August 11, 2013 8:00 pm • By Tom Paulu / The Daily News
Sara Penny was typically busy one recent afternoon. A few hours before a dance recital, she sat at her kitchen table and prepared gift bags for her upcoming 13th birthday party. While she put candy into the bags, she chatted about the week she had spent in San Francisco working on a magazine for “tween” girls like herself.
Sara’s latest endeavor was the Discovery Girls National Tween Summit. She was one of 17 girls from the United States and Canada who will be featured in upcoming editions of Discovery Girls magazine, which bills itself as the only national publication specifically for girls 8 through pre-teen.
Catherine Lee started the magazine in 2000, unable to find an appropriate magazine for her daughter, who was then 8. By now the bimonthly magazine has a circulation of about 1 million.
Sara’s grandmother, Lisa Penny, spotted a Discovery Girls magazine for Sara’s seventh birthday. “There weren’t many things out there that were appropriate,” Lisa said.
“I’ve been reading it ever since,” Sara said. “Sometimes I fall asleep reading them.”
The pages of Discovery Girls are devoted to what girls like Sara face in their everyday lives: body image, bullying, healthy relationships with boys.
“I like that they show real girls,” Sara said. “They have a lot of statistics and things. In magazines like American Girl they’re models.” Neither does she like what she calls “celebrity gossip magazines” like Tiger Beat.
Discovery Girls has small books about such topics as puberty. “It goes into more depth about it than health class does,” Sara said.
Sara had to answer 12 questions and send photos to apply for the summit. When she was accepted, her grandmother was so excited that she went to Cascade Middle School and got Sara out of class to tell her.
Lodging was provided but they had to pay their own air fare.
In San Francisco, Sara said, “we did video talks about friendship and insecurity, technology and being safe online.
“For the most part we were all alike in what we go through with boys and school – pretty much what all girls go through.”
The girls had silly fun, too. “We dressed up in ‘80s clothes and went to a bowling alley,” she said. “They gave us leg warmers, glasses and those fingerless net things.”
Sara will be featured in the February-March 2014 issue of the magazine. She won’t find out until then if she’s featured on the cover.
Back home, Sara spun back into dance classes at High Step Dance Academy. During the day, she goes to work with Penny at a Longview attorney’s office and helps with filing.
Both are looking forward to seeing the Taylor Swift concert in Portland.
Sara has stayed in touch with the girls she met in San Francisco. “I’m really close to almost all the girls in my group. We all text and Skype each other every day.”
Sara has been an activist since she was in elementary school. She and friends started Pennies for Peace and collected change for schools in Afghanistan. Sara presented the donations to Greg Mortenson, who has worked to build schools in that country, when he appeared in Longview in 2011.
Penny said the girls were upset to later read that Mortenson was accused of fabricating parts of his two books about the school projects.
Sara is an author herself: She’s written two book manuscripts, one based on the fire that damaged their house in 2010, the other about a defiant twin who gets kidnapped. “They’re all on my computer, pretty much,” she said.
Sara also plays volleyball and is involved in a drug prevention project through Youth and Family Link.
How many activities in total? “I don’t count,” she said.
“Her mind’s always spinning,” Penny observed.
Sara, who will be in eighth grade at Cascade Middle School this year, invited 18 girls to her birthday party last week.
Any boys? “NO,” she replied. “I don’t want to grow up. The only reason I want to grow up is to be president of the United States. You can’t do that when you’re 12.”
Well, that’s one of her options. “I want to be an author, a dancer, the president, a marine biologist, a photographer, a fashion designer, to run my own charity, all of that. When I’m bored, I write essays about marine biology.”