Review: Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama

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!

Of Thee I Sing A Letter to My Daughters

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… Continue reading

Picture books? There’s an app for that!

In October, The New York Times commented on the demise of the picture book, claiming that in the US, picture books are so unpopular that bookshops finally end up returning unwanted books to the publisher. The article blames this downturn on pushy parents, the economic downturn and the rise of YA fiction. Is this the end of the picture book?

Well, not yet! Like the rest of the publishing world, children’s picture books are finally moving into the digital era. They might have been slow on the uptake, but an increasing number of picture books are now appearing as e-books. Yesterday, HarperCollins Children’s Books announced the release of a picture book iPad app: none other than Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle.

Using the touch screen, children will be able to fully engage and interact with the story, which is read by the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter. They can have the story read to them, or they can read it themselves. The app strikes a much sought after balance between the lure of video games and television, and the necessity of reading. I don’t own a kindle or an iPad, and I’ve never taken to reading e-books, but if this is what it takes to revitalise the picture book and encourage children to read, then it’s quite simply genius. Continue reading

Review: And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson & Peter Parnell

As part of this years Banned Books Week in the US, I decided to read a couple of books from the ALA’s list of most-challenged books. One of these books, And Tango Makes Three, has been challenged and banned “for homosexuality, anti-family, and unsuited to age group.”

Amazon delivered it promptly this week, and I’ve spent the past couple of days mulling it over. Co-written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, the story revolves around two chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, who love each other dearly. Roy and Silo are both boys.

Okay, so when I heard about the controversy surrounding this story, I thought, “what a big hullabaloo!”. Introducing children to the reality of same-sex relationships at an early age would surely discourage homophobic idiocy in later life.

What about kids who have two mummies or two daddies? Unlike the stories about princes and princesses, And Tango Makes Three gives children of same-sex relationships something to relate to and identify with.

One of the reasons homophobic tension exists is because children are unfamiliar with it; they fear and consequently hate what they do not know. Tango Makes Three could be integral to improving attitudes towards homosexuality.

Yet, I am surprised. I expected to be writing a post that 100% rubbished all claims for this book to be banned, but I’d be lying if I said Continue reading