Hands Around The Library Author's Blog

Blog posts from Karen Leggett Abouraya and Susan L. Roth, the authors of The Hands Around The Library - Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books.

The Author's Blog

Guest blogger Tharwat Abouraya is my Egyptian-born husband, now with dual citizenship. He recently returned from a visit to Egypt. In Alexandria, he worked with many good people at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to expand the distribution of Hands Around the Library and follow the progress of the Library's Arabic translation of Hands. In Cairo, he met with Lisa Anderson, President of the American University of Cairo, who is also helping to make Hands more widely available in Egypt. Tharwat's handwriting is on all the Arabic protest signs in our book - and now he has some protests and comments of his own.

Egyptians succeeded to topple Mubarak on January 25, 2011, because they were united Egyptians inclusive of all religions and social classes and they had a single goal. To bring Egypt to harmony again, Egyptians must focus on their shared singular goal of living together despite their differences to realize a better life now and in the future.

There is a disconnect between the current regime and the people’s demands. The rulers’ lack of awareness of the Main Street in Egypt is the core of the uprising: too many people fear being hungry. Democracy cannot thrive in a land of empty stomachs.  In addition, some are finding that their own interpretation of the Quran does not match with that of the Islamists governing Egypt, especially with regard to violence and discrimination against their own people as well as people of other faiths.  

Protest march in Alexandria, Egypt, in January 2013

Beyond physical needs, Egypt needs political stability, security and employment. There must be support for the private sector and an end to corruption. Egypt must be able to take advantage once again of its unique, God-given and created resources:

  • Mediterranean & Red Sea beaches,
  • energy from the sun,
  • the Nile River, second longest in the world, and
  • the world’s largest and first open air museum


What's different two years after the revolution? The 25 Jan 2011 Revolution lit a fire under American-Egyptians to start their first ever political lobbying organization in the U.S. – the American Egyptian Strategic Alliance, AESA. Within Egypt, more young adults and youth are becoming engaged in political discussions and following the political news.  More Egyptians vote in local and national elections, including many first time voters. Noticeably more young adults and youth are volunteering in home grown community projects, like the Nebny Foundation and Nahdet Al Mahrosha.  

More is needed. 

Egyptian students in schools and universities must learn to debate, communicate and influence others.  Volunteer opportunities should provide young people with new skills and alleviate some of Egypt’s immediate problems – improving trash collection and continuing to protect tourist sites, libraries and cultural organizations: just as they did during the revolution itself at the Cairo Museum and the Alexandria Library. 

Tharwat Abouraya and AUC President Lisa Anderson, in her Cairo office

Hits: 1813

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

The book will live, says Ismail Serageldin with definitive optimism, but there have been and will continue to be enormous transformations in the way books are delivered.  The Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina recently addressed the first International Summit of the Book at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.   Dr. Serageldin’s full lecture is here, with a few highlights below.

In the third millennia BCE, Egyptian papyrus became the perfect medium for writing. For thousands of years, books were written on scrolls of papyrus – hundreds of thousands of them stored at the original library of Alexandria. In fact, the Phoenician port of Byblos, through which papyrus was exported to Greece, provided the Greek word for book (biblos).  By the fifth century CE, the codex was replacing the scroll – leaves of paper with writing on both sides, bound along the spine. Dr. Serageldin quoted Umberto Eco who called the codex, “One of those felicitous inventions that once discovered remained unchanged, like the spoon, the hammer, the scissors and the axe.” 

The book spread wildly with the invention of the printing press, of course, and it has survived radio, movies, television – all of which were supposed to signal the end of reading and books. There are more books today than at any time in history and the Internet review source Goodreads counts 12 million readers as members of its global virtual book clubs.

But Dr. Serageldin does believe “we are witnessing the last days of the absolute dominance of the codex as the primary receptacle in which the book is stored and read.” The book, however, will survive as “collections of words of unimaginable variety and power. Doubtless it will take different shapes that we cannot even imagine, but it will be suited to worlds we cannot imagine…” He trusts the youth of the world to create the books of tomorrow, and for himself – he will read virtual books in the air, “celebrating the codex as my companion and libraries as paradise.”

Follow Dr. Serageldin on Twitter

Follow Hands Around the Library on Twitter or Facebook

Dr. Serageldin views original art from Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Book

Hits: 1880

From Maryland to Texas and in between, we will be sharing the story of Hands Around the Library in 2013. On March 23, I am delighted to participate in a Publishing Day panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. On April 11, I will present Hands Around the Library at the State of Maryland International Reading Association Council (SoMIRAC) and participate in a panel with other members of the Children’s Book Guild of Washington, D.C.  Susan and I will both be presenters at the Texas Library Association Conference on April 27. 

I am also looking forward to a few conversations with young readers – in January at the Easttown Library in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, and in February at Burnt Mills Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD, under the auspices of An Open Book Foundation.

There is more information about the types of visits we can arrange here. We are eager to talk with children and adults not only about the moving story of Hands Around the Library but also the power of civic engagement and peaceful resistance.

We are also pleased to be featured this month in the CLCD Newsletter, where you can find out a little more about how Susan and I came to write Hands Around the Library. Newsletter editor Emily Griffin asked the intriguing question, “If you could only save a small handful of books from your personal library, which would you choose and why?”  How would you answer the question?

Hits: 1605

Sharing books with children can be enlightening, surprising and just plain fun. 

Most recently I shared Hands Around the Library at Forest Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, MD.

Fifth graders Jay and Adrianna interviewed me for an in-school television news program, asking how I came to be an author and whether I had a favorite book: the secret question I never answer when creating online accounts because I fear I will never provide the same answer twice.  The book that came to my mind at that moment was Heidi – Adrianna acknowledged knowing the movie and librarian Susan Osmun said the book was indeed in the school library.  


Heidi was originally published in 1880.I have my mother’s copy of Johanna Spyri’s novel, published in 1924 in Akron, Ohio. So yes – a true classic and yet quite ahead of its time in portraying a strong girl protagonist and an inclusive, can-do attitude toward people with disabilities.   One of the many treasures the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was designed to protect, as a matter of fact.








On election day, I “Skyped” with a small class of Americans in Costa Rica. I wanted these 7 and 8 year old children to understand what made an election unfair, so we had them vote for carrots or cookies. There were only six children but the vote was seven to four in favor of carrots.

 “But we all wanted cookies,” said one little boy.

 “It’s peculiar,” said a little girl, “some of the ballots have the same handwriting.” 


The children figured out the ballot box had been unfairly stuffed with carrot votes.  Teacher Erika Dooley declared the results final – carrots had won. The kids felt cheated. They said they felt bad, weird, might not vote again.  But they learned exactly why people in Egypt protested, overturning their government but leaving the library in Alexandria intact. And of course, they are protesting again against unfairness in Egypt even now.



Earlier in the year, 4th and 5th graders at Burgundy Farm County Day School in Alexandria, Virginia,  Skyped with youngsters at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. I asked if they had ever felt like taking action to make something happen at their school or in their neighborhood.  One student explained that her class wanted a pajama day, so that when “you wake up in the morning, you don’t have to change your clothes because you wear your pajamas to school.” The teacher wasn’t so sure. “So we got a piece of paper and everyone who wanted a pajama day signed the paper and the teacher said we could have a pajama day.”  The goal may seem frivolous but the children learned the value of peaceful, positive protest – who knows where that little feeling of empowerment might lead someday!

On almost the same day I mentioned my love of Heidi, I learned that Hands Around the Library is available as an eBook on iTunes. It turns out Heidi is there too!  We may worry that books will become dinosaurs in our digital age, but technology - from eBooks to Skype to the Internet generally – really just enables us to share classical treasures and new ones with more and more children. And that means more opportunities to watch light bulbs go off, grins appear and daydreams percolate.

Are you a teacher, parent, librarian or friend of children? Share a moment when you've experienced the joy or wisdom of a child while sharing a book or an idea...

For tips on Skyping with an author or arranging visits by Karen Leggett Abouraya or Susan Roth, click here.





Hits: 1667

Posted by on in The Author's Blog

(The Un-tangled, True Stories of What's BEHIND the Pictures in Hands Around the Library, and other stories)

*The un-covered, un-pasted, un-glued(?!) secrets of my collage making.
*Techniques revealed HERE!
*The dis-solve-ment of the adhesive mysteries.
*The unadulterated truths about the tapes, recorded HERE!
*No scraps of information left uncovered.
*No shreds of truth concealed.
*The tell-all of what was found on the cutting-room floor.
*The cut cloth capers.
*The mystery of the missing scissors solved!
*The dis-spellments of the suspicions, the full exposures of the lies, just the facts, nothing but the truths and more.

"Are you sure you didn't paint this?" "Aren't these PENCIL marks?" "That eyebrow looks like the line of an indelible pen to me!" "Get out of here, I know the work of a one-haired brush when I see it!"

FACTS: I DON'T PAINT! Some of my illustrations may resemble watercolors, but I achieve that look with layers and layers of gossamer papers, many of which come from Japan and other faraway places, but some of which might well come from a well-wrapped sandwich-to-go, from a carry-out joint right here in New York.

SECRET REVEALED: I NEVER use greasy food-impregnated papers from sandwiches or pastries because I do not wish to invite mice into my studio even though some of my books include their images.
About those skinny lines: I have bouquets of skinny scissors that can cut exceedingly small.

2- CLUES: If one looks carefully at the illustrations in good light, the edges of these thin, heavily-layered papers are usually discernible. Also visible, the edges of those skinny lines: they are ever-so-slightly raised.

3- ILLUSIONS: Sometimes visible are pieces of photographs that I have taken, perhaps enlarged or made smaller on my own little printer, then copied several times to be used as papers. I sometimes make visual patterns using these pieces of photos. My intention is to give the sense of the reality rather then an exact representation of the reality.


4- DELUSIONS: Sometimes when I create these abstractions the result is very obvious to me, i.e., I can still "see" that reality from which my interpretation was derived. But sometimes these visions are in my own head alone. Case in point: I abstracted the glass walls of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to a series of blue and white triangles to be used for the title page background. When my art director saw this she begged me to create something more concrete, more understandable, instead. Result: there are books on the title page.


 5- MISSING! The secret of the as-it-were-Emperor's new clothes in this book is that most of the people are only half-dressed. None of the people are wearing ANYTHING on their backsides! In fact, plenty of people are missing their body parts that don't show…IF they're anyway hidden from view. What you don't see probably is not there.

6- STUCK! The glue I use most is a household adhesive from Japan. It is not poison. Eating it will not kill you although I do not recommend swallowing the evidence. This water-soluble glue is re-positional as are almost all of my adhesives, tapes included. This means that I do change my mind at will. Never count on any part of any picture finishing where it started!

7- DISGUISES: The people, places and things that I depict might look something like what I am trying to represent, but they are not attempts at realistic renderings. Example: Dr. Serageldin told me that he has a grey tweed suit, but although his own is of a woven fabric, it is not identical to the naïf lattice-work interpretation of tweed that I created for his paper image's suit.

CLOTH VS. PAPER, VICE VERSA, AND OTHER MISCONCEPTIONS DEBUNKED: The giant flag on the Library steps is made of papers. The librarian's headscarf is made of a reduced and copied photograph. Unlike Dr. Serageldin's grey suit, the guy in the BROWN tweed is wearing genuine wool fabric suit. Conclusion: What you see may not be what it is. But then again, it may well be.

Mysteries solved? I hope NOT!


8- CONFESSIONS (finally, a few, all true): My best ever scissors, confiscated by airport security guards at the gate as I was last leaving Australia, have been replaced! In Germany this past week the identical scissors mysteriously turned up in the gift shop of the Bauhaus Museum. Learning from my hard-learned lesson, these beauties have traveled safely back to America in my shipped-through luggage and are now sitting in a place of honor on my desk. 

They do not sit alone. Also found in Germany last week: a pair of equally gorgeous tweezers, the best I have ever seen---a pointy, sharp perfection of beautifully designed stainless steel, worth every outrageous euro. And by the way, the secret of the new tools, revealed by the charming salesman in the Bauhaus shop, but only in a whisper, after the store had actually closed for the day and he was staying late just for me, is this: they're made in Switzerland!

Hits: 1681