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.