• Happy birthday Robert Newton Peck (A Day No Pigs Would Die, Soup), Susan Beth Pfeffer (Life As We Knew It), and Michael McCurdy (American Tall Tales).
  • It’s the birth date of Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1879–1958), Understood Betsy, Virginia Sorensen (1912–1991), Miracles on Maple Hill and Chaim Potok (1929–2002), The Chosen.
  • In 1968 the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was founded in Springfield, Masachusetts. Read The Basketball Hall of Fame’s Hoop Facts and Stats by Alex Sachare.
  • It’s Random Acts of Kindness Day. Share your favorite book with a friend. Or read The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.

February has been set aside as Library Lovers Month to celebrate school, public, and private libraries of all types. In my case, without libraries this website would not exist. My early exposure to a variety of books came at a small school library in Village Elementary School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. An enormous amount of the research for this project takes place at the Westwood (MA) Public Library with a children’s staff directed by Loretta Eysie. Not only do I pick up hundreds of interlibrary loan books there, but the staff is also always helping me with questions. Recently they had a lot of suggestions about Tooth Fairy books—and you’ll see the results later this month. In my community, and in the United States, libraries circulate materials to every citizen that once might have been only available to the wealthy.

In 2005 Jeanette Winter both wrote and illustrated a book that has made its readers look at libraries in a slightly different way, The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq. The book opens with a line from Alia Muhammad Baker: “In the Koran, the first thing God said to Muhammad was ‘Read.’” Alia is the librarian of Basra in Iraq. She worries the fires of war will destroy her collection; without government approval, she begins bringing home books every night. When war finally comes and the city is engulfed in flames, Alia, with the help of the citizens of the town, removes the remaining books from the library and hides them in a restaurant. After the fighting stops, she transports thirty thousand volumes to her house and the homes of friends. She waits, dreams of peace, and of a new library. “But until then, the books are safe—safe with the librarian of Basra.”

The Westwood Public Library will be moving to glorious new headquarters, probably in the summer of 2012. Volumes from one library will go to another, without fires or raging wars. The Librarian of Basra reminds both children ages four through eight and adults just how lucky we are to have safe libraries at our disposal. We are also fortunate to have people like Alia, librarians who care passionately about books.

I hope everyone will use Library Lovers Month to thank those who, every day, protect our treasures, our books. If you love libraries, you also love the unsung heroes and heroines in this country and Iraq—librarians.

Here’s a page from The Librarian of Basra:


Originally posted February 17, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: 21st Century, Geography, History, Politics
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq


  1. Jen says:

    I love the library, too. I like what you said about how libraries make books available to even those who aren’t wealthy. There’s nothing like a library when it comes to getting all sorts of materials for free! I stress this to my students’ parents because I don’t want them to think they can’t use the library – everyone can and should use their libraries. I can’t imagine my life without it!

  2. Erica S. says:

    I just became a librarin at a small charter school and I had no idea that it was Library Lovers Month – thanks for the alert, Anita!

  3. G. Perry says:

    The theme of saving books during war is a glorious and creative idea for people of reason.

    I have a wonderful relationship with my branch librarians and use the branch several times a week.

    I’m probably the most active interlibrary loan patron at our branch, and I am always discussing book and story ideas with the staff. I have a wonderful relationship of high value with Bobbie, Susie and Ben. They are quite familiar with my Anita Silvey reading list.

    I was once asked to help judge a library picture contest for children. I decided to make customized awards for each individual child. All winners.

    Children should have life-changing experiences offered to them at libraries. They should know they are valued and respected. It is likely the only place where that will happen for some of them.

    Reading is the great equalizer of many things.

  4. Anita says:

    Thanks for your comments on behalf of libraries. They are one of our most valuable resources; yet people often don’t take the time to thank those providing service there. I hope sometime this month we can all thank our local school or public librarians.

  5. The story of The Librarian of Basra is so inspirational, and helps us to appreciate how lucky we are to have free and open libraries in every community. The librarians in each of those communities are so fortunate to work surrounded by books and the people who are excited about reading them. Thanks to Anita for the kind words about our library and librarians; when she picks up her books we always manage to get her to share a fascinating tidbit about a favorite author or book.

  6. Kahla jourdan says:

    As the former library teacher at Westwood’s Sheehan Elementary, I got all choked up thinking about how much I miss Loretta and the other ladies at the Westwood library….and how I hope to see their new location sometime in the future! Also, I first heard you speak, Anita, in the basement conference room there while I was attending library school at Simmons. I am really enjoying the Almanac, and now that I live in Minnesota and am the only librarian in the K-12 school district, I think of you as a surrogate colleague!

  7. Anita says:

    Thanks so much for this note. I do hope you can come back and see the library — after construction!

  8. Rebecca says:

    What stunning illustrations. I am not familiar with this book, but I’m struck by the vibrancy of the illustration above (and the cover), which aptly underscore the message that books provide color, life, and hope, and thus, are so worth celebrating. This book looks beautiful.

  9. Tess W. says:

    This is such an inspiring and beautifully illustrated book. There’s something about the darkness contrasting with the color that really stands out, creating an atmosphere of insecurity against the backdrop of which a brave woman is saving her books. “But until then, the books are safe—safe with the librarian of Basra.” – this line always gives me chills when I read it. I just love the idea that reading isn’t just something we do in Western culture. It happens and it inspires people of all ages all over the world.

  10. Libby says:

    Thank you Anita, from a librarian and former student of yours whose passion for libraries and books is infectious and boundless!

  11. Vicky says:

    Once I saw this title on your blog, I was inspired to pick it up once again. Although I recall liking it the first time, I had tears in my eyes finishing it this second time. What a powerful testament to the power of books and the passion books inspires in their readers, as well as reminding us of how often we forget that having the freedom to read is an incredible privilege.

  12. Anita says:

    Allyn Johnston, editor of The Librarian of Basra, contacted writer Jeanette Winter about the fate of the librarian. Here is the update from Jeanette:

    Alia “is a very warm person, very strong, and she really connects with children… Yes, there is a new library — with a children’s department (for the first time), and computers, also a first.”


  13. Ariel Cooke says:

    I always used this book at the public school in Newark with middle schoolers to give them a sense of what it is I think I do. As in, “You might think a librarian is someone who goes around saying shush. But I think a librarian is a defender of books, literacy and the free exchange of ideas.” We would get into some very exciting discussions about whether any idea was worth fighting for. They would usually say no. But then I would point out that if you fought over the phrase “your mother,” you were actually fighting over an idea, not your actual mother. (That was a big trigger phrase for them.) Great, great book! Only I wish she would publish a new edition with some information about the phoenix that rose from the ashes.

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