Obama’s ‘Of Thee I Sing’ children’s book: An ode to diversity — and Sitting Bull, Jane Addams and Cesar Chavez

Caroline May | Reporter

As Santa loads his sleigh with Black Friday and Cyber Monday loot, it’s likely weighed down with copies of Barack Obama’s latest literary effort: “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters.” Thousands of children will awaken to find the children’s book beside the Christmas tree … or menorah … or Kwanzaa candles … or winter solstice log.

Big and colorful, the president’s new book is visually much different from his previous two, “Dreams from My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” but it’s selling as briskly as the autobiographies did. Random House has announced that “Of Thee I Sing” sold 50,000 copies in its first five days in stores, making it the fastest-selling picture book in the company’s history. The book currently occupies the number four slot on Amazon.com’s list of best-selling children’s books.

So what does Obama wants to tell America’s children via an open letter to his offspring? Sweeping platitudes and feel-good tropes: America is a diverse place, everyone has something special to offer, children are the future. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

With the help of illustrator Loren Long, who also did the pictures for Madonna’s children’s book “Mr. Peabody’s Apples,” Obama makes his point by highlighting the work of “13 groundbreaking American that have shaped our nation.” The figures Obama has chosen fit well with his vision of a highly multicultural society — of the 13, only four are white men (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Neil Armstrong).

“Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind?” Obama writes. “People of all races, religions and beliefs … People who have made bright lights shine by sharing their unique gifts and giving us the courage to lift one another up, to keep up the fight, to work and build upon all that is good in our nation.”

What has caused controversy are some are the figures Obama chose to honor. Specifically Sitting Bull, who Fox Nation noted defeated U.S. General George Custer at Little Bighorn, a battle commonly known as Custer’s last stand — a contention others have argued is overly sensitive.

Among those Obama praises are: Cesar Chavez for his ability to inspire, Georgia O’Keeffe for her creativity, Martin Luther King for his strength, and Maya Lin for her reverence.

While “Of Thee I Sing” might be the shortest book to be written by a 2012 presidential candidate, it nonetheless shows the values this president holds dear, at the top of that list: diversity.

Obama reportedly wrote the book prior to entering office and the proceeds from book sales will be going to a scholarship fund for the children of fallen soldiers.

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