The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

by Jeanette Winter

Hardcover, 2005

Status

Available

Collection

Publication

HMH Books for Young Readers (2005), Edition: First, 32 pages

Description

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member AbigailAdams26
The inspiring true story of Alia Muhammed Baker, the chief librarian of Basra's Central Library, whose heroic actions during the invasion of Iraq resulted in the saving of 70% of that institution's treasured holdings, is here retold in picture-book form by Jeanette Winter, whose other biographies for younger readers include Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa and My Name Is Georgia. With simple text and bright acrylic illustrations, Winter sets out the amazing tale of Alia's struggle to save the books (one of them a 700-year-old biography of the Prophet Muhammad) entrusted to her care: how, when rumors began to circulate that the war would soon reach Basra, she asked the governor for permission to move the collection; and how, when she was refused, she began moving it in secret herself, enlisting the aid of friends to save some 30,000 volumes.

It's difficult to know, sometimes, how best to introduce thorny topics like our military involvement in Iraq to children, but I think The Librarian of Basra is an excellent beginning place. Rather than offering a falsely rosy picture of the invasion on the one hand, one meant to assuage American unease or bolster American propaganda; or a relentlessly brutal portrait of the conflict on the other, one meant to demonize either the Ba'athist regime or the invading forces, this book simply sets out a story of one woman: a civilian, caught up in the madness of war. It demonstrates the painful reality that, in a war-zone, the civilian has no friend, and the interests of "the people" - the preservation of life, and the continuation of culture - must often be safeguarded at great personal risk, and in the face of official opposition.

In short: if you're looking for something to make your child feel "good" about our involvement in Iraq (and I can't imagine why you would be), this isn't the book for you. But if you're looking for a book that offers a fairly gentle introduction to a decidedly un-gentle topic, one that also tells an amazing true story, then consider this.
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LibraryThing member juanitaloo
An inspiring story of a librarian's courage and dedication. The sparse text accompanied by acrylic and pen illustrations explain the tragedy of war without over-emphasizing the horrors. Each square-shaped illustration is framed against a backdrop of soft hues - gold at the beginning of the story signifying brighter times, lavendar in the middle, and blue at the end symbolizing hope and dreams of peace. Illustrations of dress (headscarves, robes & turbans), arabic writing, architecture convey the sense of another place and culture.… (more)
LibraryThing member pibooks
I teach Introduction to Library Science at a community college. Every semester, at the end of the unit on library history, I read the Librarian of Basra to my students. Why? Because the earliest libraries we know about were in ancient Sumer, which is modern Iraq. Today, most librarians focus on customer service and access to ideas, but the earliest librarians were primarily protectors and guardians of books as physical objects. The Librarian of Basra brings the history of libraries full-circle, as brave librarian Alia takes it upon herself to protect the collection entrusted to her from destruction. This is not just a book for children; it is a book for all who love libraries.… (more)
LibraryThing member ValerieStanley
This book is about a librarian from Iraq that is afraid that the war is going to destroy all of the communities books in the library. This is a true story and caught my attention because I have been to Iraq and fought in the very war that Mrs. Baker wanted to protect her books from. This book took place not to long ago, but will be history someday to my grandchildren. I like this book and am proud to own it. A teacher can use this for history and for the present to help students understand what is going on in their world today.… (more)
LibraryThing member ekean06
This informational/biography picture book tells the story of a Librarian in Basra, Iraq named Alia. Alia worry's about the coming war and invasion of American troops and their bomber airplanes. To protect the books Alia asks a government official for help moving them when he refuses Alia begins to secretly take the books home and to friends house. When the library is bombed and burns to the ground Alia is thankful that she saved the books and dreams of peace and building a new library.… (more)
LibraryThing member mathqueen
This non-fiction picture book tells the story of a librarian who struggles to save her book collection from the fire and bombs that threaten the city of Basra during the United States invasion of 2003. During the story, the books are transported first to a restaurant, then to houses of people who will care for them until peace is restored in the city. When a culture loses their books, that culture loses a significant part of its history and ethnicity, so Alia knows the library will be a target. While the central theme of the book is the affects of war on the city, the reader focuses attention on the plight of the books. This helps the young reader gain knowledge of war in a non-threatening manner. This story also reminds readers that war effects every aspect of life, not just cars, and buildings as depicted on the evening news.
Library Implications: I would love to have this book in my book collection. This book tells of an historical event that students can relate to, and older students may even remember. It reminds students that the events they live through become part of their cultural history. Students can research Iraq and the turmoil that surrounds it. They could have pen pals through e-mail, Face Book, or even Skype. Students could begin compiling lists of other little-considered ways war would affect daily life. Finally, older children could be asked to consider what one book they would save if they would be put in this situation; would they save their favorite read, or something that has great cultural significance, or historical facts. It would be a big decision and answers could be quite interesting!
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LibraryThing member JJReadings
Personal Response:
The story of Alia is an amazing tale of the heroic actions of a woman and provides children with a different perspective - a more personal perspective - of the Iraq War. Excellent to bring diverse perspectives into the dialog about the war.

Curricular or Programming Connections:
An excellent book for addressing themes of war, courage, heroic stories of women's lives, and cultural values.
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LibraryThing member SarahWilmot
This is a good example of a informational book because it gives information about a current event. It is a true story of a librarian who protects her books during the war in Iraq.

Age Appropriateness: primary through intermediate
Media: acrylic and pen on Arches watercolor paper
LibraryThing member Kimberly.Danielle
Winter's book, The Librarian of Basra: A True story from Iraq, centers around Aaliyah, the librarian of the Iraqi town of Basra. This nonfiction, picture book flows with Aaliyah's passion for the town's library and its books. Rumors of war float around Basra. Various members of the community meet at the library to discuss these rumors. Soon, the rumors become truth. Aaliyah asks for permission to save the library, but the governor denies her request. She secretly removes the books to her home. She eventually enlists the help of the community in protecting the books before a fire destroys the library. This book introduces audiences to a positive, passionate view of life in Iraq, civil disobedience, community action, and an untold version of life in a war zone.… (more)
LibraryThing member kmcinern
Because this book deals with a variety of topics, it allows itself to be used in the introduction to multiple subjects. For example, the text would be an interesting introduction to a lesson on current events, cultural diversity, or appreciation of the arts. The text of the book focuses on an Iraqi librarian who takes action to protect her library books as the violence of war breaks out around her. It also illustrates teamwork as the librarian solicits help from her restaurant owner neighbor and perseverance as she is determined to save the books at all costs.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jmmott
A tale of a librarian named Alia who secretly removed books from the library in Basra in order to save them from the war. A book that could be used to introduce the concepts of war to younger students, or as a way to provide a different perspective to a history class for older students. Provides a perspective of the impact of war on the civilian populace rather than the experiences of the soldiers. A particularly nice feature of the book was the strong female lead character as often there are books of feats accomplished by men that are readily available for classroom use, while the experiences of women are not always portrayed as important. Alia tried to follow the rules to get approval to save the library books, but when the decisions made by the establishment would not protect the library she took matters into her own hands.… (more)
LibraryThing member scnelson
This is a story about saving a library from the destruction of war, something that has plagued civilization since ancient times. This is a book that shows a cross-cultural love of books and knowledge, and an act of personal strength and sacrifice that allows for the continuation of those things. It is not only lives that are lost in war, but pieces of culture and history that are destroyed as well. This librarian takes matters in her own hands and makes sure this little piece of her people and culture will not fall victim to bombs.… (more)
LibraryThing member DayehSensei
A deep, compelling story based on the true story of Alia, the Iraqi librarian, and her amazing crusade to save her collection of books from harm. Young students will sympathize with Alia and feel the sorrows of war-- all the while celebrating the joy and importance of books. This is a great book to combine with a nonfiction text; this also teaches students about the perils of war without being overly preachy.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kathdavis54
This is a wonderful tale of bravery, books, and friendship. When the library of Basra is threatened, the librarian and her friends safely transport the books and keep them safe. This book is a great way to show students the perspective of someone on the other side of the world.
LibraryThing member MattRaygun
This is a charming book about a librarian who takes her care of her library into her own hands when war threatens her town. Her care of her books is heartfelt and immediate. This book is good for showing a bitter reality of war and perhaps some hope.
LibraryThing member abbrown1
This book tells the story of a Iranian librarian who, much like everyone one else in her society, fears the war and the toll it will have on the world she has come to know and love, specifically the books. She courageously acts on her passion for books by rescuing them and preserving the history and culture that books hold. This book brings humanity and hope to the idea of war. It makes for a compelling story that could be read as simply as it is written or investigated further for the many complexities at work in the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member ChloePalmer
The LIbrarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq is about Alia, the librarian of Basra who saves 30,000 books from ruin during the ongoing Iraq War by taking each one to her house, her friends' houses, and even a restaurant. The book presents a rare perception of war, perfectly hopeful and sad simultaneously.

I would use this book to introduce themes on war, books, libraries, etc. It would be very useful to show students a relatable, positive figure from the Middle East.… (more)
LibraryThing member Amcantrell
This was a great book. I love books that are about other cultures, especially ones that may provoke questions. This is a true story about woman (Alia Muhammad Baker) from Iraq that saves her library from being burned down and hides the books so they are safe. This book, along with others by Jeanette Winter, has great illustrations. This book does not have too advanced vocabulary, but the content would probably be best for older children for a read aloud or such. This would make for a great introduction to learning about other cultures.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrcmyoung
A librarian in Iraq moves all of the books out of her library when the U.S. comes to bomb her country. A story of a woman who ignores what is allowed to do what is right, Librarian of Basra can be used to teach the value of books, the human face of war, and the power of passion. I can imagine asking students to write about what they would save from their homes if they new they were about to be destroyed.… (more)
LibraryThing member rosesaurora
When the library of Basra is threatened by an impending war, a very dedicated librarian defies authority to save the precious literature from destruction. The book ends with no real conclusion since the war rages on--the books are kept hidden indefinitely--which was just an amazing way to 'not' finish the story and emphasize the the point of the story.… (more)
LibraryThing member cdrake
Very good story about a woman struggling against social norms in Iraq whose passion drives her to secretly remove 30,000 books from the library to stash and protect them in her home.
LibraryThing member laurenryates
This little book tells a story about a librarian living in Basra, Iran during the time of the war. Alia, the librarian, was the head librarian and heard rumors of the war starting. She asked the government for permission to move the books, but she was denied. So every night, Alia would take books home to save them. She enlisted the help of a neighbor, who owned a restaurant next door. He put many books inside his restaurant. Because of their bravery, they saved seventy percent of the books in the library. There is an author's note at the end that tells how the author stumbled upon this story eating at the restaurant where the books had been held. This book was excellent for children to read and be introduced to the war.… (more)
LibraryThing member AndrewJenkins
This is the story of a female librarian named Alia in the port city of Basra, who treasures the books of her library. When war breaks out, she requests permission from the governor to move the books to a safe place, but is refused. Alia begins to move the books secretly on her own, but before she can finish, the war reaches Basra, and all but Alia abandon the library. With her friend, owner of a restaurant just across a wall from the library, books are saved. A small group works through the night to wrap, move, and hide them. Nine days later, the library burns to the ground, but the books are safe in the restaurant. When the streets are quiet, Alia moves the books to safer places, waits for peace, and dreams of a new library.
While the story of this library of Basra is obviously set in one place and time, I did not feel a strong sense of place in it. The only mention of Basra is on the first page, which reads in full ‘Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra, a port city in the sand-swept country of Iraq.’ There is no effort in the writing or illustration to awaken the curiosity or wonder of the reader, or give the setting any kind of character of its own.

This book has all the characteristics that I do not like about most of non-fiction picture books. As is typical, it is written in fairly dry language, and little effort has been made to tell a good story, or introduce the setting and characters before plodding through the facts. There has been little effort to draw the imagination of the reader into the story, as though the story being true were good enough. There is no characterization to speak of. Alia is labelled as a librarian, and then we follow her actions to save the books, as though the love of the books and determination to save them is her only personality trait. I did not find the book engaging at all, though I am very sympathetic to the actual events. Perhaps this is partly due to the book being written by an outsider who read a newspaper story about the events, but did not have enough background in the area and culture to bring the story to life.

The illustrations also are not bad, but not particularly good, and do not offer anything that is not in the text. They are not in a realistic style, and I cannot comment on their authenticity. The women all wear a headscarf with no hair showing, and loose dresses (showing some ankle); men might be dressed in robes or suits, with or without caps. The governor is shown using a dip pen and an inkwell at his office desk.

Notes in the book indicate that the story does not stick closely to the facts (instead of saving all the books in the library, the real librarian could save only about 70 percent, and rather than calmly dreaming of peace after the bombing, she had a stroke). A note on the dust jacket only indicates that some of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to rebuilding the collection at the Basra central library.

The publisher labels this book as being for all ages, but I do not consider it appropriate for my five year old. While the images of war are not graphic, people ask questions like ‘Who among us will die?’ ‘Will our families survive?’, and in three two-page spreads, bombs rain down on a silhouetted city, and flames reach far up into the sky. These are not messages and images I want to expose my son to at his age. He knows that war exists, but I do not want it to be illustrated with bright images in his mind.

Despite its overly direct and streamlined style, this book does deal with good subject matter, and can be the basis for many kinds of discussions which are likely to prove more interesting than the book itself. Children can be encouraged to reflect on what they love about libraries, on whether libraries are just the books, or more (and if more, what else is important). It provides them a chance to name what physical things are most important in their lives, and how they would save them if threatened.
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LibraryThing member cmiller05
The Librarian of Bosra, Alia Muhammad Baker, takes it upon herself to keep the books of her city safe, by stealing them and hiding them in her friend's restaurant. (This is a true story.)
LibraryThing member Michelle_Bales
This is the story of Alia, a librarian in Basra, Iraq, who is passionate about saving the books in her library from the ravages of war. This is a story of civil disobedience and people coming together in a community in Iraq.

Language

Original language

English

Physical description

32 p.; 8 inches

ISBN

0152054456 / 9780152054458

UPC

884537367825

Barcode

971
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