Jenna Bush Hager Says Nights Reading with Her Kids Are 'So Precious': 'It Should Be Fun' (Exclusive)
Jenna Bush Hager's "Read with Jenna Jr." list, curated in partnership with the Collaborative Summer Library Program, will be on display at libraries across the country for young readers
Jenna Bush Hager is sharing her love for reading with kids across the country this summer.
The TODAY with Hoda and Jenna co-host, 41, is partnering with the Collaborative Summer Library Program. The mom of three has been named their Summer Reading Champion, with libraries around the country set to distribute a Read with Jenna Jr. list on displays to young readers.
Speaking with PEOPLE about the exciting partnership, Bush Hager says it's "such an amazing privilege," as both a reader and a mom, to help curate lists for picture book, middle-grade, and young adult readers.
"I think the nights that I spend with them sort of cuddled up with the book have been so precious to me," she says of reading with son Hal, 3, and daughters Poppy Louise, 7, and Margaret "Mila" Laura, 10.
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"My daughter Mila is 10, so she's devouring books on her own. I take my Kindle and read whatever I'm reading for the book club into her room and we read at night together," she says. "I think there are so many different ways parents can make sure that the experience is something fun you can share."
"Reading is not a chore. It shouldn't be something kids don't want to do. It should be something that kids can't wait to do, and I think it's up to us [as parents] to figure out what way that works for our kids," she continues. "If your kids like watching mysteries or are interested in solving things, there's a book to find. If your kids love animals, there are a million books, even on our list, with animals at the center," the book club founder points out.
"There are graphic novels, comic books. It should be fun, especially because it's their time to pick. During the school year, they're assigned things to read. I think it's kind of up to gently point our kids in that direction because we know them so well. That's the goal and I think we've done a good job curating a list that offers something for everyone."
For the children's book author — who will release her latest with sister Barbara Pierce Bush, Love Comes First in stores — summer reading holds a special place in her heart, bringing back memories of time spent with family growing up.
"I remember being with my grandmother in Maine and she would not let any of us — my cousins or my sister or me — leave the house to go do anything until we had done our reading for at least 30 minutes. She knew how important it was, as a lifelong reader herself."
During those Maine summers, Bush Hager was reading "all of Judy Blume's books" and being "such a Baby-Sitter's Club kind of kid."
"I loved a mystery series, like the R.L. Stine books too. And I think that's a big piece of information parents need to know: that their kids don't need to read the most academic books," she continues.
"They don't necessarily need to read nonfiction. They should just read whatever it is they can't put down. Series are really great for that because once they're done with one, they can't wait to get on to the next one."
With readers across these age groups, Bush Hager says that some of her family's favorites have been included, from Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree to Kwame Alexander's How to Write a Poem.
"We have quite a bit of picture books that are perfect for reading with the kids or those kindergarten, first-grade readers who just devour one after the other. Then we have the middle-grade picks, which I Love Renee Watson's Ways to Grow Love, which I adore. And there's Dog Man, that series is such a bestseller and a great way to get reluctant readers into reading because it's so funny and action-packed."
"Then we have Are You There God, It's Me Margaret? for the older readers, which is also out in theaters. And because it has those sort of slightly mature themes, it's perfect to start discussions with the 9, 10, and 11-year-olds, and you can also take them to the movies and enjoy that. The list is so diverse and offers something for each age level, which was really important to us."
In her house, Mila's exploring new books while the ones she's outgrown are getting love from Poppy.
"Poppy has started reading all of Mila's series. She inherited all of her books and the ones Mila really loved, Poppy's loving too. Especially the Baby-Sitter's Club graphic novels, which I love because I'm such a fan of graphic novels. I think some parents are reluctant to have their kids read them and but really they're such a good way to get kids to start to read on their own, especially your visual children."
When the family isn't reading together, they're finding other ways to bond, like taking in Taylor Swift's Eras tour with the girls and husband Henry Hager.
"It was awesome. It was Poppy's first concert, so we were so excited to get to take her to see somebody who we all love. We're all major Swifties and I think to witness somebody who works so hard but also has such gratitude for what she does is such a good lesson for my kids," Bush Hager tells PEOPLE.
"I said to my daughter Mila, 'Did you see why I said that?' She's like, 'You said it a million times,' but I think when I was watching her perform for this huge audience in this huge stadium, not only is she beyond talented and worked so hard, but she seems so grateful to be doing it."
"I feel like that was such a fun thing, because I was watching it through their eyes too. And I just kept marveling at the fact she was so filled with gratitude that she gets to do this for a living. That was such a great teachable moment for our girls, that being grateful and kind is so important."
As summer kicks off, the family of five plans on spending time in Maine with the extended Bush family, while Mila will embark on another summer at sleepaway camp.
"My daughter Mila goes to the same summer camp I went to growing up, which is in Texas. Nothing has really changed since I went there in the '90s, so it's really fun. Hoda and I talk about this on the show, I think summer is a time to just slow down and enjoy each other. So hopefully it goes by really slow, because that's our slow down.
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