This is not that story time. As part of September’s National Literacy Month activities, which culminate in next week’s National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, Bush, 91, teamed up with Brad Meltzer, the best-selling author of adult thrillers, to videotape her dramatic reading of one of his offerings for children: I am Lucille Ball. The pair, who have worked together for more than a decade on the programs of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, set up in her husband’s office in Houston – complete with a makeshift chocolate-factory conveyor belt on former President George H.W. Bush‘s coffee table and a curly red “Lucy” wig on Meltzer’s normally bald head.
“Are you a nut, basically?” Bush asks. “We’re like Lucy and Ethel,” Meltzer tells her. “We’re going to do the chocolate conveyor belt scene. You’re going to do that with me, right?”
Bush perfectly plays the straight man, with a curt, dry, “No.” When the author suggests instead, “We’ll be like Hillary and Donald Trump,” Bush rolls her eyes. “Probably not the best example, I’ll admit,” says Meltzer. (Did Bush say whether she, like her husband, is breaking with the Republican Party and voting for Hillary Clinton over GOP nominee Trump? “Ethel always keeps Lucy’s secrets,” Meltzer tells PEOPLE.) The book featured is one of Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World series, whose newest releases this month are I am Jane Goodall and I am George Washington, which are aimed at giving kids real-life heroes.
Jane Goodall Courtesy the Jane Goodall Institute
Meltzer tells PEOPLE he’s still chuckling over what Bush let him get away with in presidential quarters. “There was no script and the entire thing was done in one take. For 10 minutes, she let me eat 300 chocolates in drag in the President’s office.”