Archive for May, 2009

Book Review Meets Real Life: Obama: The Historic Journey

Recently, when a friend mentioned she was going on a trip, our three-year-old replied nonchalantly, “Oh, are you going to meet The President?”  In her toddler world, it is normal for people to travel to meet The President.  As in, THE President.  Of the United States.  “I’m going to meet Barack Obama someday,” she says casually.

Well, why not?  Her own daddy had the great honor of meeting President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama on the President’s 99th day in office a few weeks ago.   And, for my first-ever photo on this wordy blog, here is the proof, Alex (left),with Michelle and Barack Obama, and Tony Mullen, the 2009 National Teacher of the Year (Alex made the top 4 finalist round and still serves as 2009 California Teacher of the Year).

Alex meets the Obamas

So, when MotherTalk called for bloggers to review Obama: The Historic Journey, a New York Times book for young readers, it seemed only fitting that I review it, given my new two degrees of separation and all.  Before I share my thoughts on the book, though, I’ll tell you Alex’s thoughts on the Obamas: genuine, down-to-earth, friendly, affectionate, like regular folks that we might be friends with.  Nice to hear.  (And my brother, who got my ticket to the Rose Garden, as I was back West with the newborn and toddler, said the same.)

And now for the book.  Here are my second, third and fourth photos ever posted on this wordy blog (yes, I am a bit technologically challenged!) because, truly, what is best about this book is the stunning collection of photographs of Obama’s journey.

Obama Book

Obama_1_SmallObama_4_Small

Flipping through this glossy hardcover the day it arrived in the mail, both Alex and I were moved to near tears — the photography is simply world-class, capturing behind-the-scenes moments with emotion and a gut-punch clarity.  For the photos alone, this book is a keeper that will remain on my shelf through many a declutter purge, for sure.

The book editor in me has some quibbles with the text, which I think is fine, but misses its potential to be great.  It reads like a typical middle-grade textbook (I used to work for an educational publisher as an associate editor of middle grade textbooks and workbooks) — although I also found some of the terms used, yet left undefined, a bit off for the target age range (8-12).  However, it is not a textbook but a 95-page coffee table book, so it also reads as incomplete and a bit rough (rushed, perhaps?) at times.

I must say that, coming from the New York Times, there was a missed opportunity to make the text more thematically interesting than it is.  One chapter focuses on the behind-the-scenes decision-making on headlines and front-page stories at the NYT for the day after the historic election — I loved this (I’m also a former print journalist) and it’s something nobody else could write (as opposed to a basic summary of Obama’s parents, for example).  Couldn’t they have framed the whole book around how the newspaper got and presented all of these stories on Obama’s past and present?  Or used and showed different NYT headlines from the campaign? Might have made it a bit more unique and compelling for young readers.  When reading Amazon reviews of the adult version of this book, it seems more centered on the journalism as a theme — why don’t the kids get this, too?

The book does a good job of touching on many aspects of Obama’s background (much taken directly from his first book, Dreams From My Father, a great must-read, BTW!) and issues in the election, which I’m not sure all of the other Obama books do. But it also leaves some big questions hanging that a teacher or homeschooling parent must be prepared to answer (or help a student research) if actually using this book as a teaching tool.  (That can be good — I can imagine using it in homeschooling one day to spark further explanations and conversations about politics and Obama himself.)  It has some good reference visuals, too, such as the electoral votes map and McCain/Obama issues stances in columns.

In sum: Obama: The Historic Journey is a nice summary of the Obama 101 basics for young readers, though I wish there was more of a NYT stamp on it thematically, and the book’s photographs get an A+.  I could look at them over and over (and have).  Worth having on the shelf.

In closing: It’s particularly worth having these Obama images in our house, where we have this book placed next to Alex’s photo with the Obamas to remind us of this moment when our paths crossed the President’s. We still pinch ourselves when we think about Alex’s day in the Rose Garden with Obama, who makes us pinch ourselves constantly that our country has made this call for much-needed change.  Amen.

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May 31, 2009 at 4:28 am 1 comment

Once In a Lifetime

It’s been a blur of “once in a lifetime” moments around here these days, specifically for my husband, Alex, in the context of being named California Teacher of the Year. But he has been most generous in sharing these moments with as many people as possible.

Last night, Alex gave my dad a once-in-a-lifetime moment when he brought Dad out on the field at the San Diego Padres game to catch the ceremonial first pitch Alex threw. My dad was a catcher in his younger days, recruited by the then-Milwaukee Braves, but he chose instead to pursue the surer path of getting a higher education and having a family. What beautiful full circle it was last night for him to catch his first major league pitch, from his teacher son-in-law, on “education night” at the ballpark.

Last week, Alex met the Obamas at the White House (more on this soon!) and hung out at the Bidens’ house on Mass Ave (my old undergrad address) in Washington, D.C.  He gave my brother and his cousin a great memory, too, when he brought them along to meet the Prez (I stayed back West with the little ones) — also giving my brother a great story to share with my nephews for years to come.

But, my favorite “once in a lifetime” gesture of Alex these days may just be that he made the choice to pass up a 10-day educational trip to Japan this summer so he could be home with me and the kids.  He said, “I’ve had a crazy year of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and this trip could be another one. But I believe that it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend my time with my three-month-old, my three-year-old, and my wife, so I will not be taking the trip.”

And, with that, I believe we are back to the heart of Having Enough.

May 17, 2009 at 6:28 am 1 comment


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Megan Pincus Kajitani: Writer, Editor, Former Academic Overachiever and Career Counselor, Mom, Wife, Feminist, Gen Xer, Californian who believes that change is possible View Megan Pincus Kajitani's profile on LinkedIn

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