Picture Books on the History of Libraries, Part 1

It’s not difficult to find picture books about libraries. Kids visiting libraries. Fanciful libraries full of bears, mice, and dragons. The world of imagination that is opened up through books. Curious George, Franklin, Corduroy, Arthur, Amelia Bedelia, Spot, the Gingerbread Man — it seems that every beloved character has appeared in a picture book about the library. But what about picture books about the history of libraries?

Children’s books about libraries through history and around the world are not quite so common. When I searched online I didn’t come up with any lists that focused on such books. So after a little digging I put together my own list and decided to write a series of posts to showcase the books I discovered.

This first post in the series highlights books about libraries in different parts of the world. Next I plan to look at library “firsts” including Thomas Jefferson’s library, bookmobiles, and even a book boat. Then I’ll present a surprising number of books about the challenges faced by African Americans and migrant workers in connection with libraries. I’ll likely end the series with one more post bringing together miscellaneous picture books on the history of libraries.

Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post and subscribe to the blog (under the search bar) to make sure you don’t miss any of the series.

Libraries Around the World

Today we’re looking at eight books about libraries around the world: two that cover many countries, one about a Mexican poet, two about a mobile library in Columbia, two about saving books in Iraq, and one about protests in Egypt. I hope they’ll give you a renewed appreciation for libraries, the blessing of books, and the important work of librarians.

Inside the Books: Readers and Libraries Around the World by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Jude Daly (Upstart Books, 2012)

The short rhyming text in this picture book blends descriptions of different types of libraries — in seven countries — with the topics found inside the books. The sidebars that provide facts are equally brief (e.g. “Chile is on the continent of South America. In the capital city of Santiago, two old train cars have been turned into libraries in busy parks.”) It’s a quick readaloud that young children should enjoy listening to while they look at the pictures of beaches, knights, koalas, and more. Recommended for ages 3 to 6.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs (Boyds Mills Press, 2005)

This photo essay looks at libraries in thirteen countries, including Australia, Finland, Mongolia, and Zimbabwe. A two-page spread with several photographs is devoted to each country, along with an info box that includes the population of the country, a map, and a picture of its flag. The text is informative, rather than narrative, and includes quotations from librarians. Young children will enjoy the pictures of books delivered by bus, wheelbarrow, and even elephants, but the text is geared toward slightly older readers. Recommended for ages 8 to 10.

A Library for Juana: The World of Sor Juana Ines by Pat Mora, illustrated by Beatriz Vidal (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2002)

This picture book is an inspiring biography of Sor (Sister) Juana Ines de la Cruz (1649-1695), a Mexican nun and poet with a famous library. The descriptive language and colourful illustrations make this a pleasant read. It ends with a glossary of Spanish words and an author’s note providing biographical info. Recommended for ages 5 to 8.

Biblioburro: A True Story from Columbia by Jeannette Winter (Beach Lane Books, 2010)

The short, simple text of this picture book describes how school teacher Luis Soriano began a travelling library with two burros to carry books to remote Columbian villages. The vivid illustrations are full of plants and animals. The author’s note explains that his library of 70 books has now grown to 4,800 and serves 300 people. Recommended for ages 4 to 7.

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra (Tricycle Press, 2011)

This book about Luis Soriano’s travelling library is told from the perspective of Ana, a little girl who longs for books to read. When the Biblioburro arrives at her village she excitedly picks out books to borrow. In the following weeks she writes her own book about the Biblioburro while she waits for it to return. The illustrations are very imaginative. The author’s note mentions travelling libraries around the world and there is a glossary of about 20 Spanish words. Recommended for ages 5 to 8.

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeannette Winter (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005)

This colourful picture book tells the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra’s Central Library, who rescued the books from the library nine days before it burned down during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The destruction of war is shown with planes, bombs, and fires, but bright colours and simple shapes are used rather than realistic details. The author’s note states the source of the story: a New York Times article of July 27, 2003. Recommended for ages 5 to 8.

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004)

This 32-page graphic novel tells the same story of Alia’s feat in saving the books of the Basra Central Library for an older audience. It emphasizes the importance not only of books, but of history, culture, and collective memory, and dramatically portrays the rescue of the books as Alia repeatedly fills the trunk of her car and enlists friends to help as war moves closer. At the end is a full page of information on the history of libraries in the Middle East. Recommended for ages 8 to 12.

Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya, illustrated by Susan L. Roth (Dial Books, 2012)

Hands Around the Library is the story of young people protecting the Library of Alexandria from looters during the revolution of 2011. The straightforward text uses short sentences and the illustrations are collages using materials of different textures. It ends with information on the ancient and modern Library of Alexandria, as well as the January 25, 2011 Revolution, plus a short list of resources and a personal note from the illustrator. Recommended for ages 5 to 8.

Do you have any favourite picture books about libraries? I’d love to hear.