Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Library Kid Lit: 2 of 3

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter

Subtitled A True Story from Iraq, this picture book recounts the amazing story of one librarian's attempt to save her library's collection from the ravages of war.

Alia Muhammad Bake, the librarian of Basra, is worried because she fears that her library's collection will soon become a casualty of war. She begs the governor for permission to move the books to a safer place, but he refuses. So every night she secretly fills her car with books and takes them home for safekeeping. When war reaches the city she enlists the help of the restaurant owner next door. Together, with other local people, they sneak the library's books into the restaurant. The library burns to the ground, but the books remain safely hidden. When the war moves to another location, all thirty thousand books are secretly removed to private homes until some future day when peace will return and a new library can be built.

This story is very sparely written. We don't know who is fighting or what they're fighting about. Or why the governor refuses to let Alia move the books to safer place. War is portrayed merely as a force, a roaming "beast." Politics as such don't really come into the story.

The focus of the narrative is the preservation of the books, some new -- some very old, which as a collection is "more precious . . . than mountains of gold." Although The Librarian of Basra will not be noted for its literary style, the rescue of the Basra's Central Library by Alia Muhammad Baker will inspire every bibliophile.


Anonymous said...

She seems to be immensely popular in England--the new Enid Blyton--but I've nver read any of her books.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

And I didn't know who Enid Blyton was, so I looked her up in Wikipedia. Interesting. None of the titles rang a bell for me, but as I scrolled through the article a pictured book cover for The Three Golliwogs looked slightly familiar though I don't recall reading it. Perhaps it was one of those book titles that I always noticed when I was a child but never checked out. (That was certainly the case with Lewis's Narnia books. I never read them as when I was young because I thought the titles were too, too silly.)

I was interested to read about how the author was later criticized for dated attitudes towards foreigners and gender roles. From the article it sounds like her books didn't have much literary merit, but I can see why children must have loved her books since they had two of the most popular elements in kid lit: children having adventures independent of adults, and children outwitting adults.

Dreamer said...

Hey Bibliophagist!!
well, just wanna wish you Merry Christmas!!
i have been following you for quite some time already, just in case you haven't noticed. and i did notice that you write good posts. interesting with beautiful flow of language. the books you recommended are terrific as well! and you didn't know who Enid Blyton was?? my, my, she was almost every child's hero!! i have a small collection of her books (she wrote thousands, i think) and still keep them well, although i'm a litle bit too old for them now.

continue writing!! i love your blog and style. and i have lots of questions to ask you about, too. maybe some other time. and again, wish you a MOST HAPPY CHRISTMAS DAY!!


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Thank you, Dreamer!

Telling me that you read my blog is probably the best Christmas present anyone could give me because it lets me know that I'm not just talking to myself in an empty room.

I too have lots of books that I still keep and reread even though I'm "too old" for them. Have you ever read any books by Arthur Ransome? If you liked Enid Blyton's books, I'm sure you'd like his. The first one is "Swallows and Amazons."