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

Our Flag Was Still There: The True Story of Mary Pickersgill and the Star-Spangled Banner, written and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, was released just last month (May 21, 2019, to be exact). I had read advance reviews of it throughout the spring and requested it from the library months ago, so that I could be first in line to read it when our library got it… Unfortunately, it didn’t make it to my hands before I published my 4th of July booklist, but I have it now, and it’s wonderful!

Our Flag Was Still There this tells the story of the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that eventually became our National Anthem. While I knew the story of Key’s inspiration, I didn’t know anything about the actual flag that he saw, nor did I realize that I’ve seen it myself, in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. I didn’t realize how big it was, how long it took to make, or that it was made largely by a group of women. And then I read this book!

But this story is about so much more than just a flag. Through her words and illustrations, Jessie Hartland covers a few years of history from 1813 to 1814 (and then some…). Readers get a little information about America’s independence and the War of 1812, which led to the commissioning of this extra-large flag (which, according to this book, measured 42 feet by 30 feet– it’s HUGE!). We meet the widow, Mary Pickersgill, and her family and indentured servant, who worked together to make this enormous symbol of our country. And they sewed it, by hand, in just a few weeks! Hartland introduces the British attack of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. And then we see Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the attack from a boat and penned a poem in honor of the victory and the American flag that was still flying proudly over the city. Finally, we learn about how Key’s poem eventually became our national anthem, as well as what happened to her famous flag between 1814 and present-day.

Your children will love the story in Our Flag Was Still There, which teaches a little bit of history, but more importantly, honors hard work and women from a time in history from which we know mostly men. They’ll also like the illustrations, which are brightly-colored and accessible guache paintings. I especially appreciate the relative simplicity of these illustrations, as I find that many historical picture books have so much going on in the illustrations that it’s hard to know where to look. If you’re like me, as an adult, you may appreciate knowing the history of the flag behind the song and the realization that you’ve seen that flag before!

Have you been to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and seen this flag? Did you realize what you were seeing at the time?

For more books to read during the 4th of July season, see my 4th of July booklist and my elections booklists!

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