June 20 – American Eagle Day

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About the Holiday

The first American Eagle Day was proclaimed by President Bill Clinton and Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist in 1995 to commemorate and bring awareness to this most enduring American symbol. Chosen as the United States’ National Emblem by our Founding Fathers on June 20, 1782, the Bald Eagle represents the best of America: freedom, courage, strength, spirit, and excellence. Once threatened with extinction—only 400 nesting pairs existed in the early 1960s—the American Eagle has made a comeback, with 15,000 nesting pairs living in the lower 48 states. Besides celebrating what the American Eagle symbolizes, today’s holiday is used to raise awareness of conservation efforts for this most majestic bird.

Is a Bald Eagle Really Bald?

Written by Martha E. H. Rustad  | Illustrated by Holli Conger

 

“Our class is having a visitor today,” Ms. Patel tells her class. “Guess who it is,” she urges after giving the kids a hint that the visitor eats fish. Anabelle thinks it might be her dad, but Ms. Patel adds that the visitor has a sharp beak and feathers. Joshua guesses that it’s a duck. The kids are getting closer, and with one more hint—Ms. Patel holds up a one-dollar bill—Rose correctly shouts, “‘a bald eagle!’”

Natalie wants to know why there’s a bald eagle on the dollar, and Ms. Patel tells her that the eagle is a symbol of our country. When John asks what a symbol is, she compares the eagle to the school’s bear mascot and goes on to say that the eagle can also be found on the Great Seal. Luke is momentarily excited about the prospect of a seal also visiting the class, but Ms. Patel shows the class that the Great Seal is actually an image. This image demonstrates that something is officially American and appears on stamps, government buildings, important papers, and even the buttons on military uniforms.

The class takes a closer look at the Great Seal, with its eagle in the center. In one foot the eagle is holding a plant, says Karen. Right, Ms. Patel says. “‘It’s an olive branch. It stands for peace.’” Noah notices that in the other foot the eagle carries arrows. The arrows represent strength, Ms. Patel explains. The banner in the eagle’s beak reads E. Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “one from many” and describes how the single country of America is made of many states. The thirteen stars above the eagle’s head reminds us of the 13 original colonies and states.

Dr. Kelly from the raptor center soon arrives with a bald eagle named Sam. Dr. Kelly puts on a protective glove and carefully takes Sam out of his carrier. Sam is huge! Kyra exclaims, and Jackson wants to know why he’s called “bald.” Dr. Kelly explains that the word bald actually comes from piebald, which means “‘having white marks.’” The class learns many facts about bald eagles, including that they have keen eyesight, can see their prey from high overhead, and can swallow a meal in mid-air.

Then the class talks about how the bald eagle became America’s mascot. Lily raises her hand and suggests it’s because eagles fly free and Americans are free. “‘Good answer,’” Ms. Patel says. She adds that bald eagles are native to North America, and shows the class a map of their summer and winter habitats.

All too soon class is over and it’s time for lunch. “Fish is on today’s menu,” Ms. Patel tells the kids, and they feel just like bald eagles. The children say “thank you” and “goodbye” to Dr. Kelly and Sam, and after lunch they draw their own mascots. You can do that too with the activity at the back of the book!

Scattered throughout the pages, sidebars expand on the facts delivered in the story. Readers learn that the Great Seal has been used since 1782, what raptors and raptor centers are, the weight and wingspan of an adult bald eagle, incredible statistics on eagle’s nests, and about conservation efforts to protect bald eagles.

A Draw-Your-Own Mascot activity follows the text along with a glossary and resources for further study, including free downloadable educational resources.

In her Our American Symbols books Martha E. H. Rustad does a wonderful job of explaining the importance of America’s emblems to children. Through classroom discussions between a teacher and her students, Is a Bald Eagle Really Bald? answers readers’ questions about how and why the bald eagle became a United States symbol. The natural give-and-take will resonated with kids, and Rustad’s clear and kid-friendly definitions of concepts will make an impact. The inclusion of a representative from a raptor center will also feel familiar to children experienced with these types of classroom visitors as well as similar field trips. Sidebars provide more scientific and historical facts.

Holli Conger’s bright, bold illustrations distinctly depict the concepts in the text through large, colorful, and easily understood images. A bulletin board holds pictures of a bald eagle and the American flag, while the teacher holds up a school mascot t-shirt to help relay the idea of a symbol; the Great Seal is shown with well-defined details as the teacher uses a pointer to indicate its various parts; and pages portraying the visit by the raptor center representative give kids a good idea of the size and grandeur of the bald eagle. The children portrayed in the classroom are enthusiastic and welcoming, and readers will feel right at home in their midst.

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-1467744669

American Eagle Day Activity

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American Eagle and Flag Coloring Page

 

The majestic American Bald Eagle is a perfect symbol to represent the courage, freedom, and spirit of the USA. Here’s a printable American Eagle and Flag Coloring Page for you to enjoy!

June 14 – Flag Day

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About the Holiday

Flag Day commemorates the day in 1777 when the “Stars and Stripes” designed by Besty Ross was adopted as the official flag of the United States by the Second Continental Congress. Through early efforts by BJ Cigrand, a school teacher in Fredonia, Wisconsin, in 1885 and George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City in 1889, observances celebrating the flag’s birthday were initiated. Three decades of remembrances followed, and in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson officially established the holiday. It wasn’t until President Harry S Truman signed an Act of Congress on August 3, 1949 that June 14 was designated National Flag Day. Today, people are encouraged to display the American flag. Special events and ceremonies also take place on this day.

Why Are There Stripes on the American Flag?

Written by Martha E. H. Rustad | Illustrated by Kyle Poling

 

The school bell rings and the kids in Mr. Gomez’s class get ready to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Charles raises his hand with a question. Suddenly all the kids have questions about the flag and the words of the Pledge they say each morning. Mr. Gomez is enthusiastic about answering the kids, and the class starts a discussion that includes a bit about the Revolutionary War and how the original 13 colonies became the first states. The new government, Mr. Gomez says, wanted a symbol for the country.

In 1777, Mr. Gomez continues, the American leaders decided to use the colors red, white, and blue. The red stands for courage, the white for goodness, and the blue for fairness. The Flag Act of 1777 decreed that the flag have 13 stripes, alternating red and white, and 13 white stars on a blue field. Stars were chosen to represent the states because the founders believed America was “like a new group of stars shining in the night sky.” Mr. Gomez shows his class pictures of how the flag changed over the years as states were added to the union.

Next, the kids want to understand the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance better. Line by line, Mr. Gomez defines the more difficult words. Allegiance he explains means loyalty or friendship and that in the first line of the pledge we are promising to be loyal to and respect the flag. Respect is shown when we stand and place a hand over our heart while reciting the pledge, obey the rules of raising and lowering the flag, and other requirements. Mr. Gomez then explains what a Republic is and the idea that America is indivisible in that her people live and work as a team, staying together even when we disagree. The concepts of liberty and justice are also defined.

The class is excited with their new knowledge and before heading out for recess, they say the Pledge of Allegiance together.

A Make Your Own Flag activity follows the text along with a glossary of words used in the book and resources for further study.

Martha E. H. Rustad has written a primer about the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance that will engage kids and teach them about these important patriotic concepts. Words such as symbol, justice, liberty, and more are described through the give and take between Mr. Gomez and his students, using familiar examples from the playground and classroom. Each page also includes facts about the US flag, the Flag Act, the design of early flags, flag etiquette, and more.

Kyle Poling’s friendly and colorful illustrations depict a diverse class where the concepts being discussed are clearly visible. Young readers will feel right at home in Poling’s classroom environment and be excited to learn about the origins of our most familiar symbol.

Ages 5 – 8

Millbrook Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-1467744652

Flag Day Activity

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Star-Shaped Word Search

 

The stars on the American flag represent the country’s 50 states. In this printable Star-Shaped Word Search you’ll find words about the origins of the US flag and the Pledge of Allegiance. 

May 30 – Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to commemorate the laying of wreaths and flowers on soldiers’ gravesites, was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. In 1971 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The day is honored with parades and special commemorative events. At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh | Illustrated by Layne Johnson

 

In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson declared that America was going to war in Europe. As a teacher and foster mother to girls at the University of Georgia’s Normal School, Moina Belle Michael wanted to do something to honor the boys going off to fight—boys who were the brothers, sweethearts, even fathers of her students. Moina did what the other women were doing to help—knitting socks and sweaters and rolling bandages—but she wanted to do more. She went to the soldiers’ camps nearby to deliver books, magazines, and candy, and she waved goodbye to them at the train station. But she still wanted to do more.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina wanted to go overseas to help the young men with the Y.M.C.A, but after she finished her training at New York’s Columbia University, she was told she was too old to go. She then set up a desk in the basement of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus where she assisted soldiers before they deployed, but the room was dark and dreary. Moina wanted them to have a more cheerful meeting place.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina brightened the room with fresh flowers she bought with her small salary. More soldiers came to spend time with her, to share their pictures, letters, and hometown news. But Moina wanted to do even more. One day she rediscovered a poem she had read many times. Titled We Shall Not Sleep, it was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and was a tribute to soldiers who had died on the battlefields of Flanders. The poem was illustrated with a field of nameless crosses and bright red poppies. The last verse of the poem urged others to take up the torch of the noble fight. Suddenly, Moina knew what she had to do.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

She wrote a poem of her own, giving poppies a special meaning: “And now the Torch and Poppy red / We wear in honor of our dead. / Fear not that ye have died for naught; / We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought / In Flanders Field.” Moina shared her poem with soldiers at the Y. Many wanted to wear red poppies on their uniforms to honor their fallen friends. With a ten dollar donation, Moina went shopping to find artificial red poppies that she and the soldiers could wear.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

But finding these flowers was difficult. She finally found one large poppy and 24 smaller ones. She pinned the large one to her coat and with the others wrapped, hurried back to the Y. There she gave the small flowers to some of the men and women leaving for the war in France. But there were so few flowers to share. Moina wanted every American to wear a poppy to remember the soldiers. Always.

The epilogue goes on to reveal that two days after Moina bought those 24 poppies, World War I ended.  While everyone was happy to see the soldiers coming home, people wanted to move on, to forget the horrors of the war. But for veterans it wasn’t easy. Jobs were scarce, some veterans were disabled or suffered lingering effects of war.

Moina wanted to help. She wondered if the poppy could benefit returning veterans. After much work she convinced local and international veterans’ groups to adopt the poppy as their memorial flower. People began donating to veterans’ causes, and in return they received a red poppy. Millions of dollars were raised to help the soldiers. Even today, Moina’s red poppies benefit veterans and remind us of their sacrifices and service.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Through her detailed telling of how Moina Belle Michael discovered her life’s work, Barbara Elizabeth Walsh provides a realistic view of the World War I era and the desire of most citizens to do something to help the soldiers fighting the war. The sense of suspense, comaraderie, fear, and disappointment that fueled Moina Michael’s heart and actions are beautifully and straightforwardly presented and give children true knowledge of this time period.

Accompanying the text to maximum effect are Layne Johnson’s inspiring, realistic paintings of the scars of war on both the landscape and the human heart. In close-up portraits, Johnson captures the emotions of the women learning that their brothers, boyfriends, and fathers will be joining the war effort as well as scenes of soldiers training, deploying, and returning to tell their stories. Turning the pages is like stepping onto the university campus, visiting the basement gathering space, and walking the city streets. Especially evocative are the two battle scenes and the view of the Flanders Fields with their endless carpet of poppies and straight rows of white cross markers.

For anyone wanting to teach or learn about the origins and meaning of Memorial Day and the significance of the red poppy, The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans is a must read.

Ages 7 – 12 and up

Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590787540

Memorial Day Activity

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Memorial Day Word Scramble

 

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

Picture Book Review