Nour’s Secret Library
Nour’s secret library
Wafa’ Tarnowska, illus. Vali Mintzi. London: Barefoot Books, pb. 978 1 6468 6292 4, 2022, £7.99, 28pp.
Fiction, Picture book, 7+ years
Based on a true story which shows how creative thinking and hope can help overcome adversity, this is an imaginative retelling of the secret underground library created by children with books found in the rubble of their bombed city.
Brief daytime forays during the lull in bombing were used to find food and other supplies and this was when the children noticed hundreds of books in the rubble of destroyed buildings. They collected these and sorted them into a library used by the whole community which became a place of solace and imaginative escape.
Mintzi’s illustrations have the challenge of showing the life of the city before and after the bombing, the destruction of war, at the same time creating a sense of hope. She does this skilfully by blending two techniques – using vibrant gouache for the scenes of life in the city before the war, and for the imaginative story scenes, and charcoal for the ruined landscapes. Damascus was known as a beautiful ancient city and the rich happy life of the children before the war is communicated delightfully in words and pictures.
Author Wafa’ Tarnowska now lives between the UK and Poland, though she was born in Lebanon and sheltered with her family in a basement for several months during the Lebanese civil war. She draws on her personal experience to give authenticity to this true story. Illustrator, Vali Mintzi, is Romanian and has lived in the Middle East for the last 30 years. She says that this story reminds her of the fear she felt growing up in communist Romania, and the way that she too used art and books to escape reality.
Review by Pam Dix