Friday, February 6, 2009

President, First Lady Send Picture Book Skyrocketing

By Rocco Staino -- School Library Journal, 2/4/2009

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama not only surprised a group of second graders yesterday when they visited their school library at the Capital City Public Charter School in D.C.—they also stunned Diana Hutts Aston and Jerry Pinkney , the author and illustrator of The Moon Over Star (Dial, 2008), the picture book the First couple chose to read during their visit.

Why the unannounced visit? “The reason we came to visit: A, we wanted to get out of the White House; B, we wanted to see you guys,” said the president. After fielding questions from 25 students that included who were the president’s favorite superheroes (Spider-Man and Batman), the kids listened as the Obamas read about the 1969 moon landing.

Perhaps the book was selected because July 20, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In the book, young Mae and her family who live in a town called Star, excitedly gather around the television to hear Walter Cronkite’s important “Man on the Moon!” announcement. Mae watches in awe as the astronauts walk on the surface of the moon and is inspired to tell her grandfather, “Just think, Gramps: If they could go to the moon, maybe one day I will too!”

The day after the presidential reading, all the copies of the book in the Westchester Library System in New York were either checked out or on their way to fill patron requests.

The book recently received a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for illustration and a starred review from Publishers Weekly. An upcoming School Library Journal review says, “this book offers children a close-up view of an experience that seems quaint today, but that was life-changing in 1969.”

Pickney says that every time a celebrity reads a book in a library, authors and illustrators always hope its one of theirs. "I was thrilled and surprised to see my book not only on display but being read by the president." says Pinkney, who has more than 75 picture books to his credit and numerous awards including five Caldecott Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, and four New York Times Ten Best Illustrated Awards. Pickney say he feels that this story of an African-American girl's dream of being an astronaut in 1969 may parallel President Obama's dream of being president.

Former journalist Dianna Hutts Aston says The Moon Over Star was written to encourage children to dream big.