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Laura Bush Charms Russia Children

May 24, 2002

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MOSCOW (AP) _ First lady Laura Bush won giggles and shy smiles from Russian school children Friday as she read a popular American story and distributed pictures of one of her dogs, Barney.

``Would you like a Barney card?″ Mrs. Bush asked, as about 10 children swarmed around her in the Russia State Children’s Library to receive a postcard featuring the Scottish terrier.

In contrast to her solo European tour, Mrs. Bush is following a more traditional first lady schedule here, in keeping with the very low profile of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wife, Lyudmila, who rarely carries out solo engagements.

Mrs. Bush joined Mrs. Putin on Friday morning for a quick visit to Russia’s premier Russian art museum, the Tretyakov Gallery, before heading to the children’s library.

``I have been so looking forward to coming here,″ Mrs. Bush said as she greeted Mrs. Putin with two kisses outside the Tretyakov Gallery’s ornate entrance. ``You look absolutely gorgeous.″

Valentin Rodionov, director of the gallery, gave Mrs. Bush a bouquet of yellow roses, saying he had heard that yellow was her favorite color.

After viewing some of the gallery’s famous portraits and icons, Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Putin headed to the central children’s library, which houses a copy of every children’s book printed in Russian.

Director Lydia Zharkova gave Mrs. Bush a quick history of the library, and then led the first lady into a brightly painted reading room to read a story to a group of excited and nervous children. Some dressed up specially for the event, wearing suits and ties.

Mrs. Bush read Robert McCloskey’s ``Make Way for Ducklings,″ pausing after every page while it was translated into Russian for the children. Some of the names in the story _ a tale about a duck family searching for a traffic-free place to live _ had the children giggling before the translator even started.

Many children in Moscow are familiar with the ducklings’ names because there are statues in Novodyevichy Park depicting the ducks, a gift from former first lady Barbara Bush in 1991. They have become popular attractions, and occasional vandalism targets. The mother and two ducklings were stolen a few years ago, but replaced.

When Mrs. Bush finished the book, she presented it as a gift to the library.

``Congratulations on building such a beautiful library,″ Mrs. Bush said.

As she handed out the postcards of Barney, she told the children, ``He likes to sleep.″ They thanked her in English, and then proudly showed off the gifts for a dozen photographers and television crews.

Mrs. Putin initially was somewhat reluctant to participate in the reading session, U.S. Embassy staff said. She was more interested in a low-key tour of the children’s library than a reading event in front of television cameras, they said.

In the end, she sat next to Mrs. Bush in the reading room, but remained silent throughout the event.

Mrs. Bush was scheduled to join President Bush later Friday at the Putins’ dacha, or summer cottage, for an informal dinner.

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