- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2006

The Bush family has a passion for literacy, and they stayed true to the cause Wednesday night at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda. Their presence at the third annual Celebration of Reading benefiting the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy helped raise $1 million for a Maryland initiative to teach reading to parents and children and encourage families to read together.

After an opening performance by an a cappella group from Virginia Tech of songs such as “Stayin’ Alive” and “Ghostbusters,” Jenna Bush walked onstage to introduce her grandmother to the 1,400 guests and representatives of corporate supporters, including Comcast, AT&T; and The Washington Times. “They sort of made me want to go shake my booty,” the clan matriarch quipped to much laughter. “Me too,” said Jenna, a teacher in the D.C. public schools.

After Jenna took off, Mrs. Bush, dressed in a blue pantsuit and her trademark pearls, introduced “the world’s best daughter,” Doro Bush Koch, the low-profile sister of the current President Bush and leader of the foundation’s Maryland efforts.

Mrs. Koch turned out to be a “surprise author” at the event, reading an amusing excerpt from her new book, “My Father, My President,” about her childhood experiences (including making prank calls) at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Towers when her dad served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Former President George H.W. Bush, beaming proudly from the front row, later climbed onstage to make a few half-joking comparisons between himself and John Adams. (“John Adams had a son who was a black sheep. I have no such son,” was one.)

The showstoppers, though, turned out to be the four guest authors, each of whom brought his or her own gifts to the celebration. Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham read scholarly bits from his book about faith and politics, “American Gospel,” while blockbuster novelist David Baldacci told funny “tales from the road” such as the time he scared fellow train passengers while interviewing a doctor by cell phone about an efficient way to murder someone (for research purposes). Ronan Tynan, one of the famed Irish Tenors, was the comedian of the group, finding self-deprecating humor in his life’s less auspicious moments, including amputation of both of his legs at the age of 20. He also sang, beautifully, for the crowd.

Most moving was Antwone Fisher, author of “Finding Fish,” the book that inspired the 2002 movie “Antwone Fisher.” Mr. Fisher told the rapt audience about his life, which began with birth in prison, followed by time in an orphanage and abusive foster homes and then being a homeless teenager in Cleveland. He cried (along with many in the audience) while describing his debt to the Navy, which, he said, saved his life when it allowed him to enlist.

When the program ended around 10 p.m., guests headed quickly for buffet tables laden with salmon and beef. Though her parents didn’t reappear, Mrs. Koch circulated in the crowd to chat about her family’s dedication to the cause of literacy, noting that when she was a child, her mother constantly read to her. Asked what her favorite book was, she quickly named “Winnie the Pooh.”

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