Thursday, January 22, 2009

Review: Michelle Obama - Meet the First Lady

Just in time for the inauguration festivities, several publishers released biographies of President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle for young readers. While there is not much new information about our charismatic First Lady, author David Bergen Brophy has written a credible and easy to understand account for readers aged 8-12.

The overarching story of Michelle Robinson Obama's life is that if you work hard, study hard, keep your family together, and think about someone other than yourself, the United States is still what most of us like to think it is, a place where anyone who works at it can make a good life for themselves and their family.

In this way, Michele Obama's story is a reassuring reminder to all of us that success is not so much luck as hard work. For children of color, her story and that of her husband's serve as beacons to the value of a good education and hard work. In our pop celebrity-filled world, kids can be forgiven for thinking that there are shortcuts to success.

Author Brophy makes it clear in this telling of Michelle Obama's story that her success would not have been possible without hard work and a good education. But beyond that, it is the passion that she shares with her husband about living outside your own desires to help those who need our help that clearly sets her apart from most of today's celebrities. Yes, she is beautiful and stylish and charismatic. But she is also a devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister. She gathers her strength from her family and her conviction that we must all look outside ourselves to help and to speak for those who need us.

I hope that the Obamas' call to public and social service will change our country once again, reminding all of us that we who are so blessed have an obligation to share ourselves with those who need our help. As Michelle said in her speech at the Denver Democratic Convention:

"I believe that all of us - no matter what our age and background or walk of life - each of us has something to contribute to the life of this nation."

This is an extraordinary time in our country's history and as we saw this week during the Inauguration ceremonies, there is more that unites us than divides us as Americans, and that is what we should focus on.

Another review of this book can be found here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Review: Coretta Scott

There is so much about this book to like. With poetry by Ntozake Shange and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, this mini biography of Coretta Scott King is direct, simple, and inspirational.

Kadir Nelson's paintings are absolutely luminous. Full of light and emotion, the faces in particular tell a deep and moving story of the life journey of these characters. I was fortunate enough to hear Kadir speak about his work several years ago at a conference and learned that for much of his work, he paints life-size portraits. The figures in his books are always so impactful that there must be some magic in this method because his paintings are always so evocative.

Ntozake Shange's poetry does not disappoint. Deceptively, simple, there are layers of meaning in her carefully crafted words. The book's organization is in short vignettes that capture the various stages of Coretta's life. You can feel the pain and the hope of Coretta and her siblings as they walk the five miles to school each day with the dust of the white children's bus in their faces. Each verse is wonderful in its own way. This is one of my favorites:

over years
learning and freedom
took hold of Coretta's soul
til she knew in her being
that the Good Lord intended freedom
for the Negro.

At the end of the book there is a factual biography of Coretta's life that honors Coretta for the work that she did with her husband, Martin Luther King, and on her own after his death.

This book is a wonderful introduction to one of the great American stories of the 20th century.