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Read With Jenna, Who Writes With Barbara



Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush are busy women.

They have demanding jobs: Bush works in global health and leads social responsibility efforts at the NBA, while Hager is a co-host of NBC’s “Today” show, where her “Read With Jenna” book club is one of the most powerful forces in contemporary publishing. They also have children: Hager has two daughters and a son, and Bush has a 2-year-old girl.

So while they both live in the New York City area, and they text or talk just about every day, they don’t get to see each other often. But their unusual lives do allow for a sisters’ trip every few years: Together, they go on book tour.

Hager and Bush, 41, the twin daughters of former President George W. Bush and the granddaughters of former President George H.W. Bush, published their third children’s book this week. Called “Love Comes First,” their latest picture book is about expanding families, and how even if new siblings and cousins don’t behave as the bigger kids might like — babies are hard to play with — they are to be loved all the same. (Bush and Hager have also written a memoir for adults called “Sisters First.”)

Their book tour began this past weekend, when they hit five cities in Texas in four days.

Bush and Hager spoke to The New York Times in a makeup room at the “Today” show studios in New York City. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

BUSH: We have written three books before, and they’ve all centered around sisterhood, because we’re twins and don’t know life any other way. That was always our inspiration. But on our last book tour, we would meet people at signings or in the audience, and they would say, ‘I don’t have a sister, but I brought my best friend and she’s like my sister,’ or ‘I brought my cousin.’ We got inspired to write a book that’s more broadly about love and the way that it can be, via family or chosen family, bigger than sisterhood.

How does the process of writing a book together work?

HAGER: On our book tours, we hear what people have to say, and it informs what is missing from what we’ve previously written.

BUSH: We go on long walks so we can talk, flesh out the idea, come up with the narrative arc.

HAGER: By the time we put it on paper, it’s not as long of a process. We write it, and then we send it back and forth.

Have you two always gotten along?

BUSH: We have. One thing we’ve noticed at book events is people will come up and say, ‘I’m really close with my sister, but we fight.’

HAGER: ‘How lucky — ya’ll don’t fight!’

BUSH: Oh, we definitely have fought before, and that doesn’t mean we don’t love each other and don’t respect each other. That’s part of relationships and life.

HAGER: What we did for each other was bigger than any disagreement. But, yeah, people are, like, ‘Ya’ll are so perfect.’ No, no, no — we’re not!

BUSH: They didn’t know us in seventh grade.

HAGER: Or eighth, for that matter.

How often do you communicate?

HAGER: We talk a lot and communicate almost every single day via text.

BUSH: The thing that is interesting about twins is we have a very shared memory because, obviously, we were the same age at every stage in life and often did things together. We have a very shared perspective. That differs if you had a sibling who was older than you and thought what you were doing was uncool, et cetera. We were always in the same stage together. And so a lot of our communication is through that frame of reference.

Do you test out your books on your kids?

HAGER: Our kids are our test audience and part of the reason we wrote this book. “Sisters First” was very much based on my girls.

BUSH: And us!

HAGER: And us! Yeah, sorry, sissy. And since writing that I’ve had a baby boy, and Barbara has had a baby, so we have to give a little tribute to them, too. We don’t want to give them extra therapy bills.

What do your kids like to read?

HAGER: Hal is 4, and he is obsessed with Mo Willems. Piggie. Gerald. Pigeon. He’s just started gaslighting me. He knows I love three books more than anything — they’re all Nancy Tillman books, and they’re basically about ‘why I love you so much.’ So he’s, like, ‘Hmm, let’s see if we’re going to choose this one tonight.’ And he holds up the love story, and he’s, like, ‘And, no, we’re not, Mom. Maybe tomorrow.’

You have said that people tend to come to your events in pairs, with their plus-one. Can you tell me more about that?

HAGER: When we have spoken to people, I think what resonates is that having Barbara has always made me feel braver, because I had a built-in partner from when I was little, somebody to hold my little hand on the first day of school. Or later, when things got strange — like on Inauguration Day or Election Day — I had somebody who made me feel brave. That’s sisterhood, but the common denominator is love. Whether it’s their chosen family, their friends, their brothers, people want somebody who makes them feel like they are enough.