Review: Hands around the Library by Susan L. Roth

hands around the library

Hands around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya

Told from the point of view of one of the protesters in modern Egypt, this is the true story of how the Alexandria Library was saved during the protests.  As the crowd moved toward the library, which was built on the same ground as the ancient Library of Alexandria, the library director came outside and spoke to them.  He pointed out that the library had no gates to lock and no way to protect the large doors made of glass.  It was up to the people to save the treasures inside.  The crowd pressed on and the shouting grew louder.  But then one young man ran up the steps of the library and joined hands with the library director.  Then more and more people  joined hands, a living barrier protecting the library. 

The writing here tells the story clearly and concisely.  There is fear of the mob mentality woven into the story, a trepidation at what could happen with that many passionate and angry people in a large group.  The energy of that mob and that mood carries the book forward.  That moment of decision by the crowd hangs jewel-like in the book, the one person who does the right thing first and then those who follow.  It’s a book and a story that pivots in a moment of bravery. 

Roth’s collages capture the press of the crowd and its passion, but also the fact that these are regular people who were creating change.  The illustrations have a flatness to them that works well much of the time.  It is particularly effective when hands are joined in a chain. 

A powerful look at the importance of libraries and the bravery of a few, this book is also a reminder that we are witnessing history being made.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.