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Jenna Bush, Author, Finds Eager Audience at Signing

By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wholesome tween idols are in dangerously short supply, according to Jackie McKone. So the Arnold mom was perfectly glad to rise at 5 a.m. yesterday to snag tickets to a Disney Channel "Hannah Montana" concert for her daughter Molly -- and then spend five hours at the mall waiting to see the 11-year-old's newest pop-culture heroine, Jenna Bush.

"We wanted to meet a real role model," said Molly's friend Samantha Newman, 10.

The two girls were among the 220 people who jumped through endless security hoops to hear the president's daughter read from her new nonfiction young-adult book at the Borders bookstore at Westfield Shoppingtown Annapolis. "Ana's Story: A Journey of Hope" is part biography of a young Latin American single mother living with AIDS and part inspirational call to action.

After a major publicity rollout by publisher HarperCollins -- including interviews this week in People magazine, The Washington Post and on ABC's "20/20" -- Bush's first bookstore appearance in a three-month, 25-city tour was an unusual test of the 25-year-old's star power. No doubt that in a normal book-signing session, she could have drawn a mob of the casually curious, but how many fans are fervid enough to show up at 9 a.m. for a 2 p.m. event?

Secret Service agents and local police cleared the second floor of the bookstore to sweep for explosives hours ahead of Bush's appearance; then ticket holders started going through security and making their way to the seats, which quickly filled to standing room only two hours before she arrived.

Many in the crowd cited their longtime support of both Bush presidencies as their main reason for coming out. But several said they don't side politically with the family -- including McKone, who saw the teacher-turned-UNICEF intern as a worthy celebrity role model for her daughter. "She's doing something good," she said, "not like Britney Spears."

Joanne Griffin of Annapolis described herself as an erstwhile Republican who has split with the White House on such issues as tax policy, spending and Iraq. But she was compelled by Jenna Bush in her interview with Diane Sawyer on "20/20" the night before.

"Her normalness -- it's a credit to her mom and dad, to be so normal and so well-spoken and so passionate as a teacher," Griffin said.

Merrill Kahn of Annapolis, who attended with her daughter Rachel, said that she is a Republican but that "if Chelsea [Clinton] had a book signing, we would have come. I think it's so interesting to see presidential children."

Bush got a round of applause as she walked out in a lightweight mustard-colored print dress and beaded thong sandals. "This is my first day," she told the crowd, smiling, "so I'm a little nervous."

Reading from notes but gazing up to make eye contact, Bush explained how she met "Ana," a pseudonym for the HIV-positive Latin American teen who is the subject of her book. "Ana changed my life," she said. "She wanted me to tell her story."

Reading a lengthy excerpt from the book, Bush stopped once: "I promise it's not that much longer," she told her audience before continuing. Then she urged the young people in the room to make "small gestures" to improve the world -- signing up as a tutor or mentor, educating themselves about AIDS and HIV.

Bush's new fiance, Henry Hager, stood listening in the back in a green polo shirt and jeans, unrecognized by most of the crowd. Her longtime Texas pal Mia Baxter, a photographer who provided the images for the book, wandered the room taking pictures.

Borders would not say how many of her books it sold, but many who lined up for Bush's signature held multiple copies. She has said her share of profits will go to UNICEF.

Bush worked her way through the line in little more than half an hour, bantering briskly with fans: "Your little brother ate your homework?!" "Oh, the Eastern Shore is so beautiful!" "That's a beautiful necklace!" "Thanks for coming out here today!"

"It was very inspiring," said Shelby Collinson of Chesapeake Beach, a 12-year-old in a purple "birthday princess" sash and beads.

"And she's very pretty," said her 11-year-old cousin London Collinson. "She looks like her mom."

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