This is an easy book to review without reading all of it. It consists of just over 120 pages of letters to President Obama by children of a wide range of ages, some short, some long, with a scattering of drawings. It is a book to dip into. And it’s well worth dipping. Jory John, the Editor and progenitor of this book, runs a non-profit writing and tutoring centre at 826 Valencia Street, San Francisco. School students go to the centre to do their homework and creative writing. When there was a spontaneous mass demonstration of delight in the neighbourhood at the election of President Obama, Jory asked the students to write letters for the President. The response was so good that he contacted similar centres in seven other cities; their response was swift, and the book is the result.
One’s first response is to have a chuckle at some of the naivety (“The best thing about living in the White House would be running round like a maniac”, Holly Wong) and the questions which the children pose. (“You should give me money because we don’t have money”, Jesenia Reza.) But this is soon overtaken by a range of other feelings – admiration for some of the wisdom expressed by very young children, and by the acuity shown in pinpointing issues. (The boy who spotted that the emperor had no clothes, and said so, was their model.)
Finally I was left with a sense of hope. It is one of the three great things for humankind. However awful the past, we always manage to hope that things will get better. President Obama’s election personified hope for millions of Americans and these children have picked up the idea that things can improve.
Hope does of course breed expectations (“You are the coolest president in the world…”, Javier Morales) and the burden to deliver is a massive one for President Obama to carry. (See Giorgia Peckman’s insightful letter on p.121.)
Before this review becomes political or too heavy, let me just say that this is an enjoyable and stimulating read, and we recommend it.
Proceeds from sales will go to support 826 National, a non-profit organisation which promotes literacy among students aged six to eighteen throughout the USA. For more information, contact www.826national.org.
John, Jory (2009) Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country
McSweeney’s Books, San Francisco