The death of the picture book is something that I’ve recently been blogging about, but if presidential endorsement isn’t enough to secure the good old picture book, then what is!
It is pretty much impossible to approach this book without acknowledging its author, the President of the United States. Would I have bought it and reviewed it had it not been written by Barack Obama? Probably not. Would I have bought it had it been written by our own leader, David Cameron? Sorry, but no (need I explain why?). Obama has a certain lure as far as I’m concerned, but I wonder how the Americans feel about their president taking the time to write and publish a kids’ book?
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters is a wonderful book. In a celebration of the First Amendment and “the right to read”, and in a story that is attributed to his two daughters, Obama writes an inspirational ‘letter’ that recognizes thirteen inspirational Americans, from Sitting Bull to Neil Armstrong and Billie Holiday. Simultaneously, Obama praises the American qualities that he sees in his daughters: creativity, as seen in Georgia O’Keefe; bravery, as seen in Jackie Robinson; and determination, as seen in Martin Luther King Jnr. In a touching ending, he reflects on the melting pot that is America:
People of all races, and beliefs.
People from the coastlines and the mountains.
People who have made bright lights shine
By sharing their unique gifts
And giving us the courage to lift one another up,
To keep up the fight,
To work and build upon all that is good
In our nation.
But is there a hidden political agenda to all of this? It is certainly difficult to detach the book from its author, and there are parts of the story that allude to Obama’s own political campaign, particuarly in the inspirational Cesar Chavez: “Sí, se puede!” Cesar said. “Yes, you can!”. But I fear that too much could be read into this…
Politics aside, it is beautifully illustrated by Loren Long. Long dedicates the book to his sons, and Obama dedicates his letter to his daughters, to his wife Michelle, “whose fierce love and daily good sense have nourished such wonderful daughters.” It strikes me that this book is much more about belonging to a multi-cultural America; it’s about belonging to a family.
The most impressive thing about this picture book? I’m nearly 23 years old, and it taught me a thing or two! While reading I wondered, who is Helen Keller, Jane Addams and Cesar Chavez (excuse my ignorance)? My questions were answered in a concise glossary at the back (Albert Einstein became a US citizen in 1940, I seriously had no idea!). Incredibly, I even found myself ‘Googling’ some of the names to discover more – if this isn’t the sign of a great kids book, then I don’t know what is.