Star-Spangled: The Story of a Flag, a Battle, and the American Anthem

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Release Date
May 26, 2020
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“O say can you see” begins one of the most recognizable songs in the US. Originally a poem by Francis Scott Key, the national anthem tells the story of the American flag rising high above a fort after a night of intense battle during the War of 1812. But there is much more to the story than what is sung at ball games. What was this battle about? Whose bombs were bursting, and why were rockets glaring? Who sewed those broad stripes and bright stars? Why were free black soldiers fighting on both sides? Who was Francis Scott Key anyway, and how did he end up with such a close view? Star-Spangled tells the whole story from the perspectives of different real players—both American and British—of this obscure but important battle from American history. The book includes an author’s note, a timeline, a glossary, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

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Hitting the High Notes
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The War of 1812 isn't one that really captures the imagination of young readers like the Revolutionary or Civil War does, but is nonetheless an important chapter of US history. There is a brief introduction to this conflict, complete with a map and list of key figures, but we then see some of the side stories that are going on. An explanation of Mary Pickersgill sewing business is brought in, and we then return to the war as it affected Baltimore. Francis Scott Key's involvement is highlighted, and we return to some of the battle details before getting a British perspective through the eyes of Sir Alexander Cochrane, the highest ranking British officer. As the battles rage on, we see Key's inspiration, the penning of the famous song, and are left with details about the fates of various key players.
Good Points
George Santayana supposedly authored the phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is an important thing to remember during these times of national turmoil when people are, rightly, questioning many of the traditions in the US that have questionable origins. While it was common two hundred years ago to take great pride in one's ability to subdue other nations, this is not a current opinion. I've never been a huge fan of the Star-Spangled Banner, favoring America the Beautiful as easier to sing and less polemic, but the anthem is part of US history, and as such, is important to study in order to understand US history.

This is a good length for a middle grade nonfiction book, coming in at just about 150 pages, plus notes and appendices. I enjoyed the fact that it did not concentrate on just the fighting, but highlighted key figures and other events occurring at the time. Fans of books about war will find enough descriptions of battle to make them happy!

This nicely paced recounting of events leading up to our nation's national anthem is delivered in a beautifully formatted book. Heavy, glossy paper does justice to the plentiful illustrations, period paintings, and facsimile documents supporting the text. The use of red, blue, and cream made me think of the US Bicentennial when I was a child-- this book would have fit right in! There are Places to Visit, a glossary, a timeline, and a nice bibliography as well.

Nonfiction books about a variety of history topics are always interesting to read. This author has several others including Milestones of Flight: From Hot-Air Balloons to SpaceShipOne and First Flight Around the World: The Adventures of the American Fliers Who Won the Race. Star-Spangled might be enjoyed by young readers who gravitate towards historical nonfiction titles like
Brinkley's American Moonshot Young Readers' Edition: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race, Bowen's Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League or Olson's Into the Clouds: The Race to Climb the World’s Most Dangerous Mountain.
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