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Obama's Scholastic interview: "Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit," "Spiderman" boyhood favorites

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Obama on favorite youth presidential reads



Obama talks about the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks

WASHINGTON--Young reporters from Scholastic publications--part of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps--asked President Obama about how he would explain the 9-11 attacks to daughters Sasha, 10 and Malia, 13, and what books he read as a boy. The interview was conducted at the White House on July 15 by ten-year-old Topanga Sena of Orlando, Florida, and twelve-year-old Jacob Schroeder of Albuquerque, New Mexico.


What Obama read as a youth: "I think I was getting into, like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and stuff like that. And I confess that I did read comic books as well, like Spiderman was one of my favorites. And then I read what I was assigned at school.
....But by the time maybe I was Malia's age, I was starting to read more serious books like, To Kill a Mockingbird, or some of the things that I see her reading now that made you think a little bit more. They weren't just kind of adventure stories, but they were also stories that taught me about social problems and taught me about how people interact with each other, and how some people are kind and some people are cruel. And history sweeps them along, and people have a lot of challenges in their lives.

What Obama read to Sasha and Malia: "All seven of the Harry Potter books together. And we're very excited that the last Harry Potter movie is coming out, because we watched all of them together. Nowadays, they read all the time and I think they're a little too cool to sit there and have their dad read to them. But sometimes we read the same books and then we will talk about it over dinner."

On 9-11 and his daughters: "I've talked to Malia and Sasha about that day. It was a tragic, tragic moment I think for all of us. Sasha had just been born, so she was -- I was still burping her when it happened. Malia was only three years old. And I remember being with them -- they were too young to remember what happened -- but watching it while I was looking after them.

It was a moment where we saw that there were people in other countries -- a very, very small group of people, but people who had very terrible ideas and who were willing to kill thousands of people. And it was the first time that we had been attacked here in the United States in such a large scale."

Complete transcript at the click....


Below, Scholastic transcript.....

JACOB: Mr. President, kids across America learn about the Constitution every September 17th. Why is the Constitution important to kids today?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is -- I'm really excited about Constitution Day because, as some of you know, I am a lawyer but I also taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. And it is an amazing document.

When you think about our country, unlike most countries, we're not all of the same race or the same religion, we don't all come from the same places, many of us are immigrants. But what holds us all together is a belief in certain ideals and certain values. And the Constitution really is what sets us apart by saying that every single person is treated with respect; every single individual has certain rights; and that the government has to follow certain rules in how it interacts with its citizens. And so it sets out a model not only for our democracy, but also for how each of us have certain individual freedoms and certain rights that can't be broken.

So the best example is freedom of speech, which, since you guys are reporters you have to be concerned about. It's because of our Constitution that newspapers and radio and television reporters are able to find out what's happening. They can ask questions of their elected officials. They can write criticisms about what officials are doing. And in a lot of countries that's not true. But our Constitution says that's a right that is important to us.

And so it protects our ability to all live together as part of a single democracy.

TOPANGA: The Constitution is more than 220 years old. Why is it still cool in 2011?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's very cool to have a document that, even though it was written 220 years ago, still applies today. Because the founders were trying to solve a lot of problems that all human societies have to deal with. We all need a government to make sure that we can live together in orderly fashion. But we don't want the government to be so oppressive and the people in power to be able to just tell us what to do across the board. Instead we have a system where we, the people, are able to tell the government what we think is best.

And if it weren't for the Constitution, a lot of the things that we take for granted -- our ability to speak our minds, our ability to worship any religion that we want, our ability to make sure that if somebody accuses us of a crime that we're able to defend ourselves in a court of law and before a jury of our peers -- if it weren't for our Constitution, all those basic rights that we take for granted wouldn't be around.

So I think that's pretty cool, because there are a lot of societies that don't have those protections and people there live very difficult lives and are constantly scared, thinking that if they don't agree with somebody in the government that somehow they're going to be punished.

JACOB: If you could sit down for a conversation with one of the Founding Fathers, which one would it be?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's a pretty good question. I've always thought that Benjamin Franklin would be a really interesting guy to talk to, because not only was he a great politician and somebody who helped to organize our country, but he was also a great scientist; he was also a good businessman. They say that he was a really funny guy. He was a good writer. So he just had a lot of different interests that I think would make him somebody that I would really enjoy having dinner with.

TOPANGA: Mr. President, I live in central Florida. And some of my friends and some children in my neighborhood have had to live in hotels because their parents lost their jobs and lost their home to foreclosure. What would you say to kids and families who are struggling in this economy?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I get a lot of letters from young people all across the country. I get about 10 letters a day. The White House gets about 40,000, but my staff selects 10 for me to read. And some of them are from young people whose parents are struggling. And I usually try to respond to young people especially.

The economy has gone through a very difficult time. And we've gone through times like this before where a lot of people get laid off from work. We had a big economic crisis. It's getting better, but not as fast as we'd like. And I think what I would tell you is the same thing I tell these young people and their parents, which is that we're going to do everything we can to try to provide assistance to people so they don't lose their homes. We're going to do everything we can to try to start new businesses and create new opportunities for people to be able to get the jobs of the future.

I also tell the young people that this is why it's so important to go to school and to really focus on being able to go to college and get a degree, because most of the jobs these days are going to be jobs where you've got to have a good education. You've got to have good math skills. You have to have good science skills. You have to have good communications and writing skills. If you don't, it's going to be very hard to get a job.

JACOB: What are the greatest challenges facing our generation?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, there are a lot of challenges that all of you face. Each generation has its own challenges. I think that right now the biggest challenge facing the country is the economic challenge, trying to figure out how we grow the economy and make sure everybody has a good job, everybody who's willing to work is able to have a good job.

As I said before, the economy has changed. It used to be that you didn't really need an education in order to get a good job; you just had to be willing to work hard. Now, you got to have a good education. So we've really got to improve our education system.

Another big challenge that your generation is going to face is the environmental challenge. Although we've made big improvements over the last 20 or 30 years in making our air clean and our water clean, there are some big challenges around climate change. And the temperature of the planet is getting warmer because of the pollution that we're sending up into the air, the carbon that we're releasing -- that's causing changing weather patterns. In places like Florida you may be more vulnerable to hurricanes. In other areas we've seen more drought. It's affecting people all around the world.

And so we've got to get started trying to deal with this issue and we've got to make sure that your generation finds better ways to use energy more efficiently so we're not sending out as much pollution into the air. And that's going to be something that we're really going to have to focus on.

JACOB: How do we ensure that all kids get the education they need to succeed and be good citizens?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we've got great schools all across the country, but there are some schools that aren't doing as good. And we have to make sure that we have the best teachers in those schools. If teachers need more training in math or science, for example, we've got to be willing to give them more training. We've got to make sure that the school buildings are equipped for the 21st century and they have high-speed Internet access and kids have access to computers, since that's the age we live in.

We think it's very important to make sure that young people can afford to go to college, because college is becoming more and more expensive. And so we're trying to make student loan and grant programs more accessible.

But, ultimately, the most important thing to ensure that our young are educated is the young people themselves -- making sure that you guys are taking your work seriously and you're focusing not just on the fun subjects, but also the subjects that you find hard. And each person is going to have different talents, but everybody is going to need to know math, everybody is going to need to study science, everybody has got to work on their writing skills and, obviously, their reading skills. But the motivation coming from the students themselves is usually what is most important in seeing how they do.

TOPANGA: We are about to observe the 10th anniversary of 9/11. How would you discuss that tragic day and how it changed our country with Sasha and Malia, who are the same age as our readers?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've talked to Malia and Sasha about that day. It was a tragic, tragic moment I think for all of us. Sasha had just been born, so she was -- I was still burping her when it happened. Malia was only three years old. And I remember being with them -- they were too young to remember what happened -- but watching it while I was looking after them.

It was a moment where we saw that there were people in other countries -- a very, very small group of people, but people who had very terrible ideas and who were willing to kill thousands of people. And it was the first time that we had been attacked here in the United States in such a large scale.

Since that time, I think we've made ourselves safer. We have made sure that it's much harder to get on a plane with a weapon; it's much more difficult to plant explosives. We are -- we've made great sacrifices. Our men and women in uniform have fought in Afghanistan to make sure that al Qaeda, the folks who carried out the attack, would no longer carry out the attack.

But I think it's important for us to realize that, as terrible as that day was, it brought America together and it reminded us that we're all one people, and that each of us have a responsibility, as citizens of the United States, to try to make this country the best it can be. And hopefully on this 10th anniversary of 9/11 that we're able to regain that sense of unity and that sense of common purpose that's so important for every country.

JACOB: When you were our age, what did you like to read?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, when I was your age -- I'm trying to think back -- I think I was -- I'd probably gotten a little too old for the Hardy Boys and that stuff. I think I was getting into, like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and stuff like that. And I confess that I did read comic books as well, like Spiderman was one of my favorites. And then I read what I was assigned at school.

You guys are a little ahead of me. I can tell you guys are probably smarter than I was. But by the time maybe I was Malia's age, I was starting to read more serious books like, To Kill a Mockingbird, or some of the things that I see her reading now that made you think a little bit more. They weren't just kind of adventure stories, but they were also stories that taught me about social problems and taught me about how people interact with each other, and how some people are kind and some people are cruel. And history sweeps them along, and people have a lot of challenges in their lives.

TOPANGA: Do you read any of those books, or any others with Sasha and Malia?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, when they were younger we'd read together. So, for example, we read all seven of the Harry Potter books together. And we're very excited that the last Harry Potter movie is coming out, because we watched all of them together. Nowadays, they read all the time and I think they're a little too cool to sit there and have their dad read to them. But sometimes we read the same books and then we will talk about it over dinner. And I love doing that because they give me all kinds of interesting ideas about the books that I didn't even think of.

JACOB: Well, thank you for your time.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate it. I had a great time. Listen, before you guys go I think we've got a special guest here that we wanted to bring in. (Bo comes in.) It's Bo!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on August 30, 2011 1:04 PM.

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