NEW YORK – Coming two weeks after Election Day, a book from President Barack Obama for some of the nation’s nonvoters: inspirational stories for children about American pioneers.
“Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters” is a tribute to 13 groundbreaking Americans, from the first president, George Washington, to baseball great Jackie Robinson to artist Georgia O’Keeffe. It will be released Nov. 16 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, which will officially announce the new work Tuesday. Knopf declined to identify the other 10 subjects.
Obama is not the first president to write for young people. Jimmy Carter’s “The Little Baby Snoogle-Fleejer” was published in 1995, more than a decade after he left office. More in line with Obama’s effort, Theodore Roosevelt collaborated with Henry Cabot Lodge on “Hero Tales from American History,” released in 1895, before Roosevelt was president.
Obama’s book is illustrated by Loren Long, whose many credits include Watty Piper’s classic “The Little Engine That Could,” Randall de Seve’s “Toy Boat” and Madonna’s “Mr. Peabody’s Apples.” Long wrote and illustrated the children’s stories “Otis” and “Drummer Boy.” His cover design for “Of Thee I Sing” is a sunny impression of presidential daughters Sasha and Malia Obama walking their dog, Bo, along a grassy field.
Random House children’s president and publisher Chip Gibson lauded the new Obama book, which is intended for readers ages 3 and up.
“It is an honor to publish this extraordinary book, which is an inspiring marriage of words and images, history and story,” Gibson said Monday in a statement. “‘Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters’ celebrates the characteristics that unite all Americans — the potential to pursue our dreams and forge our own paths.”
Obama’s 40-page book will have a first printing of 500,000 copies and a list price of $17.99. Both of Obama’s previous works, the memoir “Dreams From My Father” and the policy book “The Audacity of Hope,” are million sellers published by Crown, a division of Random House Inc.
The president will donate any author proceeds to “a scholarship fund for the children of fallen and disabled soldiers serving our nation,” the publisher said in a statement.
Obama agreed with Random House in 2004 to write a children’s book, which, according to the publisher, he completed before he became president. “Of Thee I Sing” is part of a $1.9 million, three-book deal with Random House reached in 2004, according to a disclosure report filed in 2005, when Obama was a U.S. senator from Illinois. The other two books were nonfiction.
A financial disclosure form released by the White House in May 2010 refers to an agreement — originated in 2004, amended on Jan. 9, 2009, shortly before Obama became president — for a “nonfiction work, the subject to be determined,” that would not come out while he was in office.
The children’s book and the nonfiction work are separate projects, although both are part of the three-book deal, said Obama’s literary representative, Washington attorney Robert Barnett. The other nonfiction book was “The Audacity of Hope,” released in 2006.
Neither Barnett nor the publisher would comment on the timing of the new book’s release.
Obama also had a $500,000 agreement with Random House in January 2009 for an abridged young-adult edition of “Dreams of My Father” to be “prepared and released by the publisher subject to the president’s approval,” according to the disclosure form.
Knopf spokeswoman Noreen Herits declined to say if Obama would promote his children’s book or whether it would be available in audio or digital formats, although an official with knowledge of the book said an e-edition would come out simultaneously with the print version. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the project and asked not to be identified.
The e-book is unlikely to be available on Amazon.com’s Kindle reader, the most popular e-device, which does not allow for illustrated texts. Random House does not currently sell books directly through the Apple iPad store, but in a separate announcement Monday the publisher said it had begun a partnership with the Seattle-based digital company Smashing Ideas to work on children’s books apps for electronic devices, including the iPad.
Obama’s original agreement for the children’s book includes a royalties scale for an audio books edition.
Numerous books by and about presidents are scheduled for the fall, including Carter’s White House diaries, biographies of Washington and Roosevelt and George W. Bush’s “Decision Points,” which arrives a week before “Of Thee I Sing” and will be published by Crown.