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.
Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
German-born Christopher Ludwick had come to the Colonies as a young man looking for the opportunity to create his own bakery. He did just that, creating gorgeous gingerbread for his town. When the Revolutionary War began, he was eager to defend his America in any way he could, so he headed off to join General George Washington. When he got there, the soldiers were hungry and complaining about the quality of food they were getting. Ludwick jumped into action, feeing the armies bread from his ovens. But the dangers weren’t done yet. The King of England pulled together armies from other countries and sent them into battle. The soldiers came from Germany and Ludwick offered to see if he could convince them not to fight. Once again it was food and the promise of having enough to eat that convinced the soldiers to lay down their arms. Many battles later, the war was won, but Ludwick and General Washington had one final mammoth baking task ahead of them.
Rockliff keeps the tone of this book quite lighthearted even as Ludwick finds himself taking grave risks with his life. The writing is jolly and merry throughout. The tone suits this baker whose optimism shines on the page and whose patriotism seemed to know no limits. His accomplishments exceed what is shown in this picture book. Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to learn more about this amazing patriot and what he did for children and education as well as liberty.
Kirsch’s illustrations are a gingery delight. Done in the forms of elaborate gingerbread cookies, the characters are shown as flat brown cookies with plenty of icing. From the brown outlines to the white lines of icing, there is no mistaking what they are meant to be. They too add a sweet and optimistic feel to this jolly picture book.
An unsung hero of the Revolutionary War and beyond, this picture book celebrates the impact that one man can have in making history. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by Maira Kalman
The author of Looking at Lincoln takes on Thomas Jefferson in her newest picture book biography. The focus in this biography is on the wide range of Jefferson’s interests and how he truly was a Renaissance man. Monticello, the house Jefferson designed and built, serves as a fine background to his interests since the home itself was ever changing and also housed many of his interests as well. The book looks at fascinating small details like the design of Jefferson’s bed, the extensive vegetable gardens, and his hours spent practicing music. After fully exploring Jefferson personally, the book turns to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson becoming the third President of the United States. Then the book also explores the fact that Jefferson had slaves and fathered children with one of them, Sally Henning. This is a complex and thorough look at a man who was brilliant in so many ways but troubled as well.
Kalman writes biographies with her own opinions right on the page. So when she addresses the slave issue, she speaks of “our hearts are broken” and then speaks to how tragic it is that Jefferson’s children who could pass as white had to hide who they really were. This adds a personality to the book, making it far richer than simple facts would. It will assure young readers that it is good for them to have opinions about history and to express them too.
As always, it is Kalman’s art that sets this book apart. Her illustrations range from more serious portraits of the historical figures to eye-popping bright colors in the vegetable gardens where paths are pink next to the bright green of the grass. It is all entirely rich and joyful.
Another dynamic and unique biography from Kalman, this book belongs in every public library serving children. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Henry and the Cannons: An Extraordinary True Story of the American Revolution by Don Brown
The trend for great children’s historical biographies in picture book format continue this year. This picture book tells the story of Henry Knox. It is the winter of 1775 and the Americans need cannons to take back Boston from the British. Knox takes the challenge of moving 59 cannons over 225 miles across Massachusetts in the dead of winter. It took boats, oxen and plenty of determination and innovation to get those cannons across the state. The journey and amazing achievement is told here in a way that will entice children to learn more stories about the American Revolution.
Brown’s writing is solid throughout the book. He carefully sets the scene, clearly explaining how unbalanced the war was with Revolutionaries vs. the world’s best soldiers. Add to that the power of cannons, and there was clearly no hope for victory. After that the book turns more towards adventure and peril, making for a read that must be finished. From the impossible mission to each and every mishap, readers will be rooting for Knox.
The illustrations serve to underline the stark winter and the heaviness of the cannons. Men and oxen strain to move the 120,000 pounds of cannon. Snow flies, the boats seem more like twigs next to the metal, and the crossing of an iced-over river brings drama and danger.
Strong and noteworthy, this picture book nonfiction title has history and also plenty of action and adventure. Appropriate for ages 7-10.
Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.