Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq

Overview

The inspiring story of an Iraqi librarian's courageous fight to save books from the Basra Central Library before it was destroyed in the war.
It is 2003 and Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, has grown worried given the increased likelihood of war in her country. Determined to preserve the irreplacable records of the culture and history of the land on which she lives from the destruction of the war, Alia undertakes a courageous and ...

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Overview

The inspiring story of an Iraqi librarian's courageous fight to save books from the Basra Central Library before it was destroyed in the war.
It is 2003 and Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, has grown worried given the increased likelihood of war in her country. Determined to preserve the irreplacable records of the culture and history of the land on which she lives from the destruction of the war, Alia undertakes a courageous and extremely dangerous task of spiriting away 30,000 books from the library to a safe place.
Told in dramatic graphic-novel panels by acclaimed cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty, Alia's Mission celebrates the importance of books and the freedom to read, while examining the impact of war on a country and its people.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Crisp graphic-novel panels rendered in pen-and-ink with pencil and gray wash play up the urgency of and dramatically recreate Alia Baker's efforts to save the books of the Basra library in Iraq. Stamaty (Who Needs Donuts?) introduces Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian at the Basra Central Library, underscoring her lifelong passion for books. He portrays her as a child reader, when she learned about her country's history-including the 13th-century Mongol invasion in which a fire destroyed the Baghdad library. An effective segue to the present reveals Baker, her country on the brink of war, concerned about the safety of her own library. Gearing his book to a slightly older audience than Winter's (reviewed above), Stamaty shows Baker requesting the government's permission to remove the collection from the building; after she is refused, she begins sneaking books out of the library herself. Baker manages, with help from friends, to remove 30,000 volumes from the library, transporting them to private homes for safekeeping. Stamaty effectively captures the danger of the moment: as bombs explode in the background, the rescuers hurry the books out of the building. After depicting the sad sight of the library engulfed in flames days later, and Baker's resulting stroke, Stamaty ends his account on a hopeful note, explaining that the resilient Baker has turned her attention to the design and building of a new library. The text conveys the intense emotions experienced by Baker, which move from anguish to sorrow to joy, aptly captured in the artwork. Ages 6-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
A note of hope from the chaos and rubble of Iraq, this story details the heroic efforts of librarian Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of the Basra Central Library. Alia worries about her treasured books as invasion threatens in 2003. When the government refuses her permission to move the books to safety, and Alia sees that anti-aircraft guns on the library roof will make it a target, she begins to smuggle books from the library to her home. As chaos reigns, Alia and her friends rally help to move more books to a nearby restaurant. The library burns, some books are lost, but 30,000 are saved for a new library to come. Gray-toned drawings with speech balloons and text all contained in rectangles of varying sizes depict the events with a dramatic flavor that involves us emotionally. Although this "graphic novel" method of story-telling looks like a comic book, the content and naturalistic presentations convince us of the serious nature of the story. The detailed portraits and action contrast with Jeanette Winter's The Librarian of Basra which is a more static presentation. There are additional notes on the history of libraries and the Middle East. 2004, Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House Children's Books, Ages 6 up.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Kirkus Reviews
Cartoonist Stamaty sees Alia of Basra as a superhero, and tells her story in black-and-white graphic-novel format. Alia was the librarian of Basra in Iraq, who, as American and British soldiers came to topple Saddam, increasingly feared for her book collection, "the irreplaceable collective memory of our people." When she could not get official help, she moved thousands of volumes into her own home and, with the help of neighbors, into a nearby restaurant, although she had a stroke at the end and much of the library building was burned. Alia is now overseeing the creation of a new library in Basra. An anthropomorphized book with hands, feet, and a cheery face narrates the tale, putting it in historical context. Stamaty's straightforward, slightly exaggerated graphic style carries the power of his story forward and end notes add information on the importance of Iraq in the history of language and libraries. Jeanette Winter's Librarian of Basra (2004) is more beautiful, but this is both worthy and compelling. (Picture book/graphic novel. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375857638
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/9/2010
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 240,971
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Alan Stamaty lives in New York City.

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