Me First! Interview
By: Scott Robertson
Posted On: 2014-12-16
Me First! is a story written by two Scouts about a selfish eagle who annoys everyone he meets, by demanding to be first. As a result of his bad behavior the others rejected him, leaving him feeling sad and lonely. He is helped by a group of glowing golden eagles who help him understand the rewards of putting others first.
The book was written by Danny and Will McNeil who are 17 and 15 year old high school students. Danny recently earned his Eagle rank, and Will is currently working on his service project.
My copy of the book arrived from amazon in less than a week. I was impressed by the quality of the graphics and printing of the book. The story is well written but is bit preachy, but it’s a moral story after all. It reminds me of say a Woodsy The Owl book you would buy in a National Park visitor center.
I rent a room from my best friend, his elementary age girls saw the book in my room and wanted to read it. They seemed to enjoy it and also commented about liking the illustrations.
Now on to the interview:
Tell us a bit about yourselves. What are your favorite subjects in school? What other hobbies do you have besides scouts?
We are both in high school right now. Will is a sophomore and Danny is a senior. We actually are similar in a lot of ways. We both like our science classes. Our hobbies are singing, theater, volunteering at the hospital (Danny), and tennis. Between us, we have been in about 30 shows, including professional and high school productions.
What do you like best about Scouting?
Will: I enjoy going on camping trips with the troop and patch trading.
Danny: I like the service opportunities, and I like how merit badges helped me learn about different careers.
What was your favorite badge you earned?
Will - Dentistry
Danny - Chemistry
What do you like the least about Scouting? What advancement item did you like the least?
Danny and Will: Sometimes the meetings tend to get a little routine. We like it better when the troop goes out and does activities instead. We both thought that getting to first class was the hardest rank to earn so far.
How do you think Scouts could be improved?
This is a hard question because we have had a great scouting experience. But, we would like to see more activities devoted to science and the arts, in addition to the current focus on camping and outdoor skills.
Tell us a bit about your eagle projects.
Danny: I developed a memorial for Ms. Jane Labys, an active member of our Morgantown, WV community. She tragically died in 1996 when flight TWA 800, destined for Rome, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean.
Will: I am working on restoring a peace garden at my old school that has become overgrown.
What inspired you guys to write the book?
Danny: Three weeks before writing the book, I celebrated my Eagle Scout achievement. We had a nice outside ceremony at the memorial grove where I did my Eagle project. I did not want my journey to end. I wanted to continue with service and scouting, but I wanted to try something new. Both my brother and I love to write scripts and put on plays. So, I asked him if he wanted to write a play for children about becoming an Eagle Scout. Will had the idea to turn it into a children’s book. Together we created the character of Baden, a selfish and unhappy eagle. During a quiet trip to our grandparents’ house, we started to put words on paper and the story developed from there.
Were your parents always supportive of the book? Did you have any challenges convincing them to let you publish it?
Our parents were excited about this project from day one. They helped with editing and getting it published. They also loaned us money to pay the illustrator.
How do you think youth leaders can best use your book to share Baden’s lessons? Would you recommend any activities or games to go along with reading the book?
Our hope is that scout leaders will read this book to Cub Scout dens and Brownie troops. The book includes a fun “Search and Find” activity to encourage discussion about the history and symbols of scouting, including Baden-Powell, the School of the Woods, “Daisy” Gordon Low, the fleur-de-lis, and the Cub Scout ranks.
How did David Demby come about doing the illustrations for the book? Was / is he a Scout?
We wrote the first draft of the book at our grandparents’ house in Louisiana. My grandfather told his friend, Rivers Demby, about the project. Rivers mentioned that he had a grandson who recently graduated from art school in Florida. Lucky for us, David was available and wanted to illustrate the book. He created a sketch of Baden, as well as the tigers, wolves, and bears. We worked with him on a number of sketch revisions to make Baden look like the picture in our heads. It was a fun process to watch our imaginary characters come to life.
Any tips for Scouts or leaders who want to write their own book?
Writing a children’s book was much harder than we ever knew. But, now that we are finished, it is all worth it.
Do you have plans for future books?
We are waiting to see whether this book catches on. If people find it helpful, we would be open to writing another book about Baden or creating new characters.
Is there anyway fans can learn more, a website, Facebook page, etc.?
Thank you Danny and Will for taking time to answer my questions. I wish you both all the best.