FATHER-IN-CHIEF–President Barack Obama, accompanied by first dog Bo, reads “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” during the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
by Stacey Anderson
WASHINGTON (AP) — An amused President Barack Obama read a children’s book to a gathering of boys and girls at the White House, then peppered them with questions: Had any of them lost a tooth? Had any climbed trees? Had any fallen after climbing?
It was all part of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, which attracted 30,000 children and parents to the Executive Mansion’s South Lawn on Monday for a day of festivities.
Obama, with his dog Bo seated beside him, narrated the popular illustrated book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” about alphabet letters and their adventures climbing up a coconut tree.
“So clearly the alphabet is full of troublemakers,” the president concluded after offering his rendition.
Moments earlier, speaking from the White House’s Truman Balcony, Obama thanked the crowd on the sunny springtime day before joining in the egg roll.
Obama high-fived the contestants and consoled 5-year-old Donovan Frazier of Scranton, Pa., who was sitting on the ground in tears.
“What’s wrong,” the president asked, scooping him into a hug.
The president also joined professional basketball players for a game of hoops with several children. He joined the WNBA team with a couple little girls, and their group was twice victorious in a shoot-out against the boys.
Obama was less successful on his own – taking 15 tries to sink a basket. “Oh, man,” he said after a free throw teetered on the rim and fell out.
“The president doesn’t get to practice probably as much as he’d like to,” Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, later told reporters.
On a day that kids devote to bunny-shaped chocolates and jelly beans, first lady Michelle Obama was able to stress her mission of physical fitness and healthy eating habits.
“Eat your vegetables,” she declared, after reading “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” to children in a story time area nestled under a tree. The couple’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, shared reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
Mrs. Obama also joined chef Anne Burrell of the Food Network and TV anchor Al Roker at the Kids’ Kitchen. The group sang, “put a little love in your food,” as they prepared orecchiette with broccoli rabe pesto. The first lady said the ear-shaped pasta with vegetables, Italian sausage and nuts was a grown-up, sophisticated alternative to spaghetti.
The South Lawn was transformed into a kaleidoscope of colors as boys and girls played games to the sounds of kids’ show tunes, snacked on apples and got a chance to meet professional athletes and entertainers.
The White House confirmed that among the thousands of families at the egg roll were some from Newtown, Conn., where a mass school shooting took place in December. They did not offer additional details, citing privacy reasons. The family of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton also attended the event. An official confirmed that Hadiya’s mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, and brother Nathaniel Pendleton Jr., 10, who played tennis with the president as part of the day’s activities, attended the egg roll.
Hadiya, 15, was gunned down in a park close to the Obama’s Chicago home days after performing at the president’s second inauguration. The first lady attended Hadiya’s funeral and sat with her parents at this year’s State of the Union speech.
The White House Easter Egg Roll came off despite earlier warnings from the White House that budget battles could have forced the event’s cancellation. White House tours have been called off because of government-wide spending cuts.
One highlight of this year’s event was the “Eggtivity Zone,” in which athletes and coaches helped teach kids how to play sports. Among the stars booked for this duty were Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, gymnast John Orozco and Washington Wizards point guard John Wall.
Two of the younger celebrities in Monday’s lineup are Oscar-nominated actress Quvenzhane Wallis, star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and Robby Novak, who plays “Kid President” in a series of popular YouTube videos. Elmo, Jordin Sparks, The Wanted, Austin Mahone, Coco Jones and other “Sesame Street” Muppets were to perform.
The National Park Service, which organizes the event, says it’s largely funded by sales of commemorative wooden eggs, plus some private donations. The park service would not say how much the event costs.
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Josh Lederman and Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.