TITLE: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
AUTHOR: Barack Obama
ILLUSTRATOR: Loren Long
PUBLISHED BY: Knopf Books for Young Readers
I felt like I had to write a review of President Obama's newly released loving picture book dedicated to his daughters--Of Thee I Sing--which will surely be the hot seller this Christmas. It is a sweet book, meant to stir their hearts and inspire them with the examples of those great Americans who came before them: George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr, Georgia O'Keefe, Albert Einstein, Billie Holiday, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller. These men and women are indeed inspiring, if predictable, choices. (But, ah! I must mention: he includes Cesar Chavez. Alas!) As he introduces each figure, he asks his girls if he's told them that they should always be kind, or they each have a song, or they stand up for the weak, etc. etc. Reviewers everywhere are fawning over these questions, as if they hold some great insight into child rearing or human character. To me, they seem expected, a little over-wraught, and certainly not groundbreaking. the text is largely prosaic and self-important.
What is inspiring and noteworthy about this book? The illustrations. Loren Long has really outdone himself in this one. He has created stirring portraits of these inspiring men and women: truly capturing much of their spirit and strength--all in brilliant colors and sumptuous details. Each facing page shows Malia and Sasha standing, their backs to us, joined by a child version of each of the men and women their father is suggesting should be a role model: young Georgia with a paint brush, and Jackie Robinson with his bat, etc. etc. As the crowd grows bigger, and the book ends, they turn to face us. Visually, it is a much stronger statement than the President's burdensome prose. We do have to answer to all those faces, and live as well as they did.
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