Jenna Bush Hager on Her New Book and What She’s Reading Now
Plus, her travel must-haves.
With her job as an NBC News correspondent and being a mom to two young daughters, Jenna Bush Hager has a busy schedule, but she always finds time to pick up a book, whether it’s with her girls or solo. The former first daughter has already authored two children’s books, Our Great Big Backyard and Read All About It, but her new book gets personal. The October release, Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, was written with her twin sister Barbara and has some intimate stories from their childhood and the time their father was president.
Bush Hager was the special guest at an event hosted by Real Simple and Nextdoor, the private social network for connecting neighbors, in Dallas, Texas. The gathering featured a discussion with local influencers on the importance of community and on how neighbors have helped each other, which was especially poignant in light of Hurricane Harvey in nearby Houston. The event also included a block party hosted by Nextdoor where the 2017 Dallas Good Neighbor Award was presented to sisters-in-law Meagan and Kim Martinelli, who created a fun run in their neighborhood to raise money for the Global Foundation for Proximal Disorders to honor Kim’s son Thomas, who has a genetic disorder. They were able to raise over $10,000 for the cause.
Real Simple got the chance to sit down with Bush Hager during the event to talk about what’s on her reading list, travel and beauty hacks, and her new book. Take a look at her tips below.
Real Simple: You’ve got the book coming out. Is there a favorite childhood book that you read to your kids now?
Jenna Bush Hager: Not only am I a mom now, but I was also a third grade teacher and then a sixth grade English teacher, so I love children’s literature. I’m also the daughter of a librarian, so I had to love it. My favorite book to read to my girls right now is Princesses Wear Pants, written by one of my best friends Savannah [Guthrie]. It’s a great, really fun book that talks about the importance of women doing things. We go through a different book every night. My girls are very much into princesses, so I’m trying to find ways to incorporate the other books that I love, like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
The House on Mango Street was a book that I taught. I still read young adult fiction for fun. It takes me back to when I was teaching. When I meet sixth grade teachers I ask them what they’re teaching, because I loved that job so much. It’s a hard but great job.
RS: You travel a lot. What are your travel hacks or things that you always bring with you?
JBH: Well, there are three things. This is really hilarious, but I still use a paper calendar—my mother gives it to me every year. She gets it from a friend and it says “Laura.” It’s a hand-me-down. Also, I always have stationery, because I like to write thank-you notes to people on the road. And I always have a book. Right now, I’m reading Do Not Become Alarmed. It’s really good. I became friends (via the Today show) with Emma Straub, who wrote The Vacationers and Modern Lovers. People [on set] get excited when J. Lo comes, but I’m like “Emma Straub is here!” I’m a nerd who loves to read. She will give me recommendations before the books come out. She recommended The Bright Hour, which was one of my favorite books of the year. It was so beautiful.
As for my travel hack, I keep all the miscellaneous items in a zippered bag. Currently I have silly putty, a child’s rubber band, two checkbooks because I’m 90, and a car charger. I’ll go through this once a week and clean things out. Although this looks unwieldy, it’s quite organized because there aren’t a lot of things floating around.
RS: You’re on camera a lot. Do you have any beauty hacks? Or any must-have products?
JBH: I have one hack that’s new. When I’m flying to California, I don’t wear makeup because my skin started to breakout and it got really dry. I put on a mask that is clear and leave it on the entire flight and it protects against bacteria. This is not my own science experiment—the makeup artist at the Today show pointed it out to me and it’s made a huge difference in my skin. You can wear any sort of clear mask. I wear this clear Christine Chin mask. It puts a layer of something on top of your skin so if you touch it you’re not getting bacteria on it—it moisturizes and protects.
RS: You surprised yourself by staying in media so long—can you talk a little bit about your career?
JBH: Well I didn’t surprise myself from staying in media so long. I surprised myself by going into it, because it happened organically and spontaneously. I was on the Today show for books that I wrote and the executive producer kept reaching out and told me, “You’re really good on TV, is it something you’d ever do?” I laughed for a year, because I loved teaching and also I spent a lot of my formative years running away from the media—from some of the exact people I work with, like Savannah. Going into it was a surprise, although my parents didn’t find it surprising. They said I was always the entertainer and liked to tell stories. I’m not surprised I’ve stayed in it because it’s actually really fun, and it’s such a privilege to tell people’s stories. I adore the people I work with, too.
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RS: When you’re teaching you’re just constantly giving back. What is your “give-back” moment now? How do you fill that urge?
JBH: After I taught for a couple of years, I moved to Latin America and I worked with UNICEF. When I returned home, I was engaged, I knew that my feet were going to be more grounded in the United States. Even though I had crazy wanderlust, my husband had a job. I wanted to go back into education. I went on a book tour with UNICEF, and I realized that so many people in my generation wanted to give back. Then we looked at UNICEF’s numbers—the funders and demographics—there was nobody my age that was part of it. So we started UNICEF’s Next Generation, and I’m still on that board. I was the chair for a really long time and it’s 40 of us who want to make sure that our generation is getting involved with philanthropy, in this case working on preventing childhood deaths around the world.
Also, I find myself traveling for stories and being so inspired by the people that I meet, particularly when it comes to teachers, or people that have started nonprofits. I like to stay in touch with them. I was just recently in Houston, and it was awesome to be able to show the impact of a storm through the eyes of a child. I met teachers there whose schools had been ruined. My sister started a global health nonprofit, and so I work with her a lot as well. I stay involved because it’s part of who I am—service is sort of integrated with everything I do. It’s important to me.
RS: Your new book is very candid. You reveal a lot about yourself, and Barbara does too. Was there one thing that was hardest to open up about, or something that you weren’t sure you wanted to share?
JBH: Definitely. We write about things that even surprised my family members. My husband was surprised—he’s sort of the foil, the comedic foil of the book, which he was thrilled about. He’s a good sport. We write about family dynamics, which can be complicated. We write about the war, which was something we went back and forth on. We ultimately felt like they were our feelings and they can be dissected in a thousand different ways, but if we were going to be true to ourselves, we were going to put them in the book.
My sister writes about the death of a boyfriend she had and how it really impacted her for years and years. So a lot of it feels really personal. The reason why we did it was we felt so happy that we had each other. We want other women to feel that kind of lift, that kind of empowerment that I got from my sister from the day that I was born, whether they’re blood sisters or friends or colleagues. If we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right and we wanted it to be 100 percent authentic. That can feel a little scary, but I’m happy that we shared everything that we did.