Of Thee I Sing: Inspiring Little Girls to be Future Leaders

This election cycle, my four-year-old twins have been asking many questions about the President of the United States.  A few weeks ago, when they asked me what the President does, I said, “The President runs the country with help from lots of people.”  I asked them if they would want to be President someday,** to which one of them replied, “No, it sounds tiring.  Running is a lot of exercise!”

In the weeks since this conversation, my daughters have been learning more about the President.  Recently, we read President Obama’s children’s book (illustrated by Loren Long), Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (2010), which my children enjoyed even though they are younger than this book’s ideal age group of second to fourth graders.  I consider this book to be non-partisan because there is nothing overtly political about its message of empowerment, inspiration, and tolerance (then again, unbelievably, there are some who believe similar apolitical children’s content to be part of a diabolical political agenda).  In addition, it was a gift to my children from their paternal grandmother, who is politically conservative (but loves Michelle Obama, to whom this book is dedicated along with the illustrator’s two sons).

Through a series of questions, this book profiles thirteen historical or present-day figures, emphasizing a personality trait, skill, or lesson for each***: Georgia O’Keefe (creativity), Albert Einstein (ingenuity), Jackie Robinson (bravery), Sitting Bull (healing ability), Billie Holiday (emotive expression), Helen Keller (strength), Maya Lin (honoring others’ sacrifices), Jane Addams (kindness), Martin Luther King, Jr. (perseverance), Neil Armstrong (exploration), Cesar Chavez (inspiration), Abraham Lincoln (kinship), and George Washington (patriotism).  Many, if not all, of these figures are more complicated in real life, with both positive and negative characteristics, but the book’s simplified descriptions are appropriate for the intended age group.

The book ends with my favorite question, “Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?,” to which President Obama further asks, “Have I told you that they are all a part of you?”  My children are younger than the intended age group, but they understand this lesson, and, in time, they will appreciate this book for all of its lessons.  They will develop a deeper understanding of how their ethnically diverse background and their common history with others contribute to who they are today and who they will be tomorrow.  They will understand that they are the future of a nation made up of diverse, compassionate, courageous, and inventive people.

I love both the message of this book and its beautiful illustrations.  My four-year-olds still have only a vague understanding of what Mr. Obama does as President.  To them, he is one of their beloved children’s book authors, and his book is currently a family favorite.

*These shirts are from Sandbox Threads (I love their stuff).

** At this point, they want to be a doctor and a firefighter.  I respect our President very much, but I tend to agree with legendary author Kurt Vonnegut that “only nut cases want to be President.”

***Some of the words in parentheses do not appear in the book (such as ingenuity, emotive expression, and perseverance).  These are my attempts to condense ideas contained in a sentence or two in the book into one to three words, and the result is often a higher grade level word than what appears in the book.

15 thoughts on “Of Thee I Sing: Inspiring Little Girls to be Future Leaders

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  4. I didn’t know Obama had written such a book. I had an exhausting time of the American elections too — though why Singaporeans were so interested in the elections (read Obama’s win) is anybody’s guess.

    1. It’s a lovely book. I’m not sure why so many people in other countries were interested in the US election, but I can offer two thoughts based on my own family (living in Sri Lanka, Australia, England, and Canada). First, I think my relatives are pleased that the US has re-elected a non-white individual to run the country. Second, the US is an interventionist country with a large economy, and so there a strong potential for impacting world politics (rightly or wrongly).`

    1. It’s such a great book! I’m so glad that my mother-in-law gave it to us. I’m the type of person who usually passes over celebrity authors (too much “hype” makes me think it’s overrated), even if I otherwise like them, and so I would have been unlikely to buy it on my own.

      I do hope that you post your thoughts on it. I’d love to read it.

  5. I find the US election exhausting, and I’m not even in America! We had an election here on the 20th of October, and didn’t get a result until yesterday, so I can’t escape politics!
    Our Prime Minister (pretty close to America’s President) is a woman, and on top of all the trials of leading a country, she’s had to put up with endless, blatant sexism, attacks on her looks, her weight, her family (apparently she’s not a “decent woman” because she doesn’t have enough children).
    I couldn’t imagine what would make someone want to take on that kind of job!

    1. The US election IS exhausting! I’m looking forward to its conclusion on Tuesday. I’m always impressed when I hear how much people in other countries know about US politics when Americans know so little about the rest of the world. Most of my family on my mother’s side is abroad, including in Australia, and they seem to know more about US politics than the average American knows. I am only vaguely familiar with Australian politics, but I am aware of some of what Prime Minister Gillard has faced. Her speech describing the opposition leader as a hypocritical misogynist played extensively here last month. It was a pretty amazing speech and unlike anything we would ever see in American politics. Our politicians are restrained and simply overlook the bigotry that continues to infect our politics.

  6. What a terrific post. Appropriate for any time but especially now. When that book came out I never thought of getting it, but now I realize that it should be in the home of my grandchildren,. Those messages are universal. Thanks, AMB.

    1. Thank you! I’m pretty sure my children think that part of what a President does is write children’s books! They saw a lot about President Obama’s response to Hurricane Sandy on the news, so they understand some of that part, but they’re just a little too young to understand his role in government. I hope your grandchildren enjoy the book as much as my kids do!

    1. Thank you! My girls love to read, and my twins are at an age when they really think about the messages in books. Books like Of Thee I Sing are perfect for them even when some of the historical background included in it is a bit advanced.

  7. Love the Vonnegut quote. I also think it must be true.

    I’ve noticed one thing: When a man becomes President, he ages tremendously while in office. I’ve seen it with every one of them. Even Obama now shows lines around his eyes and mouth that weren’t there four years ago.

    1. It is amazing to see how much our Presidents age in office. The candidates seem to age even during the campaigns. A few days ago, I saw some footage of Mitt Romney from the Republican primary that resurfaced after Hurricane Sandy (the clip where he says he would cut back on FEMA), and he looked so much younger then. It was only a year ago! Otherwise, he seems to have aged well.

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