The Librarian of Basra Literature Guide
In“The Librarian of Basra: A true story from Iraq,” Jeanette Winter brings to light the courage, innovation, and strength of a Muslim woman who saved 30,000 library books from bombing during the war in the Middle East. Alia Muhammad Baker organized her community to shelter books in their homes until they could rebuild the library safely after the war. Alia’s courage in the face of danger demonstrates the power of an individual to take social action and organize a community around a common goal.
Literature Guide by Maureen Klein
Ask: Read the title of the book. What words do you know? Are there any words that are unfamiliar to you?
Show: Display a map of the world with Iraq identified. Highlight where you are located on the map as well. This is a country in the Middle East where there has been a lot of warfare.
Connect: Talk about the libraries you have been to. Discuss what people do at the library. Why is a library an important place in a community?
Ask: What does Alia do when the governor refuses to help her? Why is this an important moment in her story?
Show: Pause before reading the pages where the neighbors are coming together to move and hide the books. What do you notice? How would you describe the way they are working?
Connect: Alia described the books as “more precious than mountains of gold.” Why are they so precious to her? What are some things that you would want to save from destruction? What makes them special to you?
Ask: In what ways does Alia show courage in her commitment to save the books? Give examples from the story that demonstrate her courage.
Show: Look at the illustration at the end of the story that depicts Alia dreaming of a new library. How would you describe how Alia might be feeling? Why is her dream an important one?
Connect: Alia was a true community leader. She is someone who was able to inspire others to act. Describe a leader in your community and how they work for the common good. In what ways can you support their work?
- Go on a walk in your neighborhood. Look for “Free Little Libraries.” Why might they be important in a community? Pick up or drop off a book at a Little Free Library.
- Contact your local library. Interview a librarian. Find out how many books are in your library. There were 30,000 books in Alia’s library. She hid most of them in her home. Compare the number of books in Alia’s library to your own. Alia’s library had a book that was 700 years old. Find out what is the oldest book in your library’s collection.
- The war in Iraq destroyed many things, including Alia’s library. “The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” Use the interactive map from the Unesco World Heritage Site to research natural and cultural heritage sites.
- Alia was committed to the idea that books are important to the community. Make a poster featuring a quote about the importance of books. Here are some to get you started: “One child. One teacher. One book and one pen can change the world.” - Malala Yousafzai Zitate. “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” - Frederick Douglass. "Books are a form of political action. Books are knowledge. Books are reflection. Books change your mind.” - Toni Morrison.