(This post first appeared on The Bookwallis Facebook page.)
It was National Librarian's Day, yesterday 12th August.
This is the first of my posts about librarians and Libraries...in tribute to all the wonderful library people who take books and reading to children.
What is common between the 2011 ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests in New York’s Zuccotti Park, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2019, the Plaza del Sol protests in Madrid, the Gezi park protests in Turkey and the anti-CAA and anti NRC protests in India?
The protests in each country have their own grievances, ideologies and influences, yet all of these particular protests, in different corners of the world, had one thing in common.
Yes, you read that right.
Books help us understand our past, help reinforce our beliefs, help us formulate our ideas. They sow seeds for hope especially in difficult times. It is these ideas that books help us form, that many an oppressive government want to target. New ideas, thinking, conviction, the ability to speak out against them in a voice that is sure of what its beliefs are. These are the voices that such governments find imperative to squash.
Libraries at protest sites which offer a space for books and reading, dialogue and discussions are the new language of resistance movements around the world. These street side librarians choose to think ‘otherwise’, using words and ideas as a medium of resistance, rather than weapons and violence.
Yet throughout history, libraries and books have been targeted. Whether it's censorship, media blackouts, burning down libraries, or books -- people have attempted to control knowledge and culture.
“It was a time when wicked people ruled the land. Wicked people who were frightened of the magic of stories, terrified of the power of books. They knew, you see, that stories and poems help you to think and to dream. Books make you want to ask questions. And they didn’t want any of us to think or dream, and especially they did not want us to ask questions. They wanted us only to think as they thought, to believe what they believed, to do as we were told.” - I believe in Unicorns by Micheal Morpugo.
Here are 10 children’s books which tell the stories about these wonderful ‘book people’ who protected the books and libraries at times of war, crisis and just plain unfairness and those who encouraged reading despite grave danger to themselves.
1. Hands around the Library by Susan L. Roth (based on a true story) Once upon a time, not a long time ago….begins this book. The year is 2011, people all around Egypt were rising up in anti-government protests. This book documents the inspiring true story about how thousands of Egypt's students, library workers, and demonstrators joined hands around the great Library of Alexandria to protect the building, its million plus books, ancient texts and the freedom it represents.
2. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter Alia Muhammad Baker has been the librarian at the Basra Central Library for 14 years when war comes. The Library has been a hub for all who love books, and Alia fears for the safety of the 30,000 books, in her care. This is a story of individual courage of a woman, in a country where women have little power or voice, proving that the love of books and the protection of knowledge and ideas within, know no boundaries.
3. Alia’s Mission by Mark Alan Stamaty (based on a true story) The cartoonist sees Alia(above) as a superhero in this book, telling her story in black-and-white graphic-novel format. An anthropomorphised book with hands, feet, and a cheery face narrates the tale, putting it in historical context.
4. I believe in Unicorns by Micheal Morpugo This is a personal favourite. Set in a fictional town in war-torn Europe, it tells the story of a reluctant reader, Tomas, who grows to love books under the guidance of the ‘unicorn lady’...the librarian. In the face of destruction of his now beloved library, he shows courage and inspiration, to protect and save its books.
5. Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter (based on a true story) Ever since her parents disappeared, little Nasreen has not spoken a word to anyone. Her grandmother knew she had to do something. In a country where women have no rights or freedom, she finds out about a secret school for girls. Risking everything, she enrolls Nasreen. Here a devoted teacher, a new friend, and the worlds she discovers in books draws Nasreen out of her shell of sadness. “Nasreen no longer feels alone. The knowledge she holds inside her, will always be with her like a good friend.”
6. Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (based on a true story) Richard Wright was a black man in segregated Southern USA of the 1920s. Hungry to explore new worlds through books, he was forbidden from borrowing them from the library. This is a touching and inspiring story which tells of his love of reading, and how his unwavering perseverance, along with the help of a co-worker who at great personal risk, helps Richard make his dream a reality.
7. Finding Lincoln by Ann Malaspina Finding Lincoln is a historical fiction picture book that takes place during the civil rights movement. It tells the story of a boy named Louis who finds a challenge when he wants to check out a book from a segregated library to write a school essay, and how a white librarian bends the rules in order to allow him to do so.
MIDDLE GRADE READERS:
While these two books are not set during times of war or upheaval, they inspire the spirit of questioning and standing up for what you believe in.
8. Ban this Book by Alan Gratz A story about a young girl who challenges the banning of a book at her school library, standing up against censorship, and questioning who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.
9. Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami Yasmin and her friends plan to take action and ‘do something’ about the fact that their favourite Book Uncle who sits on the corner of the street running a free lending library, is in trouble.
YOUNG ADULT READERS:
10. The Librarian of Auschwitch by Antonio Iturbe Dita is asked by the head of the children’s block in Auschwitz -Birkenau, if she will take on the brave responsibility of overseeing the distribution and safe harboring of eight precious books. Dita’s act provides hope, knowledge, a sense of ‘escape’, and probably a slight sense of victory as she and her fellow prisoners quietly rebelled against the Nazis. Based on a true story.
"I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who is for or against. I'm a human being, first and foremost, and as such I'm for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole." — Malcolm X