Perfect Picture Book Friday – Of Thee I Sing

Of Thee I Sing – A letter to my daughters

Written by Barak Obama, illustrated by Loren Long

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2010

Ages: 5-11

Themes: Tribute to American icons, Father inspiring daughters, self-esteem, American history.

Opening/Synopsis:

“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!

Activities/Resources:

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!

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33 Responses to Perfect Picture Book Friday – Of Thee I Sing

  1. Erik This Kid Reivews Books says:

    I really liked the cover of this book from the first time I saw it. It is a really nice book 🙂 It’s good to learn about the people in the book.

  2. Heather says:

    I have seen this one, but never picked it up. I think my fear of another celebrity picture book tainted my perception and it sounds like I need to give it a chance. Loren Long is so very talented, his work is inspiring!

  3. Joanna says:

    Heather, it has been in our school library for a year and I was kind of resisting it in principle! I hope you will be a surprised as I have been!

  4. We love this book, Joanna! My sister-in-law bought it for us. It’s such a great way to learn a snippet about important and influential Americans.

  5. So happy you reviewed this book. I have thumbed through it at the bookstore and at the library with the intent of reviewing it at some point. I think if is a lovely book written by a father for his daughters. I loved the individuals he selected to feature. I was delighted that his theme is diversity, after all that’s what America is all about. The artwork is stunning. I was surpised at the verse. I just don’t get why people get hung up over celebrity books. Never crosses my mind. There are some very good ones out there. And, your review of the President’s book shows its strength of writing and intent. I wonder how many president’s have written a children’s book for their children, that will also impact future generations of kids. I hope this book is in every school library. Great review!

    • Joanna says:

      I think Obama’s genuine love and desire to foster self confidence in his daughters and pride in the heritage, is very evident, Pat. I confess I have read many poor quality celebrity books!

  6. I can’t believe it, but I actually haven’t read this book yet. I think I was dragging my feet a bit because celebrity books are usually so disappointing. I’m glad you give this your seal of approval. It sounds good, and I will look forward to reading it now 🙂

  7. Miranda Paul says:

    Great review! Love this book, too. And Susanna…all puns intended? (“seal” of approval on the President’s book?) 🙂 Thanks for sharing, Joanna.

  8. This is a great way to learn about the President and his fatherly feelings. I haven’t read it yet though. So many celebrities are writing picture books. It’s pretty disheartening. I do know Loren Long’s work though. An amazing talent. 🙂

  9. I have seen this book numerous times in book stores, but never at the library. I am going to have to look next time. It sounds like a book that I would like to read as a dad. I really like Loren Long’s illustrations. It sounds like a winner!

    • Joanna says:

      Eric, I think as a dad, you will have a special appreciation of the sentiments Obama wishes to leave with his children!

  10. Joanna, I’ve seen this in the store and walked past it. When you say sounds like a speech a bit, um, does it come off as preachy? Curious. Looks like fun activities, as I would expect a president’s book would have good educational activities.

  11. Darshana says:

    I read this book when it first came out. It is lovely. Thanks for adding it to PPBF.

  12. I have seen this in the store, but haven’t picked it up. It sounds as though I should do so.

    I appreciate that he has included people from different races, and from different walks of life — the arts, science, civil rights, the full gamut of life.

    • Joanna says:

      Yes, Beth, his choice was clearly very careful, and for the few pages that is a picture book, he covers a great range of inspirational Americans.

  13. Interesting book. I would be interested in reading this, curious more than anything. thanks for sharing Joanna.

  14. Hi Joanna, I’ve heard so much about the book, and thank you for sharing with us your candid thoughts about some of the things that worked best for you in the prose and in the illustrations. I’ve always felt that the illustrations should truly magnify the text in unexpected twists, as there should be two layers always in the narrative. Thank you for sharing this. I should really find the time to search for this book in our libraries. 🙂

  15. Joanna says:

    Myra, while it isn’t a book I would go into superlative raves about, I believe it is a solid book for school libraries and home-schoolers in the US to have.

  16. This sounds wonderful. I had no idea he had written a book like this. What a wonderful message though. I’m excited to know about it now.

    Also – just wanted to thank you for the kind words on my blog Thursday. I appreciate it so much.

  17. Hi Joanna,
    Lovely selection….many of us have seen it but just passed it by…I will pick it up the next time I see it. Books that show a strong connection between father and daughters are great books to have in one’s collection. It sounds like a book parents might learn something from as well. 🙂
    Great resources and activties…thank you!

  18. Joanna says:

    There aren’t so many father:child books like this, so I do think it’s a great addition, Kirsten.

  19. This sounds absolutely wonderful. I had heard of this book, but your review gave me enough details for me to know I need to read it! Thanks!

  20. Catherine says:

    A president writing a picture book is a wonderful way to pass on wisdom to another generation. It sounds wonderful Joanna. And I love your latest post, we all need to unplug frequently to stay sane.

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