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Animal Chat For First Lady

Writing to Socks and Buddy, the nation's first pets, is helping thousands of children read better, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton says.

In an America Online Internet session devoid of political talk Tuesday evening, Mrs. Clinton pitched her new book, Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids' Letters to the First Pets. She also encouraged parents to help children send more letters.

"We should realize that literacy is not just reading, but also writing," Mrs. Clinton wrote in her chat session. "[Writing] helps a child 's language development, helps them formulate ideas and improves vocabulary."

The book, showing the lighter side of life in the White House, was inspired by the 300,000 annual letters sent to Socks, a black-and-white domestic shorthair cat, and newcomer Buddy, a chocolate Labrador retriever.

"I decided those letters were so wonderful that I wanted to share them with other children and adults," she wrote.

Mrs. Clinton also explained how the pets' letters are answered by local military retirees, and how Socks and Buddy do their White House "jobs," such as greeting guests and visiting children's hospitals and nursing homes.

Mrs. Clinton's first time chatting online drew dozens of browsers, though it started past most children's bedtimes, at 10 p.m. ET.

A few children stayed up for the chat.

"I love Mrs. Clinton, and I am 7 years old," read one message.

The questions, selected in advance, were mostly from people identifying themselves as teachers and parents and focused on education.

Many chatters speculated among themselves about Mrs. Clinton's prospects for the New York Senate seat that she has been courted to seek. "She could be good for the state's children," wrote one viewer.

Mrs. Clinton won praise from child advocates for her first book, It Takes a Village.

Dear Socks, Dear Buddy includes a pet history of the White House, from Dolley Madison's parrot, who escaped a British attack on the White House, and to the Bushes' English springer spaniel Millie, who also has a book.

The Socks and Buddy book, the royalties from which are donated to the National Park Service Foundation, reprints 50 letters from children nationwide. It includes more than 80 candid photographs of the pets in the Oval Office, on the lawn and even in the pool.

"I don't think Socks and Buddy know that anyone in the White House is a VIP other than them," she wrote.

She recounted the family's semi-successful efforts to get cat used to dog: "Bill has worked hard to bring peace to many parts of the world and was determined that Buddy and Socks would get along... I guess you could say they are living in a state of peaceful but uneasy coexistence."

Written by Anjetta McQueen

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