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The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq
     

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

by Jeanette Winter
 

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"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.

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

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)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780152054458
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
01/28/2005
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
32
Sales rank:
126,806
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 10.75(h) x 0.40(d)
Lexile:
AD640L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 7 Years

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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