A Primer About the Flag

Marvin Bell, Author, Chris Raschka, Illustrator
Marvin Bell, illus. by Chris Raschka, Candlewick, $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7636-4991-3
Reviewed on: 01/17/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
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Based on the title, American readers might think that Bell and Raschka have in mind the U.S. flag. Not so. This enigmatic picture book concerns all flags: "flags on the moon, flags in cemeteries, costume flags." Poet Bell, in his first book for children, calls his poem a primer, but this is a teaching tool in only the most esoteric of ways. Raschka (Little Black Crow) sketches people and places in black and gray, and flags in festive color patterns. When Bell remarks, "there are beautiful flags and enemy flags. Enemy flags are not supposed to be beautiful," the next spread shows two groups of flag-carrying citizens at war, guns drawn, flags torn. Accompanying a reference to a "shipboard... alphabet of flags," Raschka pictures a vessel flying nautical pennants, but their meaning is left opaque. Bell raises provocative political questions, ending with the humorous assertion that "Few would line up behind a small tree, for example, if you... didn't first tell people what it stood for," but the book's ambiguities will likely leave readers befuddled. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)
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