Book Review: On My Honor by Shannon Henry Kleiber

 I was a Junior Girl Scout from 4th to 6th grade. It was a ton of fun, but there wasn't a troop available after we transitioned to middle school. It also did not seem like a very cool thing to keep doing. Yet the further and further I got from my Girl Scout days, the more I cherish them. OK, I don't cherish the day my mom made me wear my uniform with knee length argyle socks, but hey, the girl time was great. The camping, the crafting and yes, even the cookie sales were filled with wonderful memories.

That is why I started the ball rolling to start a Girl Scouts troop for my daughter and try to be the best volunteer I can be to support the leaders. It is also why I jumped at the chance to read Shannon Henry Kleiber's book on the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, On My Honor: Real Life Lessons From America’s First Girl Scout.

The Girl Scouts have been the site of controversy over the past year. Conservatives have questioned the radical direction of 100 year old organization. Yet, just a few pages into On My Honor, it is clear that the Girl Scouts have been fairly radical since its inception. While there has always been a focus on home economics, Juliette Gordon Low also experienced one of the most feared things for women -- being a divorced woman without financial support. Thus financial independence is at the root of the cookie sales. It was her way of having the girls learn how to manage money without fear. For many years the Girl Scouts could be said to be a place of stealth feminism. Luckily, today's leaders are bringing the feminism out in the open. And you know that I do with my daughter's troop.

I was lucky to ask Shannon a few questions about the book, Juliette and Girls Scouts:

1) I love that Juliette was so flawed. Have you found or do you think that discussing Juliette's flaws has/would lead to some questions pointed towards us? I can see my daughter responding to Juliette's flaws asking me what my biggest failure has been, what boy did I date that I wish I hadn't, etc.

Juliette Gordon Low was flawed, like any real person. She was a terrible speller, was almost completely deaf, and was incredibly stubborn—which could be both a flaw and asset. I think it’s important to young girls to know that none of us are perfect, and that failing is a part of life. We learn so much through failure, from how to approach things differently next time, to how we react to certain situations. I think it’s great for girls to ask their moms about these things, and the conversation will be meaningful.

2) On page 142, you talk about how handbooks promoted needlework as a way to calm the mind or refocus. Have you taken up any needle/yarn work since writing the book?

No, I haven’t taken up needlework. But, I find yoga to give a calming focus that I think might be similar.

3) What do you think Juliet would say about the fact women are still fighting for equal/fair pay?

I think she’d encourage girls to go after more rewarding and better paying jobs. She’d most likely focus on how the girls could change things for themselves.

4) Do you think that the fact Juliet wandered for so long gives today's girls a freedom to explore or increases anxiety about "creating a life plan."

One of the things that surprised and interested me most about Daisy was how she was able to reinvent herself and find a new passion in her early fifties when she founded the Girl Scouts. Her life is really an example of every American woman, who must make choices and change and reinvent along the way. A life plan can be a good guideline, but as Daisy found, and as most women do, unexpected things happen. People get sick, relationships change, jobs begin or end suddenly. Daisy is a great example of how it is never too late to find yourself, especially if you are open to a new challenge.

5) If Girl Scouts is a feminist training ground, what would you like to see as the result?

I’d like to see an increasing number of women excelling in careers in many fields—science, business, academics, the arts and more, who are paid well and who are respected for their work. At the same time, these will be women who have an unusual understanding of leadership, sisterhood and service to others. These women are our future generation.

As we prepare for Back to School, it is also time to prepare for a return to troop meetings. So get yourself a copy at Powells or Indiebooks.

Disclaimer:  I received this book via a publicist, which is also how to managed to obtain an interview with the author.

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