Monday, June 4, 2012

Case Study No. 0358: Alia Muhammad Baker

The Librarian of Basra - A True Story from Iraq
When war seemed imminent, Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra's Central Library, was determined to protect the library's holdings. In spite of the government's refusal to help, she moved the books into a nearby restaurant only nine days before the library burned to the ground. When the fighting moved on, this courageous woman transferred the 30,000 volumes to her and her friends' homes to await peace and the rebuilding of a new library. Based on story and pictures by Jeanette Winter. Adapted for Brooklyn Blowback TV by David Kay, MLS. With music musical saw & accordion duo Dreamland Faces.
Tags: children's picture book about heroic librarian in Iraq
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In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammed was "Read."
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra, a port city in the sand-swept country of Iraq.
Her library is a meeting place for all who love books. They discuss matters of the world and matters of the spirit.
Until now – now they talk only of war.
"Will planes with bombs fill the sky?"
"Will bombs fall here?"
"Will soldiers with guns fill the streets?"
"Who among us will die?"
"Will our families survive?"
"What can we do?"
Until now - now they talk only of war.
Alia worries that the fires of war will destroy the books, which are more precious to her than mountains of gold. The books are in every language - new books, ancient books, even a biography of Muhammad that is seven hundred years old. She asks the governor for permission to move them to a safe place. He refuses.
So Alia takes matters into her own hands. Secretly, she brings books home every night, filling her car late after work.
The whispers of war grow louder. Government offices are moved into the library. Soldiers with guns wait on the roof. Alia waits — and fears the worst.
Then, the rumors become the reality.
War reaches Basra.
The city is lit with a firestorm of bombs and gunfire.
Alia watches as library workers, government workers, and soldiers abandon the library. Only Alia is left to protect the books.
She calls over the library wall to her friend Anis Muhammad, who owns a restaurant on the other side, "Will you help me save the books?"
"I can use these curtains to wrap them."
"Here are crates from my shop."
"Can you use these sacks?"
"The books must be saved."
All through the night, Alia, Anis, his brothers, and shopkeepers and neighbors take the books from the library shelves, pass them over the seven-foot-wall, and hide them in Anis' restaurant.
The books stay hidden as the war rages on.
Then, nine days later, a fire burns the library to the ground.
The next day, soldiers come to Anis' restaurant.
"Why do you have a gun?" they ask.
"To protect my business," Anis replies.
The soldiers leave without searching inside.
They do not know that the whole of the library is in my restaurant, thinks Anis.
At last the beast of war moves on. Alia knows that if the books are to be safe, they must be moved again, while the city is quiet. So she hires a truck to bring all thirty thousand books to her house and to the houses of friends.
In Alia's house, books are everywhere, filling floors and cupboards and windows...
Leaving barely enough room for anything else.
Alia waits.
She waits for war to end.



"The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq"
Written and Illustrated by Jeanette Winter

Books "are more precious than mountains of gold" to Basra librarian Alia Muhammad Baker. When "the beast of war" looms on the horizon, she and willing friends remove more than 30,000 volumes from the library and store them in their homes, preventing the collection's destruction when a bomb hits the building. As appropriate for her audience, Winter's bright, folk-art style does much to mute the horrific realities of war. The corresponding abstraction in the text, however, may give many readers pause. While an endnote explains that the "invasion of Iraq reached Basra on April 6, 2003," the nature of the crisis rocking Baker's homeland is left vague, and the U.S.'s role in the depicted events is never mentioned. At the same time, certain images--among them, silhouetted figures in robes fleeing from ominous tanks and jets--carry a pointed commentary that will require sensitivity when presenting this to children of deployed parents. Still, the librarian's quiet bravery serves as a point of entry into a freighted topic, and young readers will be glad to learn that a portion of the book's sales will go toward helping rebuild Basra's library.

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