When you head to the library or bookstore this weekend with the kiddos, keep an eye out for The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter.
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian in the city of Basra, Iraq. Anyone who loved books used to meet in her library. She remembers when people came to the library to discuss “matters of the world and matters of the spirit.” Until everyone started talking about the possibility of war.
Speculation and uncertainty about war prompt Alia to request permission to move the books to a safe place, but her request is denied. Convinced that the books will not survive a war she begins a personal quest to rescue them. Every night she stacks what she can in her car and takes the books to her house. When the war starts and government offices are moved to the library Alia knows she made the right decision. Soon enough the rumors of war become reality. The library evacuates and Alia is left to save the remaining books. With the help of friends she gets the books to safety. Nine days later a fire burns the library to the ground.
The first stop for the books works, but as the war moves on to other areas and Basra is left empty and quiet, Alia moves all 30,000 books to the homes of friends and book lovers of Basra. Her own home is full of books, too. And so she waits for the war to end. For right now though, the books are safe.
The writing is simple and straight-forward, but the storytelling elicits tension and wonder as the librarian resorts to her own resourcefulness to save the beloved books. The illustrations are vivid in predominantly cool colors; they both highlight the danger of war and underline the goodness of Alia’s efforts.