Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq

Author and Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Grade Level: 1st to 4th grade

The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq depicts the life of an Iraqi woman who is a librarian with a passion and love for her books. This woman, Ali Muhammad Baker, is the librarian of a city in Iraq called Basra. She loved that her library was a place for all different kinds of people to come and talk about all different kinds of things. But unfortunately now, everyone only talks of war. With everyone nervous about how the war will affect them in Basra, Alia worries about what will happen to her beloved books. When the war eventually reaches Basra and soldiers and bombs enter their city, Alia worries where she will take her books. Alia and a friend make sure to hide the books somewhere safe. Then when the library is set on fire, Alia knows she has to protect her books even more, so she finds a way to move them quietly to her home. Awaiting for the war to end, Alia remains in her home; crammed with thousands of books and dreams of a beautiful new library.

Element 3 - Exploring Issues of Social Injustice:
This book explores issues of social injustice in a couple different ways. First, the story gives light to life in Middle Eastern countries, especially Iraq. The fact that it is a true story, can really leave a strong impact on students to help them truly understand some of the hardships and social injustices that these people deal with. The fact that the people of Basra had to live in fear of war and violence, can help a young student to see how different someone else's life may be than their's. The people of Basra and Alia were forced to hide/protect their books because they feared that they would be destroyed and taken away from them. The people of Basra have been oppressed because they are not getting the equal rights that they should. They are living in fear of something that is not their fault or not in their control. The story also gives a great example of how someone or some people can stand up for what they believe in. Especially coming from a Middle Eastern culture, it is not expected for a woman to stand up for her rights like Alia did. I think this book is a great way for American students to open their eyes to what else is going on in the world outside of our fifty states. The War in Iraq is something that has been current and active in our lives and I think students need to be exposed of that.

Activity: 3rd or 4th grade
I would use the book to deepen my student's knowledge of what is going on in our world around us. Although we have been part of a war that has greatly affected countries including ours, I feel that schools do not educate enough on current/recent events. In history, we are drilled to learn and memorize ancient wars and battles that we can't possibly remember, but we do not know enough about our recent history. I would start my activity by seeing what students do know. We would do a word web as a class. I would put the word "Iraq" in the middle and then ask students whats other words or phrases they associate with that word. Once we have a pretty large web, I will ask students if they want to share why they chose some of the words they did. After a small discussion I will read the book aloud. After I read, I will ask some questions about how the book made them feel or if it made them change any of their ideas or words from the web earlier. "What do you have to say about the book? What struck you? Did you learn anything you didn't know before? If so, what?" I think it's important to hear their feelings from the story and share them because the book can leave a lasting impression, especially with the pictures of war hitting Basra. I will ask what they want to add to the web after reading and why. Then to end the activity, I would ask them to think of one thing they love so much and are so passionate about and to write it down. Then I would ask," How would you feel if someone threatened to take that away from you forever? To what measures would you go to to save them? Would you have the courage?" I think by having students think about this and share their feelings with the class, they can better relate to Alia and what she had to overcome to keep her books safe. 

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