Friday, June 1, 2007

What Freedom Means to Me: A Flag Day Story

Quite by accident, I discovered a series of books focusing on American holidays. As I am wont to do since beginning my journey to becoming an elementary school teacher, I go to Barnes and Noble and peruse the children's book section to see if I find anything of interest. Sometimes, I was there for a purpose (course work in which I needed to find materials on a certain topic or theme), and other times, I'm just looking to see if anything catches my eye. One day, I found a book about Veterans Day by Heather French Henry. Heather was Miss America 2000, whose platform was raising awareness of the plight of homeless veterans. Her father is a disabled Vietnam veteran. According to one critic's statement, all royalties from Heather's books go to the Heather French Foundation for Veterans. I'll go back and review the Veterans Day book come November - I promise! Now, it's time for Flag Day...

Heather's books follow the adventure of young Claire, her friend, Robbie, and her dog, Pepper. In What Freedom Means to Me: A Flag Day Story, Claire is having trouble with Pepper not obeying commands. Her neighbor, General Jones, encourages Claire by telling her Pepper will learn as she grows, but right now, she's just a puppy. Claire feels bad about ordering Pepper around. General Jones suggests they all come along with him to celebrate Flag Day. Claire agrees, but says she'll have to clean her room when they are done.

General Jones takes out an old, folded flag. Robbie asked why it is folded that way. "'To look like the hats the first patriots wore in their fight for freedom,' said the general." Claire notices something else:

As they prepared to raise the flag, Claire frowned. "It's not the real one, she wailed. "It's missing too many stars."

What happened to them?" Robbie asked.

"They showed up later," explained General Jones. "The first flag, made by Betsy Ross, had thirteen stars-one for each colony that broke free from the British."

If you didn't already know, there isn't any actual proof that Betsy Ross made the original Stars and Stripes, so when sharing this book, it should be noted that this is legend, not a provable fact.

General Jones also gets out craft supplies. Claire gets the idea they can make their "own Betsy Ross flag". General Jones comments that his children did the same thing when they were little, and that's why these supplies were packed away with the flag. Together, Claire and Robbie decide that each of the stars should have what freedom means to different people. Some of the things the children heard:

"Delivering mail by day and studying law at night."

"Acting silly sometimes."

"Being true to myself."

"Voting for leaders who represent the people."

"Being elected president and always speaking my mind."

Claire's mother reminds her she still needs to clean her room. "I will...' is her response. When the children return with the stars, Pepper makes a mess of the craft supplies. The general reminds the children they haven't made stars of their own. What does freedom mean to them? "Not worrying about Pepper" and "Not being a slave." Then, the general notes they are still missing a star for Pepper...

"She doesn't have freedom," Claire balked.

"Because Claire's like that nasty British king who ordered the first Americans around," teased Robbie."

Claire pouted, thinking about her own orders and her mom's. "Are we still free when we do what we're told?" she asked the general.

He smiled. "Following guidelines doesn't erase freedom."

The general goes on to explain that the guidelines we follow, such as traffic lights, help to make life safer. As the sun goes down, the general says it's time to take the flag down. The children go home, and Claire is reminded that she still needs to clean her room. She grumbles about it, because she doesn't like doing it, but it helps her understand that with freedom also comes responsibility.

At the back of the book, there is "A Brief History of Flag Day", beginning with the legend of General Washington asking Betsy Ross to make the first flag in 1776, the Continental Congress stipulating the flag would have 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white stars on a field of blue on June 14, 1777, then how stars were added for each new state, and finally how June 14th was declared Flag Day. The final note: "The red stands for courage, the white for innocence, and the blue for justice."

According to this book is recommended for ages 5 to 9. I'm not the biggest fan of the plot in this particle particular book - I don't think it's completely clear to a young reader that the lesson is "with freedom comes responsibility", but I do like that this book is highlighting a uniquely American holiday.