A Primer About the Flag


Written by Marvin Bell, Illustrated by Chris Raschka

Candlewick Press, 2011

Or certain ones.

The plot in a nutshell: There are lots of different kinds of flags.

Bed and Breakfast flags can be seen over houses when there are vacancies, but not usually when the house is full. There are maritime flags that represent the alphabet, allowing ships to talk to each other from a distance. States (and state fairs) have their own flags. Some are beautiful and some support your enemies. You can find flags on the moon and in cemeteries and even inside toy guns, ready to come out and say “Bang.” There is often a flag at the front of a parade and people will follow it, which they won’t do if you’re walking in front carrying a tree.

Author Marvin Bell was Iowa’s first Poet Laureate and this unusual book seems to be his only published children’s book. As someone interested in the flags of states and nations, I picked this book up hoping to learn interesting facts about particular flags. Instead, I found a poem that spoke more generally about flags, which was highly unexpected. The text addresses different types of flags and their purposes and there are some deep thoughts here, too. The idea that the flags of your enemies are not supposed to be either beautiful or long-lasting stuck with me for a long while, especially when you realize that the enemy is supposed to feel that same way about YOUR flag.

Alphabet of flags

This probably spells out ‘What’s up, girl?’

Caldecott winner Chris Raschka provides the illustrations, which are done in gouache and ink, with very little color except those on the flags. All of the flags depicted in artwork are generic patterns, although you’ll notice the prominent red, white and blue colors on the flags shown on the moon and in cemeteries. At the end of the book, there’s a picture of the seemingly comical suggestion of someone attempting to lead a parade with a small tree held at their waist instead of a flag. The people following him are intertwined with the leaves and fruit of the tree’s branches and it made me feel that it was saying that nature brings us together and flags, which often unite specific groups of people, pull us apart. I liked it, but am not sure how well it would translate to young kids.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it’s important to know the meaning of whatever flag you’re pledging allegiance to or following around.


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