Shana Corey’s books about strong women have always been among my favorite picture book biographies. Her lively writing, well-researched facts, and captivating voice make her books so accessible. I remember years ago reading PLAYERS IN PIGTAILS and YOU FORGOT YOUR SKIRT, AMELIA BLOOMER to my two little girls and how these true stories inspired all three of us to be more brave.
So it’s such a treat to hear from the wonderful Shana Corey about how she faces fears and obstacles, and why she writes about strong women . . .
Tell us about a time in your childhood when you challenged yourself to do something outside your comfort zone?
I was a somewhat nervous kid (I'm a somewhat nervous grownup to be honest) so pretty much everything was out of my comfort zone. I think that's actually why I'm so drawn to stories of people who have the gumption to bend the rules and raise their voices for change-that takes a lot of courage and it's something I really admire and respect. I did fall in love with theatre though in third grade (I got randomly picked to be an elf in the school play) and I fell so completely in love with it that I put aside my shyness and auditioned for everything I could after that. Auditioning was scary, but sometimes (maybe even most of the time) scary things are the things that are the most worthwhile, and many of my best childhood memories involve theater--both the goosebumps excitement of being on stage, but also the joy and fun of being backstage and part of something bigger than you.
What inspired you to write HERE COME THE GIRL SCOUTS! about Juliette Gordon Low?
I've always been interested in Juliette Gordon Low because I was born in Savannah, Georgia where she began the Girl Scouts. And though I moved when I was a baby, I grew up hearing my mom's stories of being a girl scout there in the 1950s and I loved visiting the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace when we went back to Savannah. And I admired so much about Juliette Gordon Low. She was somewhat eccentric (there are hilarious stories about her-she once snuck out of a dinner party and went fishing in an evening gown!) and I love that she didn't feel she had to be like everyone else. I also really admire her ability to pick herself up and start something new-she started Girl Scouts in her 50s, after her marriage very painfully ended, at a time when women of that age-especially women without a husband behind them-would normally have been written off. I loved that that's when she decided to start the most meaningful chapter of her life, a brand new adventure that would help millions of girls have their own adventures!
Have the women you write about inspired you to do something or changed you in any significant way?
Absolutely! I think they've helped me see myself in a clearer way--the kind of person I admire, the kind of person I'd still like to be when I grow up and the kind of person I want to raise my children to be. It's possible that they've encouraged me to worry a little less about rules. And they've reminded me how real history is because I've had the fun through my books of meeting folks directly related to or affected by the events or people in the stories. I've spoken to women who played in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (my book Players in Pigtails is about that league) and to relatives of Juliette Gordon Low and of the first Girl Scouts-it's inspiring to me to realize that these were real people making and changing history.
How do you manage obstacles and failure? Do you ever shy away from things that are hard?
Oy! This is a hard question. I am learning not to shy away from things that are hard. As mentioned earlier I loved being on stage as a child but public speaking when it's just me, not a character, has always been much harder. A low point, was in college when I once avoided a class I wanted to take because I knew there would be a lot of public speaking. That woke me up though-and I decided I absolutely wouldn't let that happen again. When I started publishing, I made it a point to do tons of school visits and I found that I absolutely love (love, love) talking to kids. I remember thinking early on that if I hadn't been a little scared of them initially, it would have been okay for me to say no to them and just not do them. But the fact that I was scared meant I needed to say yes, because otherwise-I would be letting that small worry run my life. And I'm so glad I did say yes because they've become one of my favorite parts of writing and I consider myself so very lucky to be able to go in to schools and talk to kids about books.
Can you tell us about what you are working on now and what’s next?
I am also a children's book editor so that's what I spend most of my time on. But I have three new books out this spring. An early reader on Malala (talk about a girl with serious grit), a picture book-The Secret Subway that isn't about a girl-but is the true story of a guy with grit--changemaker Alfred Ely Beach, who built New York's first subway in 1870-a block long pneumatic subway-and he did it without permission! He was an inventor and the editor of Scientific American and as with the women I write about, he was able to think outside the box and bend the rules when he needed to, to get things done. And then I also have an early reader coming out this May about Hillary Clinton-who is someone I have deeply admired since I was a teenager, so that's been very exciting for me.