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The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,902 ratings  ·  470 reviews
"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read.'"*
--Alia Muhammad Baker

Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library--along with the thirty thousand books within it--will be destroyed forever.

In a war-stricken
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published January 1st 2005 by Harcourt
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Mar 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: older children interested in the Iraq War, older children interested in brave women
According to Jeannette Winter's excellent and informative author's note, Alia Muhammad Baker (who was the chief librarian of Basra, Iraq, and indeed even that fact is remarkable, as it shows that while Saddam Hussein might have been in many ways a vile dictator, in his Iraq, women were obviously often employed in important and leadership potential careers) managed to save 70% of the Library of Basra's collection of books before the library burned in April 2003. Not only is it amazing that this b ...more
Mariah Roze
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fantastic book that I read with my students! So educational and explains what war can do to a country and how important books are.
Jon Nakapalau
Alia Muhammad Baker is one of the unsung heroes of the war in Iraq. Her dedication to saving books for future generations is a true silver lining to this oppressive cloud of war.
Stephanie Anze
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read' " - Alia Muhammad Baker


Alia was the chief librarian at the Al Basrah Central Library in Basra, Iraq. A meeting place for discussions and connections, Alia loved her job. When war loomed and grew more imminent, Alia wanted to move the books to a safer location. When denied help by government officials, she took matters into her own hands.

I just love books about books and I particularly love this story for the sheer courage and stren
A love story about books. The opening quote "In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read'." This is said by Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian of Basra. During the war of Iraq, she saved 30,000 books from burning. This is a short and succinct story. She was brave and she obviously loved the word. I had never heard this story and it's powerful. I would think any book-o-phile would appreciate someone saving a library during war. That's a big thought; what books would you decided t ...more
Randie D. Camp, M.S.
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq : I really enjoyed this book. It is important for readers to think about how people in other countries are impacted by events, such as war, from other perspectives. Many children know of the war in Iraq but from the American perspective. I am appreciative of Jeanette Winter for sharing Alia Muhammad Baker’s story and letting us see how the war affected the library and the residents of Basra, Iraq. I also appreciated that Winter noted that the Basra ...more
Mohamedridha Alaskari محمد رضا العسكري
A true story of Mrs. Alyaa the manager of Basra Library whom saved over than 3000 priceless books during the US invasion in Iraq.

I encourage everyone to read it. Very interesting true story! Feel proud of this Iraqi Woman.

The story is available pdf using this link:
Mar 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm quite torn over my feelings about this picture book which tells the true story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a librarian in Basra, Iraq, and how she personally endeavors to save the precious books in her library when war reaches Basra. On the one hand, it is a deeply touching story about how one person can make a difference in his/her community, even against all odds, and even inspire others to help. In this case, it is even more poignant in that Alia wants save books--treasure troves of her cultu ...more
I just bought this book in ebook format today and completed it. I was prompted to read The Librarian of Basra because of the recommendation of it by one of my Goodreads friends who is Iraqi and the controversy this innocent book has caused in this country.

I am always skeptical when a Westerner, especially American, writes about a non-Western country or culture because many of these authors have a bad track record of making fantastically false presentations and setting up propaganda to make the
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Man, I hate writing reviews for books I don't have in front of me, but the book was due at the library and I couldn't renew it. So, here we go!

First off, I need to confess my bias ... I'm the kid of Iraqi immigrants so I might have a warmer, fuzzier case of the warm fuzzies for this.

Anyway, this is the tale of a librarian who, knowing war was coming, was determined to save the books in her library. She had no official help (i.e., from local government), so she went ahead and did what she could t
Nadin Adel
Apr 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A real worthy book aimed for kids to teach them part of what happened in Iraq through a simple illustrated story and to raise the awareness of the importance of learning, books and reading.

Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
A true librarian! I probably would have done the same thing were I in her shoes. The thought of destroying books-- unthinkable!
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winter, based on a New York Times article of July 27, 2003, tells the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, head librarian of Basra, Iraq who helped save 70% of the library's collections before the library burned during the Iraq War. An author's note gives backgound at the end of the book. This was a March 2012 selection for the library topic for the Picture Book Club at Goodreads.

Winter's colorful, bold illustrations were done in acrylic and p
S.Baqer Al-Meshqab
Nov 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Well, I was not expected the booklet to be that short. It is directed for children, I suppose, so that's why. The picture book shows moderate artwork, and the story is OK for kids. I think it would give them a boost on how valuable books are that even at the times of dismay, Alia couldn't just leave them be. A Book is a treasure, and a treasure must be treasured by all means.

Cool lesson, from a true story.
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
An amazing true story of an amazingly brave librarian!
Thanks for the rec Ridha!
Lisa  (not getting friends updates) Vegan
Oct 19, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: discussions about war, collaboration, bravery, friendship, books, libraries
Well, I am impressed by the true story and by the Librarian of Basra. I’m not as big a fan of this book as are most Goodreads’ members. (I took a look at the ratings.)

One thing about which I’m perplexed is if the saving of the books happened in exactly this way, their survival was a matter of chance. Maybe the restaurant and not the library could have been bombed?

So, I didn’t really like the spare text. I didn’t like that the story (sans beginning quote and author’s note) seems almost generic.
Dec 31, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: parents reading with their children
This is a sad, but heartwarming tale about how war tears apart the foundations of society. One librarian strives to protect her precious books, books that are hundreds of years old and cultural relics.

It's sad that the library is burned to the ground during the conflict, but inspiring that Alia was so dedicated to preserving her piece of Iraqi culture and language. Our girls enjoyed watching the story on the Tumblebooks website. (

This story was selected as one of the books for t
Inspiring story of Alia Muhammad Baker, the librarian who rescued 30,000 books from the Basra library during the Iraq War in 2003 and hid them in her home, the homes of friends, and a nearby restaurant. I read today in the National Coalition Against Censorship's e-newsletter that one of Ms. Winter's other books, Nasreen's Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, is being challenged by parents in Wisconsin, but that book was checked out so I found this one. This is a lovely piece about the h ...more
Dov Zeller
A beautiful picture book that tells the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a librarian in Basra who goes to great lengths to protect her library's books during wartime. There's not much text in it. It's very short and simplified. I think even in a kids book there could have been a tiny bit more in the way of detail about Baker and the war and her wartime activities. But, it's still lovely and I'm glad I read it and I imagine it could be a great conversation starter when talking to kids about any numb ...more
Borrowed this from PNM via Overdrive. I love the illustration. But the story-telling pace is a bit off for me.

Can't imagine the actual struggle to take good care of the books Alia Muhammad Baker owned from one place to another safely. 30,000 books!!! When you love books and realize the importance to preserve it, no difficulty come in the way will be able to stop you.
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone.
Shelves: favorites
I'd like to develop some sort of "librarian appreciation" unit that injects a little world view, and came across this book as a recommendation in the NYSUT newsletter.

Although this is a child's book, (primarily recommended for 3rd - 5th grade), I would like to try using this as a read aloud to kick off the unit in conjunction with the New York Times article ...

I think it might work best with middle school students, but I'd use it in high school as well, as
Jul 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It was wonderful!

This book is set against a backdrop of an invaded Iraq. A librarian who finds her library in danger of obliteration by the hands of the soldiers moves all the books to her and her friends' place.

This is a story which celebrates the joy of reading books. It is rare to find people who are ready to give up their lives to save books. This picture book narrates in a benign manner how books can become more cherished and dear to your heart than even your life. Books have empowered us a
Reading_ Tam_ Ishly
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
I wish it was much longer than this🤦

I was just starting the story and it ended so soon.

This is the real story that happened in Iraq during the times of its invasion during 2003. The chief librarian of Basra's Central Library, Alia Muhammad Baker, with the help of a few trusted friends, did her best to save some 30,000 books before a fire burns the library to the ground.

Awesome spirit.
Awesome read.
Jun 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who loves books
Recommended to booklady by: Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
A wonderful true story about a devoted librarian who went to a great deal of trouble to rescue and protect the assets of her library when the invasion of Iraq reached Basra on April 6, 2003. The story is told in very few words with bright colorful pictures. It is suitable even for very young children, but will be best appreciated by those who love books!
Mar 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Illlustrated with bright, bold acrylic and pen illustrations, _The Librarian of Basra_ tells a story of the horrors of war in a balanced way, not too frightening for young children. (There is no mention that it is U.S. planes that bomb the city, although an American soldier is pictured at the door in one illustration.) Alia gets no help from the Governor of Basra in trying to preserve the 30000 books in the library when war is imminent, so she takes it upon herself to move them with the help of ...more
The opening quote is just as amazing as this true story: "In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read'."

Alia Muhammad Baqer was the chief librarian in the Al Basrah Central Library, Basra, Iraq. She saved an estimated 30,000 books from destruction during the Iraq War, including a biography of Muhammad from around 1300.

Jeanette Winter and Alia Baqer.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Another banned books selection. This true story is about a librarian who saved 70% of her library's books knowing that the likelihood of our being bombed and burned was high. Another one I wouldn't hesitate to put in the hands of a child. I would love to find out more about this woman! ...more
Apr 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers Looking for a Gentle Picture-Book Introduction to the War in Iraq for Young Children
The inspiring true story of Alia Muhammed Baker, the chief librarian of Basra's Central Library, whose heroic actions during the invasion of Iraq resulted in the saving of 70% of that institution's treasured holdings, is here retold in picture-book form by Jeanette Winter, whose other biographies for younger readers include Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa and My Name Is Georgia . With simple text and bright acrylic illustrations, Winter sets out the amazing tale of Alia ...more
Feb 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: info-bios
The culture of a nation is contained in its books. A library, therefore, becomes the Fort Knox of one's culture. In 2003 in Basra, Iraq, a librarian feared that bombings would destroy the precious repository resting within library walls. The "government" had other things to worry about so she took the matter into her own hands and cleared the library of over 70% of its contents, storing nearly 30,000 volumes in her home and the homes of her friends. The library structure did, in fact, burn to th ...more
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book captures the love people have for books in Iraq. Even though the library was bombed, she still kept on protecting the books no matter how hard it was. I think it is awesome seeing how much people care about books.
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