the value of culture - and one woman's great courage

by Jeanette Winter - Harcourt Children's Books, 2005
ages 4 years to grownup / diversity, powerful lives, s.o.s.e.

Basra is one of the larger cities in Iraq and was home to a library with incredible books including a seven-hundred-year-old biography of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). 


The Librarian of Basra is the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker - a middle aged Iraqi woman living in the town of Basra and working as a librarian. 

Alia knew that war was coming to Basra and she knew that war brings fire which would likely destroy the precious books.

Art and culture take a back seat to war and Alia knew that she would have to save the books herself. 

She enlisted the help of friends and family and managed to save some 30,000 books, the bulk of which were eventually stacked in her own home.

This is an impressive book. It manages to draw attention away from the war that is central to the story and focuses instead on the actions of a few inspired individuals. There’s also a humanising and indeed elevating of people who, for most readers of this book, may be considered the ‘enemy’ – something that can’t happen often enough.

It’s also nicely illustrated – the naïve style helps to soften the blow of war and at the same time manage to make Alia and the other people in the book the focal point. Young children (maybe 4 and up) will be able to listen to or read this book without being traumatised and at the same time without having the effects of war sugar coated. 

The ability to look outside fear and look to a future where good things (like books) are valued again is remarkably represented here – making it a wonderful book to teach about courage, steadfastness, and commitment to preserving culture. 

A child who hears or reads this book will add a layer to the part of them that cares about history, the part that knows risk taking is sometimes worth it, the part that wants to help good causes even when it’s not safe or convenient, and the part that recognises good in people of all cultures and faiths.

Here’s a link to the New York Times story that inspired the author - very interesting.

You can buy The Librarian of Basra via these direct links: Amazon - Book Depository - Booktopia