cover image By the Dawn's Early Light: The Story of the Star Spangled Banner

By the Dawn's Early Light: The Story of the Star Spangled Banner

Steven Kroll. Scholastic, $15.95 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-590-45054-6

Kroll ( Mary McClean and the St. Patrick's Day Parade ) dramatizes a critical moment in the War of 1812 as he describes the writing of the national anthem. Just before the British attack on Fort McHenry, Baltimore, in September 1814, the Washington lawyer Francis Scott Key and a colonel boarded a British ship to petition for the release of an American doctor taken prisoner. The plea was granted, but the three Americans were forced to watch the British attack on Baltimore before they could return to shore. Written the day after that attack, the song was inspired by the sight of a huge flag (``forty-two by thirty feet, fifteen stars and fifteen stripes'') flying over the fort during heavy fighting and shelling. By dawn the gunfire had ceased, and Key ``strained to see what flag was flying over the fort.'' Glimpsing the Stars and Stripes, Key scribbled the now famous first words of the anthem on the back of an old letter he found in his pocket. Although the beginning is marred by unnecessary information and awkward phrasings (``Francis got released from military duty'' and ``he could not have violated his neutrality.''), the rest of the story energetically conveys Kroll's careful research and patriotic thrummings. Oil paintings hinting of Turner capture a sense of history and portray the excitement and the action. Ages 5-9. (Feb.)