A Conversation with Chelsea Clinton

The author shares her hopes for our empowered younger generation and her enduring love of Jane Austen.

CHELSEA CLINTON: Start Now!

What can I do to help save endangered animals? How can I eat healthy? Why do I need to cover my mouth when I cough? What do I do if I’m being bullied?

With information on problems large and small, Chelsea Clinton’s Start Now! breaks down the concepts of health, hunger, climate change, endangered species, and bullying for a young generation, ensuring readers can understand the world around them and showing them how they can make a difference in their own lives, as well as in their communities and the globe at large. Interwoven with comic drawings to illustrate Clinton’s words, photographs of real kids who are making a difference today, and actionable lists of ways to get involved, this book is the perfect introduction to young activists who want to make the world a better place.

Recently, Chelsea spoke with Read It Forward’s Abbe Wright and Emma Shafer, touching on everything from how our children are more powerful (and empowered!) than we realize to the treasured books her family enjoys at home.

Read It Forward: So, tell us a bit about Start Now!. What lessons are you hoping to teach in this book?

Chelsea Clinton: Well, Start Now! came out of a reaction to something that I heard when I was on my very first book tour for It’s Your World a few years ago, when parents and teachers asked me if there would be a younger version. That kept rumbling around in my brain until I finally thought, “You know, I have to try to do that.” So, Start Now! started off as a younger version of It’s Your World and then became its own book. I’m sure this is probably not an uncommon experience authors have when we attempt to adapt something, and it winds up becoming its own effort with its own identity.

I’m just so excited for Start Now! It’s targeted to 7- to 10-year-olds, and it addresses some of the issues that I’d heard from that age group they were concerned about, including climate change, protecting endangered species, and how to help themselves, their families, and schools be healthier. Something that I find both heartbreaking and inspiring as a real area of focus for kids is bullying. So, I talk about those different areas with an emphasis on how they’re affecting kids today, and what kids can and are already doing to make a positive impact in those areas. I hope it helps kids who are wondering how to start or what they can do. As the title says, you have to start now to make a positive impact at home.

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RIF: It’s so important for kids who don’t have much control over many spheres of their lives. They go to school, they do what their parents tell them to do, and they probably have a bedtime. But this is a way for them to exert some control over their environment and feel like they’re making an impact somewhere.

CC: That’s certainly my hope. As we see from some of the stories that I share in the book, there are kids who persistently ask to start school gardens or to have bullying benches at schools, and thankfully their schools are really supportive of that. Or who asked their parents to help them make a positive difference in Flint, even if they live a couple thousand miles away. Clearly, those are all stories where the kids’ intentions were really supported ultimately by their parents and teachers to be able to make those positive differences in the world. And yet, if they had never asked to have those opportunities, they wouldn’t have been able to do the good they ultimately did. So, I hope this encourages kids to think about the ways that might seem small at first but are pretty powerful and profound over time to make a positive difference. I hope it also helps parents and teachers realize how powerful kids can be when we support them.

RIF: Why is it so important to start young when teaching kids how to be concerned citizens, well before they can vote?

CC: We know from a lot of research, and anecdotally in our own lives, that kids are very perceptive to the world around them, the world of their families and schools, and our broader world. And we know that many kids say they really do want to get involved. Sometimes it’s that they want to get involved in fighting homelessness, and sometimes it’s saving dogs and cats at the local shelter, and sometimes it’s standing up against climate change. The range of things that kids, even young kids, say they’re concerned about and want to get involved in is probably equal to the range of the things that adults say we really care about and want to get involved in. And we know that the earlier kids are empowered and supported to make a difference, the more likely they are to stay engaged throughout their lives. I think we’re all better, regardless of what our individual views are, when more of us—and predictably, more young people—are engaged in helping our futures, hopefully to be healthier and more equitable than we are today.

RIF: You mentioned that Start Now! came from talking to kids about the real things they’re worried about in the world or the differences they want to make, and you highlight real stories in the book. What was your favorite part of learning these kids’ stories and being able to share them?

CC: I am so grateful to be able to share so many kids’ stories now throughout my books. And particularly in Start Now! because the kids whose stories I highlight, these 7- or 8- or 9-year-olds, are making very real differences in standing up for healthier choices at home or standing up against bullying at school. I think that just proves that young people when supported can be powerful, positive forces. So, it was important to me to highlight real kids’ stories because I think their individual stories deserve to be known. Collectively, they’re the best antidote to cynicism that some people may have to thinking kids can’t really make a difference. Actually, kids can make a difference. Look at these real kids who are making a very real difference already.

RIF: The impact of some of these 8- to 10-year-olds, and even younger, is mind-boggling.

CC: And inspiring. I mean, it really inspires me. I hope it inspires kids, and adults who may read Start Now! too.

AW: What books are you and your kids reading at home?

CC: Our kids are much younger than the Start Now! age range. My daughter’s not yet four, and my son is two. We love to read. Thankfully, they love books, and they love the books that are clearly teaching them things, like ABC books and early math books. My daughter’s obsessed with the ocean, which is really intriguing, so now we have these books about sharks and whales and life under the sea. And, yes, she also loves The Little Mermaid.

RIF: Don’t we all?

CC: My son is very proud of himself now that he can sing his ABCs, and he’s making his way through numbers and colors and shapes and things. So, admittedly, those are his favorite books because they give him so much confidence to be like, “Purple! Yes.”

RIF: And what about you? If you have any time to read, what have you enjoyed reading recently?

CC: I just started Circe.

RIF: It’s so good.

CC: It’s so good, and so gripping. Last night I was like, “I have to go—just one more page. I have to go to bed. OK—one more page.” I think I’ve been saying that for 50 pages now. I really have to go to bed.

RIF: I love that feeling of “I want to turn off the light, but I really don’t. I know I’m going to pay for this in the morning…”

CC: Two cups of coffee this morning, not just one.

RIF: Do you have a book you’ve read that you find yourself going back to a lot? Something where you always find something new, or didn’t notice before?

CC: Certainly the book that I’ve re-read the most in my life is Pride and Prejudice. It gives me an absurd amount of joy every time that I read it. I don’t know if I discover anything new per se, yet that rediscovery of the joy it gives me is more than enough of an excuse for the next time I want to read it.

RIF: That’s such a good re-read. When I first read it, I think I was in junior high school, and I didn’t realize how funny it was. Sometimes it takes a while.

CC: Jane Austen is so funny.

RIF: We’re approaching the holiday season. Besides Start Now!, is there a book you’re excited to gift this season? Who are you thinking about gifting books to?

CC: Oh, goodness. Well, certainly our children because they love books, and we value books so much. As part of our holiday tradition, we’ll take them to our wonderful local kids’ bookstore, Books of Wonder, and let them pick out a book or two for themselves. I always love seeing what books they gravitate toward. Because we’re still a few months away, I haven’t really thought about that. But maybe you’ll invite me back, and I’ll have a better answer next time.


Author Photo: Courtesy of the author

CHELSEA CLINTON is the author of She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Made History, It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired & Get Going! and, with Devi Sridhar, Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why? She is also the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, where she works on many initiatives, including those that help to empower the next generation of leaders. She lives in New York City with her husband, Marc, their daughter, Charlotte, their son, Aidan, and their dog, Soren. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChelseaClinton or on Facebook at facebook.com/chelseaclinton.

About Abbe Wright

Abbe Wright

ABBE WRIGHT is the Editor of Read It Forward. As a kid, she used to get in trouble at summer camp for using a flashlight to read inside her sleeping bag after lights out, but these days, she lives in Brooklyn, where nobody minds if she stays up late reading. She has written for Glamour, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Cut and tweets about books (and The Bachelor) at @abbewright.

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