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Children Jot Questions, Hopes In Letters To Obama

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Children Jot Questions, Hopes In Letters To Obama

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Children Jot Questions, Hopes In Letters To Obama

Children Jot Questions, Hopes In Letters To Obama

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/111999097/112035603" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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When author Bruce Kluger sent out a call to friends and relatives for letters to President Obama from children, his request went viral. In six weeks, he ended up with more than 1,000 responses, from kids ages 4 to 18 from 29 states in all regions of the country.

"It began to reflect the same infectious enthusiasm of the Obama campaign itself," Kluger tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Children and young adults wrote in about subjects ranging from the economy to the environment and asked the president questions like whether he believes in ghosts.

Kluger and his co-author, David Tabatsky, picked almost 200 of the submitted letters and drawings, and published them in a collection called Dear President Obama.

The submissions Kluger and Tabatsky received were funny, poignant — and even pointed.

"When we got to the states that were traditionally borderline states like Ohio and Virginia, some of the kids actually started off by saying, 'I got to tell you, I don't like it, I wanted McCain, I don't like your policies,' " Kluger says.

He says he and his co-author did their best to provide a full range of perspectives, but he admits they did have to weed out some submissions that were too over the top or too negative.

"I discussed this with my agent," Kluger says. "The journalist in me wants to present all spectrums, and he reminded me, 'Your subtitle of your book is "Letters Of Hope From Children Across America," ' and I realized, 'That's right,' so we pulled out the overly gushy ones and the overly critical ones — and we do have a nice cross section."

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Many of the letters offer the new president frank advice. Upon hearing the Obama family was looking for a new dog, 4-year-old Wyatt Tobin of Montclair, N.J., wrote to the president: "I hear you are looking for a dog as a pet! I have three dogs, Izzy, Ella and Hoagie. Hoagie is a beagle. Don't get a beagle. They eat their own poop."

And some of the older kids submitted letters with a bit of critical distance, like 11-year-old Mackenzie Donahue of Newton, Mass. She offers no-nonsense guidance on saving money during the economic crisis.

"Re-use paper," Donahue wrote. "Instead of saying, 'Oh, no! There's a mark on my paper! I better throw it out!' Use the back, get White Out and cover the mark — don't just throw it out. It's usable!"

Other young writers warned the president against letting his win go to his head. Thirteen-year-old Erina Yamamoto of Honolulu asked Obama, "Please don't get on your high horse too much."

"A lot of the children actually do have a certain charming authoritarianism," Kluger says.

More than anything, children wrote in to ask Obama to focus on the issues they care about most.

Claire Mortenson of Ogden, Utah, wrote to the president to ask how he would make the continent greener, keep the arts alive, fix the economy and help her single mother keep enough money in her pocket to buy food.

At the bottom of her letter, the 11-year-old adds: "Most importantly ... do you believe in ghosts?"

Mortenson tells Block she heard the White House was haunted.

"I just wanted to know if he had had any experiences or if he believed in it," Mortenson says.

Asked if she thinks Obama will ever read her letter, Mortenson says, "I don't know. I hope he does."

And would she like him to write back?

"Yeah," she says, "that'd be pretty cool."