Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have combined two social distancing-friendly activities with Grandma’s Garden — a new picture book that was inspired by the former first lady’s late mother, Dorothy Rodham, who loved to read and garden with them both.
Grandma’s Gardens will be released by Philomel Books on March 31.
While discussing the book with PEOPLE, the mother-daughter duo also explained how they’re following safe practices during the new coronavirus pandemic, which has forced millions of Americans to stay home to slow new infections.
“We’re all at home in New York. Everything is obviously shut down in the city, and we’re trying to stay as safe as we can,” Hillary, 72, tells PEOPLE. “This is a different kind of experience for all of us.”
Both Hillary and Chelsea are happy to promote their new book, but their main priority is to keep their family safe — and they’re facing the same challenges as other Americans who are staying at home. (On March 20, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought much of the state to a halt when he ordered “non-essential” New Yorkers to stay home.)
“My daughter just walked in,” Chelsea, 40, says during the interview, before addressing daughter Charlotte, 5. “Yes, we’re talking about Grandma Dorothy, Charlotte.”
After reflecting on their hopes for the book, the Clintons explained specifics about how they’re staying healthy during the outbreak that has infected tens of thousands of people in New York City, where Chelsea lives with her three young kids and husband Marc. (Hillary and former President Bill Clinton own a home north of the city.)
“[We’re] washing our hands all the time, wiping down surfaces that have been touched,” says Hillary. “[I’m] trying to break the habit, which I wasn’t as aware of as I am now, about how often I touch my face. I really have been surprised by that, so I’ve had to work on breaking that habit.”
She continues: “We’re doing everything that the experts who really know about infectious disease have been recommending.”
What to Know About Grandma’s Gardens
Illustrated by Carme Lemniscates, Grandma’s Gardens shows how three generations can connect, learn and share memories while spending time in the garden — an activity that the Clintons cherish.
Hillary’s mom, who in her later years lived with the Clintons in their house in Washington, D.C., gardened with her and Chelsea until her death in November 2011. It’s a tradition that the Clintons are now sharing with Chelsea’s children: Charlotte, Aidan, 3, and 8-month-old Jasper.
“Doing something that [my mom] loved to do with the next generation, my children, her great-grandchildren, gives a ready opportunity to talk about her,” Hillary says. “So it’s a way of not only doing something together, but passing on memories to the grandchildren that she never got to meet. Hopefully she lives in their memories going forward.”
Chelsea shares this hope.
“[My kids] really have fun doing something with their grandmother that they know I did with my grandmother,” she says. “I hope that young readers are excited to go outside, and excited to garden and, also, feel empowered to drive this conversation themselves.”
Giving Back & Speaking Out About Trump
Hillary, a former Democratic, presidential nominee, criticized former foe President Donald Trump‘s response to the crisis, saying that she was “very disappointed.”
While the former first lady is listening to health experts, she tells PEOPLE she’s not impressed with what she calls Trump’s delayed and problematic handling of the virus.
Most recently, Trump drew widespread outcry and confusion when he declared that he hoped to see an end to the stay-home restrictions by Easter, on April 12. It’s a deadline that many in the health field deem unlikely as the virus is not yet contained.
“I’m very disappointed in the way that they have handled it. We had the opportunity to get prepared and be much more ready for it, because we saw what was happening in China,” Hillary says. “And it appeared that until relatively recently [during the week of March 9], the administration was not preparing us, or taking the threat to our public health as seriously as they should.”
While Hillary acknowledges that many Americans have been taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from spreading the coronavirus, she argues the president’s comments and actions have hindered the collective response.
“People have been having to follow the directions that we get from the CDC and other experts to take care of ourselves by washing our hands, not touching our faces, taking care to be physically distant,” she says. “But because that message did not come from the leadership of our country in an unambiguous, persistent way, there are still too many people who don’t take this threat as seriously as I wish they would.”
She says that people — herself included — need “to be as safe as we possibly can” in order to “protect each other from acquiring the virus.”
“I’m hopeful that we will dodge the worst that has been predicted, or that we’ve seen in a country like Italy, but we have to be prepared,” Hillary continues. “We have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, and we’re still not doing enough of that.”
The Clintons, through their eponymous foundation, are also supporting relief efforts during the pandemic.
They have helped send free meals to families in Arkansas with chef José Andrés and they released a “toolkit” of activities and ideas for parents with kids home while schools shift online.
The Clintons also sent more than 400 pizzas to Westchester County hospitals in New York, which had been hit hard by virus cases.
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