The Preservation of the Written Legacy of a People
Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books
By Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya
Collages by Susan L. Roth
Have you ever wondered how much value you would place on a collection of books you love? Is a library a national treasure of collected culture and wisdom to be protected from destruction? I think the answer to this question is fascinating and was literally answered for some during the January 2011 revolution and ensuing protests that swept Egypt. And here is a great picture book that gives a front row seat to a tumultuous time and the tide of violence that was turned in one incredible event.
A group of students, library workers and demonstrators surrounded the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt to protect this glass building and seven floor library. Opened in 2002 and symbolically constructed in a circle meant to represent the sun shining on the world.
What started on January 25th 2011 as a movement for freedom of speech, voting rights and assembly began a surge of protests that began in Cairo and spread to Alexandria. Would the demonstrations, the narrator asks, affect the Bibliotheca Alexandrina that closed during the protests? Built on the ashes of an ancient library constructed by King Ptolemy, he hoped it would house a library for mathematicians, poets, and great thinkers of the day. Its eventual destruction’s cause is unsure, but its replacement was this most beautiful and modern building in all of Egypt.
The Library Director, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, seeing the approaching crowd of protestors and realizing the vulnerability of the glass structure and its contents, was joined by the hands of protestors and workers who formed a human chain about the library with the flag of Egypt unfurled on the steps. Powerful words echoed from the Director and around the world.
Thank you for protecting our library with us. Go forth into
the journey of your lives and create a better world. Thank
you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The picture book is an inspiring story told in the vibrant and vivid colors formed into collages that make the real life event passionate and perilous in its immediacy. It reinforces how much is hanging in the balance of a small space of time and how emotions and strong feelings even with the best of motivations can spiral quickly out of control. This picture book recounting the preservation of the written legacy of a people is inspiring and instructive to children of an important fact we sometimes forget. A friend reminded me of it. It takes time, patience and love to create something beautiful, but to destroy is easy and takes very little sometimes.
The book is richly told and its dramatic believability gives the events of a historical event its texture of truth. Kids, I hope, will gravitate toward its central core; that people can make a difference in a fractured world to preserve what matters most and for those moments in Egypt, books and their legacy mattered. Parents and children will also find the book entertaining and enlightening with a quote from Dr. Serageldin voicing the perfect end to the book and its importance.
In these eighteen days that shook the world, men and women,
young and old, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor came together
as never before.
I think this book is an important picture book, well researched and beautifully put together in word and colorful collage. It is a book for kids to read, absorb and think about in the long road toward understanding and peace.
In 2010 fourth graders in Alexandria, Egypt “skyped” on their computers with children in Alexandria, Virginia and Silver Spring, Maryland. Both groups had on jeans and T-shirts! They were all eating pizza too! Hey, what’s the title of that song kids love and you can’t get out of your head after you visit Disney World? It’s a Small World After All.