By Stephen Krensky
(DK Publishing, New York, 2010, $14.99)
By now, most Americans know the touchstones of Barack Obama’s life, related so eloquently in his memoir Dreams from my Father. Born in Hawaii to a white American woman and a Kenyan father, Barack Hussein Obama has lived a varied life. His childhood took him from Hawaii to Indonesia and back again. After college, he worked as a community organizer in an underprivileged side of Chicago before attending Harvard Law School and practicing civil rights law. He was an Illinois state senator and a candidate for the US Senate when he attracted national attention at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. From there, it was a swift climb to the 2008 presidential campaign – and the presidency.
In Barack Obama, Stephen Krensky has penned a personal and informative biography of the current president for middle-grade readers. Through the book’s many color photos, kids travel to the significant places in Obama’s life: from Hawaii’s beaches to Kenya’s Great Rift Valley to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. As an educational biography, the book educates readers about the key people and places in Obama’s life and about the political process. The last chapter summarizes the 2008 race, introducing kids to the presidential and vice-presidential candidates as well as the election’s main issues. But Krensky never loses sight of his subject’s humanity. He describes how Obama felt out of place during his childhood and youth and relates how the freshmen senator made time for his family despite his busy schedule. Krensky also explores how working with disenfranchised people in Chicago and visiting his family in Kenya made Obama determined to make a difference in others’ lives.
Writing objectively, yet sympathetically about a living person is difficult. In Barack Obama, Stephen Krensky has created both a human portrait of the commander in chief and a measured, yet hopeful, view of the positive change politics can bring.
© Dorothy A. Dahm