Obama reads, Fergie sings as Easter eggs roll across White House lawn

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed thousands of children and families to the White House Easter Egg Roll Monday, calling it "one of the greatest White House traditions."
U.S. President Barack Obama talks into the Easter Bunny's ear as a joke after both microphones failed on the balcony of the White House before the start of the 2009 Easter Egg Roll Monday. ((Larry Downing/Reuters))
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed thousands of children and families to the White House Easter Egg Roll Monday, calling it "one of the greatest White House traditions."

Obama and his wife, Michelle, appeared on a balcony overlooking the South Lawn, where thousands of children and families took a break from participating in the festivities to listen and cheer enthusiastically for the first family. The president's daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama, were also there, along with his mother-in-law Marian Robinson. 

Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, stood on the driveway beneath the balcony.

Obama initially could only wave to the crowd, thanks to a malfunctioning microphone. He looked around for help, and finally the sound system started working just as Malia leaned into the microphone and asked, "Is it on?" The president called her his technical adviser.

During the technical delay, Michelle Obama waved enthusiastically to the crowd and the president pretended to whisper in the giant ears of a person wearing a bunny costume, drawing laughter from those on the lawn.

The president greeted the crowd, extolling the event as one that "reminds us that this is the people's house."

Michelle Obama reminded the participants of the event's theme, "Let's go play."

"Our goal today is just to have fun," she said. "We want to focus on activity, healthy eating. We've got yoga, we've got dancing, we've got storytelling, we've got Easter Egg decorating; oh we've got basketball, a little soccer as well."

"We want everybody to think about moving their bodies," she added.

Obama leans over to talk to his daughters Malia, center, and Sasha at the start of the White House Easter Egg Roll. ((Charles Dharapak/Associated Press))
Shortly after kicking off the event, the first family walked to the storytime stage to read to a group of children. Entering the area, Obama shook hands with many of the children in the front row. 

The president read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, which he called "one of my favourite books."

He stood in front of the seated children, slowly rotating the book, so that everyone could see the pictures. At the end of the story he asked, "are there any wild things here? I just want to make sure," and issued a soft wild thing-like growl along with the cheering of the crowd.

Next, Michelle Obama and her mother took turns reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff . The first daughters turned the pages of an oversized copy of the book to show the illustrations.

Black Eyed Peas frontwoman Fergie sang the U.S. national anthem before the president greeted the crowd. Others on the lineup included reggae star Ziggy Marley, the DC Youth Orchestra and children's favourites SteveSongs and Imagination Movers.

Other celebrities enlisted to read to students included actors James Cromwell and Josh Duhamel as well as soccer stars Julie Foudy, Devon McTavish and Ben Olsen, basketball players Renee Brown and Dawn Staley, and football players Derrick Dockery and Shaun Suisham.

The White House allotted tickets for the event to gay and lesbian parents as part of the Obama administration's effort to reach out to diverse communities.

"The president of the United States understands that we're just another family like anybody else," said Kim Bergman of Los Angeles, who travelled to Washington with her partner, Natalie Bergman, and their two daughters Abby, 13, and Jenna, 10. 

"He gets that this country is not all one type of person. We're just part of the fabric of the country and we just love that the fabric is patchwork."

When asked what most excited her about attending the egg roll, Abby said, "the feeling that Obama actually wants us here." 

Representatives from Family Equality Council, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other groups confirmed earlier that they were invited and encouraged to have their members participate.

The White House also made tickets available on the Internet and through the offices of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.