the collages for her books, Ms. Roth uses papers from sixteen baskets in her studio, which are lined up by color.


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