Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

Written and Illustrated by: Jeanette Winter
Recommended Ages: 7-10

The Librarian of Basra was published in 2005, two years after the invasion of Iraq reached the port city of Basra. It tells the remarkable story of how Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra's library, managed to rescue 70% of the library's collection. Children will respond to her amazing story of courage in the face of adversity.

The book begins with the city of Basra poised with worry as they wait for war to come to their city. Alia, the librarian, is particularly concerned that the war will destroy the books in her library, which "are more precious to her than mountains of gold." When she is denied permission from the governor to move them to a safe place, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She starts filling her car up and bringing books home with her every night after work.

Soon war arrives in Basra, and all the library workers abandon the library, except Alia. She asks her friend next door who owns a restaurant if he will help her save the books. Together they, along with other neighbors, work through the night taking the books from the library and passing them over the wall and hiding them in his restaurant. Nine days later, a fire burns the library down. Eventually the "beast of war" moves on, and Alia hires a truck to transport all thirty thousand books to her house and to the houses of friends. The book ends with Alia dreaming of peace, but happy that the books are safe with her.

The Librarian of Basra introduces the concept of war and its aftermath to children in a way that is appropriate. It is also sure to generate discussion about war in general, and the Iraq war in particular. But it is Alia's courage in the face of war that is so inspirational, and her story deserves to be shared.

BookNosher Tidbit: Here's the link to the original New York Times article that was written in July 2003. There's also another graphic novel (aimed for slightly older kids) that is worth checking out called Alia's Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq by Mark Alan Stamaty.

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