About the Holiday
What better way to spend a Saturday than by stopping by your local library and picking up a few books to while away the hours on a cold winter day? While you’re there thank the librarians for all they do to keep libraries open and books accessible to all. Consider donating to your local library today!
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq
By Jeanette Winter
Alia Muhammad Baker, oversees the library of Basra in Iraq, where all those who love books and learning come to “discuss matters of the world and matters of the spirit.” Now, though, their talk is full of the war around them. Alia is afraid for her books, worried that the fires of war will destroy them, so she petitions the government for permission to move them to a safe place. Her request is denied, so Alia secretly fills her car each night with as many books as it can carry and takes them home.
As rumors of war continue to swirl, the library becomes a shelter for government offices. When the battles reach Basra, “the city is lit with a firestorm of bombs and gunfire.” The government officials, soldiers, and library workers abandon the library, leaving Alia alone to protect the books. She summons help from Anis Muhammad, the restaurant owner on the other side of the library wall, and together they remove the rest of the books in crates and sacks and wrapped in curtains. Other shopkeepers and neighbors join in, removing the books and hiding them in Anis’s restaurant.
The war rages, but the books’ whereabouts remain a secret. “Then, nine days later, a fire burns the library to the ground.” “At last, the beast of war moves on,” but the books are still in danger. While the city is quiet, Alia “hires a truck to bring all thirty thousand books to her house and to the houses of friends.” Alia’s house is stacked floor to ceiling with the books she loves. They fill every cabinet, teeter on every shelf, and sit in piles under tables, chairs, and Alia’s bed. There’s hardly room for Alia herself.
But Alia is patient. She waits and “dreams of peace” and a time when a new library will be built to replace what has been lost.
Jeanette Winter’s story of one woman who risked her own safety to protect the books she loved, including an ancient biography of Muhammad, reminds all readers of the importance of these storehouses of our collective history, culture, imagination, and knowledge. The gripping true-life story abounds with suspense as war grows closer but also with hope as friends and neighbors make Alia’s mission theirs too. In these days when so many libraries are threatened with closure, The Librarian of Basra, asks the question: what would we do to protect our books?
In square framed acrylic paintings on solid colored backgrounds, Winter reveals the day-to-day wartime events and the actions Alia takes to save the library’s collection. She is seen visiting a government official, sneaking books into her car by night, and watching as soldiers are stationed on the library roof. When the battle comes to Basra, silhouetted jets fly in a rust-colored sky as orange flames dwarf the buildings and people below. Under the threat of bombs, Alia and her neighbors are portrayed packing up the books and carrying them over the wall to safety. Readers will marvel at the image of Alia’s house stacked with books and may wonder how many their own homes could hold.
Ages 4 – 8
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, 2005 | ISBN 978-0152054458
Take Your Child to the Library Day Activity
I Love the Library! Coloring Page
If the library is one of your favorite places, print out this I Love the Library! Coloring Page and enjoy!
Picture Book Review