Prepublication Reviews and Expertly Selected Title Lists

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

Written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh. Paintings by Layne Johnson

When I was a schoolgirl in the 1940s and 50s, every October at Veterans Day we were either given or encouraged to donate a small sum and received a little artificial red poppy to wear in honor of those who had died in World War I. If this is still going on, I do not know, but Barbara Walsh’s picture book The Poppy Lady certainly gives us reason to celebrate and hopefully revive this tradition.

The Poppy Lady was Moina Belle Michael who grew up in Georgia in the early part of the 20th century to be a “doer” with a capital D. Whether it was educating herself because of the lack of schools and teachers or going on to become a teacher herself, her motto was “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might!” This is a refrain repeated throughout the book and with good reason because this is how she truly lived her life.

We remember Moina because of her campaign to honor those who fought in World War I. When the war broke out in 1914, she was in Europe and witnessed the devastation that occurred. Thus in 1917 when America entered the war, she began to DO. She knitted socks, rolled bandages, worked in canteens which she decorated with flowers, but it was not enough. She found her calling after hearing a poem about war dead that mentioned the red poppies of Flanders Field. She then found a way to procure enough small artificial red poppies for soldiers and civilians to wear to remember the sacrifices made on their behalf. From this modest beginning grew a national campaign for many years that honored not only those who had died but all who had served.

This picture book is appropriate not only for a younger age children, but also for use with older children as a way to introduce them to this tradition and the woman who conceived it. The text is informative, but not didactic, and would be enjoyable for all ages. The double page picture spreads are vibrantly painted by Layne Johnson in rich colors that bring life to the text. In addition, there is a useful “Selected Bibliography” in the back that would prove beneficial to teachers wanting students to do more research on Moina Belle Michael.

Do most people, especially students, know of the red poppy tradition today? I can’t answer that definitively, but during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, there was a brief picture of a red poppy that appeared on the TV screen during the segment dealing with World War I. Moina would be so pleased.

~Cathi Rooth

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One thought on “The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

  1. Mrs. MENIN on said:

    That poem re WW1 war dead became famous in Dec 1915, when PUNCH in England printed ‘In Flanders Fields’, by Canadian army officer/physician/ poet, John McCrae of Guelph Ontario, author not given. It was a call to fight on to victory, despite our British losses From there it “went viral” in the terms of the time, printed in Canada in 1916, quoted widely in Britain and her Dominions, taken up in the US in 1917 by famous composers such as Sousa and Spross,with many civilians -especially in the US – sending “Replies, Answers” to newspapers. By the time Miss Michael of Georgia State became aware it, she was viewing an advertisement in a women’s magazine illustrated by US artist Philip Lyford. McCrae’s poem was mis-titled, facts about his death inaccurate. Advertiser was Bauer & Black surgical supplies merchant.
    This patriotic marketing image was not ‘crosses row on row’ surrounded by scarlet flowers as in Canadian Victory Bond posters of 1917, but bandaged doughboys rising singing to heaven from flames below – a very dramatic appeal to mothers of boys overseas when it was thought the war would drag on into 1919.

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