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By The Dawn's Early Light by Steven Kroll
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By The Dawn's Early Light

by Steven Kroll

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I'm not usually terribly crazy about Steven Kroll books, but this one is amazing! What depth of research! I am absolutely astounded by this book! I had no idea that there were multiple verses in the Star-Spangled Banner. It makes sense though. I mean ending the poem with an unanswered question didn't make much sense. It really does a service to illustrate a largely forgotten war fought on American soil. I am really a big fan of this book. ( )
  matthewbloome | May 19, 2013 |
The nonfiction book entitled By the Dawn’s Early Light – The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner by Steven Kroll and illustrated by Dan Andreasen is an easy yet enlightening read about how the notable Washington, D.C. attorney named Francis Scott Key wrote America’s national anthem. This hardcover informational picture book is approximately 40 pages of expository information about the War of 1812 in which Great Britain wanted to control the shipping trade that America had established between the French and Spanish colonies and Europe. It was during the Battle of Baltimore and specifically the British attack on Fort McHenry that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the poem that lead to the country’s national song. This book is ideal for students between the ages of 9 and 11, in my opinion because the language is easily accessible and comprehensible and the visual images are presented in a more sophisticated manner for young readers who appreciate history and art and are on the verge of becoming avid, mature readers.

In summary, during the War of 1812, the nation’s capital had been burned to the ground by British soldiers as England wanted to take away the shipping dominance America had ascertained between the French and Spanish colonies and Europe. As the British Royal Navy forcefully boarded American ships to seize British deserters and American sailors for their service to America, our country declared war on England. It was during this time when a prominent American doctor by the name of William Beanes who helped to medically treat both American and British soldiers was captured by the Royal Navy because the doctor had three British Army stragglers who were causing trouble arrested and thrown in jail. The British military officers got angry, captured Dr. Beanes, and held him hostage on board one of their battle ships.

When Francis was paid a visit by his brother-in-law Richard West who was also a judge and told him about the situation of their friend Dr. Beanes, Francis was upset. Since Francis had influence with President Madison, Richard asked him to try and see what he could do to free Dr. Beanes. Francis wasted no time and traveled by horse through the burning Capitol in an effort to reach the president and discuss what could be done. President Madison gave Francis permission to visit the British fleet accompanied by Colonel John S. Skinner who was in charge of prisoner exchange. After making sure that his wife and children were safe at their family estate in western Maryland, Francis headed for Baltimore with the Colonel.

As a skilled attorney, Francis was prepared to meet with Vice Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane of the H.M.S. Tonnant with letters from British soldiers describing Dr. Beanes’s kindness and care he had given them after the Battle of Bladensburg. Francis and the Colonel charted a small cartel boat with a white flag of truce and headed down the Patapsco River toward Chesapeake Bay where the British fleet was stationed.

Upon arriving at the eighty-gun battleship, they were motioned to board and were immediately brought to Admiral Cochrane’s cabin. After Francis pleaded his case for Dr. Beanes, the Admiral rejected the request to free his prisoner on the grounds that he claimed Dr. Beanes had no right as a noncombatant to have any British soldiers arrested. Francis continued to defend his friend by stating that the doctor did not know what he was doing and that the British were no longer occupying the territory.

The Admiral then called for two of his other officers to join this meeting and offer their opinions. Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn and Major General Sir Robert Ross heard the story again with Cockburn rejecting the doctor’s release and Ross disagreeing with him and granting Dr. Beanes his freedom because of the British soldiers’ letters of praise. The only catch was that the three Americans would now have to stay with the British fleet because they were about to attack Fort Henry in Baltimore. They would have to helplessly watch as their country was attacked by the British Royal Navy.

As the fleet made its way up the Chesapeake Bay to Fort Henry, the Americans under the command of Major George Armistead were getting ready for battle. The American militia raised the American flag that was forty-two by thirty feet with fifteen stars and stripes sown by Mary Pickersgill and her daughter Caroline. The three Americans watched as the British Royal Navy made their way closer to the coastline to wage war. The American flag flew prominently in the breeze as the battle began at dawn on September 12, 1814. The noise was deafening as each side shot heavy shelling from their cannons and the smell of burning gun powder was so overpowering that the American hostages had to take refuge in their cabins below deck. The battle continued and it was now dusk and Francis crawled out onto the deck to see the damage. Dr. Beanes quickly asked Francis if he could see the American flag and to his surprise and delight he affirmed that the American flag was still flying.

The British were fighting from land and sea and the Americans, although inexperienced, were ready and retaliated in full force. By the next day’s dawn, the battle was over, the British had retreated, and the American flag, soaked and drooping from a rain storm during the fighting the night before, was still there in full sight. As a gifted poet and with joy in his heart that his country was not overtaken by the more experienced British Royal Navy, Francis pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and scribbled down the first words that came to his mind about what he was feeling which were O say can you see by the dawn’s early light. There wasn’t much time to write any more because the British were leaving and they were returned to their small cartel boat and were allowed to go back to Baltimore. Upon arriving later that same afternoon, the three men took refuge at the Indian Queen Hotel on Baltimore Street where they rested, ate, and discussed the horrifying events over the past few days. Later that night, inspired to finish his poem, Francis wrote the other four stanzas. The next day, he visited with his brother-in-law Judge Joseph Nicholson who loved the poem and encouraged Francis to quickly get it published onto handbills for the American people. Although Nicholson had entitled it “The Defense of Fort McHenry”, the people started putting the poem to song and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Over the years, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became the official song of the American Army and Navy, was adopted by President Woodrow Wilson to be the song that was played at official occasions, and was finally decreed by Congress in 1931 to be the national anthem of the United States of America.

In terms of accuracy, the author Steven Kroll does not discuss his educational qualifications, but does mention his experience as a writer of more than 60 books for young readers with two well-received Scholastic Hardcovers and a 1991 Notable Children’s Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. The illustrator Dan Andreasen also has extended experience with creating visual representations for many book jackets and interiors for chapter books, although this was his first picture book. By the Dawn’s Early Light was published in 1994 and contains factual information that is backed up by a thorough bibliography of seemingly reliable sources.

The content of the book has a scope that is fairly limited due to the fact that the book is only about 40 pages in length and can, therefore, reveal a limited amount of information on the creation of the country’s national anthem. Its depth is also not too deep because only the most pertinent information is discussed in which meticulous details are probably left out in order to give the overall nucleus of the story. The focus is to enlighten the reader as to how our country’s national anthem came into being and this book accomplishes that task well.

The author’s style of writing is one that is very clear and to the point. The story is organized and flows in a logical order as to how the events occurred in the history of how and why our national anthem was written. The language is also easily accessible to young readers and is written in a matter-of-fact fashion. Some vivid language is used, especially when describing the sounds and images of the battle scene at Fort McHenry. Steven Kroll’s tone of voice is a combination of being both conversational and neutral as the information is revealed to the reader, sometimes with a feeling of him chatting with the audience and at other times as if the information is simply being exposed as fact.

The organization is one that is chronological because the events are discussed in the historical order in which they occurred. The story also has somewhat of a story narrative because, as was mentioned earlier, the author has a partial conversational tone.

Several reference aids exist and include a Prologue that gives a bit of background history on the War of 1812 and the situation between America and England before the story is expressed. An Author’s Note is available which gives further information about Francis Scott Key’s life, career accomplishments, and about how “The Star-Spangled Banner” was finally adopted as America’s national anthem. An actual copy of the entire poem Francis wrote after his experience of watching first-hand the Battle of Baltimore is shown for the readers to appreciate. Sheet music is provided for readers to see Francis Scott Key’s words matched with music composed by J. Stafford Smith that we as citizens have become so familiar. A sketch of Francis is shown for readers to get an idea of what he actually looked like, as well as maps of Washington, D.C. during 1814 and the Battle of Baltimore with landmarks and important events leading up to the battle. Finally, a comprehensive bibliography is provided for readers to see where Steven Kroll researched his information to write this book, as well as a detailed index that allows readers to quickly find topics of interest within the story.

The format is one that includes beautifully illustrated images that create a warm, time-appropriate feeling with each matching perfectly with the text, so that the reader can easily connect to the information presented. As was previously mentioned, two maps also help to guide the reader in terms of the layout of our nation’s capital in 1814 and the military configuration of The Battle of Baltimore.

Other access features includes a cover that shows the British Royal Navy attacking Fort McHenry with the American flag flying in the breeze as if to state that it will take more than enemy bombs to bring its country down. An end page on the inside front cover also gives some added information about how “The Star-Spangled Banner” came into being with historically accurate details. And as was discussed earlier, an index, bibliography, Author’s Note, illustrations, sheet music, and maps all add to the quality and validity of this book.

As a future middle school English teacher, I would utilize this book in my class. Since Social Studies and English are so closely related, I could design an integrated lesson plan with a Social Studies colleague, as well as have my students write a research paper or biographical sketch on Francis Scott Key, or write an expository essay on the War of 1812 or how the “The Star-Spangled Banner” came into being, as well as more detailed information on how Francis was inspired to write it in the first place. Different singers’ versions of how they perform the song could also be presented via YouTube for the rest of the class to hear. ( )
  cdaugher | Apr 7, 2013 |
This book brings out how the star spangled banner was writtem and tells the story behind it along with the before and afters.

i loved this book, because I am not a big history fan and this book made me wnat to know more about the star spangled banner.
As a class we are going to look at the star spangled banner and go through the different parts of it. Another thing I am going to do is have my students draw pictures and study the different ways the flag has looked throughout history. ( )
  Janeece | Apr 4, 2008 |
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An account of the writing of the "Star-Spangled Banner," detailing how Key was actually behind enemy lines at the time seeking release of a captured friend from the British, who would not allow their departure until the bombardment of Baltimore was completed.… (more)

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