Interesting and well meaning—but doesn’t make it to the top of the flagpole.



A teenage girl spangles the U.S. flag with stars—and spawns our national anthem.

It’s 1813; America has been fighting the British for a year. Thirteen-year-old Caroline Pickersgill is from an illustrious, white, flag-making family in Baltimore. When the U.S. Army commissions them to fashion a flag to fly over nearby Fort McHenry, Caroline and other skilled seamstresses—including Grace Wisher, a young African-American indentured servant—toil for weeks. The gigantic banner proudly waves for a year until the enemy sails toward the fort. The ensuing battle tests the flag’s, its creators’, and, of course, the new nation’s mettle. As history tells, America emerged victorious, and the flag survived, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write an awestruck poem, the first stanza of which became our national anthem (and all of which is reproduced in the backmatter). The simple, straightforward narrative incorporates snippets of the song in the book’s second half, but the stirring words fare better as lyrics than in story form. The informative author’s note is actually more inspiring than the text. Most illustrations evoke more excitement: bold reds and blues are eye-popping, and battle scenes are rousing and dramatic. However, the flat, caricatured portraits of human figures, rendered with light-tan skin tones save for Grace’s brown skin, feel at odds with the historical context.

Interesting and well meaning—but doesn’t make it to the top of the flagpole. (sources) (Informational picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-6096-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Successful neither as biography nor sermon.


From the Ordinary People Change the World series

Our 16th president is presented as an activist for human and civil rights.

Lincoln resembles a doll with an oversized head as he strides through a first-person narrative that stretches the limits of credulity and usefulness. From childhood, Abe, bearded and sporting a stovepipe hat, loves to read, write and look out for animals. He stands up to bullies, noting that “the hardest fights don’t reveal a winner—but they do reveal character.” He sees slaves, and the sight haunts him. When the Civil War begins, he calls it a struggle to end slavery. Not accurate. The text further calls the Gettysburg ceremonies a “big event” designed to “reenergize” Union supporters and states that the Emancipation Proclamation “freed all those people.” Not accurate. The account concludes with a homily to “speak louder then you’ve ever spoken before,” as Lincoln holds the Proclamation in his hands. Eliopoulos’ comic-style digital art uses speech bubbles for conversational asides. A double-page spread depicts Lincoln, Confederate soldiers, Union soldiers, white folk and African-American folk walking arm in arm: an anachronistic reference to civil rights–era protest marches? An unsourced quotation from Lincoln may not actually be Lincoln’s words.

Successful neither as biography nor sermon. (photographs, archival illustration) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-4083-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2013

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An excellent title that provides an admirably accurate picture of slavery in America for younger readers.


The White House is truly the people’s house.

From foundation to finish, many hands toiled to construct a home for the leader of the new country. Free men and slaves worked with stone, wood and brick, using hands that were both skilled and unskilled. Smith uses rhyming verse to tell their stories with words that are powerful and descriptive. They are constructed to be read aloud; performed, even. Cooper works in his signature palette of muted browns and yellows and succeeds admirably in depicting individualized faces filled with weariness and pride. The tedium of each step involved in the construction of the White House had more than one result. A beautiful building arose in Washington, D.C., only to be destroyed by the British in the War of 1812. Just as important, enslaved workers learned skills that brought in money that bought their freedom. By giving the slaves names, Smith elevates them from mere numbers to individuals determined to shape their lives for the better. “Month by month, / slave hands toil, / planting seeds of freedom / in fertile soil.”

An excellent title that provides an admirably accurate picture of slavery in America for younger readers. (author’s note, selected resources) (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Dec. 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-192082-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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