Bob Krasner/Philomel Books
If there's one place where three generations of Clinton women have bonded through the years, it's the garden. That's the message in Grandma's Garden, the new children's book by former secretary of state and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, 72, and her daughter, Chelsea, 40. “It came truly from our mutual and shared cross-generation love of gardens,” Chelsea said in a joint phone interview with her mom about the book, which comes out March 31.
Throughout the story (for ages 4 to 8), they each take turns explaining how Hillary's mother, Dorothy Rodham, who died in 2011, inspired their love for gardening, with whimsical illustrations by Carme Lemniscates.
Secretary Clinton said these days she likes to get down and dirty in the soil with her grandkids — Chelsea and husband Marc Mezvinsky's children, Charlotte, 5, and Aidan, 3 (baby Jasper is still too little) — when they visit her and their grandfather, former President Bill Clinton, at their home in Chappaqua, New York. “I was so thrilled that they were interested,” she said. “We have loved every minute of it.”
Though mother and daughter were to have been traveling on a national book-promotion tour, that's been canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak — leaving these book lovers some extra time to dive into their favorite series in the coming weeks (see their go-to authors below). More from our interview:
Memories of Dorothy
Hillary: My mother loved to garden. And I remember that from when I was a little girl and she was planting and weeding and setting up trellises for roses in our small garden in the back of our house where I grew up. When she later came to live with us in Washington, she took over the garden, and spent so many hours happily planning and talking to the people who were doing the actual physical work — because she was by then in her mid-80s. But she was deeply involved and, wherever she could, lending a hand.
Gardening as first lady
H.C.: The White House gardens were public gardens, but I would meet with the gardeners and talk about what we hoped to see and get their ideas. And we did start a rooftop garden on the very top of the White House to grow tomatoes and peppers in the summer in great big pots.
Getting dirty with the grandkids
H.C.: They're so much fun and they're both so curious and so interested and quirky in their own ways about what they like and how they want to spend time with us. It's just a joy. When we first did the garden with vegetables, you know, they weren't keen on lettuce. And now Charlotte will actually eat it, which I think is a big step forward.
What Chelsea's children learn from their family garden
Chelsea: The recognition that what we plant may not always grow into what we want. The first time we planted a garden, it was totally eaten by deer and rabbits, and Charlotte saw that all of that hard work had to be done again, and that sometimes that's just kind of what happens.
How other grandparents can get children interested in gardening
H.C.: You know, it's sometimes hard to get our kids outside these days, so, I think, talk about how much fun it is to watch something grow and how delicious it is when you get to eat it. Try to create a sense of excitement and anticipation. We bought little children's gardening stuff for Charlotte and Aidan, so they had little shovels and rakes and little watering cans, so that they felt like it was on their level.
Other ways to connect with grandkids
H.C.: Have time together teaching little kids how to physically do things, whether it's in a workshop in the garage or at a sewing machine in the house. I know it sounds probably really old-fashioned, but I think it means so much to children that their grandparents are not just there with them, as important as that is, but are truly kind of passing on their own experiences, their own hobbies, their own interests to their grandkids.
Beyond gardening: What grownup books they love
C.C.: I am really taking this time — this kind of unexpected time — to catch up on all of my mystery reading. I love mysteries, especially mysteries that have been written by women or that kind of center on female detectives. I'm a few books behind in both the Ian Rutledge and the Bess Crawford series, both written by Charles Todd, which is a mother-and-son writing duo. I think I'm three books behind in one series and two in the other — I will be reading those over the next days and I'm really excited to do that.
H.C.: And I share Chelsea's love of mysteries. We are great fans of Louise Penny, Donna Leon… We love the series mysteries that are set in different places that have not only great [locations] but great character development. And I just finished reading The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, which is such an incredibly moving and involving story. I love her work, and this was a very special addition to it.