Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq

Jeanette Winter
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Harcourt, 2005   ISBN: 978-0152054458

Alia loves the books in the library where she works. She understands the power and the knowledge that they contain, and when the threat of war looms on the horizon she fears for the safety of the treasure that is in her keeping. Alia decides that she must do something to protect the precious books and she begins to move large numbers of them to her own home in the dead of night.

As she works, there is more and more talk of a coming war and sure enough, conflict arrives with all its airplanes, bombs, guns, and fires. Now the whole library is in danger of burning down. Alia appeals to her neighbours near the library to help her move as many of the books as possible to safety. This they do and soon the restaurant next to the library is full of books. Soon after the library burned to the ground. Thankfully Alia and her friends were able to save seventy per cent of the library books.

When "the beast of war moves on" Alia moves the books out of the restaurant and into her own home and the houses of friends. Now all she can do is dream of a time of peace and of a time when once again she will have a new library to house all her beloved books and where the people of Basra will once again be able to gather to talk about hopes, ideas, and books.

This moving picture book with its spare text and bold illustrations in bright flat colours, tells a story which shows the reader the human, the real aspect of war and the terrible price that people in a war region pay. The author read about Alia and her lost library in the NY Times and felt the need to share this wonderful story of love and courage with young people.