Children's Literature Bookshelf

“The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq,” by Jeanette Winter. Harcourt, Inc., New York, 2005, 32 pages, Grades 1-3.

“The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq,” by Jeanette Winter.
Harcourt, Inc., New York, 2005, 32 pages, Grades 1-3.

Iraq is the home of a priceless civilization. Five thousand years ago, the ancestors of modern day Iraqis, the Sumerians, built a sophisticated civilization.  The Sumerians developed an alphabet, built beautiful architectural structures and invented practical agricultural implements such as the wheel and the plow.  The clay writing tablets from ancient Iraq can still be viewed.  This ancient love for writing, reading and literature carried over into modern day Iraq.  In the city of Basra, an excellent public library served as a center of learning.  The Chief Librarian’s name was Alia Muhammad Baker.  She proudly assisted the residents of Basra. 

But the wars of the early 2000’s soon threatened all of Iraq, with Basra becoming a major battlefield.  As a result of the conflict, much of Basra was devastated.  But Alia Muhammad Baker refused to watch her library be destroyed.  Jeanette Winter tells the remarkable story of Mrs. Baker’s foresight and courage in the face of daunting odds.  The name of this inspiring book is “The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq.”

Mrs. Alia Muhammad Baker has happily been the Chief Librarian of the Basra Public Library in Basra, Iraq for 13 years.  The library was built years earlier because of the citizens of Basra’s desire to learn, to read books and to preserve ancient Iraqi manuscripts.  Suddenly in 2003, the threat of war raises its ominous head in Iraq.  Everyone fears the terrible violence and destruction of the impending conflict.  The Chief Librarian asks the civil government leaders to allow her to move the books and priceless manuscripts from the library to a safer area.  Her pleas fall on deaf ears.  Casting about for a solution, she decides to begin moving parts of the collection at night.  A seven foot tall fence separates the library from a neighboring restaurant.  Mrs. Baker asks the owner if he would be willing to store some of the books because she fears the library will be bombed.  He agrees.  So, the librarian begins handing boxes of books over the fence to the owner of the restaurant. 

Over the next few days, she gets 30,000 books moved.  Many of the books are now in the neighboring restaurant, her own house and houses of those sympathetic to the danger.  It doesn’t come a moment too soon.  The war explodes in Basra and much of the city is destroyed.  Mrs. Baker watches her precious public library being consumed by flames.  But is the library a building or the collection it houses?  What does this tragic event move Mrs. Alia Muhammad Baker to do next?

What happens?  Is the library in Basra destroyed and ruined?  Where does courage come from?  How does an ordinary person like Mrs. Baker act with such extraordinary insight and heroism?  Why is she a true hero in Iraq?  To find out the answers to these and other questions, go to the library and check out “The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq” by Jeanette Winter.

This is a beautiful story in a country that has been wracked by warfare.  Mrs. Alia Muhammad Baker is a native Iraqi and is later reinstated as the Chief Librarian at the Public Library of Basra.   Her remarkable courage and love of learning has been the subject of several books.  Winter’s book has beautiful, simple pictures describing what occurred in Basra and Mrs. Baker’s response to those dire times.  I hope you get a chance to share this book with your children.  Alia Muhammad Baker is an inspirational person and Jeanette Winter presents her life in a compelling manner.

Terrence Nollen




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