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The Story of the World's Oldest Library

by Hena Khan ; illustrated by Nabila Adani

Pub Date: May 5th, 2024
ISBN: 9781643794235
Publisher: Lee & Low Books

The story of the Al-Qarawiyyin Library in Fez, Morocco, narrated by the building itself.

In 859, Fatima Al-Fihri, the daughter of a rich merchant, decided to build a mosque and school. “I began as a small corner for books, where Fatima spent hours reading, thinking, and dreaming.” Over time, the library explains that it “grew into a grand building.” The library, which served both Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and Al-Qarawiyyin University, was a tranquil space within bustling Fez. Visitors were greeted by a quiet courtyard filled with fountains and lanterns. A special room secured by copper doors with four locks protected its treasures: “an ancient Quran written on camel-leather pages, a philosopher’s drawings of the stars, and handwritten sheets with ink made from real gold.” Debates by Muslim explorer Muhammad al-Idrisi, Jewish philosopher Maimonides, and many others echoed in the library’s reading rooms. But eventually the library fell into disrepair, and visitors stopped coming. Its once-beautiful tiles were now broken and faded, its ceilings were cracked, and water damage threatened its books. Finally, in 2012, architect Aziza Chaouni restored this historic institution, now the world’s oldest continuously operating library. Adani’s digital illustrations highlight beautiful architectural details such as latticed partitions and suffuse the building with a warm glow. Khan’s first-person prose imbues the subject with both intimacy and a sense of majesty; readers will come away awed at the role of libraries as repositories of knowledge.

A moving tribute to a cultural treasure.

(author’s note, glossary, references) (Informational picture book. 5-8)