Thursday, May 21, 2009

Something new instead of something old

Today I'm going to do something slightly different: as of this moment, I'm part of a Blog Tour, which is vaguely like a book tour, only instead of an author peddling his or her wares to bookstores and media outlets, I'm part of a cadre of bloggers who are all reviewing the same book. In return, I get nothing other than a copy of the book and the satisfaction of a job well done...or something! Really, as you may have guessed, I'm in it for the free books (yay!) and the chance to keep my English professor skills sharp...ish.

Our tome for today really isn't a tome at all. It's the sleekly svelte Obama: The Historic Journey produced in conjunction with The New York Times. A generously oversized volume, this book is filled with high quality photos, including all those you might expect, like shots of the iconic, Andy Warhol-esque images of the then candidate, pictures of impressively well-attended Obama rallies, and the obligatory candidate-holding-a-baby scenes. In addition, however, the volume contains photos I'd never seen before, such as a picture of the President's 5th grade class at Punahou Elementary in Hawaii (a picture I loved because all the kids in Hawaiian wear reminded me of my own similarly attired elementary school photos) or a photo of Obama drawing a flow chart on the board while teaching a class of some sort (law? business? community organizing? it's not clear from the context) or a shot of him during a pick-up basketball game with Reggie Love. In fact, the photos are nothing if not comprehensive, down to a picture of the text message sent to someone's Blackberry announcing Obama's pick of Joe Biden for VP.

The book is divided into eight sections, with titles such as "The Path of a Politician" and "Time of Transition" (not all are alliterative, though those seem to be, don't they?). My one quibble with the book is that if the pictures are spectacular, the text is a little less so. The cover proclaims this to be the "young reader's edition," though I have yet to determine what they mean by young. One hint about the possible age range the author is trying to reach occurs at the end of the volume, in a section which includes copies of letters several Latino children between the ages of 7 and 12 wrote to the new president. (My favorite reads "Dear Barack Obama, I'm glad you're cool. Good luck. From, Juan.") However, the author appears to believe all young readers are afflicted with an inability to focus, as these already short main sections are all sub-divided into as many as four smaller sections, often consisting of as little as a page of text. In addition, the book contains catchy quotations from the President printed in huge block letters on arresting red and blue backgrounds. These red and blue boxes also contain definitions of terms like "delegate" or simplified lists of Obama's and McCain's positions on various issues. Indeed, the volume does seem to be making a special effort to explain as much as possible via maps (of electoral votes) or detailed captions for most photographs, perhaps a nod to those "young" readers. For example, the section entitled "A Skinny Kid with a Funny Name" includes a picture pedigree chart visually explaining Obama's somewhat complicated genealogical as well as geographical past. And the overall bildungsroman structure does lend itself to younger readers familiar with the narrative arc running from birth to fame (although more often that fame takes the form of super hero status or princesshood).

I did appreciate the, for lack of a better term, trivial information the book provided, such as Obama's favorite books (though, really, Moby Dick??), his shoe size (11), and his favorite television shows (Sportscenter, unsurprisingly, and The Wire, proving his street cred, I suppose). However, the sidebar on Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin in the section on "The Primary Race" seemed out of place, particularly since there was no mention of Fred Armisen's (admittedly much less entertaining) portrayal of Obama himself, and the sub-section entitled "Inside the Times," which detailed the writing of the cover story on the Obama victory at The New York Times, seemed a bit gratuitous but perhaps understandable given the Times' involvement in this publication.

If I were interested in a memento of this historical campaign and election, I think I might skip the young reader's edition and head straight for the adult version instead. I'm sure it contains all the same photos, more than likely even more, and you could use those to tell this story to your children in language that you can be sure they'll understand and appreciate, at whatever level that might be. That being said, the young reader's edition of Obama: The Historic Journey is now a welcome addition to my growing collection of children's books my son and I will share one day (as soon as he learns to stop tearing out the pages). If you don't have a youngester more interested in destruction than instruction, you can get your copy here or here.

No comments: