A Conversation with Author Shana Corey
A conversation with Shana Corey about Here Come the Girl Scouts!
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Question: What inspired you to write Here Come the Girl Scouts!?
Shana Corey: My mom is from Savannah, Georgia, the city where the Girl Scouts were founded, and where I was born. I grew up hearing my mom’s stories about being a Girl Scout there in the 1950s and early 60s, watching her black-and-white home movies of Savannah’s 50th anniversary Girl Scout parade (my aunt marched in it), and admiring the badge sash that my mom still keeps folded up in a drawer. When we'd go back to visit Savannah, we often went to the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, so she and the Girl Scouts have always had a place in my heart and in my family's story.
I've always been interested in women's history and, on a whim, was reading a bit about Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low, and I just fell in love with her quirkiness and her spunk, and with the Girl Scouts themselves. They believed in girl power and being green decades before either term was coined. And at a time when Jews weren't welcome in many places (my mom wasn't welcome in some college sororities as late as the 1960s, for example), Daisy and the Girl Scouts crossed religious and class lines and actively recruited in synagogues, orphanages, factories, and shops. Daisy also gave the Girl Scouts a place to play basketball (in hair bows and bloomers — with a curtain strung up around the court so passersby couldn't get a peek at their legs!). What's not to love? I was fascinated by the idea of this "proper" southern lady who in 1912 founded an organization that was so ahead of its time. I wanted to find out how and why she did it. And when I realized that we were coming up on the Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary, well, I decided I wanted to write this story now!
Q: You’ve written a lot of stories about strong, influential, and progressive women. What about Juliette “Daisy” Gordon Low appealed to you most?
SC: Daisy was an eccentric and I love that many of the stories about her made me literally laugh out loud. According to legend, she was a terrible driver (she drove on the right side of the road in England because she was American!, and insisted on driving on the left side of the road in America because she was British!). My favorite story is about her learning how to drive in Savannah: She once drove her car right into a neighbor’s dining room! When she called her brother afterward to tell him, he asked her what she'd said to the neighbors. She responded, "Why, nothing. I didn't think it would be polite to interrupt their dinner!"
What I really admire about her, though, is her spunk — that she had enough confidence to do this thing, even though the odds were against her. She struggled with her health, had lost almost all of her hearing as a relatively young woman, and suffered a troubled, sad marriage that left her feeling somewhat useless. When she founded the Girl Scouts, she was fifty-one years old — an age when women are often disregarded, especially in the early years of the twentieth century. At this point in her life, Daisy had never done any kind of major organizing (and was famously disorganized — according to legend, her watch didn't have an hour hand!). And yet she had enough gumption, enough smarts and perseverance, to found this incredible organization that has affected millions of women the world over and is still going strong after one hundred years.
Q: You mention in your author’s note that your mother was a Girl Scout in Savannah. Can you share a story from her Girl Scout days that you particularly loved hearing?
SC: The campouts! They made special cushions called "sit-upons" to sit on (the Girl Scouts still use them today) and made biscuits by wrapping dough around a stick and then roasting it over a fire (my mom's always fell off). But my favorite campout story is about the time my mom's best friend got up in the night to go to the bathroom and stepped on a stick. She was so scared that she screamed and woke everyone up. When I was a kid, my mom would say, "Jan screamed bloody murder," and for years I pictured this woman I'd met actually screaming the words "BLOODY MURDER!!!" which made it seem very dramatic and almost like a scary ghost story in itself.
Q: In your acknowledgments, you mention Daisy’s grandniece, Margaret Seiler. Can you tell us more about that?
SC: When I first started my research, I was reading the biography Lady from Savannah by Gladys Denny Schultz and Daisy Gordon Lawrence on the subway. People rarely talk on subways, but the woman sitting next me said, "Oh, Daisy Low — I love her!" It turned out she was a Girl Scout leader. And the next thing she said was "You know, her great-niece, Margaret Seiler, lives in New York!" She very kindly put me in touch with Margaret (who it turns out lives just a few blocks from me). Margaret has been wonderful — very generously sharing family stories and enthusiasm for the book, which I'm so grateful for!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your research?
SC: The research for this book was just plain fun. Everything — from meeting a friend of Daisy's great-niece in a random subway car, to opening an e-mail from and then corresponding with one of my personal heroes, Gloria Steinem (who happens to be a Girl Scout alum) — just fell into place in a way that was almost magical. The Girl Scout National Historic Preservation Center and Museum is in New York City, so I also spent a lot of time there, combing through the archives and reading Daisy’s old letters and travel diaries, as well as every article and first-person account I could get my hands on of the early Girl Scouts (and those first-person accounts were delightful!). I also spent a lot of time e-mailing with the wonderful historians at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah. I've never met people so passionate and knowledgeable about their subject—it was an honor and a pleasure to work with them. And since my deadline and child-care situation didn't allow me to travel, I sent my southern research assistants (i.e., my parents) to the birthplace to do some of the hands-on research that I couldn't do long distance.
My absolute favorite find was the Girl Scout Handbook from 1913. It is filled with priceless gems of wisdom (and humor) that could have been written today, such as "We walk too little in America" and "Every time you show your courage it grows." They make me almost weepy! And they really give you a sense of what the Girl Scouts were and still are all about. Many quotes from that handbook are woven into the illustrations in my book.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you about Daisy or the Girl Scouts?
SC: I was surprised by how active the early Girl Scouts were. I somehow had the impression that girls of 1912 would have been sitting around sewing at meetings, but not the Girl Scouts. They were camping and hiking and playing basketball right from the start. I loved that! I was also blown away by how many Girl Scout alums have gone on to do great things. The number of professional athletes, journalists, business leaders, politicians (of both parties), activists, astronauts, artists, and poets is somewhat astounding. And the alums I spoke to had such warm things to say about the Girl Scouts. When I contacted Gloria Steinem about her Girl Scout experience, she e-mailed back an amazingly beautiful and powerful essay about what the Girl Scouts meant to her, ending with "We all have a place at the campfire. It was the Girl Scouts who taught me that first." I think that perfectly sums up what Girl Scouts are all about.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from Here Come the Girl Scouts!?
SC: That getting outside and enjoying the fresh air and the green is one of the most joyful things you can do. That trying new things is another rewarding, powerful thing. That, as the 1913 Girl Scout Handbook says, "One of you . . . may some day alter the lives of hundreds of thousands of people," and that, just like Daisy, just like all those Girl Scout alums before them, the kids reading this book really can make a difference in the world. They can do anything.
This interview has been provided by Scholastic Inc. It can be reprinted for publication either in full or excerpted as individual questions provided that they are reprinted in their entirety.