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on 6 February 2012
I wasn't planning on reading this book, but since it found its way into my hands, I thought I could just as well take a look. Besides, it's but a short read and it took me no more than a few minutes to go through it.
So, what is it that the American president speaks or rather sings about, in this slim volume that he's written for his daughters? Well, for the USA, of course. He starts by asking "Have I ever told you...?" and then goes on and answers the questions he poses himself, and thus teaches his girls and the reader, in a simple and straightforward way, about the history of the land. He talks about all there is to know about the American nation and the people who helped build it in one way or another and about the creation of the multicultural society of today: about Georgia O' Keefe, the painter, who "helped us see big beauty in what is small", about Albert Einstein, who gave the world a wealth of knowledge, about Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player, about the revolutionary and healer Sitting Bull, about Billie Holiday, the singer, about Helen Keller, who managed, even deaf and blind, to give the people lessons in strength and in courage, about Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, about the social reformer and Nobel Prize winner Jane Addams, who did everything within her powers to change this world of ours for the better, about the man who said to the people never to give up and changed forever the way of life of people in America, Martin Luther King, about Neil Armstrong, the explorer, and about Cezar Chavez, who fought for the rights of the farmers, about Abraham Lincoln, who said that all Americans are part of a big family and about George Washington, who declared that: "America is made up of people of every kind... They are all part of you..."
Is this a book that intends to teach the reader? Yes it is. Is it patriotic? That's for sure. But it is not nationalistic. And it is well-written. Loren Long's beautiful illustrations seem to bring the words to life in their own special way, while sentiment is not at all absent from the text as it opens with the line: "Have I told you lately how wonderful you are?" and closes with the following: "And have I told you that I love you?"
I guess Barack Obama's daughters will be proud of him, while for my part I can simply say: Not bad for a politician. Maybe, if not elected, he should take writing books as a full-time job. At least that way he'll finally be able to get rid of the various lobbyists; or not...
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on 26 November 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.
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on 20 February 2011
I'm a very very big fan of President Obama but I think he should stick to writing on law and politics and world affairs; this anodyne drivel does him absolutely no justice

can he write for children? no he can't!
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on 10 January 2011
We have all become so accustomed to reading about Obama, the man himself, both biographically and autobiographically, that it is a rare thing indeed, to find him, personally, stepping outside of what could be called his more obvious comfort zone, i.e. of the political arena, and into that other comfort zone which he holds dear, i.e. his relationship with family, in this case, most specially, his daughters Malia and Sasha. The book is, indeed, dedicated to them.

The strands of this "letter", gradually draw the reader ever more closely into what his most intimate feelings are for his beloved girls; but, with a simplicity to which all who read the book can relate, but which, however, belies the intensity it is intended to project. What is more, it is this very simplicity which ensures that the reader goes back to the book from time to time, to see for oneself that we really are in tune with his innermost sentiments, although with a kind of surrealism that bears witness to the fact that we might, just, be intruding somewhat, into his private world.

I intend to purchase copies for my own 4 grandchildren, ages 4, 6, 7 and 8, as a precursor to the books that they will come across, about the Great Man, and will avidly want to read, in the future.
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on 17 November 2010
great book, just what the little people of today need and just to make a point to the first review this book was written before he got into power - grow up.
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on 15 September 2013
Such a thoughtful and beautiful book. i found this by chance when ordering some library books online so ordered this also. Then I liked it so much i bought a copy. I love the little biographies of all the people Barack Obama features in the book and the illustrations fit his words so well. Have been reading it myself and also to my one year old son who enjoys the pictures and the rhythm of the words. This book can be enjoyed by people of all ages. You are never too young or too old to open a book and feel uplifted.
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on 8 October 2011
If I had been American, I would have recommended this to all my friends as a must-buy for their kids as it heralds a range of American heroes and trail blazers, from Helen Keller to Einstein, Georgia O'Keeffe to Billie Holliday, and seeks to inspire kids' pride in their history and in being American. As it is, it will still be a wonderful gift for my own English daughter as she grows up. Not just for the beautiful prose but for the exceptional fine art illustrations. Really wonderful.
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on 20 July 2012
I bought this for my daughter when she turned four. It is truly a love letter from a parent to a child. She doesn't understand a lot of it yet but she loves it when we read it together, and it holds her attention. This is one to treasure.

I would recommend this book to any parent, regardless of their personal politics.
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on 2 July 2013
Fantastic book! Saw it first at the Peace centre in Oslo. Bought one for the school I have worked in (Primary) for their library. Children like it very much. Bought one for myself as I missed on my book shelf. Almost brings tears to your eyes. Beautifully told and illustrated.
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on 17 November 2010
A wonderful book; a small treatise on the unknown that reminds us that responsibility always precedes self awareness. The book is a beacon of light through a labyrinth of iniquity and inequity. A reminder that life is a fight against solopsism, that there are no metaphors for the systemic failures of this world and that despite such sovereign expressions everyday we continue to fight against the inertia of institutions that reward the few and abandon the many. We are not binary code in need of calculation, we are not numbers, we are human beings.
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