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The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

Overview

"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read.'"*
—Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library—along with the thirty thousand books within it—will be destroyed forever.

In a war-stricken country where civilians—especially women—have little power, this true story about a librarian's struggle to ...

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The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

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Overview

"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read.'"*
—Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library—along with the thirty thousand books within it—will be destroyed forever.

In a war-stricken country where civilians—especially women—have little power, this true story about a librarian's struggle to save her community's priceless collection of books reminds us all how, throughout the world, the love of literature and the respect for knowledge know no boundaries. Illustrated by Jeanette Winter in bright acrylic and ink.

Includes an author's note.
*From the New York Times, July 27, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

Better Homes and Gardens
"timely and moving"
Parade magazine - Jeanette Winter
"a vibrantly illustrated tale of valor and resiliency in the worst of times"
Publishers Weekly
Relaying the same story told in Alia's Mission (reviewed below), Winter (September Roses) deftly pares down for a picture-book audience the events surrounding Alia Muhammad Baker's courageous book rescue mission in Basra, Iraq, in spring 2003 (see Children's Books, Dec. 13). She portrays the Basra library as a place where the community comes together not only to read books but to "discuss matters of the world and matters of the spirit." In a typically lyrical passage, the author notes, "Alia worries that the fires of war will destroy the books, which are more precious to her than mountains of gold." As spare yet penetrating as the narrative, Winter's boldly hued, acrylic and pen illustrations depict the frantic book salvaging effort against a bright orange and burnt sienna backdrop of bomb- and gunfire-lit skies and the subsequent, heartbreaking library fire. A clever cross-section image of Alia's house shows the library volumes (which, readers learn in a concluding note, amounted to an astounding 70 percent of the collection) piled on every available surface. Graphically and textually shifting tone from the real to the idyllic, subsequent pages reveal Baker in a serene, dove-filled setting, where she waits for the war to end and dreams of peace and a new library. Winter, ever aware of her audience, mentions Alia's stroke only in the endnote, keeping her story to specifics that youngest readers can appreciate. All ages. (Jan.) FYI: A portion of the proceeds from the book's sales will be donated to a fund administered by the ALA to help rebuild the collection of Basra's Central Library. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Parade magazine

"a vibrantly illustrated tale of valor and resiliency in the worst of times"

— Jeanette Winter

Children's Literature
Whenever I read of a war or conflict, I think of the American Revolution and how not all colonists were supportive of overthrowing the king. I think of all of the people who are affected by war but are not necessarily a part of the conflict, people who have to cope with the circumstances in which they find themselves. So it was with Alia Muhammad Baker whose prime concern as the librarian in Basra is to protect the books. By protecting the books she was protecting a civilization of culture and ideas that might be forgotten should the books perish. This apolitical story brings the war down to the impact it has on the individual. It works on many different levels at once: a dedicated librarian trying to save her books, the futility of war, and the hope of peace. Winter's illustrations are understated—no blood or gore—and accessible. This would make a wonderful read aloud to children to open a discussion of the costs of war. 2005, Harcourt Ages 7 to 10.
—Joan Kindig, Ph.D.
Kirkus Reviews
Living history is not always sweet, but Winter, who has made beauty from contemporary horror in September Roses (p. 815) does it anew. Alia Muhammad Baker was the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, a meeting place for many and quite near one of Basra's best restaurants. When war comes to Basra, Alia saves the books in the only way she can see: She takes thousands of them to her own home, to the homes of friends, and to the restaurant next door. Alia saved 70 percent of her collection before the library was firebombed and destroyed. Winter tells this story in simple, clear declarative sentences. Her beautiful acrylic-and-pen illustrations are filled with the rose and violet, blue and gold, russet and orange colors of the desert, and she uses pattern to great effect in the shelves and piles of books, in the dark array of planes and bombs over the city, and in the parti-colored headscarves and clothing of the people of Basra. Created with strength and courage, like Alia's devotion to the books in her charge. (author's note) (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780152054458
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/28/2005
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 160,097
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD640L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.82 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

JEANETTE WINTER has illustrated many books for children, including Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston and her own Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book, My Name Is Georgia, and Josefina. She lives in New York City.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 23, 2011

    My children's favorite !!

    My two daughters 6 and 8 love this book and understand now why there are so many people fighting in Afghanistan.
    It is a great book with beautiful drawings!
    It opens their eyes on the world and let them cherish the opportunities they have here!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A brave person can inspire us all...

    A beautifully illustrated and lovingly crafted story about a brave woman who saved the Basra library books from destruction during the bombing in Iraq. In simple sentences, complex emotions are expressed. This would be especially good for sensitive children whose parents are in some way connected with reconstruction in Iraq.

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  • Posted October 13, 2009

    A Great Story

    This book was an amazing story about a true librarian who loved her books. It shows the lengths that she would go to save her books from the destruction of war. She felt that her books were very valuable and had meaning behind them. The books were in many languages and she had one book that was over seven hundred years old. She keeps all the books at her house and waits for the war to end. This story will open your eyes to the impact that the war is having on the people of Iraq. Here in America we do not see buldings being bombed and on fire because of the war.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2006

    A book with a political agenda!!!

    This book has a good base story, however do not be fooled. There is a depiction of a U.S. Army soldier going into a restaurant and asking the owner why he has a gun. The restaurant owner replies, 'to protect my business'. Then the Soldier just walks out. This depiction gives the idea that our troops are in Iraq, terrorizing the business owners, and that the Librarian fears for this as well. The Library that the librarian is in fear of losing to the destruction of war is lost to a fire, but it is not said how. With the previous pages pictures depicting U.S. planes dropping bombs though, the children make the connection that it was bombed by the U.S. Army. No matter what side you stand politically, this book plants the seeds of confusion in the children¿s minds of our own U.S. soldiers. I am an elementary school teacher, and I literally had kids reading this book in our library, (because our Librarians recommend it to our elementary kids), and asking me why our soldiers are bombing Library's and hurting people¿s homes that are not in the United States. That is the job this author wants to accomplish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2005

    Highest Praises! Eyes LIT UP at this story!

    My son and I both loved this story! I rushed to reccomend it to my homeschool group and my friends online with kids! The artwork, the story, the values are all THERE in this book about a real librarian in Iraw that saves 70% of a libraries books from a horrible fire. This really drove the reality of the war home with my son - in a gentle manner that was age appropriate (he is 9) and not overly disturbing. What the book conveys is the seriousness of war, the value of knowledge and the triumph of human dedication. WHat more could a parent want! The artwork is very good - my son has talked about the book off and on since he read it - he said it was EXCELLENT!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews

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