Barack Obama Child of Promise Child of Hope

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
illus­trat­ed by Bryan Col­lier
Simon & Schus­ter, 2008

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Barack Obama

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.“
Barack smiled,
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.

Mes­si­ah? Puleeze!

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.

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