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*Starred Review* Gr. 4-7. The story of Iraqi librarian Alia Muhammed Baker, who, fearing looting and bombs, hid more than 30,000 books prior to the invasion of Iraq, is so compelling that two author-illustrators have retold it: Jeanette Winter, in her parable-like picture book The Librarian of Basra [BKL D 1 04], and Stamaty, in this graphic novel. Sequential panels concisely depict complex sequences of actions and emotions, allowing Stamaty to pack more detail into 32 pages than is possible in a traditional picture book. Stamaty's black-and-white ink, graphite, and wash artwork is equally nuanced; one can even discern the eerie, flickering shadows cast by the burning library across townspeople's faces. Younger readers will be instantly drawn by the story's anthropomorphic book emcee, but this sophisticated and timely work will also appeal to adult admirers of Spiegelman's Maus books and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis memoirs. An afterword about historical libraries of the Middle East sidesteps the knotty issue of current developments in Iraq, and Stamaty provides no source notes. Nonetheless, readers will come away powerfully moved by the expression of civilian life in the midst of wartime chaos. Jennifer Mattson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Mark Alan Stamaty lives in New York City.
Crisp graphic-novel panels rendered in pen-and-ink with pencil and gray wash play up the urgency of and dramatically recreate Alia Baker's efforts to save the books of the Basra library in Iraq. Stamaty (Who Needs Donuts?) introduces Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian at the Basra Central Library, underscoring her lifelong passion for books. He portrays her as a child reader, when she learned about her country's history-including the 13th-century Mongol invasion in which a fire destroyed the Baghdad library. An effective segue to the present reveals Baker, her country on the brink of war, concerned about the safety of her own library. Gearing his book to a slightly older audience than Winter's (reviewed above), Stamaty shows Baker requesting the government's permission to remove the collection from the building; after she is refused, she begins sneaking books out of the library herself. Baker manages, with help from friends, to remove 30,000 volumes from the library, transporting them to private homes for safekeeping. Stamaty effectively captures the danger of the moment: as bombs explode in the background, the rescuers hurry the books out of the building. After depicting the sad sight of the library engulfed in flames days later, and Baker's resulting stroke, Stamaty ends his account on a hopeful note, explaining that the resilient Baker has turned her attention to the design and building of a new library. The text conveys the intense emotions experienced by Baker, which move from anguish to sorrow to joy, aptly captured in the artwork. Ages 6-up. (Dec.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.