Review: Our Flag Was Still There by Jessie Hartland

Our Flag Was Still There by Jessie Hartland

Our Flag Was Still There by Jessie Hartland (9781534402331)

Explore the history of the Star-Spangled Banner in this nonfiction picture book that celebrates the women who created the flag. The story begins in 1813, when the nation was once again at war with the British. Major George Armistead wanted to send a message to the British that declared that this land belonged to America. Nearby was a shop owned by Mary Pickersgill, who had been taught to make flags by her mother. The fact that a woman owned her own shop and had a staff of other women was very unusual in the 1800s. Mary agreed to make the enormous flag. They worked on it day and night, running out of fabric at times and then running out of room. They moved to a nearby brewery to be able to continue their work with enough space. The flag was finished in six week and then the war began. The flag flew throughout the naval battles, inspiring the song that we still sing as our national anthem.

Hartland tells a fast-paced and lively tale here that never gets bogged down in historical details. The book includes final pages with more information on the war and the battles. The emphasis here though is on how inspiring the flag was and continues to be and how one industrious woman managed to create a symbol that carries on to this day. The art is done in a folk-art style that suits the book well. The size of the flag is emphasized at times to humorous effect. It’s so very large and still able to be viewed at the Smithsonian.

A dynamic look at American history. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (9781250191922)

Released July 30, 2019.

Fie is one of the Crow class, despised and ignored by all of the other classes. Denied the right to have a home other than the open road or any weapons to defend themselves with, they are hated because their class alone is immune to the plague. They serve to come into villages and homes, remove the plague dead and cleanse the space, firing up a funeral pyre away from town. So when Fie’s clan finds themselves caught up in royal court intrigue with the crown prince and his double, who faked their own deaths, Fie is not amused. The only people she cares about are her clan, so the two interlopers despite their charm, mean nothing to her. When an offer is made to save the Crows and give them protection though, Fie knows that she must make it truly stick and gets the prince himself to swear a Covenant oath on it. Now she just has to get them to safety in time before they are all killed.

Owen has woven an incredible world in her debut novel, which is the first in a series. I’m always impressed when an author can toss readers directly into the story with almost no exposition to help and it all works and makes sense. The world building is unique and fascinating, creating both a wide world to explore but also a microcosm of several people as they navigate their fractured and magical society. The magic too is interesting, using bones and teeth to create witchery is wonderfully gruesome and delightfully in keeping with the entire book’s themes. Particularly welcome is a deft use of LGBTQIA+ throughout the novel in the society and several characters.

The character of Fie is also compelling. She is a young woman haunted by the loss of her mother by killers on the open road. She has powers but they are in their infancy and her destiny is to become a chieftain among her people. She is armed with a biting sarcasm that lights up the story like flames, and a deep understanding of what is wrong with the world. Her connection with Tavin grows organically throughout the story and adds its own heat to the book.

A great new voice in YA fantasy, this novel is dark, bloody and compelling. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt.