From their Texas childhood through their young adult years residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to their adulthood in New York City, twin sisters Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush have been deeply devoted to one another. Their close bond inspired a book for adults, 2017’s Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, and a 2019 picture book of the same title, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki. The former first daughters’ second picture book, The Superpower Sisterhood, which has a 200,000-copy first printing, introduces Emma, who is the only child on her block until two pairs of sisters move in, each girl having a special talent which, when combined, give the friends a “superpower” that helps their neighborhood thrive. The authors spoke with PW about creating this story celebrating the power of sisterhood in its various manifestations.
In what ways is The Superpower Sisterhood a departure from Sisters First, and what was the impetus for this story?
Jenna Bush Hager: Our first book was a love letter to each other, about how having an actual sister makes us braver than we ever thought possible. That theme continues in The Superpower Sisterhood, but the notion of sisterhood widens a bit more. Emma was very much inspired by our mom, who was an only child. Her friends gave her the same feeling of courage and strength that Barbara and I gave each other as children, before our own definition of sisterhood widened to include others as we got older.
Barbara Pierce Bush: Yes, for our mom the meaning of sisters was so much broader, even from the start. Jenna and I started talking about how friends and colleagues can make us feel less alone and bring out the best in us. And then we thought of writing a story about a girl who has no blood sister suddenly forming a sisterhood with her new friends. They all have their own strengths—one is good at math, another at singing, another at design—but when they combine their skills, they become super-sisters.
In this story, you recast the notion of superpowers; there are no protagonists wearing shiny costumes, performing magical feats, or soaring through the air. How did you formulate your definition of a “superpower sisterhood”?
BPB: Since we were interested in conveying the notion of combining talents to build community and do good, we wanted to make sure that the superpowers in the book were human—to get across the message that the girls’ own abilities are enough to serve others and that, united in their enthusiasm and comradery, they are able to transform their neighborhood. Remember as kids when we really believed we could change the world? That’s another incredible power kids have that we need to foster, and that’s a big part of this book. The girls created a sisterhood in different ways to make the community better for all. We wanted to include an element of magic in the story, but it is important that it’s human magic, to show that there is magic in all of us, individually and together.
JBH: It was important for us to write about what we actually see in girls. As a teacher, I was astounded to see how students’ brains work, and how friends can empower others to use their talents. Too often kids can be shy about showing what they’re good at, but we should all feel brave enough to show our powers. A single voice might be a whisper, but many together can become one powerful, loud, super voice.
How did your creative process work for your latest collaboration—did you spend much time writing side-by-side?
JBH: No, we didn’t. We brainstormed ideas for a second picture book for a long time, but we didn’t actually begin writing until the pandemic. Barbara was living in Texas with our parents, and I was in New York City, so we sat on the phone together for hours and came up with a story arc. I honestly can’t remember which of us wrote the first draft, but then we emailed drafts back and forth, building on what the other had written.
As many people were then, we were far apart, and that affected the book’s theme about community, especially at a time when people needed to come together.
Do you have any future books in the works—or percolating in your imaginations?
JBH: Well, the first thing we are doing next is going on a book tour for The Superpower Sisterhood, which will be a blast.
BPB: We’re looking forward to visiting schools and talking to kids and adults. Our previous tours very much impacted the writing of this book, which was not only inspired by our mother, but by people we met along the way. I remember once when two women approached us and one said, “I don’t have a sister, but this is my best friend!” And that’s what we mean by sisterhood. Listening to what readers have to say really sparks our imaginations and creativity.
JBH: In terms of what’s next, it seems that our books have been a natural progression. Sisters First is a younger book, and one that is a popular gift choice for siblings of new babies. The Superpower Sisterhood organically grew out of that book and is a bit older—my daughter Poppy is in first grade and is reading it on her own. I like the idea of working on books my kids are interested in reading. I won’t say we’ll do a graphic novel, but I can say that Mila is in third grade and likes reading graphic novels. Barbara might feel differently, since she has a baby who is teething.
BPB: Yes, we may have to revert to a board book!
JBH: So, we don’t yet know what is coming next—but there will be more from us.
The Superpower Sisterhood by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush, illus. by Cyndi Wojciechowski. Little, Brown, $18.99 Apr. 19 ISBN 978-0-316-62844-0