11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
The clue is in the title, 26 Nov. 2010
When I first heard the subtitle of President Obama's children's book, 'A Letter to My Daughters', I thought, I'd love to read that. A love-letter from Barack Obama, the weaver of heady and gorgeous visions. The private hopes and fears of a public figure, poured out. A father willing a better world into being for his children, prophesying over them.
To some degree, yes, that's what Of Thee I Sing is. In the rhythmic and poetic language you'd expect, a father tells his children how wonderful they are, how they 'bring dancing rhythms' and 'sunshine spills' into his day. As he lists his daughters' qualities, spread by spread, he tells the stories of thirteen American icons who also exemplify those characteristics: the courageous Jackie Robinson, the tenacious Martin Luther King, the inspiring Cesar Chavez. It is a roll-call of America's best. Loren Long's pure and rich pastel colour scheme captures this well. The optimistic blue sky of the cover catches the tone of the text, if not of the times. The opening image gets me the most: a wiry man in a shirt stands with his back to us, watching his daughters march away from him down a windy path. His hands seem clasped, as if with anxiety. The illustrations provide delight, attenuating even the imprint page, and showing the icons as children, and then as adults. However, as the crowd of heroes grows, they seem anxious to get off the page and go and do what they are each so good at.
Although the text brings each lofty characteristic and achievement back to Obama's daughters, the voice seems to speak not to the children, but of them. It soars over their heads in abstracts, addressing instead perhaps a national audience. As far as I know, children have never enjoyed being talked over. Sasha and Malia's names, though we all know them, are never mentioned.
A friend once said that, after reading Dreams from My Father, he wanted to buy Barack a beer. (We always called him 'Barack' then, as if he was just another friend in our group.) Perhaps as a consequence, The Audacity of Hope somehow made him feel let down. His beer buddy's voice had turned suddenly professional, dodging slickly through issues, never quite showing its hand.
This is the trouble with being the President. You cannot whisper so much as an inspiring word to your daughters and their peers without the world somehow getting in the way. (Such as when the Yes We Can slogan sneaks in.) But if you don't mind a regal air, and a dose of nationalistic spirit, do explore this story and its heroes. It opens up avenues for children and parents to encouter inspiring figures, and remember that they all started small - as children. Chances are, if you like the style of the title, you'll enjoy the book.