From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 2-4 - 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. In telling this story, first reported in the New York Times
on July 27, 2003, by Shaila K. Dewan, Winter artfully achieves a fine balance between honestly describing the casualties of war and not making the story too frightening for young children. The text is spare and matter-of-fact. It is in the illustrations, executed in acrylic and ink in her signature style, that Winter suggests the impending horror. The artist uses color to evoke mood, moving from a yellow sky to orange, to deep maroon during the bombing, and then blues and pinks with doves flying aloft as the librarian hopes for a brighter future. Palm trees, architecture, dress, and Arabic writing on the flag convey a sense of place and culture. Although the invading country is never mentioned, this is an important story that puts a human face on the victims of war and demonstrates that a love of books and learning is a value that unites people everywhere. - Marianne Saccardi, Norwalk Community College, CT
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Gr. 3-5. On the heels of Winter's September Roses
[BKL Ag 04]^B the author-illustrator isolates another true story of everyday heroism against a tragic backdrop. 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. Jennifer MattsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved