December 29, 2020

The Library Bus

Written by Bahram Rahman
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
November, 2020

While education should be a right for all everywhere, sometimes someone has to step up to make sure those without access because of gender inequality or location or some other restriction get the schooling they should be receiving. That someone in The Library Bus is Pari's mother.

From The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Little Pari, who will not be starting school until the following year, is going to help her mother on the library bus she takes around to villages and refugee camps without access to schools. Pari knows this is a privilege and takes her role seriously, repeating to herself that she should, "Arrange the books...clean nice to the other girls." For the girls who wait patiently for the bus's arrival and cherish their time with the books and their teacher, the library bus is their school.
From The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

They exchange their library books for new ones and sit down with Pari's mother who teaches them the alphabet and their numbers in English. For the children of the refugee camps, they provide school supplies like notebooks and pencils. Pari is impressed by how much the girls know and want to learn. As she helps, she listens and learns too, ably reading the important acronyms of WFP and UNHCR by the time they leave the camp.

From The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
When Pari asks her mother where she learned the alphabet, she is told how Grandpa taught her mother in the basement as girls were prohibited from attending school. For that reason, she insists that Pari study well when she gets to school so that she might experience the freedom that learning gives.

The encouragement of learning is always powerful but by embodying it in Afghanistan, a country impacted by war and restrictive policies, Bahram Rahman's first children's book tells it gently but with influence. Many Canadian children will not appreciate the privilege that attending school and receiving an education entails. It is the norm for them. But for Bahram Rahman's characters, education is everything, and the generosity and impact of the library bus and its in-house teacher are significant.
From The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman, illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Illustrated by award-winning artist Gabrielle Grimard with watercolour and digital media, Bahram Rahman's gentle strength of message is emulated. The softness of the watercolour and the openness of Gabrielle Grimard's character's faces invite the readers in to the story and the bus, allowing them to travel with Pari and her Mama and join the girls to be part of something bigger and meaningful.

While Bahram Rahman claims to have taken liberties to rearrange the details in the telling of the story of The Library Bus, based on his own experiences and meeting others in Afghanistan, I see only the truth about the hope gifted to the girls with the books and teaching that came with the bus's weekly visits. Now, by Bahram Rahman and Gabrielle Grimard's hands, the travels of The Library Bus will lead to even greater learning.

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