As a child at the White House, Caroline Kennedy got early lessons in the power of words. Her father, President John F. Kennedy, was famously eloquent. Her mother Jacqueline adored poetry and kept a scrapbook in which her children would paste favorite poems. Kennedy, 47, talked with Time about her new anthology, A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children (Hyperion).
Why create another book of children's poetry?
When I put together a book of favorite poems of my mother's [The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis], the response I got was really surprising to me. People have an emotional connection to poems, which often play a role in families and between generations. So that's really what guided me.
Can poetry still draw in kids in the age of Xbox?
People think of poetry as somewhat irrelevant today. But from the younger children's perspective, I think memorizing poems can give them a real sense of achievement and accomplishment. It's something that belongs to you, something you've done successfully. I think that's a feeling of power. Writing poems is also a way for kids to explore their feelings in the world.
Your chapter introductions convey the idea that words can make a difference. Is this a message your family taught you?
Certainly one of the reasons that my father still inspires people is because of the language that he used to really change this country. So that's obviously a very large-scale example. People think a poet is someone who sits alone. In fact, poetry has come out of the oral tradition. It's something people shared. It has a vitality that kids really respond to.
Could you talk about the poetry scrapbooks that you made when you were little and that your own kids have made? That idea just might catch on.
Good. My own children will be happy that others are suffering as they have! Whenever we asked my mother what she wanted for her birthday or Christmas, she would say, Write or choose a poem for me. So we used to do that and illustrate it on a piece of paper, and she saved them. It's so much fun to look at the poems we chose at different ages.
Any examples you could share?
My brother chose this poem about the brother who nails his sister to the door. That brings back a lot of memories.
You included a poem by your mother. Did she ever imagine being included in a collection with Blake and Frost?
When I did it the last time [in the earlier anthology], I felt a little badly because I could just imagine her saying, I can't believe you're doing this to me.
Have you ever written any poetry?
A little, not a lot.
You're not tempted to share it with the world?
It's a tough time for raising children. Any generic maternal advice about preparing kids for what looks to be a challenging future?
Obviously there are new challenges, but I feel the values I grew up with are still things that I want to pass on to my children: a sense of confidence in themselves, a curiosity about the world and a desire to make it better.