Nour’s Secret Library is a book that is about the power of books, the power of one person, the power of a community and how we can learn from each other instead of fighting. The emotional and chaotic images by Vali Mintzi show the ugly of war but also the hope people can find when looking.
Wafa’ Tarnowska took a true event (children of Syria finding books and making a hidden library for anyone who wished to partake of books of many languages and subjects, or just a place of rest and peace from war), her own experiences in the mid-1970s growing up in Lebanon, and a touch of poetic license to make the story of Nour and her friends.
The day Nour and her cousin are going to start their very carefully chosen who can join, secret club the fighting she and her neighbors have witnessed is now in their own backyards. Hiding in basements, in a room meant for 12 would hold 30 people, people waited for safety that rarely came. But food shortages, bullets and lost hope did come. Yet, when Nour and her cousin start to find books in the bombed-out buildings, and bring them home, soon others want to help build the collection. And soon, the collection was too big for where it was, and they moved it underground. And here people came, read, and found a little hope.
The colors of the art pop when needed, blend when needed and even melt together to set the tone. They are not necessarily pleasant, but they are unique, interesting, and set the tone of this longer worded picture book.
Author and illustrator (from Romania during the Communist years) afterwards both talk about how books were their own escapes from the troubles they were dealing with, and the true story behind Nour’s Secret Library.
While tastefully done, this book might not be for everyone. It might be hard to explain the details of war, Syrian refugees, etc. Yet, it is a book that everyone should probably read. We know the story of hope and survival, but it a fresh voice.