The children's book that made Bill Gates cry

Melinda Gates sat down with Jenna Bush Hager to discuss reading with her family, and talked about the books that changed her life.
/ Source: TODAY
By Kerry Breen

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For Melinda Gates, reading has always been an important part of her life, especially when her family is involved.

"'Love You Forever' was one of my favorite books to read," she explained to Jenna Bush Hager on Open Book with Jenna Bush Hager. "Bill and I would both read that to the kids individually, and I loved to sneak by the room, because I could hear him crying as he read it to them."

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw

The picture book tells the sweet story of the love between a mother and her son, and how it never goes away — no matter what the circumstances are. Gates said that she herself would cry while reading it.

"I loved that book," she said. "Every parent will cry. It's one of those, just, classic books."

As their kids — now aged 16, 21, and 23 — grew up, reading only became more important in the Gates household.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Gates said that she liked Suzanne Collins' dystopian Hunger Games series so much that she read it aloud to one of the kids — and Bill would listen in often, something he had done as a child.

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"[His grandmother] read aloud in car trips, to the grandkids, and his mom would drive," Gates explained. "It gave me the idea of reading aloud to my kids, even when they got into middle school."

As her children grew up, Gates continued to recommend books to them — and often her children will respond with their own suggestions.

The Wet Engine by Brian Doyle

Gates said that she read this book on her June vacation and immediately recommended it to her oldest daughter. The non-fiction book explores the human heart as a physical organ and as a metaphor for the soul in a poignant, original, and gripping read.

Gates said that her favorite kinds of books are those that challenge or change her perspective on the world. Her first experience with such a book was in high school, when she read Madame Bovary.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

"To have that completely different perspective about a woman's life, and what she was trying to do, from a French author?" Gates said. "I thought 'Wow, I want to read a lot of other authors who aren't American."

Gates credits the classic tale with expanding her understanding of how many ways there are to exist in the world. More recently, she had a similar experience with a book called "Awakening Joy," which she said inspired her to change the way she interacts with the world around her.

Awakening Joy by James Baraz

"In the last 7 years, a book that just sort of changed my life was a book called Awakening Joy," Gates explained. "And it just really helped me think, about how do you enjoy the moments every single day? All the moments — whether it's a painful moment, a joyful moment, a moment of surprise? How do you collect those moments throughout the day, and enjoy everything?"

Now, as she travels around the world with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she tries to read books that match the cultures and countries she's experiencing — an interest that began with Madame Bovary.

"It's the story, the fiction, that grabs me in, and then I'll use that to then go look up facts about a country," she explained.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

Bush Hager recommended this #ReadWithJenna pick, since it matched Gates' interest in different cultures. The debut novel tells the story of three generations of Palestinian-American women trying to make themselves heard in their culture and community. Even though it takes place in the United States, it makes different cultures resonate with readers.

That sense of culture is inherent in Gates' own book, "The Moment of Lift," which chronicles the women that she's met throughout her life and illustrates every issue from workplace inequality to child marriages.

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

Bush Hager asked Gates about how literacy and reading particularly affects the work of women around the world.

"I think literacy is fundamental, because it starts to empower a woman to read other things and to understand other issues," Gates said. "One of the most important things about education or literacy is we come to know the world in a different way than just what the chief of our village told us, or our parents or our community. It opens your eyes to the fact that there's another world there."

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