Teaching History with Children’s Literature: A Flag For Our Country

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Have you ever wondered who made the American flag?  A Flag for Our Country by Eve Spencer explains the story of how the first flag of the United States of America was made and the influence that George Washington and Betsy Ross had on it. The short story explains how in the year 1776 America was fighting a war to be free from England.  It starts off by explaining that Betsy Ross was a woman who owned a small shop in Philadelphia for making clothes and who run it by herself after her husband died in the war.  General George Washington came to her store one day and asked her for a favor; he wanted Betsy Ross to make a new flag to represent the United States of America and it’s freedom. Washington showed the design to Betsy Ross, who suggested a few changes, and they worked together to design the new flag.  The story continues with the Betsy Ross cutting out the stars and sewing the flag.  Washington was so pleased that he wanted her to make more flags.

The story goes on the explain that the story of Betsy Ross and the making of the flag is not completely proven.  Spencer explains that Ross told the story to her children and grandchildren, and that her grandson, William Canby, made a speech about it.  ”Many people believed the story about the first flag.  but other people weren’t sure.  The story was almost one hundred years old when William made his speech.  In in telling the story, William could only say what he remembered hearing.  William tried to show proof but he could not find any.  There was only the family story.”

This is important and could definitely be used to explain to students that sometimes history is ambiguous and we may not always have proof for things that happened in the past.  The last page on the book explains Flag Day and that we celebrate it on June 14th.  It explains that over the years our flag has changed and that instead of thirteen stars, there are now 50 starts representing each one of the states.  However, our flag still stands for the same ideas that it did in 1777.I thought this book was particularly interesting because it has great illustrations and lots of interesting facts that students would find interesting.  For instance, it explains why there were 13 starts and 13 stripes on the original flag.  Also, the book explains that bunting is a cloth used for making flags and that is the material that Ross used.  I also really like this book because it exemplifies the idea that history can sometimes be legend or fact and that some stories are passed on through people, for even as long as 100 years!

Curriculum Connections
This book offers a great way to introduce students to a variety of topics relating to our history.  These include Betsy Ross, the first flag of our nation, how the flag has changed over time, an introduction of George Washington (before he became president) and details about Flag Day.  It provides a very simple story that students would find interesting, while also bringing up the important distinction that sometimes history isn’t based on proof, but can sometimes be based on stories passed down from generation to generation.  Specifically in Virginia, this book could be used to describe contributions made by George Washington and Betsy Ross (Social Studies Standards of Learning K.1, 1.2).

Additional Resources

  • This site shows a flag timeline of all the different versions of the flag that kids can look at, including the “Betsy Ross” flag.
  • This site gives directions on how Betsy Ross cut the five pointed star with “ONE SNIP”
  • Here is a Betsy Ross homepage for more information on her.

Book: A Flag For Our Country
Author: Eve Spencer
Illustrator:
Publisher:
Steck-Vaughn
Publication Date:
 
1992
Pages: 32 pages
Grades:
K-3
ISBN: 0811480518