Author Jenna Bush Hager sat at a desk in front of the merry-go-round at Kiddie Park Tuesday afternoon and signed copies of her new book, Our Great Big Backyard. The small entertainment park was an odd backdrop for a book written in tribute to U.S. National Parks, but the children certainly didn’t seem to mind.
Tuesday’s signing event drew hundreds of eager kids, parents and grandparents – many of whom braved the event’s delayed start time in 90-degree heat by taking advantage of the park’s offerings.
Lynda Schrack, a proud aunt and hopeful grandmother, toted three copies of Hager’s book as she waited in the long line to meet the author. She bought two copies for her nieces and nephews and a third copy for future grandkids.
“This generation of kids doesn’t know how to get excited about nature or how to get excited about things like hiking, camping and parks,” Schrack said. “This book is going to help them do that — connect back to nature.”
Hager co-authored the book with her mother and former First Lady Laura Bush and the signing tour leads up to the National Park Service‘s centennial in August. Hager was unavailable for interviews at the event because she was running behind schedule.
The book follows the story of Jane, who plans on spending the summer playing video games with her friends until her parents organize a cross-country family road trip to national parks. She’s annoyed at first, but, according to the book’s teaser, “somewhere between the Everglades and Big Bend National Park, things begin to change. Jane starts paying attention to the magnificent sights and spends less time looking at her screen.”
Representatives from the San Antonio Public Library also were in attendance, and provided free activities to encourage reading and promote literacy among San Antonio youth. On June 1, the library launched the annual Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, which encourages kids to keep track of how many books they read or audiobooks they listen to in order to earn a special certificate signed by Mayor Ivy Taylor.
Across from the San Antonio Public Library table, H-E-B sold copies of Bush Hager’s book at a booth and promoted the summer reading program Read 3, which encourages caregivers to read to their children three times a week. In honor of its 110th anniversary last year, the campaign aims to inspire 110,000 people to sign its Read 3 pledge this year.
As Schrack and others melted in line, kids wandered through the park and enjoyed free popcorn, cotton candy and pizza between rides. It was the first time at Kiddie Park for many of the kids who came with the Boys & Girls Club.
A woman and her husband at the event, who asked to remain anonymous, made it possible for the kids from the Boys & Girls Club to attend Wednesday’s event. They paid for them to have a copy of the book, which was the requirement for entry.
“My husband and I wanted to ensure that some of the children who don’t have the means to purchase the book also get to enjoy today,” the woman said.
Naomi Arredondo, Boys & Girls Club of San Antonio director of school based operations, said they brought all of their kids to the event who ranged in ages 6-14 and live in the La Posada del Rey housing projects on the Southside.
“They are super excited,” Arredondo said. “They got all the pizza they could eat, cotton candy, and a book. It (has been) a great thing for them.”
Ashley Weaver, Kiddie Park owner and organizer of Tuesday’s event, said plans for the event began to take shape after Bush Hager visited San Antonio with her mother earlier this summer.
“(Jenna) loves San Antonio and she loves Kiddie Park and she wanted to come back and do an event so we put our heads together and we knew we could make this a really good kick-off for summer reading programs and make it more than just about her book,” Weaver said. “We just wanted to celebrate and make sure kids get excited about keeping up their summer reading and have the opportunity to meet an author in an environment where they are comfortable and at ease.”
CORRECTION: The woman that donated books for the children’s entrance into the park has asked to remain anonymous. Her name has been removed from this story.
Top image: Jenna Bush Hager signs her new book, co-written with her mother Laura Bush, “Our Great Big Backyard” at a book signing event held Tuesday at Kiddie Park. Photo by Katie Walsh.