Q&A: Laura and Jenna Bush Talk Reading

The old saw goes, "Write what you know." Long before she became First Lady, Laura Bush was a librarian; for two years during her tenure as First Daughter, Jenna Bush worked as a schoolteacher. So naturally their first collaboration as authors—"Read All About It!"—is a children's book set in a library. The two spoke about reading, teaching—and how time flies in the White House—with NEWSWEEK's Jon Meacham.

It's been a long seven years.
LAURA: It's gone by like a flash. I mean, my girls went from freshmen in college to 26-year-old grown women.

What about for you, Jenna?
JENNA: I'm ready for somebody else to be on CNN. I mean, I think [my father has] done a great job. And I admire anybody that would put themselves out there like that. [But] I'm ready for somebody else to try to do it. I'm ready to have my parents back.

Why this book now?
LAURA: Jenna and I have been talking about this book for about a year.

JENNA: She's been a teacher and a children's librarian. That was her career. Now she's a First Lady. So when she started talking about what she would write, this rang the most true, being in the classroom and inspiring kids. That's what she did for so many years.

Growing up, what's your first literary memory?
LAURA: I remember the Little Golden Books. Those were the ones that my mother could afford, that you could buy at the grocery store. But I also remember when she read "Little Women" to me—that's a pretty adult book for a child. But it was a very powerful memory for me. When Beth died, for instance, Mother cried, we cried together. I loved the "Little House on the Prairie" books. I particularly identified with Laura because she had my same name and brown hair and—

JENNA: And she lived out on the prairie.

LAURA: She also had that pioneer spirit that I think even people in Midland, Texas, in the 1950s had. I think it's a very important book in American children's literature.

JENNA: I loved Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye." In middle school, something about that book really changed me.

You both talk to teachers around the country, and one of their frustrations is that so much falls to them. What advice do you have for how to bring order to a classroom and inspire learning?
JENNA: I taught in inner-city D.C., and it is difficult to manage everything. One of the things that I've learned is that it's really important for parents, for principals, for people of the community to support your teachers. Even though they were working, my parents would still come in and help when [my students] were going on a field trip. And when I taught in inner-city D.C., we took the bus. So, of course—

LAURA: You needed help.

JENNA: The Metro bus with 24 kids and me. But I did it.

LAURA: What I see when I visit schools all over the country, all over the world, is thatmost really excellent teachers are called to teaching. It's a calling, and they love it and they love their children. As difficult as teaching is—and there are very few professions as challenging as trying to deal with 30 kids—I think it's also one of the most rewarding. You're never bored. There might be some terrible moments, but you're never bored with teaching.