Nour's Secret Library

by Wafa' Tarnowska (Author) Vali Mintzi (Illustrator)

Nour's Secret Library
Reading Level: 4th − 5th Grade

Forced to take shelter when their Syrian city is plagued with bombings, young Nour and her cousin begin to bravely build a secret underground library.

Based on the author's own life experience and inspired by a true story, Nour's Secret Library is about the power of books to heal, transport and create safe spaces during difficult times. Illustrations by Romanian artist Vali Mintzi superimpose the colorful world the children construct over black-and-white charcoal depictions of the battered city.

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Kirkus Reviews

A warm, engaging, and informative book that’s a valuable addition to children’s literature about war and conflict.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 1-4--When Damascus, once a city of blooming roses, cherries, and apricots, becomes destroyed by war, Nour and Amir are forced to take shelter with their families in the small basement of their house. Despite the scary bombings, they start collecting books from the rubble and start a secret library called "Al-Fajr," or "dawn." This is a beautiful and poignant coming-of-age book. Everything about childhood is as it should be: a busy neighborhood, the sights and smells of a thriving community, bustling markets, and happy school children, who are dreaming and plotting their secret missions and imagining a world bigger than their dreams. It is a universal tale of how creative a child's mind can truly be. However, this book also takes readers on a heartbreaking journey and offers insight into how bombardments and warfare destroy a community and affect the most vulnerable. This book shows the spirit of the children and communicates that no matter the devastation around them, they will still find a way to dream of a better world. Black-and-white charcoal illustrations of the battered city are overlaid with the colorful world to depict the wrecked city. Back matter and the glossary provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Syria and famous libraries of the Middle East. VERDICT Based on the author's and illustrator's personal experiences, this unique war story is full of hope and resilience that shines through even the worst of situations.--Noureen Qadir-Jafar

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.
Wafa' Tarnowska

Wafa' Tarnowska is an award-winning writer, translator and storyteller. She was born in Lebanon and has worked and lived in several countries from India, to Australia, to the UAE as well as Cyprus and Lebanon. She currently lives between the UK and Poland, writing, translating books and documentaries and offering storytelling sessions in English and Arabic. Wafa' sees herself as a cultural bridge between East and West, and has also written the award-winning The Arabian Nights for Barefoot Books.

Vali Mintzi was born in Romania and studied at the prestigious Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. She works as an illustrator and graphic editor for the children's art magazine Einayim. In 2012 she was awarded The Israel Museum Ben-Yitzhak Award for the Illustration of a Children's Book. Her vibrant and evocative style is influenced by painters such as Bonnard, Hockney and Matisse. She has also illustrated The Girl with a Brave Heart for Barefoot Books.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Barefoot Books
Publication date
March 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JUV016080 - Juvenile Fiction | Historical | Military & Wars
JUV047000 - Juvenile Fiction | Books & Libraries
JUV030110 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Middle East
JUV075000 - Juvenile Fiction | War & Military
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
War stories

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