My Seven Favorite Things About the New Boy Scout Handbook



One year and nine months after I was asked to work on the 13th edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, the book is now a reality. It should be in a Scout Shop near you, and I hope you’ll pick up a copy soon if you haven’t already.

While some of the content has been carried over from the 12th edition, written by fellow Eagle Scout Robert Birkby, much of it is entirely new, as is the book’s design. (The 12th edition featured vintage graphics from all the previous editions, which worked well during the BSA’s Centennial Celebration but feels somewhat dated six years later.)

Now that the book is out, I thought I’d share my favorite features (not all of which I wrote!):

  1. The Chief Scout Executive’s letter (page 3), in which Mike Surbaugh explains how a chance encounter with the Boy Scout Handbook in elementary school launched his Scouting career. That story reminds me that we veterans sometimes forget how magical Scouting can seem to a new Scout.
  2. The STEM sidebars. In keeping with the BSA’s increasing emphasis on STEM, we’ve peppered the book with sidebars that illustrate the science, technology, engineering, and math behind what we already do in Scouting. I enjoyed learning and writing about topics like the technology behind sleeping bag ratings (page 278) and the math used in estimating wildlife populations (page 206).
  3. The practical camping techniques. I loved having the chance to add information I learned at Philmont about the “bearmuda triangle” (page 285) and the caterpillar technique for climbing big hills (page 250).
  4. The fun facts about nature we’ve added to the book. Since a book with national reach can’t possibly give Scouts much nature information that’s specific to their region–most National Audubon Society field guides are bigger than the Boy Scout Handbook–we’ve included tidbits that I hope will whet Scouts’ appetite for learning more. On page 195, they’ll learn about a tree that can live up to 5,000 years; on page 202, they’ll learn about an animal that travels just 55 yards an hour.
  5. The information on food safety in the cooking chapter, including a discussion of the difference between sell-by, best-before, and use-by dates (which many adults don’t understand). I’ve seen enough questionable cooking practices on campouts to know this and other food-safety information is definitely needed.
  6. The advancement sidebars throughout the book, which draw direct ties between what Scouts are reading and specific rank requirements and merit badges. I hope these sidebars will prompt Scouts to pursue merit badges they’ve never considered earning.
  7. My name on page 466. Okay, that probably only matters to me, but it still goes on the list!

By the way, Mike Surbaugh is not the only person whose life was changed by the Boy Scout Handbook. Nobel Prize winner E.O. Wilson, the father of biodiversity, credited his interest in science to the book. It’s fun to imagine how the new edition could impact the lives of today’s Scouts the way previous editions impacted Wilson, Surbaugh, and millions of other Scouts.

Learning the Language of Scouting



As a writer, I love words and enjoying learning more about them. One of the few books I kept after journalism school was my well-thumbed copy of the Associated Press Stylebook (which has since been supplanted by an even more useful website).

Given my interest in words–and considering all the writing I do for the BSA–I often refer to the Language of Scouting, which is “the Boy Scouts of America’s definitive resource on terms and style specific to Scouting and this organization.” Even if you don’t write about Scouting, you’ll probably find it helpful as well.

In the Language of Scouting, you’ll learn all sort of fun facts like these:

  • The word “advisor” is capitalized when you’re referring to a Venturing Advisor but not to an Order of the Arrow lodge advisor.
  • The Advisory Council consists of “nonvoting members of the National Council who, because of experience, have a particular expertise that would benefit the national movement.”
  • Akela (pronounced “ah-KAY-la”) refers to a leader in Cub Scouting and comes from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book.

And those are just a few entries for the letter A.

The next time you come across an unfamiliar Scouting term–Okpik, anyone?–you can probably find a definition in the Language of Scouting.



As the tagline promises, I’ve created this blog as a repository for ideas related to writing, Scouting, and writing on Scouting. I talk about the books I sell at, my other Scouting-related writing projects, and other items of interest. I hope you find the blog of interest. If you have ideas to share, just post a comment on the About page.

A New Adventure


After years of offering tips for Scout leaders and those planning Eagle Scout courts of honor, I’m moving in a new direction: this blog. The idea is simple: to let you access content when you want it and where you want it and to free me up to write about more than just running Scout troops and planning courts of honor (although those topics will remain important).

I hope you like what you see. Please send any comments via the contact form below.