Written by Barak Obama, illustrated by Loren Long
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
Themes: Tribute to American icons, Father inspiring daughters, self-esteem, American history.
“Have I told you that you are creative? A woman named Georgia O’Keeffe moved to the desert and painted petals, bone, bark. She helped us see big beauty ins what is small: the hardness of stone and the softness of feather.”
The forty-forth president of the United States, Barak Obama, has written a letter of inspiration to his two daughters. He exhorts them that they have the same creativity, kindness, courage, honor etc as the thirteen great American heroes he cites. In lyrical prose he speaks of Sitting Bull’s healing powers, the just determination of Martin Luther King Jnr. the spirit of exploration which sent Neil Armstrong to the Moon.
“Have I told you that you are an explorer?” includes the two daughters with the young O’Keeffe, Einstein, King, Billie Holiday, looking at a boy holding a toy rocket who is looking across at himself as Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.
“he watched the world from way up high and we watched his lunar landing leaps, which made us brave enough to take our own big bold strides.”
He concludes with:
‘Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?’ and that his daughters (and all American children) are part of this future.
Why I like this book: I am sure that I am not alone in being very pleasantly surprised that while it comes across a little bit as a speech, this is not just another celebrity book of questionable content and skill. This book is about a father wanting to inspire two things in his children: firstly, that whoever they are they can reach for the stars and they are capable of infinite possibilities: secondly, it is a patriotic book to inspire young children about some of the truly great women and men of American history. I think it does a good job in achieving these two goals.
The theme of diversity is also inevitably woven throughout the book, the beautiful illustrations depicting children on every page from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Loren Long has helped to make it a real picture book where the pictures often tell us more than the words. The acrylic paintings are in a semi-realistic style and range from an almost photographic illustration of Martin Luther King Jr to Sitting Bull, where the ambiguous image can be interpreted as a landscape with animals or the face of the Great Chief. (I found this image truly haunting myself!) The history is of course very brief on each of the thirteen characters, but I think children will enjoy recognizing some themselves by the pictures and discovering others. I think this is a great classroom and home addition for Americans!
Three worksheets for grades 3-5.
Some wonderful ESL activities on the book.
Group discussions will inevitably follow a reading of this book. Who was Jackie Robinson? Who is Billie Holliday? What was the significance of the Civil War? the Vietnam War and Maya Lin’s contribution. I think a child could do some follow up art and/or writing on the icon who most inspired them!