Friday, August 17, 2012

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter
Harcourt | January 1, 2005

This beautiful picture book begins with the epigram: "In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read.' - Alia Muhammad Baker" A lovely way to begin, I think.

"Alia is the librarian of Basra," the text starts. The brightly colored illustrations show a woman with her head covered with an armful of books making her way down a street. The library was a meeting place--a happy place, until the war came. The librarian takes matters into her own hands to save the books when the governor refuses to move them somewhere safe. Soon, war is ravaging through Basra and the library is destroyed. But not until Alia has saved all the books.

The book explains how Alia dreams of peace while she waits for a time when the books can return to the library again and it ends without resolution. She stands, a lone figure as the book began, amongst the stacks of books, safely kept away from war until a time the library can be rebuilt.

This is not a real spread in the book, but two pages from separate spreads. I like them together.
An author's note explains the story is true, told by Alia to a New York Times reporter. This lovely, vibrant book manages to do two difficult things brilliantly. First, it portrays a real person and real events in a manner that is engaging to even the youngest readers. And, it shows war and its destruction in a non-scary yet realistic way leaving hope at the end even in the face of an unsure future. (According to online reports, the library was rebuilt in 2004 with Alia as librarian.)

This book is beautiful and worth your time. Enjoy it with a child and have a discussion about books, the universal love of them, and discuss what war can do. This book can help you with those topics and more.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this book, for the most part. Have you read Alia's Mission (Mark Alan Stamaty)? We were assigned it in graphic novels this summer, so I brought in The Librarian of Basra to compare the picture book about her to the graphic "novel" (very short, still for young people). I think there are strengths and weaknesses in each, and the authors really should have worked together to come up with one really great book, because it is SUCH a good story.