Jeanette Winter's The Librarian of Basra is a useful mentor text. The Librarian of Basra was inspired by a New York Times article written on July 27, 2003.
If you compare the article to the picture book, you'll see that the skeleton of the picture book is taken from the Times--both versions of the story explain that before the start of the Iraq war, a librarian asked government officials to help her remove the books to a safe location, and when they refused to help her, she enlisted friends and neighbors to help her secretly move thousands of books out of the library, saving them from ruin.
How is The Librarian of Basra different from the article, though? Winter didn't just copy the article word-for-word--first of all, that would be plagiarism, and second of all, most New York Times articles don't interest young children!
Some differences to consider:
- how do the events in the story unfold? Chronologically? Why or why not?
- remember, newspaper articles' primary purpose is to provide information, while a picture book like this one wants to provide information and, more importantly, entertain young children.
- compare the first two sentences:
- "Alia Muhammad Baker's house is full of books. There are books in stacks, books in the cupboards, books bundled into flour sacks like lumpy aid rations. Books fill an old refrigerator. Pull aside a window curtain, and there is no view, just more books." (New York Times)
- "Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian of Basra, a port city in the sand-swept country of Iraq." (The Librarian of Basra)
- What does the picture book leave out that the article includes? Why would it not include this information?
- What information does the picture book add that the article doesn't contain? Why would the author choose to add it?
- What role do the illustrations play in the picture book? Are there places where the book lets the illustrations do the talking for it?
- How are the tone and word choices different? What are the intended audiences for the article and the book?
- What other differences do you notice?
If this story were to be turned into an allegory, what item could represent the books? What conflict could represent the war, or the British soldiers, or the government officials? What sorts of creatures might represent the librarian and her friends?