Sprinkles reviews children’s books about Barack Obama

As the United States is approaching another presidential election, Sprinkles thought that it could be a good idea to review children’s books about a recent president: President Barack Obama. Here Sprinkles shares her candid opinions on five books about him, with the goal of informing parents of young bunnies. Perhaps other young bunnies (and their parents too) will find one or more of these books worth the read to learn from and get inspired by.

Sprinkles writes about Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O'Brien, President Barack Obama by A.D. Largie and Sabrina Pichardo, Barack Obama by Stephen Krensky, Barack Obama by Caroline Crosson Gilpin, and Barack Obama: Out of Many, One by Shana Corey and James Bernardin.
Sprinkles writes about Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O’Brien, President Barack Obama by A.D. Largie and Sabrina Pichardo, Barack Obama by Stephen Krensky, Barack Obama by Caroline Crosson Gilpin, and Barack Obama: Out of Many, One by Shana Corey and James Bernardin.

School-age bunnies often need to find people to write about for school reports. Most of the books I review in this post found their way to the book bunnies household as the younger bunnies were writing reports about their personal heroes, about well-known world leaders, and about past presidents. And occasionally young readers get their paws on books about inspiring people and just read them on their own. The five books I review in this post are all suitable for both kinds of reading goals. If your little one is curious about president Barack Obama, just keep reading to see which of these five books might be the right one for them!

In what follows I organize and present my thoughts in the order of reader level. By that I mean that the youngest bunnies will likely find it easier to read the books I mention first, and the older ones, those that are more independent readers and those that can handle more challenging sentences, might get more details and all around just more out of the books that come up later.

In this photo, Sprinkles organized the books in this review in the order of reader level: President Barack Obama by A.D. Largie and Sabrina Pichardo, Barack Obama by Caroline Crosson Gilpin, Barack Obama: Out of Many, One by Shana Corey and James Bernardin, Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O'Brien, and Barack Obama by Stephen Krensky.
In this photo, Sprinkles organized the books in this review in the order of reader level: President Barack Obama by A.D. Largie and Sabrina Pichardo, Barack Obama by Caroline Crosson Gilpin, Barack Obama: Out of Many, One by Shana Corey and James Bernardin, Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O’Brien, and Barack Obama by Stephen Krensky.

The first book I will describe for this review is President Barack Obama, written by A. D. Largie and illustrated by Sabrina Pichardo. A slim and mid-size paperback, this book is aimed at younger readers. It can be read out loud, as there is some basic rhyme built into the text on each page. I wished that some of this rhyming was made more visible by formatting of the text or by punctuation. For example the text “Barack Obama proved that you can can (sic) do anything that you believe as long as you hope for the best and focus you can achieve.” would be easier to read if it were written more visibly in two lines and / or with more punctuation:

Barack Obama proved that you can do anything that you believe,
As long as you hope for the best and focus, you can achieve.

Still, a parent used to reading books out loud for their little ones will probably figure out the rhythm soon enough.

There was also a small factual error in the book. Obama was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996, and to the United States Senate in 2004. But again it is not a big enough deal; a parent can easily correct it while reading.

Despite these two minor issues, I would say that this can be a good book to teach young ones about President Obama. A part of a “Boys Grow Up To Be Heroes” book series, the book emphasizes that Obama was teased for his name when he was young but he persevered; he worked hard on his classes and on building community; and he wanted to bring people of many differences together. And after all that, he was the first black president! This can certainly be an inspiring read.

Next, I will describe Caroline Crosson Gilpin’s Barack Obama, published by National Geographic Kids. Rated Level 2 by the publisher, the book is meant for transitional readers who are getting comfortable reading on their own. The font size is large and the pictures are colorful. After a brief introduction starting on January 20, 2009, the day of the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, most of the rest of the book is organized chronologically, and ends the story with a quote from Obama himself:

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

President Barack Obama

The book ends with a seven-question quiz, and a one-page glossary describing terms like “civil rights lawyer”, “community organizer”, and “multiracial”. All in all, this is a good book, telling the story with just enough details, and besides the facts, you also get a little dose of the inspiration that Obama’s presidency offered for many.

Barack Obama: Out of Many, One, written by Shana Corey and illustrated by James Bernardin, is also aimed toward the same level of readers, I believe. The book’s publisher Random House ranks it “Step 3: Reading on Your Own” and this is still written for the young reader, who is not yet quite ready for the chapter book. President Obama’s story is told in simple and clear language, from the beginning up to the time of writing of the book, during Obama’s second term. We start with:

We all have stories–each and every one of us. This is one of those stories. It is the story of a skinny little boy with a funny name and how he became part of America’s history.

and end along similar lines:

But the story is not complete. In fact it’s just started. Where does your story fit in the American story? You could help your neighbor or your school. You could even grow up to be president! Anything is possible–what happens next is up to you!

The illustrations are appealingly hand-drawn, and are peppered with actual photographic images. My favorite was the last one, right under the words I quoted above, where President Obama is looking at some school kids through a ginormous magnifying glass. And luckily due to copyright laws that say “a work of the U.S. federal government” will be on public domain, I can insert it right here:

United States President Barack Obama visits a pre-kindergarten classroom at the College Heights Early Childhood Learning Center in Decatur, Georgia on 14 February 2013. Source Wikimedia via White House, accessed at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_through_a_magnifying_glass.jpg on September 19, 2020.

Next I will share my thoughts on Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O’Brien. This book is clearly directed towards readers who are comfortable with chapter books, as it is one, and at over one hundred pages, it is actually quite an informative read. Its twelve chapters tell a chronological story, with a great many details, including a description of the Democratic nomination process and the competition between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton at the time before the 2008 presidential elections. The author seems to trust that her reader can handle both details and large-picture connections; I always appreciate authors who respect their readers! The book ends with two timelines, one for Obama’s life and the other noting some world events relevant to the narrative of the book.

I believe that this would make an excellent choice for the young reader who is curious to learn about President Obama. Illustrated in simple black and white sketches by John O’Brien, the book tells the story of one of the most inspiring political figures of our times, and situates his story within the wider American context.

The last book I will describe in this review is Stephen Krensky’s Barack Obama. This book also targets a similar audience but perhaps expects a little bit more from the reader. The font size is much smaller, the sentences are a little bit more complex, and the book overall has more the flavor of a historical biography than that of a children’s book. This is not particularly a disadvantage, however, and should definitely not deter any young reader wishing to learn more about the first black president of the United States. The details and the historical conextualization that were strengths for the previous book are also a strength for this one, and the photographic images add a lot to the book’s appeal.

The longest of the books reviewed in this blog post, at 125 pages, Krensky’s Barack Obama is a good text for those young bunnies writing reports or essays about the president, and it can be a good resource for learning more about his life and accomplishments. (Among other things, it contains a neat timeline and several references for further reading and study.) However, it does end on the inauguration day of 2009, and we do not learn much about his accomplishments as the forty-fourth president of the United States. Still, I would recommend it for those bunnies looking to learn more.

Sprinkles thinks that if you or your little ones want to learn about President Barack Obama, there are a lot of great resources out there!
Sprinkles thinks that if you or your little ones want to learn about President Barack Obama, there are a lot of great resources out there!

But perhaps those same young bunnies are up to learn even more about this man? Then I’d urge them and their parents to consider diving into one of Obama’s own books. Many parents will likely think Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope might be too political (or politically motivated) for their young ones, but his first book, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, written in 1995, tells this man’s tale up to that time in lyrical but not overly dramatic language. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story, and it is perhaps uniquely American. Obama tries in it to open up, understand (for himself–and to our benefit), and come to terms with his own multicultural multiracial heritage. It can be a challenging read for preteens, but for tweens and teenagers, it is bound to be inspiring. And I’d say, it can be especially so, knowing that this young man narrating his own story would become the forty-fourth president of the United States in a little less than fifteen years from the end of the book.

After spending all this time reading about books about president Barack Obama written for younger audiences, Sprinkles proposes that you also consider Obama's own book Dreams From My Father as a possible next step.
After spending all this time reading about books about president Barack Obama written for younger audiences, Sprinkles proposes that you also consider Obama’s own book Dreams From My Father as a possible next step.

Sprinkles reviews Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians by Shelly M. Jones

Sprinkles reviews Shelly M. Jones’ book Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians (illustrated by Veronica Martins).

Sprinkles got her paws on Dr. Shelly M. Jones’ book Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians (illustrated by Veronica Martins) recently and enjoyed it so much that she wanted to review it here. Below is her review. Enjoy!

Sprinkles reviews Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians, written by Shelly M. Jones and illustrated by Veronica Martins.
Sprinkles reviews Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians, written by Shelly M. Jones and illustrated by Veronica Martins.

There have been several books and films about African American women mathematicians and their contributions recently, following the release of the amazing 2016 movie Hidden Figures. A well-rounded collection of books, toys, and posters celebrating Katherine Johnson is reviewed at the A Mighty Girl blog. I have mentioned a couple of related books here myself at the end of my review of children’s books about Ada Lovelace. But the book I am going to tell you about today is a quite different type of book. And I believe any parent wanting to encourage their young ones to find joy in mathematics and learn about possibilities of a wide range of futures in STEM might appreciate this book.

The book introduces through brief biographical essays and clean illustrations a selection of 29 African American women who have found their career paths through mathematics. Among them are mathematicians, atmospheric scientists, computer engineers, and education researchers. In four sections, the book introduces the first three African American women with mathematics PhDs, nine pioneering mathematicians who led the way for many others along the path to a mathematical career, four of the women making up the six hidden figures in the eponymous 2016 book by Margot Lee Shetterly, and finally thirteen contemporary mathematicians who bring us to today.

Sprinkles is reading the pages about Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville, the second African American woman to earn a PhD in mathematics.
Sprinkles is reading the pages about Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville, the second African American woman to earn a PhD in mathematics.

Dr. Shelly Jones writes in her introduction:

“I am proud to have the opportunity to share the stories of these 29 extraordinary women so that [you] can benefit from learning about a variety of occupational fields related to mathematics. … You may use this book as a springboard into the world of mathematics. Have you ever heard of a magic square, a tessellation, or sudoku? … There is something for everyone in this book.”

Indeed the book is chock-full of fun activities that will engage young ones (aiming for both elementary and middle school kids here). There are coloring pages, there are puzzles and mazes, and there are learning activities about a range of mathematical topics which are typically not a part of a school curriculum but will be accessible to and entertaining for young people.

Sprinkles is pointing towards the page where Dr. Erica Walker, a professor of mathematics education at Teachers College, Columbia University, is introduced. The page is accompanied by another where readers are invited to play with colors and symmetry.

But of course this is not just a standard math-is-fun activity book. The author adds in her introduction:

“Have fun doing the activities, but don’t forget to read and learn about these wonderful women who happen to love mathematics!”

And that is what makes this book special. The stories of these women are inspirational and inviting. The reader is invited to think about mathematics as an exciting career path, or, perhaps more accurately, as a gateway to many different exciting career paths. In particular, seeing the illustrations of these women (and photos of the contemporary ones) might help all children see mathematics as a real possibility for themselves and their friends. As Dr. Reagan Higgins, one of the women portrayed in this book writes:

“It is important we show children who and what they can be.”

Children early on start to digest the prevalent societal message that mathematics (and more generally STEM) is for men. Furthermore, standard curricula and mainstream depictions of STEM do not offer young children of color many role models in STEM that they can identify with. This book is a neat addition to kid-friendly content created by people trying to change this status quo.

The activities are not “girly” in particular; boys and girls alike can enjoy them. And it is good for both boys and girls, of any background, to be exposed to examples of mathematicians and mathematical scientists who do not fit stereotypes and societal assumptions of who can do math. I would strongly recommend Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians, written by Shelly M. Jones and illustrated by Veronica Martins. to any parent interested in encouraging their young ones to engage with the ideas and people of mathematics.

The book started as a Kickstarter project and is currently published by the American Mathematical Society.

Sprinkles enthusiastically recommends Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians, written by Shelly M. Jones and illustrated by Veronica Martins.
Sprinkles enthusiastically recommends Women Who Count: Honoring African American Women Mathematicians, written by Shelly M. Jones and illustrated by Veronica Martins.

Sprinkles reviews children’s books on Ada Lovelace

Sprinkles reviews children’s books about Ada Lovelace and suggests a few other books on women in STEM.

Ever since the launch of the Book Bunnies blog, Sprinkles has been thinking about what she should post here as her first review. Finally she decided to share a review she had written about several books on Ada Lovelace for a different outlet. Below is a revised version of what first appeared as “Reading About Ada: Children’s Edition” in the Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter (Volume 49 Number 1 (January-February 2019), pages 9-13). This is long and will be the only post for July 2019; the book bunnies will be back with new reviews in August 2019.

A black-and-white woodcut-style portrait of Ada Lovelace, based on the nineteenth century A. E. Chaton portrait, created by Colin Adams for the Ada Initiative.
A black-and-white woodcut-style portrait of Ada Lovelace, based on the nineteenth century A. E. Chaton portrait, created by Colin Adams for the Ada Initiative , Creative Commons licensed Public Domain image available at
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ada_Lovelace.svg

We’re living at a time of many opportunities for people who can code. Today children of privilege begin playing with computers as toddlers. Attempts at leveling the playing field can involve coding camps as well as more traditional STEM-focused enrichment activities. Yet the computer science and engineering workforce remains heavily male-dominated. So proponents of women in STEM grasp at any loose end they can find to help alleviate the dearth of female role models. This is why we’re seeing book after book written about Ada, the first woman who wrote a computer program. And she is not only the first woman who did that, but actually the first person ever. A neat win for the Girls Team!

I completely empathize with this desire to share Ada’s story with younger people. And more generally I’m always on the lookout for books that can open up worlds of opportunity for girls of all ages. Hence I appreciated the opportunity to review several recent books on Ada written for the under-ten age group. The first three books I read belong to special series of books intended to encourage children to learn more about scientists and innovators and their contributions:

Ada Lovelace by Virginia Loh-Hagan (my itty-bitty bio) (illustrated by Jeff Bane)

Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms by Ellen Labrecque (Women Innovators: 21st Century Junior Library)

Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace by Valerie Bodden (STEM trailblazer BIOS)

Sprinkles writes about Ada Lovelace by Virginia Loh-Hagan, Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms by Ellen Labrecque, and Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace by Valerie Bodden.
Sprinkles writes about Ada Lovelace by Virginia Loh-Hagan, Ada Lovelace and Computer Algorithms by Ellen Labrecque, and Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace by Valerie Bodden.

Loh-Hagan’s book is for the youngest in the crowd. The book is narrated through Ada’s perspective and the plain Ada illustration on the cover appears throughout; there is also a range of images from Ada’s life. Though reading a sentence such as “I died in 1852” feels weird, the open-ended questions throughout try to connect the child reading the book (or being read to) to Ada’s story. Though the story is much simplified, perhaps to the extent of not being com- pletely accurate (Ada Lovelace didn’t “invent” the first computer program, she “wrote” it, and Charles Babbage didn’t “invent the computer” as his work didn’t connect with the actual historical development of computers), it is told in an age- appropriate way to inspire and intrigue.

Labrecque’s book presents itself in a similar vein. Printed in a very large font, it could be read out loud with a new reader, and the occasional prompts to the reader sprinkled throughout can make this reading session more fun and engaging. This book goes into more detail about Ada and her contributions, and the reader is offered a clearer idea of what her life’s work was about. Several color photos and images accompany the text and enrich the reading experience. A few follow-up resources and activities are suggested, and I could see an enthusiastic parent or summer camp instructor turning the book into a cool afternoon full of learning and fun.

At 28+ pages Bodden’s is a book one could (or should!) find in any school library. This hardcover chapter book would be a neat resource for elementary school students trying to learn about Ada and her contributions; it could also be a great story to share with that special shy niece interested in mathy stuff. Many images throughout bring Ada’s story to life. The section titled “Thinking Like a Man” openly brings up gender issues and could make a good conversation starter for pre-teens. This, I believe, is the most detailed and accurate account of Ada’s story for the under-ten crowd.

Next are larger-format storybook-style books on Ada. Each of these would be great to read to or together with a young child; their beautiful illustrations will add much joy to the experience.

Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer written and illustrated by Fiona Robinson

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark (illustrated by April Chu)

Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace by Tanya Lee Stone (illustrated by Marjorie Priceman)

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley (illustrated by Jessie Hartland)

Sprinkles writes about Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace by Tanya Lee Stone, and Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley.
Sprinkles writes about Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark, Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers? The Story of Ada Lovelace by Tanya Lee Stone, and Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley.

None of these goes beyond Bodden’s Programming Pioneer Ada Lovelace in terms of technical details, but the technical details that are included are dispensed in perfectly digestible amounts. This makes the books not only fun to read but also intellectually stimulating. Interestingly, they all seem to be fascinated by nine-year-old Ada’s efforts to design and construct a flying machine; this plays an important role in each of the four books. The sheer beauty of illustration in each book also makes these great gifts for young children and the adults who enjoy reading with them. The expert illustrations range from the realistic (in Wallmark and Chu’s Thinking Machine) to the whimsical (Stone and Priceman’s Who Says Women Can’t Be Computer Programmers?). Most play with the contrast of the poet’s imagination with the mathematician’s strict discipline, and all successfully combine the two in the end.

But what to do with that special little person who read several of these books and wants to know more about Ada? Here let me tell you one thing: Whatever you do, don’t jump into any random book about Ada with your youngster, without first reading it on your own. Otherwise you just might find yourself, like I did, in some very awkward territory, where you need to either explain, or explain away, or simply skip through large portions of exposition, which go beyond PG-13. Yes, Ada’s life is inspiring to children, but it also contains a lot of messy bits for the adults.

Indeed, it saddens me to acknowledge that children only get to hear part of Ada’s story. Ada’s life is complex, and as you immediately discover when you dig into the juicy details, she certainly didn’t do everything right. She was ambitious and confident. She had vision and she had sass. She was also the person who wrote the very first computer program. But Ada is an ideal role model for more than just the above. Yes, she was brilliant. But she was also a failed genius, and this time, she is on our team. Except for her gender, Ada’s story resembles the stories of any of those wild geniuses appreciated not only for their achievements but also for their larger-than-life personalities. And how many such stories do we have with female protagonists? How many others like her can you count? A female genius, who was brimming with potential and yet was mostly misunderstood and unappreciated during her time? An extraordinary figure, one who saw farther than her peers, one who basically squandered her voluminous talents because she was just interested in way too many disparate things?

The standard simplified Ada story tells us that she was a genius who wrote the first computer program. A similarly simplified story could tell us alternatively that she ended up doing nothing impactful, that her work and that of Charles was not what led to today’s computers, so that overall, she was a failure. Another simplified story could badmouth her mothering, her wifely skills, and her “loose attitude” with other men and tell us a tale of immorality in the grandeur of Victorian England. (Valerie Aurora in her amazing talk explores these different stories about Ada and encourages us to accept the complexities of her life instead of trying to fit her into a straitjacket.)

The story most people would choose to tell their children is the first one. However, for those children ready to take on a more complex persona and engage with her fully, some grownup books might help. The one I’d recommend for people who might also enjoy reading along to learn some of the math Ada was engaged in is Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, and Adrian Rice. The authors are historians of mathematics and computer science and have dug deep into the archives and brought us a mathematically rich and yet a most readable account of Ada.

But maybe you don’t want to go there. Then, why not expand your little ones’ horizons and introduce them to other amazing women? Here are three of my other favorites if you want a break from Ada:

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe (illustrated by Barbara McClintock) – about Sophie Germain

The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca (illustrated by Daniel Rieley) – about Raye Montague

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker (illustrated by Dow Phumiruk) – about Katherine Johnson

Sprinkles also recommends Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, and Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker.
Sprinkles also recommends Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe, The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca, and Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker.

And for neat collections of short bios, you will not go wrong with either of the two volumes of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo; if you’re especially rooting for math, don’t miss the second volume, with its portrayal of Maryam Mirzakhani.