written by Nikki Grimes
illustrated by Bryan Collier
Simon & Schuster, 2008
Buy this book:
Son of Promise, Child of Hope
from the book:
One Sunday when Barack was sitting in church,
Barack heard God say, “Slow down,
Look around you.
Now look to me.
There is hope enough here
to last a lifetime.“
tears rolling down his cheeks.
Suddenly he knew for certain
Hope would last long enough
for him to make a difference.
They called him Barry, this son whose story stretched from Kansas to Kenya. Born of a white American mother, and a black African father, Obama’s unique origins and fascinating life experiences form a story that begs to be told. Whether it’s spearfishing with playmates in Hawaii, playing with pet gibbons in Djakarta, or journeying to Kenya to feel the embrace of his father’s family — and his own, Obama’s story is a rich one. And it is still being written. Son of Promise, Child of Hope lays out the path Obama took from student, to organizer, to Senator, to Democratic Nominee for President of the United States of America. The brilliant work of illustrator Bryan Collier is as stunning as Obama’s story itself.
Awards and Recognition
- NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work, Children’s category
How I Came to Write This Book
On December 18, 2007, I received an email from my agent. Her tone was a bit sheepish because she knew my schedule was already crazy-busy, and here she was asking me to consider one more project. I sighed heavily, and read on.
She’d forwarded an email from Justin Chanda, VP of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, asking me to consider writing a picture book biography of Barack Obama. I groaned.
How could I possibly agree to commit to one more project? I had just turned down a project from another publisher two weeks before. Still, this project was different. I decided to sleep on it.
Over the next 48 hours, I weighed the pros and cons of saying yes. The biggest “con” was the insanely short time-frame. If I was to finish the manuscript in time for the illustrator to do his work and get the book into production, I would literally have to research and write this manuscript in under three weeks. Not to mention, in order to do so I would have to drop every other project on my desk. That’s a pretty big “con.” On the pro hand, though, I would have the opportunity to introduce to young readers a rising star in American politics, one who had already made history. In the end, the pros won out.
By January 10 2008, I had signed on for the ride.
Most of my picture books take from three to six months, on average. Usually, that gives me plenty of time to try out various ways of writing the story. In the case of Son of Promise, though, I had to go with the first idea that came into my head. My only hope was that it would work! Thank God, it did.
The idea was simple: to tell Obama’s story in a cycle of poems. Okay, well maybe simple was not the right word, because I also thought it would be interesting to create a story within a story by having a mother tell the story to her son, and having them comment on Obama’s story throughout.
Why a story within a story? Wouldn’t that complicate things unnecessarily, you ask? Well, I never choose easy. You’ve read my books—you know that by now! Besides, I wanted to give the reader a young character to relate to, from beginning to end.
This was a hard book to write, I won’t kid you. I knew it would be, which is why I emailed and telephoned a few friends and told them “Start praying now!” And they did.
For starters, I knew almost nothing about Mr. Obama, so I had tons of research to do. I put myself on a reading diet of 100 pages a day. I read Dreams From My Father, and The Audacity of Hope, both by Barack Obama. I read a number of quotes, biographies, speeches and articles, some of them found online. Once I’d crammed as much information into my brain as I had time for, I began to write. Sadly, there was no opportunity to interview Mr. Obama. He was busy with his campaign, and my time-frame was severely limited.
When I started, the plan was to complete the first draft in three weeks. But a miracle happened: I finished the draft in two weeks! It was amazing.
Of course, there were rewrites. (There always are!) But once the bulk of the manuscript was done, I could breathe again.
I have to tell you, this was the most stressful project I’ve ever undertaken. By the end of it, I broke out in hives from head to toe! Mind you, I had good reason to feel overwhelmed. What exactly did the publisher have in mind, I asked myself. What if they didn’t like what I wrote? What if I didn’t get it done in time? What if, what if, what if? The questions drove me crazy.
Once the book was finally on its way to stores, my biggest question was: Would Mr. Obama like it? I sure hoped so. I put my heart into it, and so did the brilliant illustrator, Bryan Collier.
On November 4, 20008, Barack Obama became the President-Elect! The book that was the biography of a presidential candidate is now the biography of a President! How cool is that? This book is now more important than ever. I feel blessed and privileged to have had the opportunity to write Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope.
For the record, in my 32 years of writing books for children, I have never once produced one that I considered controversial. And yet, conservative political commentators and pundits have charged me with writing a biography that paints President Obama as a messiah. The charge is both laughable and distressing. Laughable because nothing could be further from the truth; distressing because the only one who sits on the throne of my heart is Jesus
Christ. He is the one and only Messiah I recognize, and absolutely no one else even qualifies for the job!
When the title of the book came to me in a flash of inspiration, it never once occurred to me that conservative reviewers and commentators would take the title and beat me over the head with it! Of course, we live in the land of free speech, so they may spew whatever they choose. For my part, I need to state that their charges are without foundation, and shame on them for suggesting otherwise. Thank God, the children who read my books have better sense.
I’m just saying.