Of Thee I Sing

Cover

Written by Barack Obama, Illustrated by Loren Long

Alfred A. Knopf, 2010

Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?

What made this author famous? Barack Obama was a state and US senator (representing Illinois) and became the 44th President of the US in 2009.

As President Obama watches his two daughters, he thinks about the many traits he sees in them and then about great people from American history who embody those traits. For creativity, he mentions artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who found beauty in the desert. Albert Einstein represents for intelligence and Jackie Robinson stands for bravery. The book moves through a total of thirteen different traits and people who exemplify them and as we meet them, each one is also represented by a child who joins a growing group of diverse children on each left-hand page of the book. The book ends with a reminder that these great people are all a part of our country, like each one of us who has the chance to make an impact on the future.

Whether or not you are a supporter of author Barack Obama’s politics, there is a lot to love about this wonderful tribute to thirteen great Americans. I did some poking around online to see if I could gauge the response from the anti-Obama crowd and in multiple places, I saw several people praising it in spite of their dislike of the author. This is so much more than just a recap of some awesome people, what they did and why we should honor their legacies. The book connects these people to characteristics that we, as parents, can foster in our children and improve in ourselves. There is a short paragraph with more information on each of the people represented here, in case you or your child wants to know more about them.

Look at how ugly Loren Long has made the people yelling hateful things at Jackie Robinson.

Look at how ugly Loren Long has made the faces of people yelling hateful things at Jackie Robinson.

What really takes this concept to a new height is the wonderful artwork, in acrylic on board, of illustrator Loren Long. When we first see President Obama, he is watching his daughters walking in a park and at the end of the book, the three of them are walking together in the same park, holding hands, with their shadows merged together. It’s a lovely piece of imagery. The portraits of the famous people are gorgeously drawn, but what I really love best are the facing page pictures, in which we see the famous person as a child, accompanied by all the other children as the book progresses. As the number of children grows, we see them interacting and sharing their things with each other. Little Helen Keller, for instance, sticks closely to young Billie Holiday and we see her examining Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintbrush with her fingers as some of the children’s items pass back and forth. It’s a beautiful and inspirational reminder that these people were once children who grew up to accomplish great things and that we’re all connected and have some of their traits in us, too. To be honest, I opened this book expecting to find it really cheesy and instead, found myself truly moved.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that many incredible people have set examples and paved the way for those of us who came after them and we have an obligation to help prepare those who come after us.

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