Synopses & Reviews
"In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was 'Read.'"*
--Alia Muhammad Baker
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra. For fourteen years, her office has been a meeting place for those who love books--until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears the library will be destroyed. She asks government officials for help, but they refuse. So Alia takes matters into her own hands, working secretly with friends to move the thirty-thousand new and ancient books from the library and hide them in their homes. There, the books are stacked in windows and cupboards and even in an old refrigerator. But they are safe until the war moves on--safe with the librarian of Basra.
This moving true story about a real librarian's brave struggle to save her war-stricken community's priceless collection of books is a powerful reminder that the love of literature and the passion for knowledge know no boundaries.
Includes an author's note.
*From the New York Times, July 27, 2003.
"Relaying the same story told in Alia's Mission (reviewed below), Winter (September Roses) deftly pares down for a picture-book audience the events surrounding Alia Muhammad Baker's courageous book rescue mission in Basra, Iraq, in spring 2003 (see Children's Books, Dec. 13). She portrays the Basra library as a place where the community comes together not only to read books but to 'discuss matters of the world and matters of the spirit.' In a typically lyrical passage, the author notes, 'Alia worries that the fires of war will destroy the books, which are more precious to her than mountains of gold.' As spare yet penetrating as the narrative, Winter's boldly hued, acrylic and pen illustrations depict the frantic book salvaging effort against a bright orange and burnt sienna backdrop of bomb- and gunfire-lit skies and the subsequent, heartbreaking library fire. A clever cross-section image of Alia's house shows the library volumes (which, readers learn in a concluding note, amounted to an astounding 70 percent of the collection) piled on every available surface. Graphically and textually shifting tone from the real to the idyllic, subsequent pages reveal Baker in a serene, dove-filled setting, where she waits for the war to end and dreams of peace and a new library. Winter, ever aware of her audience, mentions Alia's stroke only in the endnote, keeping her story to specifics that youngest readers can appreciate. All ages. FYI: A portion of the proceeds from the book's sales will be donated to a fund administered by the ALA to help rebuild the collection of Basra's Central Library." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Living history is not always sweet, but Winter, who has made beauty from contemporary horror in September Roses does it anew. Alia Muhammad Baker was the chief librarian of the Central Library in Basra, Iraq, a meeting place for many and quite near one of Basra’s best restaurants. When war comes to Basra, Alia saves the books in the only way she can see: She takes thousands of them to her own home, to the homes of friends, and to the restaurant next door. Alia saved 70 percent of her collection before the library was firebombed and destroyed. Winter tells this story in simple, clear declarative sentences. Her beautiful acrylic-and-pen illustrations are filled with the rose and violet, blue and gold, russet and orange colors of the desert, and she uses pattern to great effect in the shelves and piles of books, in the dark array of planes and bombs over the city, and in the parti-colored headscarves and clothing of the people of Basra. Created with strength and courage, like Alia’s devotion to the books in her charge." Kirkus
In war-stricken Iraq where civilians--especially women--have little power, a librarian in Basra struggles to save her community's priceless collection of books.
About the Author
Jeanette Winter has written and illustrated many books for children, including MAMA, The Librarian of Basra, Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book, My Name Is Georgia, and Josefina. She lives in New York City.