Bringing our National Anthem to Life
Few books have the power to move young students and make a difference; this one does. Whenever I sing our National Anthem with children, I pull out my well-loved and very worn book, The Star Spangled Banner by Peter Spier. Every page is a full color illustration of the words to the song.
This book makes my heart race! Every single time I read or sing the book, children are drawn in. There is wonder, and there are more questions, and inevitably a crowd of children begin pushing in to see and hear, and to learn.
This is what I wrote on one such occasion. “It happened like this…”
“I want to tell you about early morning in the Big Room today. It was one of the most exciting, intense, and passionate twenty minutes with children that a teacher can have. Emergent Curriculum at it’s best. As we say in the Aqua Room when a story is true, “It happened like this”:
Troy wanted to have a ‘show’, so he and Jill and Sam went to the top of the loft. No, they did not want to sing Troy’s favorite song, “Proud To Be An American”. They wanted to sing “The Star Spangled Banner”. Of course it was wonderful, and we all clapped. Then I said, “Do you want to know what the song looks like and what really happened?” I ran back to the Aqua Room (yes, I ran down the hallway and back…) and returned with Peter Spier’s book, The Star Spangled Banner. Before I opened the book I said, “The guy who wrote this song was on a British ship, and it was night time. The only way he knew if we were winning was if he saw the American flag.”
By that time I had Troy, Jill, Sam, Jacob, Callie, Lily, Cooper, Lizzie, and Finn all around the book, captivated. First I asked them what a star spangled banner was. They knew! Then we started to read the book. The first page alone took forever, because we had to explain and talk about the funny hats and clothes, and the ship. Children had been to Boston to see the Constitution. Jill knew that ‘Old Ironsides’ meant that cannons and rockets didn’t penetrate the sides. Once we looked at the first picture, we had to talk about how long ago this happened. It was 1814. Oh my, we just figured out that next year would be the two-hundreth anniversary of the song! We planned an impromptu ceremony.
We were still on page one, and now a crowd of children came over to be there. We started to read, but children wanted to ‘sing’ the book. That was fun! We found the flag on every page, through the battle. Then, there were other things we found, like ramparts, and new vocabulary words, like ‘perilous’. When the verse ended, the book went on. Children were stunned to to know that there were more words. Those verses led us to learn why a flag is sometimes halfway down on the mast, and to the Statue of Liberty, the Statue of Iwo Jima, the astronauts on the moon, and different Navy ships at sea.
Honestly, the turn of each page drew more questions, and the discussions to find the answers were both intense and inspirational for the children. Nobody interrupted, because everything was important. It was a perfect experience.”
Do you know what a towering steep is? The children figured it out:
When I get to this page, I stop. I tell children this is a sad page, yet a proud page. We talk about flying the flag at half mast, and about soldiers who have died for their country. Children understand:
Children can learn history, even at a young age. This book proves that. Thank you to Peter Spier who was born and educated in Amsterdam, and didn’t move to America until 1952 when he was an adult. His book is a magic wand.