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Obama's new book raising questions about when his kids are off-limits to the public

"Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters" will be released Nov. 16. How will the book's content affect the first family's efforts to shield Malia and Sasha from the spotlight?

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By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 16, 2010

When are the Obama daughters off-limits to the public? The answer, apparently, is that it depends.

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On a few occasions when outside interests have tried to co-opt the popularity of Sasha and Malia -- such as when the Beanie Babies company sold dolls in their images, or when a group advocating nutrition-policy reform made reference to them on D.C. billboards -- the White House has swiftly clamped down.

And early last year, in a statement, a spokeswoman for first lady Michelle Obama called it "inappropriate to use young, private citizens for marketing purposes."

But what if the marketing campaign is President Obama's new book?

"Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters," a 40-page picture book aimed at children ages 3 and older, is scheduled for release Nov. 16. The cover features an impressionistic painting of Malia, Sasha and first dog Bo.

(YOUR TAKE: When is it OK to use Sasha and Malia's images?)

White House officials say the first daughters are marginal to the content. The book includes tributes to 13 "groundbreaking Americans and deals that have shaped our nation," according to the book's publishers. Among the 13 are Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackie Robinson, George Washington and Albert Einstein.

Using the girls to sell the title -- the second book in a $1.9 million deal for three books, only one of them for children, that Obama inked before becoming president -- is not inconsistent with the policy of generally shielding the girls from public attention, the officials say.

"I think our encouragement is to keep their private lives private," press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday. Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12, will not be doing any book promotion, he said.

In an interview with Sirius XM radio this week, Obama said he was asked to write the book by publishers who thought he "might have something to say to young people." The book was initially scheduled to come out in 2006 and explore a portion of Obama's childhood, according to a 2004 news release.

The Obamas themselves have repeatedly put the daughters in the spotlight. The book title borrows from an earlier bit of exposure: a Parade magazine cover story that ran a few days before Obama's inauguration called "A Letter to My Daughters," featuring their picture.

The first lady has included both girls in her anti-childhood obesity and healthy eating campaign, often saying in speeches that an uptick in her daughters' weight led her to serve more balanced meals. Obama, as a candidate, once told Parents magazine: "A couple of years ago -- you'd never know it by looking at her now -- Malia was getting a little chubby."


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