Review of Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickersgill and the Star-Spangled Banner

Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickersgill and the Star-Spangled Banner
by Jessie Hartland; illus. by the author
Primary    Wiseman/Simon    48 pp.
5/19    978-1-5344-0233-1    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-0234-8    $10.99

Today the original star-spangled banner is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. But its story began in Baltimore during the War of 1812, when Major George Armistead, stationed at Fort McHenry, commissioned local business owner Mary Pickersgill and her team of seamstresses (“her mother, daughter, two nieces, and an indentured servant,” with more info provided in the appended author’s note) to create a huge, thirty by forty-two foot flag. “It is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance,” Armistead said; he wanted to send a clear message that, as author Hartland puts it, “this land belongs to America.” The flag survived a crucial British attack in September 1814, which poet Francis Scott Key immortalized in verse (which later became our national anthem). Hartland’s straightforward account of the flag’s enduring legacy clearly explains important facts and asks questions that engage readers and lead them through the text for better understanding. Her folksy gouache illustrations playfully reflect the youthfulness of our then-new nation, and for extra kid-appeal incorporate occasional speech-balloon dialogue and plenty of clever background details (e.g., Maryland’s love of crabs). An informative author’s note, a timeline, source notes, a bibliography, and further reading suggestions are also appended. For another recent nonfiction picture-book account, check out Kristen Fulton’s Long May She Wave (rev. 5/17).

From the May/June 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University.

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