The president’s children’s book and a poet’s cookbook

. May 22, 2012.

Two books this month, both by established, even famed authors, but both written in genres that are not their main claim to fame.

President Barack Obama has two previous books to his name. One of them, a memoir called Dreams From My Father, was published in 1995, before he ever ran for public office. He wrote his second book, The Audacity of Hope, Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, after he was elected to the Senate in 2004. I reviewed both those books in these pages in the fall of 2008, before he was elected, and wrote, “If Obama’s bid for the presidency succeeds, he will likely be too busy for the next four—or eight—years to write more books.” Turns out I was wrong. The President has found time to write “Of Thee I Sing – A Letter to My Daughters.” This is a children’s book and, like all really good books in that genre, has much to recommend it for all ages. Consisting of brief biographies of thirteen famous Americans, the President has chosen to highlight one trait in each of them that he sees, and wants to nurture, in his daughters, and in all children. From creative Georgia O’Keeffe, smart Albert Einstein, to kind Jane Addams and concluding with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, the President writes poetically of their contributions and sacrifices. Our first president already has the title, “Father of Our Country”, but our current one can rightfully claim the title, “Father Figure of Our Country.” And Loren Long’s thoroughly charming and heartwarming illustrations of children imitating these great Americans are the perfect complement to the President’s inspiring words.

Maya Angelou has long been known in the world of letters for her poetry and memoirs, especially for, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Now there’s her cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long—Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart. Actually, this is her second cookbook, which makes clear that her prolific creativity is not confined to the writing desk, but also extends to the kitchen counter. Despite the title, Angelou is not advocating overeating. In fact she writes of overcoming her own weight and health issues by learning to eat smaller portions more frequently. She’s also aware that, “Some people buy cookbooks just to read, with no intention of trying the recipes. Only a few readers buy cookbooks to really cook the recipes.” So, her book is for both those types of readers.

I confess, I started out in that first category. I never read, and rarely use cookbooks. But a cookbook by Maya Angelou? I had to crack it. And found myself absorbed in her masterful poetry, delightful stories, and her delectable recipes, ranging from the familiar roasted chicken, to the more exotic chicken tetrazzini and broccoli piquant. I surprised my family with a delicious black bean soup, and made succotash for the first time in my life. Maybe, with Angelou’s help, I’ll even get over an aversion I share with her. “I thought that eggplant was a waste not only of the chef’s time, but even wondered if the Creator could not have used the time to better results.”

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