回复: Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters|
'Have I told you that you are a healer?': the Sitting Bull spread from Barack Obama's picture book, Of Thee I Sing, illustrated by Loren Long.
When I was asked to review this book, I must admit to a slight feeling of dread. I'm a great admirer of Barack Obama, both for what he has achieved and what he's trying to achieve. But part of me was thinking: Oh, no, not another "celebrity" children's book, another example of a famous person thinking it's easy to write a kid's book – and even easier to write the text of a picture book.
I needn't have worried. Although the poetic language is perhaps trying a little too hard and the text is sometimes too heavy with message, it's a worthwhile book that stands up in its own right. A tribute to 13 innovative Americans, from Georgia O'Keeffe to George Washington, it suggests that all the characteristics of these heroes are present in every child (or at least every American child). This message is a familiar one to me, for whenever I speak to young children I always ask them: "Can you draw?" or: "Can you make up stories?" The answer is always yes. I tell them that when I was their age I didn't draw or write any better than they do; the only difference between me and most adults is that I didn't stop drawing or making up stories as I got older. Most children do.
My other concern about reviewing this book was that it wouldn't be a true picture book, but just text with pictures added, where the images merely illustrated the words. Again, my concerns were groundless; the illustrator Loren Long has helped to make it a real picture book where the pictures sometimes tell us more than the words. The acrylic paintings are in a semi-realistic style and range from an almost photographic portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr with a faint suggestion of a halo to a Dalíesque paranoiac -critical method approach to Sitting Bull, where the ambiguous image can be interpreted as a landscape with animals or the face of Custer's great adversary.
Each portrait faces a question in the text. "Have I told you that you are creative?" shows Obama's daughters looking at a girl holding brushes and a palette, who in turn is looking across the page at herself in the future as Georgia O'Keeffe. This image of the painter at work expressively captures the feeling of her artwork, without being merely a pastiche.
"Have I told you that you are smart?" shows Obama's daughters again, together with the girl with brushes and palette, looking at a boy holding a pencil and looking across at the mature Albert Einstein. He is dramatically shown on a hill against a starry sky, holding a pencil and notepad, the pages of which are floating away across the rooftops.
"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."
As the book develops, we see all these children linking together, exchanging brushes, palette, pencil, baseball bat, book and set-square as they congregate in one enormous family, which now includes children not featured before: "Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?" How I wish he'd written that the world is made up of people of every kind.
The last page shows the president walking into the distance holding the hands of his children:
"Have I told you that they are all part of you?
Have I told you that you are one of them,
And that you are the future?
And have I told you that I love you?"
This beautiful illustration reinforces the theme by showing their shadows as being joined together – as if they are one being.