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Barbara Elizabeth Walsh brings to life the story of World War I humanitarian Moina Belle Michael in her debut picture book, The Poppy Lady. The title comes from the nickname Moina earned working for more than 25 years to establish the red poppy as a universal tribute to U.S. war veterans.
In this book, beautifully illustrated by Layne Johnson, Walsh shares her account of a woman who lived by the motto: Whatsoever your hands find to do, do it with all your might. Moina’s community service began at age 15 when she started teaching – a career that would span more than five decades. Though she prayed war would never come, Moina refused to sit idly by as soldiers risked their lives to serve their country. Volunteer work with the YMCA provided opportunities to knit socks and roll bandages for the Red Cross, but it wasn’t enough.
Already in her late forties when war was declared, Moina’s best hope to assist was an appointment through the YMCA Overseas War Workers. Although her age barred her from overseas service, Moina was sent to the training headquarters for the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries organization. There Moina read a poem by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, written as a tribute to the soldiers he could not save on the battlefield of Flanders that concluded:
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields
Inspired, Moina vowed to have the poppy become a national emblem of remembrance to honor and support all war veterans. To this day, veterans stand outside stores during the weeks before Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and distribute poppies, raising millions of dollars for other veterans and their families.