The Flag Maker

( 1 )

Overview

Here in lyrical prose is the story of the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that became the national anthem of the United States. This flag, which came to be known as the Star-Spangled Banner, also inspired author Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who, upon seeing it at the Smithsonian Institution, became curious about the hands that had sewn it.

Here is her story of the early days of this flag as seen through the eyes of young Caroline Pickersgill, the daughter ...

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Overview

Here in lyrical prose is the story of the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that became the national anthem of the United States. This flag, which came to be known as the Star-Spangled Banner, also inspired author Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who, upon seeing it at the Smithsonian Institution, became curious about the hands that had sewn it.

Here is her story of the early days of this flag as seen through the eyes of young Caroline Pickersgill, the daughter of an important flag maker, Mary Pickersgill, and the granddaughter of a flag maker for General George Washington’s Continental Army. It is also a story about how a symbol motivates action and emotion, brings people together, and inspires courage and hope.

Relates events of the 1814 Battle of Baltimore as seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Caroline Pickersgill, who had worked with her family and their servants to sew the enormous flag which waved over Fort McHenry.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
In a narrative account of the making of the flag upon which Frances Scott Key based "The Star Spangled Banner," Bartoletti has given life to a 12-year-old girl, Caroline Pickersgill and her mother, Mary, who sewed the huge flag. Commissioned by Fort McHenry military so that it could be seen at a distance, the flag took the efforts of the two plus grandmother and cousins, a house servant, and a slave, before it could be completed six weeks later. While the flag-makers continued their trade, this flag flew at the mouth of the Baltimore harbor and stood throughout a September siege following the British burning of Washington. While Caroline watches many nights to see that the flag was still there, an author's note states what is true and what is imagined: no one knows, for instance, if Caroline could see the flag from her house, and it is not clear who sewed on the flag, but it is likely the whole household was involved. In addition to this note, six flag facts include the all-important dimensions, plus notes on the refurbishing of the once tattered flag. Nivola's watercolor and gouache illustrations create accurate and uncluttered city settings and some indicators of Baltimore daily life in the early 1800s. Intimate interiors, the vast malt house floor where the final sewing of the stars and stripes took place, and the sweep of the harbor all provide visual drama. The book is just right for fourth and fifth grade American history studies, but it stands on its own, too, as a look at women's entrepreneurial lives at the time. 2004, Houghton Mifflin, Ages 7 to 11.
—Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 2-A fictionalized story of a historical event. During the War of 1812, the American army commissioned a local widow, flag maker Mary Pickersgill, to create an extravagantly large flag to be flown over Fort McHenry near Baltimore's harbor; the flag still exists and now rests at the Smithsonian. By relating events from the point of view of 12-year-old Caroline Pickersgill, the action becomes more immediate to youngsters. According to letters of the time, quoted in the end material, the woman was helped by her daughter and perhaps others (though the assistance of Caroline's grandmother, cousins, and a servant and slave is undocumented). The flag, which took six weeks to complete, was 30 feet by 42, weighed 80 pounds, had stripes 2 feet wide, and stars measuring 2 feet from point to point. Whether it flew over the fort during the bombardment that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner" is a matter of debate among scholars; the author's note suggests that, in fact, a smaller, less expensive storm flag may have been used. This slender story seems oddly incomplete in this telling; it is unclear if the British even continued their invasion. Capable if wispy illustrations in a folk-art vein (although, surely, young girls wore stockings with their shoes in those days) offer panoramas of the harbor and Baltimore. This book should be complemented by more academic materials in a school setting.-Dona Ratterree, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Based on both historical sources and a bit of speculation, Bartoletti recreates the construction of the immense "garrison" flag that (probably) flew over Fort McHenry, was immortalized by Francis Scott Key, and was sewn by Mary Pickengill, a Baltimore businesswoman. She had help from her 12-year-old daughter Caroline, and likely, though no evidence survives, also from relatives, a slave, and a free black employee. Bartoletti relates the tale from Caroline's point of view, beginning with the flag's commission, ending with the long, stormy night during which it withstood those storied rockets and bombs, and capped by a detailed explanation of the limited historical record, along with facts about the flag. Nivola illustrates it all in restrained, neatly drawn scenes, either of focused-looking women hard at work, or wide, white, tidy Baltimore streets, with the distant fort visible in the background. As inspiring as it is elegantly turned out, this will add unusual dimension to a famous episode in our national story. (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)
From the Publisher
"In this accomplished work of picture book nonfiction, Bartoletti explores a hallowed event in U.S. history: the British attack of Fort McHenry in 1813 and the celebrated resilience of its garrison flag... The book's resonance owes as much to the delicate watercolors as to Bartoletti's controlled storytelling." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

As inspiring as it is elegantly turned out, this will add unusual dimension to a famous episode in our national story.
Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618809110
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 5/14/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 786,276
  • Age range: 8 - 10 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 0.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845–1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Visit her website at www.scbartoletti.com .

Ms. Nivola has written and illustrated several children’s books, including Planting the Trees of Kenya . She lives with her family in Newton, Massachusetts.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2004

    A glimpse into history

    The Flag Maker is the story of the American flag commissioned by the military in 1813 to be flown over Fort McHenry. Mary Pickersgill and her daughter, Caroline are known to have worked on the large flag, which is now housed in the Smithsonian. Due to the size of the flag it is assumed others must have worked on the flag with the Pickersgills to complete the project, although that is not possible to verify. The author's note explains that there is also an historical difference of opionion as to whether this is the exact flag, which Francis Scott Key watched through the attack on September 13 and 14, 1814 and thus inspired the writing of The Star Spangled Banner. There is a blending of fact and fiction in this account, which the author acknowledges. What remains is a fine story of what may have occured so very long ago giving youngsters a glimpse of the past. The Flag Maker fills a gap in the literature available for this age group.

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