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14:14 PB ELEMENT Blog Review: CHARACTER – Looking at Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama

February 27, 2014

OfTheeISingCover(My post #14 of the 14:14 Picture Book Review Blog challenge, conducted by Christie Wild, February 14-28, 2014.)

Title:  of THEE I SING,  A Letter to My Daughters
Author: Barak Obama
Illustrator: Loren Long
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Year: 2010
Words: 1,572

Until I found it on the shelf, I was not aware of President Obama’s book of THEE I SING, and found inside a delightful and affirming message to his daughters.  As a dad of two girls, I appreciated this lyrical expression of inspiration.  There are several picture book elements that are present here, with character being one (again, as in yesterday’s post the second-person point-of-view); theme (the premise that there are talents, strengths, and skills embedded in our nature); word play (the lyrical language which mimics song with phrase repetition); and pacing (including page-turn anticipation of each re-worded key question).

The balance among these story elements is well done, but if I had to choose a main element from those I’ve listed, it would be character.

First, the second-person point of view is well-executed. Mr. Obama writes the story as a letter to his daughters, with a key question throughout:  “Have I told you…?”

Second, the question isn’t really a question…it’s an affirmation of qualities he sees in his daughters.   Each time he asks his daughters “Have I told you…” the question-affirmation is rephrased, but the added element of reflection in other characters’ lives helps to affirm the qualities stated:

  • “Have I told you…that you are creative?”  The story of artist Georgia O’Keefe is pictured, who “helped us see big beauty in what is small.”
  • “…that you are smart?”  Albert Einstein is featured, who “turned pictures in his mind into giant advances in science…”
  • “…that you are brave?”  Jackie Robinson swings on the facing page, who “showed us all how to turn fear to respect and respect to love.”

In each instance, the recognition of these ‘common’ traits are reflected in the famous Americans who, relying on the strengths embedded in them, made great changes and did great things.  This reflection is what I see as the best use of the element of character in this beautiful, inspiring book.

In which of your stories has the main character (whether by first-, second-, or third-person point-of-view) been validated, affirmed, or defined by reflections of other secondary characters?  This is a technique that I think is especially effective here, and can be quite powerful in the stories we write.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2014 6:46 pm

    I had no idea that President Obama had written a children’s book. It sounds like a wonderful expression of a father’s love for his children. And it cleverly imparts the message that you (the child) can grow up to be anything that you wish to be. Nice post!

  2. ceciliaaclark permalink
    March 2, 2014 6:18 am

    You always make the books you review seem irresistible.

  3. May 29, 2014 6:01 am

    Thank you for bringing Mr. Obama’s book to life here, Damon…well done! I wasn’t aware that he’d written a book for his daughters. Beautifully, too! :)

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