The Librarian of Basra: A true story from Iraq
Written and Illustrated by: Jeanette Winter
Age Range: 4-8 years
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“In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read’” –Alia Muhammad Baker
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Lesson Plan Ideas for elementary classrooms involving the Iraq War.
This unique story is about Alia Muhammad Baker. She is the librarian in Basra, Iraq. Her library was a safe haven for those who shared Alia’s love of book, in which they would discuss all matters. Soon, the once creative conversation turned to only nervous talk about war. Worried about the rare and classic books held in the library, Alia asked the governor for permission to move them somewhere safe, but was denied. Alia would not stand for this. Each night when no one was around she began transporting the books from the library to her home. Once war struck, soldiers and government offices took over the library. With little hope left Alia asked her friend Anis Muhammed for help and they moved the books into his restaurant. Soon after they did this the library was destroyed by a fire. Alia kept moving the books, keeping some at her house and the homes of her friends. Alia is dreaming of peace and a new library, but is just happy to know the books are safe.
Element 3: Exploring Issues of Social Injustice
I found this story to be very unique. Not only does it bring up Middle-Eastern culture, but discusses the sensitive topic of war at a young age. It is a true story about how war hit Basra, Iraq and the heroic efforts of Alia in saving the books from the library. It addresses the ability of one person (even someone previously seen as powerless) being able to make a difference and stand up for their beliefs even in times of hardship. The main reason I chose this book is because I felt it opened up students to understanding how the Iraq war affected the people of the Middle East and the troubles they face experiencing war in their homeland. I also liked how it showed heroine as a woman, which is not usually common in that particular culture.
Grades applied- 3rd grade
Begin a simple class discussion to open up the students to talking and thinking about the different impacts of war. I would describe war as “when two or more countries don’t get along about something, sometimes they start fighting in a really bad way. This can help or hurt the countries in many different ways, like how Alia and her friends lost their library.” I want to then ask the students what is something they value and have them try and imagine putting themselves in Alia’s shoes- “What is something that you guys really like, that you would not want to lose?”, “What would you do if you had to save ____”, “What are some other things you think people would lose during a time of war?”, etc.