Washington "Give it a chance. It's not as horrible as you might think!"
That's the message Caroline Kennedy is trying to spread about poetry. And that's what she'd like to tell 8- to 13-year-olds about her new book, "A Family of Poems."
Once she was the most famous 5-year-old in the world, as the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Now she's a 48-year-old mother of three who wants to share the love of poetry that her parents - especially her mother - passed on to her.
Kennedy doesn't write much poetry, but she thinks that poems can help kids explore and understand the world around them. She also thinks that poetry is a great way to bring families together. Kennedy talked about how she chose poems for the book, the role poetry played in her family and what it was like to live in the White House.
Q: Why is poetry important to you?
A: Poetry is important because it allows us to explore the world and connect with feelings ... in a way that nothing else really does. Poems are like songs.... They stay with you all your life.
Q: How did you choose the poems for the book?
A: When I was young my brother and I would have to choose poems for my mother or grandmother for holidays or birthdays. We had to copy (the poem) over, illustrate it and learn it. She saved them all and put them in a scrapbook, which I have now. (Kennedy's mother died in 1994.) So I went back to that scrapbook and chose some of them. I also asked my own children about their favorite poems. I chose poems that my mother liked. ... I tried to choose poems for different ages and different cultural backgrounds.
Q: Have you had your children keep up the scrapbook tradition?
A: Yes, and they complain as much as we did! (Kennedy has three children, Rose, 17; Tatiana, 15; and John, 12.) But I think they've enjoyed it. They'll enjoy it even more as they look back on the poems they chose. It reminds you of things that were important to you at a certain age.
Q: What advice would you give to young poets?
A: Keep writing. I think poetry ... helps you find your own voice, your own path in life. (Poetry) connects with your own hopes and dreams and struggles. It helps you know yourself. ... It helps you understand what's really important and what's just a distraction.
Q: What's your favorite poem in the book?
A: I hate that question. (She laughs.) "The Owl and the Pussy-Cat," I remember puzzling over it as a child. I thought "The Song of Wandering Aengus" was mysterious and beautiful. "Careless Willie" reminds me of my brother. (John F. Kennedy Jr. died in 1999.)
Q: You include some poems that your mom wrote. Why was poetry so important to her?
A: She and my father were exposed to literature when they were very young. Both of them really believed in the power of words and ideas to change the world. I think poetry really set her on her path in life.
Q: What do you remember about living in the White House?
A: It was so much fun. I could visit my father in his office anytime. My school was in my house. I had lots of pets. People gave me candy all the time. Plus, just the house itself was so much fun to run around in.