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.

Karen Leggett Abouraya

Karen Leggett Abouraya

Karen Leggett-Abouraya grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, surrounded by writing and books: her father was a journalist and her mother is a retired school librarian. Karen was a broadcast journalist for many years on ABC Radio WMAL in Washington, D.C., where she began reviewing and discussing children’s books. She has also reviewed children’s books and interviewed authors for the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, Children’s Literature, Washington Parent and others. Karen graduated from Brown University (international relations) and met her Egyptian husband in Washington. They have two children and have been lucky enough to visit Egypt many times – especially Alexandria, her husband’s hometown.

Two Years, Twenty-seven Branches

Pamela Ehrenberg’s novels and picture books for young readers, including the recent Queen of the Hannukah Dosas, can be found in many local libraries—as well as more distant libraries. Pam writes this blog as a fellow member of the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. She would love to hear from readers who have undertaken or are undertaking similar library explorations in DC and other locations around the world; feel free to reach out via her website at www.pamelaehrenberg.com - or add a comment below.


 In late 2016, the demolition trucks arrived at the library in our Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C., clearing the way for the new building to come.

 It was the best possible reason to demolish a library. And the new branch will be terrific in two years. But in the meantime, every car ride to the interim location made me miss walking to our neighborhood branch even more. I needed a solution that focused on moving forward.

Around the same time, national conversations were unfolding about how communities could break down barriers and talk to one another.  Our country needed solutions that focused on moving forward

I asked my kids (12-1/2-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son): what if we try to visit all of the other DC Public Library branches before our neighborhood library re-opens?

It’s not that people from our Upper Northwest neighborhood never venture east of Rock Creek Park, or the Anacostia River. But too often it’s in a spirit of well-meaning temporary helpfulness that doesn’t generate long-term solutions.

Dorothy Height LibraryOur library visits wouldn’t focus on solutions: there’s too much foundational work to do first. Our visits are a reminder that every single community is built on strengths—and that many of us don’t yet know enough to be truly helpful. What better place than a library to remember how much there is to learn?

With Metro cards and GPS, a library map and open minds, we began exploring our city. Libraries provided the excuse we needed to visit the Anacostia Museum, Labyrinth Games, the DC State Fair. The Benning branch was sort of on the way to visit grandparents in Baltimore.  At some branches, we didn’t have as many hours I would have liked for a full neighborhood exploration, but I’ve learned not to postpone this sort of purposeful wandering until some mythical “free time.” Our time is now.

In every community, we can find a novel to absorb on the Metro, a collection of new chess strategies, a gripping middle-grade book to enjoy together on CD. At the branches named in their honor, we’ve learned about the contributions Watha T. Daniel and Dorothy I. Height  made to our city.

And we’ve been able to imagine, just for a moment, living in other communities. We’ve remembered that real live people live in all four wards, even tiny Southwest, where some of the tweens play computer games at the library Saturday afternoons. Real live people approach their libraries by car and on foot, alone and in pairs, and most of them are very happy to take our photo in front of the library sign. Real live people live close to and far from public transportation, supermarkets, the array of job opportunities that people in other parts of the country may think of when they hear “Washington.” But everyone we’ve met in libraries can access . . . libraries.


Meanwhile, the progress on our neighborhood branch reminds us of our deadline. I know I’ll miss this project after the last map pin is in place and our goal is eventually achieved. But I’ll also look to new goals—building on this initial comfort level toward deeper conversations about our shared city.

Because library locations aren’t acorns but “branches:” not a finite ending but a path to what’s next. And for our family, the exploration is just beginning.






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“Diversity is not a trend,” says acclaimed editor and publisher Neal Porter. “It is a fact of life.”

Also a fact of life are the increasing ways to find, read and promote books by diverse authors with diverse stories and protagonists.

Multicultural Children's book DayThis Saturday, January 27, will be Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD), initiated in 2014 by children’s author Valarie Budayr and blogger Mia Wenjen with a mission to “not only raise awareness for kids’ books that celebrate diversity but to get more of these books into classrooms and libraries.”  They define multicultural books as

  • Books that contain characters of color, as well as characters that represent a minority point of view.
  • Books that share ideas, stories, and information about cultures, race, religion, language, and traditions.
  • Books that embrace our world, and offer children new ways to connect to a diverse and richer world.


These are precisely the books that author Gene Luen Yang encouraged with his “Reading Without Walls” Challenge to read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you, a book about a topic you don’t know much about, or a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun. 

How many of those have you read in the past year?  And where do you find the best of these books to read? 

The MCBD website  features a wealth of book and award lists as well as activities for teachers and parents. There are book giveaways and a Twitter party Saturday night, July 27, at 9:00 pm Eastern Time. Just sign into your Twitter account, search for the hashtag #ReadYourWorld and join the conversation – maybe even win some books. In addition, Read Your World: A Guide to Multicultural Children’s Books for Parents and Educators ebook created by the MCBD team will be FREE from January 23rd-29th.

Read Africa WeekOnce you are all pumped up after Multicultural Children’s Book Day, prepare to celebrate Read Africa Week during the first week of February. The founders of the Children’s Africana Book Awards invite teachers, librarians, parents and concerned adults to kick off Black History Month with great books about Africa – and then continue reading about Africa all year long. Here are the 2017 CABA winners as well as a Pencil Tips Writing Workshop with writing prompts based on one of the winners, Evan Turk’s The Storyteller about Morocco. On Monday, January 29, I’ll be posting another Writing Workshop about Nnedi Okorafor’s Nigerian tale Chicken in the Kitchen (Illustrated by Nekrdokht Amini).

 A brand new list of books for young readers highlights girls and women of many ethnic backgrounds who are “bold, adventurous and daring. They stand out, and their stories offer much-needed inspiration to young people navigating difficult and confusing times,” writes Takoma Park, MD, librarian Karen MacPherson in The Washington Post.

Finally – and including all types of books – is World Read Aloud Day on February 1: Read aloud. Change the world.  I and many authors will be Skyping with classrooms all around the United States on this day. I’m looking forward to speaking with Susan Walterich’s students at A.J. Schmidt Elementary School in Angola, New York; Lisa Straubinger’s fourth graders at T. Baldwin Demarest School in Old Tappan, New Jersey, and Crystal Brunelle’s third graders at Northern Hills Elementary School in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Skype offers a page to find authors available for video chats with students and author Kate Messner also maintains a list of authors available for World Read Aloud Day conversations.

Now it’s your turn.  Do you have favorite diverse books or authors you’d like to recommend? Please add them as a comment to this blog – with links to reviews, awards or other information.

 Thank you for sharing a new book today with a child!

MCBD Poster


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The Baltimore Luxor Alexandria Sister City Committee (BLASCC) and its Friends of the BA (Bibliotheca Alexandrina) have just co-sponsored the Egyptian premier of the film The Sultan and The Saint in Cairo. Two-hundred people attended the Cairo screening and discussion organized by Ezzat Ibrahim with the publication Al Ahram Weekly.  BLASCC Chairman Tharwat Abouraya helped organize two successful screenings in Washington, D.C. at 

Sultan and the Saintthe Egyptian Culture and Education Mission (with Cultural Counselor Mohamed Hamza) and as part of the Montgomery College Rockville/Global Nexus Program (with Enas Elhanafi). 

Yet another screening is planned as part of this month’s International Friends of the BA meeting in Alexandria: The Arabic-subtitled version of The Sultan and The Saint will be open to the public at the BA Tuesday, October 17, from 10:00 am – 12:30 pm, including expert discussion and a Skype Q&A with film director Alex Kronemer.  The film dramatizes a true story of peacemaking between Egyptian Sultan Malik Al Kamal and St. Francis of Assisi during the Crusades – a story with an urgent message for our turbulent times. We anticipate more screenings and discussions in the Baltimore-Washington area and will let you know when they are scheduled.


BLASCC and the Friends are also delighted to announce the beginning of two collaborations between American and Egyptian children. 

  • Sixth graders at the SEED School, a public boarding school in Baltimore, Maryland, are planning to converse online with sixth graders at St. Vincent de Paul Language School in Alexandria, Egypt.  They expect to have regular conversations throughout the year on a variety of subjects. SEED School teacher Dianna Newton and St. Vincent de Paul teacher Virginia Samir are leading the way in this project initiated by BLASCC member Hany Eldeib.


  • I am collaborating with Dalia ElKony, Head of the BA's Children's and Young People's Libraries, and her exemplary staff to bring together students from St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington, Virginia (librarian Mary Anne O’Rourke) and young people at the BA for regular book club discussions. Initially, I will be talking to the St. Thomas More students about the ancient and new libraries in Alexandria. Dalia is eager to organize book clubs with students in both countries reading and discussing common books. If you are interested in initiating a similar project, do let me know!


My own enthusiasm for the library in Alexandria was sparked with the 2012 publication of Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books. Illustrator Susan L. Roth and I were honored with a Children’s Africana Book Award (CABA) in 2013 and this year, CABA is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a festive dinner on November 3 and a free family festival at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art on November 4.  Make plans to attend both (deadline for dinner reservations is October 20). 

 One of this year’s CABA winners is The Storyteller by Evan Turk, conveying in a beautifully illustrated picture book the magical power of storytelling.  My Pencil Tips Writing Workshop blog here provides some writing prompts for young people based on Evan’s book.    



CABA has now honored a total of 90 books set in 24 African countries, with a website that offers scholarly reviews and criteria for evaluating books that truly reflect the diversity of the African continent. All seven current winners and more than ten former winners are planning to attend the CABA dinner and the festival. 





The film screenings, the school collaborations and the CABA awards are all ways of building global awareness and empathy – I look forward to sharing progress in future blogs. Please share your own projects and ideas to expand the next generation's awareness of our wider world.





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Gene Luen Yang was a programmer and cartoonist who is now the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Comics continue to be his first love and perhaps that is why he is asking us all to Read Without Walls this year.  

Find out what Gene talking about as you think about books to take to the beach, on the plane or just sitting in the back yard this summer.  I enjoyed writing this guest post for As the Eraser Burns, a blog from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia.  Continue reading here.




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When I ask young children what they know about Egypt, the answer is typically pyramids and mummies.  When Elaine, a library media specialist who posted a comment on one of our blogs,  asks her students what they know about Africa, she hears about animals and the desert.

That is why the first week of Black History Month is Read Africa Week – an effort to change misperceptions about the African continent. And it is a continent, with more diversity among its countries than among the states of our own nation.

 REad Africa Week poster

In 2008, Brenda Randolph, the librarian who founded the Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) and Read Africa Week, reviewed 30 children’s books about Africa and found more than 90 percent showed only rural or village life and jungles. So Brenda titled the article she co-authored with Elizabeth DuMulder in Teaching Tolerance Magazine that year, “I didn’t know there were cities in Africa.”  Unfortunately, nine years later, Brenda says little has changed, even though there is more conversation about diverse children’s books and more books about African countries available.  

Map of Africa highlighting GhanaThis year’s Read Africa Week focuses on Ghana. There are bookmarks to download and lists of picture and chapter books, CABA winners and adult books – accurate, balanced and recommended by scholars. The first CABA was presented in 1992. Since then, more than 70 titles have been recognized. There are lesson plans and ideas accompanying many of the titles.

Maimunah Marah, the founder of Tutu’s Storybooks – an online and pop-up bookstore in the greater Washington, D.C. area – recommends six ways to introduce young children to Ghana -

  • Read Anansi storybooks.
  • Read storybooks about mythical characters from the Asante.
  • Read storybooks about Kente cloth.
  • Read the Ghanian version of a classic tale.
  • Read storybooks set in modern-day Ghana.
  • Read stories by Ghanian authors.

Maimunah suggests specific books in each category in her blog.  If you know others, please add them in a comment below along with any activities or projects you work on with students.

The importance of building children’s awareness of people who live in other places and in different ways cannot be overstated.  Stereotypes contribute to racism and xenophobia.  As Brenda wrote in Teaching Tolerance,  “If the next generation of students develops a deeper and more respectful understanding of African countries, then our foreign relations and policies will follow suit.”

A few other tips when teaching and talking about Africa -

  • Use specific country names.
  • Use regular language (“house” and “people,” not “hut” and “tribe.”
  • Share contemporary stories as well as folktales.
  • Highlight everyday modern activities.
  • Don’t forget about North Africa, including Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and of course Egypt – which is why we were honored to accept a CABA award for Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books in 2013. 





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This blog first appeared as a Pencil Tips Writing Workshop


MarilynNelsonCurtRichterPhotography.pngUsually when we talk about diverse books, we mean books that enable children of all ethnic groups to see themselves in the books they read.  In this year’s Zena Sutherland lecture, the African-American poet Marilyn Nelson added this notion.

 “While reading about characters and experiences we already know is affirming, and while self-affirmation is an important aspect of self-knowledge, literature offers more than the experience of reading in a cubicle with a mirror. Literature allows us to extend our understanding beyond ourselves; it asks us whether we can understand others. Literature teaches us empathy.”

 And this year’s Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Gene Yang wants young readers – all of us for that matter – to have empathy with people who are not like us.  He is asking children “to read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.” He calls it his “Reading Without Walls Challenge.”  

Such reading opens the door to countless writing prompts.  

  • How is the child in the book different from you? What is the same?
  • How are your days different or the same?
  • What would you like to do with that child if you could meet her?
  • What would you show that person if he came to your school?


The next question might be where to find such books – especially good, accurate ones. One answer is to look at awards such as the Children’s Africana Book Awards (CABA) - and the African Studies Association’s Teacher’s Workshop Dec 3 in Washington, D.C. - the  Middle East Outreach Council, and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

This year’s recently celebrated CABA awards include an exuberantly illustrated folk tale from Nigeria, Chicken in the Kitchen, written by Nnedi Okorafor, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria, and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini, an Iranian artist living in Great Britain. 

Elizabeth Wein wrote Black Dove White Raven, a World War II young adult novel about a black boy and a white girl raised together in Ethiopia. 

Miranda Paul wrote One Plastic Bag and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon, about Isatou Ceesay’s efforts to recycle discarded plastic bags in her community.  

An earlier Pencil Tips Workshop focused on the CABA honor book, Emmanuel’s Dream, written by Laurie Ann Thompson and illustrated by Sean Qualls, about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboa who was born with a deformed leg yet grew up to play soccer and raise money for people with disabilities in Ghana.




The opportunity to read, think and write about any of these books gives children a chance to deepen their awareness of countries where they may one day live or travel or have a friend – and build pride in their own countries of origin.


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Several important events coincided recently in Washington.  The Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress organized a panel discussion on the role of heritage in storytelling. Kiran Singh Sirah told another audience at the Library of Congress about the importance of stories as bridges of diversity. And the Friends of the Library Montgomery County honored young winners of its Mosaic creative writing contest on diversity.

Kiran Singh Sirah, president of the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee, has parents from India and Uganda, a brother born in Uganda and Sirah himself was raised in the U.K. He sees stories as a binding force: “We must be the story we want to see in the world.”


Upstairs, Cuban American author Meg Medina noted that in 2016, 81 million people living in the United States are immigrants (people without U.S. citizenship at birth) or the children of immigrants – a quarter of the entire population of our country.  Several panelists and audience members spoke of not seeing themselves in books as children but also not being aware that was a problem.  Pakistani American author Aisha Saeed said books can make a difference for children who feel left out or bullied because they are different. Chinese American author Wendy Shang said the most useful question today is, “What more could you do if you saw yourself in books?”

There are several efforts to draw attention to the need for more diversity in children’s books, including ethnicity, gender orientation, disability and more.

And if you don’t see the story you want in a book, start writing!

The Mosaic creative writing contest gives middle school students in Montgomery County a chance to celebrate their diversity in writing. For the past six years, students from every public middle school in Montgomery County have been invited to submit essays, poems or short stories expressing their personal reflections on diversity and culture.   Here is a sampling of the winning entries.


Vera Chaudhry, 6th grade, Thomas W. Pyle Middle School

“When I see people stereotype based on culture, it makes me wonder.

What will it take to cure their blunder?

Each place has its own logic,

Just look at its positives and it’ll create magic!

Culture is what makes each of us different,

It impacts our clothing and food; we can’t be ignorant.

To make a world not bland and the same,

We must celebrate from where each of us came.”


Tessa Brizhik, 6th grade, John Poole Middle School

“…I now understand Papa a little better. For example why he always tells us to eat bananas! He explained that when he was little bananas were rare. I realize now, he wants us to appreciate having them and doesn’t understand why we sometimes don’t want to eat them. This trip has shown me that Russian and American cultures are different, but both cultures represent who I am…Not only my genes and cells make up who I am, but it’s also my heritage and all the people and experiences that I have learned from that make up who I, Tessa Brizhik, am.”


Amy Vinh,7th grade, Ridgeview Middle School

“…Visiting Vietnam, I never would’ve expected for the people to have inspired me the way that they had with such courage, strength, and love. Vietnam may seem like a penniless and unkempt country to some, but not so deeply under the surface is a country that has suffered countless tragedies, and yet still has a heart of gold.”


Abrar Sheikh, 7th grade, Roberto Clemente Middle School

“…I live with Indian blood in my veins, but an American heart.

I lived as two people, different but the same.

In school my pledge to America is what makes my day start.

At home, there is a different me under the same name.

Either way, both of them are who I am.”


Jessica Ye, 8th grade, Thomas Pyle Middle School

:…if you are being hurt by what others are saying about your culture or if you are lost and aren’t sure who to identify with, remember to always be who you are and think outside the box. You’ll find who you are and those that make fun of you for having an amazing cultural identity are the ones that need to find respect in their own cultures and identities.”


Annabelle Sargent, 8th Grade, Earle B. Wood Middle School

“…My grandparents have never had anything but a hard life

They deserve better

But that’s not what they’ll get

People mock their accents,

Their mismatched clothes

The way they smell like noodles

The things I love about them

Aren’t good enough for others

So they will die



And forgotten by most

Except for a few golden memories

In the back of my mind.”


Luka Brizhik, John Poole Middle School

“…I ran to the window and saw the cherry blossom tree (Great job, Japan!) blossoming in our yard. I looked down on the floor and saw the Persian rug that my father had bought me. I look at the wall where my poster of Missi hung (You make Argentina proud!)…I started to think about how other cultures impact my life on a daily basis and I don’t even notice it. So many ideas, beliefs and inventions wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for other cultures.”


Many of the parents and grandparents who sacrificed so much to bring their families to America were proudly in the audience for the Mosaic award ceremony. Congratulations to them all – and good luck to next year’s writers!   

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I recently had the pleasure of writing about American universities welcoming women from Middle Eastern countries to their campuses.  The article has just been published in NAFSA's International Educator magazine. NAFSA is the professional organization for study abroad coordinators on college campuses. 

The number of students from the greater Middle East and North Africa has more than tripled since 2000 to more than 103,000 in 2014–15. The largest number by far come from Saudi Arabia, whose generous King Abdullah scholarship program is now entering its second decade, but there have been significant increases in students from Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, and Yemen as well. More than a quarter of the 90,000 students coming to the United States from Saudi Arabia are women. Although the overall percentage of women is not tracked, U.S. campuses are finding it may take more than a simple foreign student orientation to help them feel comfortable and welcome.

I welcome your comments after you've read the article here.

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School Girls Unite is a perfect example of young women making a difference in the world.  SGU began in 2004 in Kensington, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., when a group of 12-year-old girls and young African women discussed discrimination and education. The girls started paired organizations in the U.S. and in Mali; SGU began raising money for scholarships for girls in Mali. There are several SGU chapters in the United States – but the core connection between Maryland and Mali continues.  I have shared Hands Around the Library at an SGU Day of the Girl event, and SGU members have helped me present Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words, at events in schools, libraries and the Library of Congress.  In this blog, I am pleased to share a newsletter article written by Sophie Cobb & Ilhan Alyanak, School Girls Unite Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Maryland.


School Girls Unite usually skypes every Wednesday afternoon with Fatoumata Coulibaly, the president of Les Filles Unies pour l’Education in Mali (Girls United for Education in Mali). When we aren’t busy with our extracurriculars, we chat online with Fatoumata who goes to an Internet café in Bamako.

Since last November our sister organization that runs our scholarship program started in 2004, has been planning to hold a Day of Awareness about the importance of education of girls in rural Mali. The idea was to bring together students, their parents, teachers, school directors, and government representatives for the first time to the central community of Ouolodo, located 75 km from capital city of Bamako. This event had to be postponed twice because of security issues in Mali but on January 30th -  between 10 am – 3 pm - there were speeches, eating, singing and dancing.

School girls at a Day of Awareness Ceremony in Mali 

Due to poor living conditions, societal and financial obstacles, only one out of every four girls in Mali will reach seventh grade, and only four percent will be enrolled in college. Batoma Diarra with Les Filles Unies writes in her report to School Girls Unite: “This was my first time going to Ouolodo; my trip allowed me to see another reality facing girls.”


Alima, a 6th grade scholarship student, with leader of Les Filles UniesA large setback for girl’s education in the region is child marriage and its impact on young women. In her speech, Fatoumata told the crowd of over 100 people:

“Mossodje was given away to child marriage during her 7th year, so she was unableto continue her studies. In most rural areas, especially in Ouolodo, once a girl is married off, she no longer has the right to attend school.”


Mayor of Ouolodo with 6th grader Alima Diarra and Fatoumata Coulibaly, president of Les Filles Unies

The Mayor spoke of the importance of the education of girls and applauded the efforts of Les Filles Unies since 2004. Alima, one of our scholarship recipients, stood next to the Mayor and spoke into the microphone, saying how the school supplies and monthly tuition provided by School Girls Unite allow her to get an education.

Many of the attendees, including parents, expressed their support for the organization and their hope for a bigger, better and brighter future for their daughters. The current director of one of the schools presented his optimism and confidence in the efforts of Les Filles Unies. Despite being on strike, many of the teachers attended this ceremony. Whether the advice was given to current or potential students, the message was successfully communicated.

During one of our Skype calls, Fatoumata told us how proud she was, adding, “The ceremony was super!”

A 15-minute broadcast by Mali ORTM, the national television station, about this Day of Awareness was a beginning. Fatoumata anticipates a similar ceremony next year, in hopes of spreading the word to an ever larger audience. As Batoma concludes in her report: “Vive les FU vive les SGU!”    Long live Les Filles Unies-Mali – Long live School Girls Unite!


Lots more here


Instagram: _SchoolGirlsUnite

Twitter: @SchoolGirlsLead


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THIS is Read Africa Week - the first week of Black History Month – when teachers, librarians, parents and other adults are encouraged to introduce young people to great books about Africa. If you register as a Read Africa Partner, you have a chance to win a free Read Africa Book bundle. The project is sponsored by Africa Access, the Center for African Studies at Howard University and Howard University’s School of Education.

Africa Access offers lists of recommended picture books, chapter books, new adult reads and winners of its Children’s Africana Book Award. Hands Around the Library won this honor in 2013. In honor of Multicultural Children's Book Day 2016, kindergarten-first grade teacher Gladys Elizabeth Barbieri blogged about her experience reading Hands to her students - including a very thought-provoking activity for these youngest students. 

Africa Access recommends books that

  • Use the names of specific countries
  • Present problems like hunger, poverty, disease and war in a global context and highlight African solutions to these problems.
  • Avoid perpetuating stereotypes about African countries.
  • Avoid inaccurate or biased terms like “primitive,” “uncivilized,” “under-developed.”
  • Include North African countries like Morocco, Algeria and Egypt.
  • Avoid highlighting only exotic practices but emphasize typical social groups and activities with which Western children can identify.
  • Balance information about men and women in African societies.
  • Present holidays and customs respectfully.

There are more questions to ask when evaluating a lesson plan or book here.

 The 2015 CABA award winner is The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

b2ap3_thumbnail_trp.pngPinkney writes in her author’s note that The Red Pencil follows “one child’s journey through grief and possibility” during the scourge of civil war in Darfur, Sudan, in 2004. Through Pinkney’s vivid use of poetry, metaphor, and descriptive language Amira comes alive. We are touched by the simple beauty of her life before the war and the often frightening challenges she struggles to overcome when her broken family must flee to a refugee camp. Here are some Pencil Tips Writing Workshop ideas to use with The Red Pencil and more workshop suggestions for Emmanuels Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls, the true story of a young man from Ghana who was born with only one leg, but became a star bicyclist. Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah now raises money to help people with disabilities.



For those in the greater Washington area, there are several events throughout the month to celebrate Read Africa Week

  • Elizabeth Zunon,  Gaithersburg Public Library, 18330 Montgomery Village Ave, Gaithersburg, MD 20879
    Featured Book: One Plastic Bag : Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon (illus.)
    Saturday February 6, 2016  2:00 p.m.


  • Andrea Pinkney, Martin Luther King Public Library, 901 G St., NW, Washington DC 20001
    Featured Book: The Red Pencil  by Andrea Pinkney and Shane Evans (illus.)
    Thursday February 11, 2016  10:00 a.m.


  • Books to Brushes Painting Party, Silver Spring Public Library 900 Wayne Ave.
    Silver Spring, MD 20910
    Featured Book: Wangari Maathai : The Woman Who Planted Millions of Trees by Franck Prévot and Aurélia Fronty  (illus.)
    Ages 11 up  Space limited, Registration required
    Saturday February 27, 2016, 2:00-4:00


Join Read Africa Partners on Facebook  and Twitter.


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Paula Willey, Karen Leggett, Hasmig Chahinian, Susan Roth, Nadia AbourayaWe thought a conference on informal education might be a small, informal gathering. To our delighted surprise, 650 people registered for the two-day event in October at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt.  They came from Cairo and Alexandria but also Minya and other far-flung towns; there were librarians, college professors, teachers, authors and representatives of NGOs that work with children outside the regular school day. 

The seed for the conference was planted soon after the publication of Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books in 2012 when I met with library director Ismail Serageldin at a Starbucks in Arlington.  Conference ideas were massaged and debated by email until the library staff took over, added its own themes and objectives and scheduled the conference for October 12-13.

Dr. Serageldin said informal education in libraries, museums, zoos and within families should give children “a sense of fun and wonder and a greater ability to interact with their surroundings.” The higher-than-expected registration demonstrated a huge demand for information, resources and tips on storytelling, ways to make learning exciting for children and keep reading important in a digital world. The audience applauded when one attendee said schools focus too much on preparing children to sit for examinations and earn certificates without providing real education.

That audience included people like Sawsan Radwan, whose foundation runs a preschool for poor children near Alexandria, Egypt. She creates her own storybooks and is seeking ways to publish them for a wider audience.  There were several young people from the Nebny Foundation, which offers art and study programs in poor neighborhoods of Cairo. Khalid Aziz came from the Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphanages, which has started Egypt’s first accredited vocational qualification in childcare. (Wataneya video) It was suggested that a considerable number of young adults in Egypt are turning their revolutionary fervor to social action and the conference benefited from their enthusiasm. 

Sawsan Radwan's handmade book for preschoolers

Several people came to share books or educational products they had already created themselves, including Nazih Girgis who has long published his own series of children’s books, some incorporating classical music like Sergei Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and others drawing attention to environmental or health concerns. Olfat Salem and Nadia Atia Kandil came to learn about ways they could enhance their programs for children with special needs and in art at the Alexandria Sporting Club, where I was able to do a separate program about Hands Around the Library for a group of very engaged youngsters.

There were conference presentations on the impact of reading on the brain, the value of folklore and heritage, animation as an education tool, even a cancer hospital for children in Cairo that operates a full time school within its walls. 


Alexandria Sporting Club

The Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Maryland/Washington, D.C., Virginia in the United States and the Baltimore Alexandria Sister City Committee sent Baltimore, Maryland, librarian Paula Willey to the conference as a presenter and participant. Willey said it is important “to get parents used to the idea that they are integral to developing their children’s learning process.” Parents are encouraged not to sit on the sidelines during library storytime so that children come to understand that learning and participating are important activities.

Hasmig Chahinian from the International Board on Books for Young People at the 
National Library of France shared research showing that three areas of the brain are activated when a child listens to stories: visual imagery, association and meaning, and visual associations and meaning.  Reading aloud to children, she said, is a “shared moment of joy, a gift with nothing expected in return.” 

In organizing the conference agenda,  Ingi Abd Elkader, Head of theBA Children’s Library Section, emphasized the importance of both modern multimedia and traditional folklore in informal education. Dr. Mervat Nasser, founder of New Hermopolis, talked about the value of sharing myths to connect children with Egypt’s heritage and teach values without preaching.

Susan L. Roth

Susan Roth and I talked about their children’s picture book Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books as a way to empower children to be active in their own communities. Malak Wassef-Edgar, a member of the Egyptian Friends of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, led a panel discussion on the importance of Egypt’s folkloric heritage, saying modernization should not be considered a threat but an opportunity to use modern tools to protect that heritage.

Several animators, including Shewekar Khalifa and Ahmed Ateyia, expressed concern about the lack of funding for high quality animated films that could open children’s eyes to the world and help preserve an interest in Egypt’s heritage in an increasingly digital world. 

Concluding the conference, Lamia Abdel Fattah, Head of the BA Library Sector, announced that the library would establish an online network for participants to continue sharing ideas, networking and collaborating. I will also be encouraging the BA to plan webinars and smaller workshops to discuss issues and possibilities for which there just wasn’t time at the initial conference. 

Lamia Abdel Fattah, Karen Leggett, Ingi Abd Elkader, Susan Roth, Lobna Elzoghaby  

Several in Egypt and the US had been openly skeptical about whether a single conference could make any difference at all. Of course nothing changes with a couple of days of listening to people on a stage. But something stirred - people realized how many others shared their passion for improving opportunities and expanding access to knowledge for all children. It was an exhilarating, hopeful time. 

Nervine Gomaa collects her certificate of participation in the conference.



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You never know what doors will open when you publish a book. The publication of Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books in 2012 led almost immediately to discussions about ways to extend the reach of children’s literature in Egypt.  The ideas and possibilities were massaged and contemplated and shared over many months with many helpful and enthusiastic individuals. Now the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the Friends of the BA in Baltimore/Maryland/D.C./Virginia are delighted to announce a conference on Informal Education for Children at the BA on October 12 -13, 2015, barely three weeks away.

Educators, librarians, children’s authors, software developers and other professionals who focus on developing children’s skills through informal education are invited to attend. Lamia Abdel Fattah, Head of the Library Sector, Ingi Abd Elkader, Head of the Children’s Library, and their staff have created an agenda that will inform and excite participants about storytelling and children’s literature, animation and multimedia tools for learning and development, and supporting a new generation of children’s authors in Egypt.  

Susan Roth and I will share the backstory of Hands Around the Library and Susan will demonstrate her superlative collage technique.  Baltimore County librarian Paula Willey, whose attendance at the conference is sponsored by the Baltimore Friends of the BA, will talk about getting families involved in informal learning.  There will be presentations about the role of myth in children’s literature (Mervat Abd Elnaser), children’s literature as a window on the world (Ingrid Bon), Alwan wa Awtar’s projects to bring art to the lives of poor children in Cairo (Ines Khedira). IBM will launch its Kidsmart project at the library during the conference. Dalia Fouad with Nahdet Misr Publishing will talk about “learning beyond walls.” Look at the full program here.

On the second day of the conference there will be focus groups or “drill down sessions” on improving informal learning for children and the Egyptian heritage in folkloric literature. We expect participants to brainstorm ways to improve access to knowledge and children’s literature, including collaborative projects that build on the fine initiatives already underway in Cairo and Alexandria. Many of the young people now working for NGOs in Egypt believe that improving opportunitiesfor poor children in Egypt is one way realize some of the hopes and dreams of the 2011 revolution. We hope this conference will also be a step in that direction.  As the young Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai has said, “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

Please consider joining us. Registration is free - sign up here. For those unable to attend, we look forward to sharing news and ideas from the conference in this space. 

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All the world knows John F. Kennedy and probably Robert and Edward Kennedy. But what about their sisters Eunice, Jean and Rosemary? Their worldwide impact on people with disabilities - especially intellectual disabilities - has been immeasurable and it is worth taking note during this month when we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 40th anniversary of VSA: Very Special Arts.


Rosemary Kennedy was the first daughter born to Joseph and Rose Kennedy. Although her intellectual disabilities were hidden for many years because of the stigma attached to such conditions, Rosemary inspired her sisters Eunice and Jean to open the doors wide for others with disabilities.  Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a summer camp in her backyard that grew into Special Olympics, with the first summer games for children and adults with intellectual disabilities held in Chicago in 1968. This week, more than 6,500 athletes from 165 countries are competing in 25 sports in the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. 

"Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt."

Special Olympics Motto

Egypt has 68 athletes participating in 12 of those sports, including boccia, athletics, aquatics, equestrian, bowling, basketball, handball, football, table tennis, tennis, powerlifting and badminton. In Egypt, Al Ahram covered news of the delegation; in the United States for the first time ever, the major sports network ESPN is offering daily television coverage. There are also delegations from United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Qatar, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Afghanistan.

Terrell LimerickHere in Montgomery County, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., we are especially watching Terrell Limerick, who is scheduled to become the first American to sail in the highest level 5 solo competition. We also know Terrell from the ArtStream stage, a local inclusive theatre company.  Inclusive companies, communities and organizations focus on abilities, not disabilities, saying to people with physical or mental challenges, “You are welcome here!” 

The ADA, signed in 1990, helps make this possible by prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. 


Children-with-disabilities.jpgThe Bibliotheca Alexandrina strives to promote social inclusion of children with special needs, writing in a brochure about its programs that “Our goal is to develop their skills, improve their living conditions and to raise public awareness and tolerance of their special needs through provision of services to the children and their families. Hardware, software and other resources that support the appropriate needs of the children with different types of disabilities are available at the children’s and young people’s libraries.” 

In 1974 another Kennedy sister - Jean - started Very Special Arts, now known simply as VSA, with 4 goals:

1) Every young person with a disability deserves access to high quality arts learning experiences.

2) All artists in schools and art educators should be prepared to include students with disabilities in their instruction.

3) All children, youth, and adults with disabilities should have complete access to cultural facilities and activities.

4) All individuals with disabilities who aspire to careers in the arts should have the opportunity to develop appropriate skills.

On July 26, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. hosted a celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act and VSA that defied stereotypes and expectations.  Young blind pianist Justin Kauflin performed a jazz solo while his service dog sat quietly next to the piano.  Niv Ashkenazi played the violin from his wheelchair.  J.P. Illarramendi, a young actor with Down Syndrome,  eagerly said that he had “never once been afraid of being in front of an audience.” Jeff Rosen, the deaf chairman of the National Council on Disability said he was not “disadvantaged by my body, but by the opinions and oppression of others.”  Palestinian-American comedian Maysoon Zayid, who has cerebral palsy, quipped that “Taylor Swift shakes voluntarily, I do it involuntarily,” agreeing with Rosen that “access is one barrier, discrimination is even bigger.”  

Tear down the walls of exclusion. Follow in the huge footsteps of Rosemary, Eunice and Jean Kennedy. The next step is to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.  So far, 143 countries have ratified the Convention - including Egypt back in 2008.  Unfortunately, even though the United States has a long list of inclusive opportunities, it has still not ratified the Convention - despite many strong advocacy groups.  Twenty-five years after the Americans with Disabilities Act, we have accomplished a lot - and we have a long way to go.  

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Shubbak.jpgShubbak (meaning “window” in Arabic) is about to open in London – July 11 – 25, 2015. The city’s largest biennial festival of Arab culture was founded in 2011 by the Mayor of London. The 2013 event presented more than 55 events across 42 venues, attracting an audience of more than 50,000 people.

Egypt will be well represented in this year’s festival. Andeel, co-founder of Egypt’s comic magazine Tok-Tok and political cartoonist Tarek Shahin will join a panel on graphic novels. There are performances by Egyptian jazz-rock fusion band Massar Egbari and a performance of The Tree Climber  by Tawfik Al Hakeem, just to name a few.  An Eid festival on Trafalgar Square will celebrate the end of Ramadan on July 25. 

Catalogue edited by Jennifer HeathRight in the midst of all the attention to Arab culture will be a small, dynamic and thought-provoking exhibit at the P21 Gallery: The Map is Not the Territory. Thirty-nine artists, mostly Palestinian, Native American and Irish, look at the relationships and common themes in the Palestinian, Native American, and Irish experiences of invasion, occupation and colonization. “It is a smart show that illustrates how we cannot achieve change unless we understand history,” says curator Jennifer Heath, who writes widely on the Middle East and Afghanistan and conceived the novel premise behind this exhibit.  Co-curator Dagmar Painter previously hosted the exhibit at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery Al Quds in Washington. 

 In the words of the curators, the artists’ “images in the exhibit are details of a larger picture that stands for all who have suffered everywhere – and will one day triumph.”   The exhibit is deeply creative and provocative. Although it can also be troubling and confounding, there is strength and perhaps even hope in realizing a shared experience across disparate cultures and times.

The exhibit is grouped around themes:

  • Conflict/resistance – “slaughter is often met with slaughter”
  • Land/food – “Palestinians, Native Americans and Irish share a deep reverence for the land”
  • Overlay/identity – “American Indians are the Palestinians of the United States, and the Palestinians are the American Indians of the Middle East,” (Russell Means, 2009)
  • Words/persistence – “Our stories are anchors that teach us to remember, to endure, to act courageously, to look adversity in the eye and maintain our faith that justice must and can prevail.”
  • Home/diaspora – “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Beit-Salaam by Helen Zughaib, 2013; archival pigment printWashington Post reviewer Mark Jenkins called “Beit/Salaam” by Helen Zughaib “a gentle mantra for a show that’s more often bristling.” Tiny Arabic calligraphy repeats the words "Beit/Salaam" - "Peace/Home" in seemingly endless circles. "Circling round and round, as if in meditation, calling Peace/Home, Home/Peace," writes the artist.  A Palestinian viewer told the artists, “Your artwork brings us closer to God.” 

Mary Tuma, Lingering Presence, 2013, Mixed MediaMary Tuma was born to a mother of Irish descent and a Palestinian father. She studied art in Kerdassa, Egypt, and says of her "Lingering Presence" image above: "We are part of the fabric of the place, sewn in layers, patched, and rewoven...We will always be home, even as we long for home."

Curator Dagmar Painter quoted Palestinian intellectual Edward Said who said, “Let the power of culture triumph over the culture of power.” Painter added that the artists in this exhibit “tapped into their deepest feelings about loss of identity, of home, sometimes even of life, and created powerful art that will triumph over the culture of power…”

You can see many of the images online here and share your reflections below. The Map is Not the Territory will be on display in London until July 25. Beginning September 5, it will be at the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. On January 22, 2016, it will open at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. A full catalogue of essays, art and poetry is now available as well. I encourage you to follow the exhibit on Facebook. 


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#DrawDisability is a global campaign to enhance awareness, especially among children, of people with disabilities. Young people are being asked to reflect on their understanding of "disability," and draw how they see people with disabilities in their community - their struggles and challenges as well as their accomplishments and successes.


The #DrawDisability campaign is a global campaign launched by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), in partnership with the Global Observatory for Inclusion (GLOBI) and the United Nations Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group (GEFI-YAG).  It is one small step toward realizing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which ensures that every person with a disability fully enjoys access to such basic services as education and health care, decent jobs and civic participation.

Whatever contact you have with children - teacher, parent, librarian, summer camp counselor - encourage children to participate. Drawings may be submitted by classes or individuals at www.globi-obsevatory.org/DrawDisability or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by post to GLOBI, Via Pietro Cossa 280/10, 10151 Torino, Italy. THE DEADLINE IS JULY 15. The drawings will be divided into two age groups - 6-11 and 12-17 years old. A final selection of artwork - based on message, creativity, technique and overall impact - will be exhibited at the United Nations General Assembly session this fall in New York.

The #DrawDisability campaign provides an opportunity for teachers, families and other youth groups to raise awareness about the capabilities of people with disabilities. A teacher's guidebook suggests activities that enable children to experience different disabilities, such as this example of youngsters with intellectual disabilities who may have a harder time learning or communicating:

b2ap3_thumbnail_Untitled.jpg            Invite two students to sit back to back. Give one student a paper with an abstract shape

            like the picture here. Give the second student a pencil and paper. The second student must draw 

            the  shape following the first student's directions.



World Braille Day at the Bibliotheca AlexandrinaAt the Taha Hussein Library for the Visually Impaired at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, blind and sighted children compete in a variety of games on World Braille Day each year.  The BA is also leading a pilot project to develop skills and promote computer use by children with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities.

Throughout the United States there are more and more efforts to promote inclusion in schools and communities.  In Montgomery County, Maryland, a nonprofit organization called ArtStream puts people with autism, Down's Syndrome and other disabilities on stage in original plays and musicals. Mentors are on stage to help as needed but the goal is to build the confidence and self-expression skills of people who might never have dreamed of speaking publicly.

ArtStream Cast

One of the founders of ArtStream, Nicolette Stearns, is also guiding and collaborating with a young woman who has Down's Syndrome to write a children's picture book. Her story is a perfect example of ways to engage and include these young people in challenging and productive activities.


The American Library Association gives the annual Schneider Family Awards, honoring authors of children's and young adult books for their portrayal of the disability experience. Here are the 2015 winners.



Another organization seeking to expand the worlds of young people with disabilities Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a disability-led American nonprofit organization which empowers people with disabilities around the world through international exchange and development programs. MIUSA operates the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange, funded by the U.S. Department of State, to increase participation by people with disabilities in international exchange programs. Among its many projects is WILD - Women's Institute on Leadership and Disability - a regular gathering of women with disabilities that nurtures their leadership roles in developing countries.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to write about college study abroad programs that welcome students with mental illness, providing ways for students and overseas program leaders to meet challenges as they arise. Although the number of college students with mental health issues has risen, study abroad programs are finding ways for them to be successful overseas. The article was published in NAFSA's International Educator magazine.

#DrawDisability, the Taha Hussein Library, ArtStream, MYUSA - they are all steps on the road to realizing the United Nations Convention.

Please share programs and individual stories you know about in the comments section.  Everyone can make a difference!


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b2ap3_thumbnail_LisaAnderson.jpgLisa Anderson is eager to welcome study-abroad students back to the American University in Cairo.

The president of AUC says this is the "place where you can learn Arabic and where you can actually see how people live here...the students are in good dorms, the buses are safe, the university knows what is happening: then people really ought to be coming. “  

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with President Anderson in November. Our conversation was just published in International Educator magazine, the journal of NAFSA, the Association for International Educators. Please click here to read “Beyond the Arab Spring.” 


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In 1969, Azza Fahmy was designing covers for Egyptian government political publications. At the Cairo International Book Fair that year – yes the same one underway right now in Cairo! – she was intrigued by a book about jewelry from the Middle Ages and her life took a dramatic turn.  She apprenticed herself to a jewelry maker in Khan al-Khalili and eventually became the first lady of cultural jewelry in Egypt – translating the culture and traditions of Egypt into elegant jewelry with silver, gold and precious stones.

Fahmy continues to design the jewelry that bears her name but now it is crafted by 200 artisans who bring those designs to life in a workshop in 6 October City.  During our recent trip to Egypt when we visited the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, we also traveled to Azza Fahmy’s workshop.


Each craftsman (and they are overwhelmingly men) works at a specific task – cutting, setting stones, engraving, polishing. There are workers, apprentices and masters. A worker could choose to learn a new task but would need to start all over from the bottom.  The youngest workers are drawn from art schools, informal networks – and now from her own recently established Azza Fahmy Design Studio in old Cairo, where she counsels students, "Be original and do not imitate other people's work or trends. Create your own visualisation of the future and stay proud of your own heritage." (Cairo360)  Fahmy’s Egyptian heritage inspires her creativity – each piece reflects an ancient design – much of it pictured in her book Enchanted Jewelry of Egypt - or includes engraved verses from the Quran or memorable lines from the songs of the legendary Om Kalsoum.

The silver for Fahmy’s creations still comes from the Khan al-Khalili bazaar. It is heated and turned into thin spaghetti strands which the artisans weave into chains or carefully mold around an amethyst or emerald from India. It takes one month to make a one meter silver chain. The engraved designs and verses are drawn on the computer, printed on plastic and molded in mud before they are pressed into silver or gold. No more than 60 pieces is made from each design.


Azza Fahmy warmly greeted visitors during a recent tour of her workshop, wearing an embroidered shawl and – of course – one of her own rings and pendants. Where does she keep getting ideas? She points to her head, adding “loving my country.”

Azza Fahmy with Karen and Tharwat AbourayaA. Fahmy remembered making this necklade in 1993!

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They come by busload and one at a time, from young children to college students - lining up to enter the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) for tours, research and reading, learning and discussing.

The Children’s Library is bright and colorful, filled with books in many languages as well as puppets for storytelling, computers and movie rooms.  The Young People’s Library - for youngsters age 12 to 16 - includes informational books but also titles popular with Western teens, like the Twilight series.

Lines of young people await entry to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina


Librarian Marwa Seifeldeen w/puppet Bakar

Accessing Facebook in the Young People's Library

Twilight in the Young People's Library

Young People's Library 

In November 2014, the Friends of the BA in Maryland/D.C./Virginia (of the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister Cities Committee) delivered just over 200 new books to these libraries - all purchased with funds raised through the First Book Virtual Book Drive in March 2014 and the May 31 Celebration in Alexandria, Virginia. 

The First Book Global Marketplace, the international arm of the American literacy organization First Book, shipped and delivered half the books. The other half were hand-delivered in suitcases by Friends co-chairs Tharwat and Karen Leggett Abouraya. All the titles were selected by the library staff, including Sylvia Stavridi, Collection Development Coordinator for Special Libraries, and Ingi Abdelkader, Head of the Children’s Library Section. 

 BA staff Ingi Abdelkader, Sylvia Stavridi, Marwa Seifeldeen with Karen Leggett Abouraya

The First Book Global Marketplace makes deeply discounted children’s books available to organizations that meet at least one of the following criteria:

1. 70% or more of the population you work with is in-need.

2. Your organization works with disabled children.

3. Your organization works with people affected by recent natural disasters.

The BA library staff expressed interest in obtaining more audio books, DVDs and books in Arabic from both Egyptian and foreign publishers. The Friends will be looking for opportunities to assist with these requests.

Through the generosity of Hands Around the Library  artist Susan L. Roth - whose visit to the BA in 2009 inspired the book in the first place - we also delivered original art from the book to the Children’s Library and also to Dr. Ismail Serageldin. 

 BA Director Ismail Serageldin, Karen, Nadia Abouraya

One of the founders of the Baltimore Friends of the BA, Abdelwahab Elabd, is also working on developing a lending library at the BA for blind readers, similar to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Library of Congress in the United States.  The BA already has the Taha Hussein Library which uses special software to enable blind and visually handicapped readers to access books and journals. 

It was a great joy to hold hands with the BA staff who are working with such energy and passion to keep children excited about the world around them through books - we look forward to our continuing collaboration.

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Egyptian artist Nabil Makir writes on his website, “Everybody must do his part in the world. Artists cannot carry guns or be doctors, but they can express themselves with their brushes and pencils. There must be mutual understanding.”

The creative angst and hope of Egyptian as well as other Middle Eastern and American artists is on dramatic display at two exhibitions in Washington, D.C. right now – “AMEN – A Prayer for the World” and Helen Zughaib’s “Fractured Spring” at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery.   AMEN is a project of CARAVAN, an intercultural and inter-religious arts initiative to build connections between Middle East and Western populations. The AMEN exhibit has already been in Cairo and will move next month to New York City.

For the CARAVAN exhibit at Washington’s National Cathedral, Egyptian artist Reda Abdel Rahman made life-size fiberglass human forms modeled after the ancient Egyptian god Amun, each in one of four different poses of prayer. The forms were given to 30 Egyptian and 18 Western artists to decorate. Collectively, they are a stunning call to each of us to listen, reach out and connect with those we consider “other.”



About his own statue, Abdel Rahman wrote, “I imagined myself in front of Queen Hatshepsut or Queen Tiy or Nefertari. This queen is the mother of our people, and from her body extends all goodness in the form of branches giving joy and comfort and good fortune, personified by the turquoise scarabs that she bestows on everyone. She has sat down on Set, the ancient Egyptian god of evil, as a sign of her control over the circumstances and all the evil forces of political Islam, who have wronged the Egyptian civilization.


b2ap3_thumbnail_Harpform.jpgAmerican artist Amy Gray recalled buying her first harp, when its maker told her,  "' The instrument needs to be tuned every day for at least the first month, so that it will to learn that it was no longer just a bundle of wood, but a harp, something that was meant to sing.…It is in this spirit that I have made my form into a human harp to be not only “an instrument tuned for praise” but an instrument tuned for peace.”


 Egyptian Hisham El Zeiny began drilling holes into the rigid torso and then added light to give a“more meditative, contemplative aura as 'light comes from within.'"



Fractured  Spring 

Lebanese-born Helen Zughaib, an Arab American living in Washington, D.C., created a statue for the CARAVAN exhibit but filled her solo exhibit at the Jerusalem Fund Gallery with her ongoing interpretations of the Arab spring. “In the early days of the Arab Spring,” she writes, ”there seemed to be an abundance of optimism, hope and potential for change in the Arab world….three years ago, in my first painting on the Arab Spring, I used the flower as motif. I have carried that flower throughout this exhibit as well, refusing to give up, though now a bit wilted, angry, questioning and bleached of color.”


Spring Flight shows birds seeking freedom but constrained by cages, or picture frames,

many carrying a drooping blossom.


Di/as/pora may be read right to left as people flee or left to right as people return.


Peace Puzzle – can you find the English and Arabic letters that spell “peace?”

It’s up to each of us to help put the puzzle together.


The widely exhibited and highly acclaimed Zughaib, whose art has been gifted to heads of state by President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, believes the arts are one of the most important ways to help shape and foster dialogue and positive ideas about the Middle East.


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Building Egypt's Place in the World

Ismail Serageldin is optimistic about Egypt’s future in large part because of his experience as director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, where the average age of the 2,400 employees is 30.  “We started with nothing and in less than eight years, these young people created an institution that is recognized among the great libraries of the world.”

The young people of Egypt stood up against the government and demanded change twice in the last three years – first against Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and then against Mohamed Morsi in 2013.  “The rebellion against Morsi was a fundamental rejection of the vision of an Islamic state,” says Dr. Serageldin, noting the important role played by women today and in the 1920s, when women openly removed their veils during an earlier demonstration in Tahrir Square.

b2ap3_thumbnail_All.jpgDr. Serageldin talked informally about the library and the state of the Egyptian revolution during a Celebration Garden Party on May 31, 2014, at the home of Ibrahim and Aida Mady, on the banks of the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia. More than fifty people attended the celebration organized by the Friends of the BA – DC, MD, VA, part of the Baltimore-Luxor-Alexandria Sister Cities Committee.

“The cleavages in our society are profound,” continued Dr. Serageldin. “There are those who want a modern, progressive secular state not unlike Norway. There are those who do not want anyone from the military and those who want the military to be given a forceful hand. There is general disenchantment, especially among young people because nothing has been achieved yet.”



“No revolution completed its strategic agenda and transformed society within a few years,” Dr. Serageldin reminded the audience. In the United States, the war of independence itself lasted six years, followed by the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, the election of George Washington 13 years after the Declaration of Independence, with the Bill of Rights only ratified in 1791. 

“I keep telling my young colleagues that in Egypt we are not even four years old. We are still a toddler.”

The Road Ahead

 b2ap3_thumbnail_Serageldin.jpgDr. Serageldin outlined several key steps he believes are important on Egypt’s road ahead:


  1. “Blood has been spilled. There must be an accounting for the deaths from January 25, 2011, until now,” – perhaps even a “truth and reconciliation” commission as in South Africa. “The air must be cleared or the gap will continue to grow between young and old, male and male, Islamist and non.

  2. “The economy is a shambles,” but he is encouraged that newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has said measures taken by the government today won’t have an effect on people’s lives for at least two years. “Finally someone is willing to say the truth,” says Dr. Serageldin. “We will get the engines of the economy running, but it will take time. And my belief is that people will respond favorably when you tell them the truth.”  Again, his optimism stems from seeing the dramatic changes in places like Singapore, Taiwan and China – changes that took a generation

  3. “If the Egyptian public has successfully stopped the seemingly unstoppable tidal wave of political Islam in our part of the world they have also resurrected the specter of the centralized security state with all its problems.”  Tackling terrorism is a profound problem in every society, because the public expects the government not just to punish terrorists but prevent terrorist acts.  “In the name of preventing terrorism, governments take actions that are not so constitutional, limiting free speech until you have McCarthyism,” or the World War II concentration camps for the Japanese in the United States.  “This is a slippery slope. We have to accept pluralism and a divergence of views. Democracy requires pluralism and pluralism requires differences of opinion.”

  4. Dr. Serageldin also urges an acceptance of a broad range of views in the media and among the public.  Acknowledging that media reports may often be biased, he pointed to the very different reaction in the west to the 2013 revolution in Egypt and the 2014 revolution in Ukraine, where the “uprising was recognized as a popular movement, not a coup. But wasn’t a popularly elected leader replaced by large scale action in Ukraine just as in Egypt?”  Dr. Serageldin said that the media have a responsibility to make a fair and honest assessment, but the government should tolerate a wide range of opinions – “the only way to insure that pluralism and democracy survive.”

“We are here to help the young people on the right path,” concluded Ismail Serageldin. “They are building their future and the future of the world and Egypt’s place in it. Egypt has given so much to the world so many times throughout the centuries. Egypt will come back and give again.”


The Celebrate Egypt Garden Party launched the expansion of the Friends of the BA to Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  If you would like to become a member and help support the Children’s Library and other projects at the BA, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to request a membership application.  The May 31 celebration was catered by Cooking and Beyond, which specializes in Egyptian cuisine. Ana Masry USA Band offered a concert of song and verse representing Egypt’s diverse cultural heritage.




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