The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

Jeanette Winter, Author and Illustrator

Harcourt, Inc., Juvenile Literature, 2005

Suitable for:  Grades 2-5

Themes:  Libraries, Saving books, War, Middle East

Opening/Synopsis:  “Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra, a port city in the sand-swept country of Iraq.  Her library is a meeting place for all who love books.  They discuss matters of the world and matters of the spirit.  Until now — now, they talk only of war. ”   Alia is worried about the approaching war.  She asks the governor to move the 30,000 books to a safe place, but he refuses.  This feisty and spirited librarian takes matters into her own hands and secretly brings books home every night.  When war turns Basra into a burning city, she begs shopkeepers and friends to help her hide the books before it’s too late.   As the fires burn out, the library is gone.  Alia waits and waits for the war to end.  She dreams of a new library.

Why I liked this book:  This is a true story based on the heroic efforts of a woman who is passionate about saving her town’s precious books.   Jeanette Winter’s text is simple and straightforward.  It is a non-threatening way to present war to children.  It also teaches children that people have the same passions and love of reading worldwide.  Thus driving home the theme, we really are all the same no matter where we live.  The book is beautifully illustrated in acrylics.  Winter’s simple colorful illustrations evoke the emotions of war  and hope for the future.

Activities:   There is a note from the author at the end of the book that gives history about Alia and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.   A New York Times reporter heard about the story and brought it to the world’s attention on July 27, 2003.  This is a good discussion book to introduce children to war as the story is not frightening.   Kids have seen the images of war on TV.  It is also a book about how one person can make a difference.  Listen to what they think and feel about war.  Discuss with children how people all over the world love to read just like they do.  Talk about ordinary heroes like Alia, and ask kids to share stories about local heroes.  Get children involved in donating some off their own books to local literacy programs.  You can read a Harcourt interview with Jeanette Winter and see  photos of Jeanette with Alia.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.  Or click on the Perfect Picture Book Fridays  badge in the right sidebar.