Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
illustrated by Loren Long
Book review by Monica Friedman
President Obama Shares the Values of America's Heroes with American Children
Our forty-fourth president has long proved himself a talented writer, and in Of Thee I Sing, he directs his powers of inspiration and hope to motivate the youngest Americans in the direction of positive achievement. Working with illustrator Loren Long, the president takes a break from leading the free world to create kid-friendly depiction of the lives of thirteen American heroes, men and women of all colors and creeds, who embody the morals he wishes all children to embrace.
Framed as a letter to his daughters, he begins by asking, "Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?" and communicates each of the desired values by suggesting that each child already possesses these ideals: "Have I told you that you are creative?" "Have I told you that you are smart?"
Each quality is paired with a short discussion of a famous American's life. Bravery is attributed to Jackie Robinson, who, "with the grace and strength of a lion," used the medium of baseball to "turn fear into respect and respect to love." Jane Addams, who "fed the poor and helped them find job," is an example of kindness. The spirit of exploration is demonstrated as Neil Armstrong "watched the world from way up high…which made us brave enough to take our own big, bold strides. Sitting Bull is honored as a healer, while Cesar Chavez is remembered for his powers of inspiration.
The illustrations turn Of Thee I Sing into a journey through history. On the title page, the president watches Malia and Sasha walking away from him, and, on each two-page spread, the girls encounter another child. First they watch a little girl with an artist's palette and brushes who seems to look into a larger picture of Georgia O'Keefe on the facing page. On the next page, the young artist joins the first daughters (Sasha has her arm on the new girl's shoulder) in looking at a young boy in knee pants, holding a pencil, who is, in turn, entranced by the image of a dreamy Albert Einstein.
By the end of the book, Sasha and Malia are surrounded by a crowd of young people-white, black, Latino, Asian, Native American-all dressed in their own style, carrying different items to indicate their interests. "Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?" he asks.
People of all races, religions, 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.
A rich, poetic voice makes Of Thee I Sing a perfect read-aloud story, and the content is appealing to young children, who are excited to recognize historical figures they already know, and eager to learn more about the lives of other personalities recommended by the president. A short biography of each of the thirteen heroes follows the main body of the text for those seeking additional information.
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