Kids’ Books

It is difficult to recommend many of the children’s books written on or about “The Star-Spangled Banner” as most rehearse received myths about both flag and song. Among the most frequent errors is that Key wrote the poem and that another later linked text to tune. In fact, Key knew the tune well and wrote the lyrics to fit the melody intentionally. Other books claim that Key drafted the text on an envelope he had in his pocket, yet letters in 1814 would have been written on a piece of paper that was folded and sealed–not placed in separate envelopes. Envelopes were not yet much used and we’re all handmade until the 1840s. Similarly some books observe the missing star in the famous garrison flag now in the Smithsonian and surmise that a cannon ball ripped through the bunting or more generally that the flag was damaged during the battle. In fact, the enormous flag was not flying over Fort McHenry during the battle as it was raining at the time and such a large wet flag would have shattered its wooden pole. Instead a smaller battle flag was flown, with the garrison flag not ascending the pole until the next day. The missing star as well as squares of the stripes were cut out of the flag later and given away as souvenirs.

The books below avoid many of the common pitfalls and can be used as learning tools at home or in the classroom. To recommend a book you like, please email info@starspangledmusic.org and we’ll review it for inclusion in the list. Publishers are welcome to mail us a copy to review if they wish. We will only comment on books we can endorse.

Francis Scott Key and “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Lynea Bowdish with illustrations by Harry Burman (Mondo Publishing, 2002)

This medium format (8.5 x 11 inch format) book would work for a teacher presenting to a class. It is aimed at elementary students. The text tells the story of Francis Scott Key and the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It presents the basic story clearly without florid language and much detail. This simplicity becomes a virtue in that the text avoids many of the common errors associated with the tale. The book has all original and attractive illustrations.

The Star Spangled Banner, illustrated by Ingri & Edgar Parin D’Aulaire (1942 Doubleday, reprinted in 1999 by Applewood Books)

This is a reprint of a 1942 children’s book by famed illustrators Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire. The text presents all four verses of Francis Scott Key’s, amplified and interpreted through imagery. It contains no additional text about the history of the flag or the song. Instead the pictures respond to the song’s lyrics in light of the U.S. entry into World War II. They depict a mixture of children,  American artifacts (the Liberty Bell), historical political figures (George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), and WWII soldiers. The pictures of military ships, planes, tanks, and submarines likely helped children feel safer during wartime as they emphasized those protecting the nation. Such pictures may be a bit frightening to kids today. The book is relatively small (6 x 8 inches) and thus better for a parent reading individually to a child than a teacher presenting to a class. The book could be used by older students as a primary source document to gain insight into the growth of patriotic fervor during the Second World War.

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