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The Librarian of Basra

A True Story of Iraq

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Cover art of the children' nonfiction picture book The Librarian of Basra

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story of Iraq by Jeanette Winter

As the subtitle states, The Librarian of Basra is A True Story of Iraq. With limited text and folkart-style illustrations, author and illustrator Jeanette Winter relates the dramatic true story of how one determined woman helped save the Basra Central Library's books during the invasion of Iraq.

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story of Iraq

In April 2003, the invasion of Iraq reaches Basra, a port city. Alia Muhammad Baker, the chief librarian of Basra's Central Library is worried the books will be destroyed. When she requests permission to move the books to a place where they will be safe, the governor denies her request. Frantic, Alia does want she can to save the books.

Every night Alia secretly takes home as many of the library's books as she can fit in her car. When bombs hit the city, buildings are damaged and fires start. When everyone else abandons the library, Alia seeks help from friends and neighbors of the library to save the library's books.

With the help of Anis Muhammad, who owns the restaurant next to the library, his brothers, and others, thousands of books are carried to the seven-foot wall that separates the library and the restaurant, passed over the wall and hidden in the restaurant. Although shortly thereafter, the library is destroyed by fire, 30,000 of the Basra Central Library's books have been saved by the heroic efforts of the librarian of Basra and her helpers.

The Librarian of Basra: The Author and Illustrator

Jeanette Winter is the author and illustrator of a number of children's picture books, including September Roses, a small picture book based on a true story that happened in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book, My Name Is Georgia, a book about artist Georgia O'Keeffe, and Josefina, a picture book inspired by Mexican folk artist Josefina Aguilar. She has also illustrated children's books for other writers, including Day of the Dead by Tony Johnston.

In response to the question, "What do you want children to remember about the librarian of Basra?", Jeanette Winter replied, "I would hope that children would take with them the belief that one person can truly make a difference. And that they would remember the bravery of one woman protecting what was important to her, especially when they feel powerless, as we all do sometimes." (Harcourt interview)

The Librarian of Basra: The Illustrations

The book's design complements the text. Each page features a colorful boxed illustration with text underneath it. The pages that describe the approach of war are yellow-gold; with the invasion of Basra, the pages are a somber lavender. With safety for the books and dreams of peace, the pages are a bright blue. With colors reflecting the mood, Winter's folk art illustrations reinforce the simple, yet dramatic, story.

The Librarian of Basra: My Recommendation

This true story illustrates both the impact one person can have and the impact a group of people can have when working together under a strong leader, like the librarian of Basra, for a common cause. The Librarian of Basra also calls attention to how valuable libraries and their books can be to individuals and communities. I recommend The Librarian of Basra: A True Story of Iraq for children 8-12. (Harcourt, Inc., 2005. ISBN: 9780152054458)

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