We met author Chelsea Clinton when she was doing a book signing for her latest book: “She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World” (Philomel Books). She talked to us about being the daughter of the president of the United States and about her mom, Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state. She also talked us about her two children, Charlotte and Aidan. We were at the Barnes & Noble store in Union Square.
Do you have a favorite between your two new books?
I don’t have a favorite between my two new books. I feel like having to choose a favorite might be similar if someone were to ask me if I had a favorite child, because I have two kids. So I can’t choose a favorite child, and I can’t choose a favorite book.
A student in our class was upset that Bethany Hamilton was not one of the 13 included in “She Persisted.” How did you choose the women you featured in your book?
I am sorry that your friend is upset, and if she really believes that more people should know that Bethany Hamilton story then she will figure out how to tell that story herself. She might be able to write a book or write something online so that more people could be aware of her story.
I chose the 13 women in the first book really by the people who inspired me in my life. Each one of those 13 women was very personal to me. I remember when my mom told me about Helen Keller, I remember when I learned about Claudette Colvin, I remember when I read Nellie Bly when I was in college. So it was very personal to me.
I chose the women in the second book [“She Persisted Around the World”] because some of them I have known, some of them I was lucky enough to meet and work with. Many of them were unknown to me until I started working on the book, and it really came through suggestions that friends made or other authors or editors made.
So I had two very different processes to determine which women. I think each book represented different obstacles that they had to overcome and different areas where they achieved great things. But really, all of them had to persist.
When you were a little girl, whom did you look up to?
I really looked up to my mom and grandmother, and still today, they are still my fundamental role models. I was really concerned as a kid your age about the environment, and one of the first women’s stories that I came to know was the remarkable Kenyan environmentalist and activist, Wangari Maathai. I looked up to her for more than 25 years, and I am so thankful that I have been able to share her story.
Do you plan to write more children’s books?
I’ve already written more children’s books, they just aren’t out yet. I have a book coming out in October that I am really excited to share. It is focused on some of the things I have heard from kids even younger than you. Things that they are really interested in and stories of young activists making a difference. Then I have another book on endangered species that is coming out next year. And I am already thinking about my next books beyond that.
What is it like being the daughter of a president?
I don’t know what it is like not to be. This is the only life I know. I am incredibly proud of all that my parents have done. They have always focused on making the world a better place. I don’t agree with them on everything, and I didn’t agree with them on everything when I was your age. But I am proud of their recent focus on what they can be doing to make this world a better place, particularly for young kids.
What is the best part of being able to read your books to kids all around the world?
The best part about reading my books with young people is that I get to listen to and see their reaction. I love hearing from young readers. I love encouraging them to tell their stories, too. It is the reactions from the young readers that give me so much joy and gratitude.
What are your kids’ names, and what are they like?
My kids’ names are Charlotte and Aidan. Charlotte is 3. She is curious and has boundless energy, and thankfully she loves being a big sister to her younger brother Aidan, who is 21 months old. He toddles around and always wants his big sister’s attention. She gives it to him most of the time, but not all of the time. Charlotte loves animals, she loves Wonder Woman. Aidan also really loves animals and loves numbers. It is a great joy of my life being a mom. My son loves “The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s ABC” book and the “Chicka Chicka 123.” My daughter loves everything by Mo Willems.
Who is your favorite author?
My favorite author has changed over time. When I was your age I loved “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. I have always loved to read, so my favorite author has changed over time. I love getting to know all these new authors through my kids.
How do you handle the haters?
I first think about whatever hateful things people are saying — strangers are saying to me in real life or maybe online — that it’s a reflection on them. They don’t know me and don’t know who I am as a person, as a mom, as a wife or as a friend or as an activist or an advocate. They may know some things about me or maybe they have disagreed with me on certain issues, but they don’t know me, so it is really a comment on them. And then I kind of move toward engaging with kindness and respect.
I do think that it is important that we model what we want to see in the world. So that even if they are being hateful to me, I would never use bad words or denigrate someone as a person or be disrespectful even it that is how they are approaching me or someone else. I do think that part of standing up to hate is standing up to hate. I think you have to call out bullies for being bullies and building coalitions to stand up against bullies. I think I am relentlessly being kind and respectful because just like I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant, I think kindness and respect are the best disinfectant for hate.
Was it fun living in the White House?
I am so thankful for the experience of living in the White House. My parents worked very hard to make it as normal as possible. I am really grateful that it was kind of an open home. I could bring my friends over when I wanted to. I also haven’t forgotten that I have lived in history, and I have always felt a real responsibility to be respectful of that. I am particularly grateful to all the people who work in the White House every day who help ensure that history is also respected. Those were all the people I was lucky enough to grow up with — the gardeners, the housekeepers, the ushers, the florists, the chefs, the historians — that is what made it so special to me.
Were you ever bullied because of your parents’ position?
I was absolutely bullied as a child. In school in particular. I have been bullied as an adult both from my parents’ position on things as well as things that I have said or what I have worked for. I was really thankful that I could talk to my parents about that experience. I always felt comfortable asking for help and also standing up for myself when it felt safe to do so. I also was able to recognize that the bullying was always about the bully and not about me. Even if the bullies keep coming, I am going to continue to keep working away and never forget why I am doing it.
Jennifer Jamet’s fourth-grade class, Montauk Elementary School