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September 2009 Archives

Laura, Alba, and All Those Judgers
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Wouldn't it be a blast to be famous? You're loved by millions of people who don't even know you, and get special VIP treatment everywhere you go. But living in the spotlight can be rough, too. You have one bad hair day or say something weird in an interview, and the critics and haters start making cruel, unfeeling remarks. They often defend their criticism by saying things like "Hey, she's famous...she can take it." And to some extent, they're right. Most famous people develop a thick skin to deal with anything hurtful or mean that's said about them. This doesn't excuse the cruelty, but -- let's be honest -- celebs and public figures have to learn to ignore the bullies if they want all the perks of fame.

But what if a person doesn't want to be famous? What if they have a private life, and then suddenly find themselves in the spotlight, overnight? And what if the glare of that spotlight was totally brutal?

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That's just what's happening to Laura and Alba Zapatero, sisters who are 16 and 13 years old. In many ways, these girls are just like you and your friends. They have favorite movies, bands, and books, and they have their own style. But these girls also happen to be the daughters of the Prime Minister of Spain. While visiting New York City last week, Laura, Alba and their mom and dad posed for a photo with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Like many photos of the US President, the portrait was made public on a website, and picked up as news.

Only there was a little problem...Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero never wanted his daughters to live a public life, and with the help of a Spanish privacy law, made sure that no photos of his girls had ever been published. He wanted his daughters to have the same privacy as any other normal teenagers -- the chance to live their lives without the whole world watching. Once he realized that the pictures were on the Web, he tried to have them removed, but it was too late. Despite all of the Prime Minister's attempts to safeguard his daughters' privacy, the world got their first look at Laura and Alba. And some people who saw the pictures decided to be really, really mean.

People saw these two teen girls with a famous and important father, and got angry that Laura and Alba don't look like their idea of "Prime Minister's daughters." So they started tossing around labels, criticizing the girls' choice of clothing, jewelry, and haircuts. You know how it goes...you've probably seen kids in your school get picked on for the way they dress, or for being "too skinny" or "too fat." You've heard people lumping kids into certain groups or cliques, some of which have less status than others. It happens to millions of young people every day, and it hurts.

Only for the Zapatero sisters, it's happening on a huge, huge scale. They aren't being teased by a few bullies in school...they're being teased by people all over the world who think that these girls are fair game just because they have a famous dad! Maybe Sasha and Malia Obama are better off. Because they're seen regularly in press photos, they'll probably feel pressure over the next few years to appear a certain way...but at least they (hopefully) won't be publicly ridiculed.

What do you think? Should Laura and Alba have to deal with all this because of their father's job? Was their dad wrong for trying to shield them from the public in the first place? How would you feel if people all over the world saw your picture for the first time, and decided to judge you based on that one photo? Have you ever been judged on your appearance? We want to hear your thoughts. You can also check out our section on online bullying (which is basically what's happening to the sisters!).


Book Review: "Odd and the Frost Giants"
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What would your life be like if your name was Odd? Not an odd name, like Mistress Wafflebutter or Fishy McBaconfoot, but actually the name "Odd"? Neil Gaiman, author of instant classics like "Coraline" and "The Graveyard Book" (as well as many other amazing books for both older and younger readers), starts off with this simple premise in his new book "Odd and the Frost Giants" (HarperCollins).

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Odd lives in a small village in Norway during the time of the Vikings, and although his name is considered lucky, he lives a fairly unlucky life. First his father dies in a sea raid, then an accident in the woods leaves him with a crushed leg and a permanent limp. Finally, his mother remarries an unfriendly man who has his own kids to worry about and no love of his new stepson. But things really get bad when something, well, odd happens to his village: spring fails to come when it's supposed to, and after weeks of cold and ice and snow, the townspeople turn mean and nasty. Little Odd, gifted (or perhaps cursed) with the sort of "I'm-smarter-than-you" grin that makes others want to thump him, retreats from the bullies to his dad's old woodcutting shed deep in the forest to live alone. Only he's not alone for long. Almost immediately he finds three companions, a fox, a bear, and a one-eyed eagle, that turn out to be anything but ordinary animals. This magical trio, who have problems that make Odd's life seem easy by comparison, inspire our hero to embark on an epic adventure that just might, if he's lucky, save his strange new friends, rescue an otherworldly realm from a giant menace (a menacing giant), and keep his village from perishing in an endless winter. Sounds cool, right?

We like "Odd and the Frost Giants." Quite a bit actually. It's weird, and funny, and written with a sense of simple fun that proves its author, a bestseller with an impressive list of awards, is still just a kid at heart. Odd is a character who is easy to root for, and his story is filled with moments of inspired magic, awesome adventure, and true bravery. The animal characters are pretty amazing too, with their own mysterious predicaments and goals, and the fox is so fascinating that he nearly steals the whole book from the title character. Like the best writers of fantasy for young readers, Gaiman does a great job of mixing the fantastic stuff, like talking animals and mountain-sized bad guys, with the stuff we can all relate to, like hometown bullies or the complications of living in a stepfamily. Odd is an odd kid, but in many ways he also a completely normal kid... like you, or any kid you know. Adding to all this fun are fanciful and smile-inspiring ink drawings by Brett Helquist, who illustrated the Series of Unfortunate Events books. Oh, and there's a pair of flying shoes, too.

The only problem we have with this book is that it's just too darned short, and with just 117 pages and rather large print, it takes just an hour or two to devour it whole. (Maybe that's a good thing if you're pressed for reading time.) We couldn't help feeling that this should really just be one chapter in a longer story, and by the final page, we were left wanting...needing...to know more about smart, smart-alecky Odd, and what happens to him next. Fortunately, Neil Gaiman's bio at the end of the book tells us that he "thinks there are more stories about Odd he would like to tell." Brilliant. Get writing, Mister Gaiman, and we'll get reading!

IML's Rating: A



Movie Review: "Fame"
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Here's our nutshell review of "Fame": it's fluffy but fun to watch, with some great messages about diversity and working hard to achieve your dreams. We enjoyed the musical numbers, especially the new version of "Out Here On My Own." If you're into the performing arts at all, you'll have a great time. But that's not what we found so intriguing about it.

Even though "Fame" is rated PG, some of what happens -- underage drinking, swearing, things like that -- isn't appropriate for younger tweens (those younger than, say, 11). It really made us think about why pre-teens often flock to movies that aren't truly right for them.

Are you going to see "Fame"? Is that because ads for it are everywhere -- on TV, online, outdoors, in movie trailers? Is it because you loved "High School Musical" and are hoping it's got the same magic? Or maybe all your friends are buzzing about it and it seems like the flick to see right now. 

These are things we'd love to hear about, because it's interesting to look at how we respond to media marketing campaigns, especially when it comes to TV and film. Advertisers know that tweens are a huge audience and have a lot of money to spend on entertainment and products, so they target the 9-13 age group pretty heavily. But pre-teens are tough to pin down, because most of what you're into has to walk a fine line between being too "babyish" and too "grown up." 

Some other ideas to ponder: What goes into your decision to see something? Do you try to find out whether there's anything in it that's too mature, scary, or just not up your alley? Do your parents automatically let you see any movie that's rated PG, or do they do some research first? And are you more likely to buy your ticket because it's got some "questionable" moments? Hmmmm...

IML's Rating: B-



DVD Review: "JONAS: Rockin' The House"
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So let's talk about the Jonas Brothers. They're talented, funny, and totally cute. And there's three of them! (Not counting Frankie the Bonus Jonas, of course.)

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We love watching their Disney Channel show "Jonas" because (1) it makes us laugh, (2) the music is awesome, and (3) it's great to watch the dynamic of three real-life brothers in a sitcom setting. Now the first five episodes, plus two exclusive premiere episodes, are available on DVD, along with a fun "You've Just Been JoBro'd" prank on co-star Chelsea Staub. 

"Jonas" follows in the footsteps of the Beatles movie "Help!" (where John Lennon has a bed in the floor just like  Nick does) and of course, the TV series "The Monkees" (check it out and you'll see what must have inspired the JoBros' zany, girl-crazy personas). There's something just really addictive about watching pop stars play a slightly altered version of themselves.

Which makes us wonder: how much of "Jonas" is based on their real lives? Obviously, the guys don't go to a prep school or live in a converted firehouse. And we kind of giggle at the scenes where Nick, Kevin, and Joe can, like, walk down a street and not be chased by screaming girls. But if you watch them play off each other on the show, both in comedy and when they perform music, you get a sense of how strong and honest their sibling relationships are. Which means of course that they do occasionally fight about stuff. They must! That we probably won't see on the show or the next JoBros concert movie, but it's fun to think about. (Does Joe ever get jealous of the other guys' solos? Does Nick get ganged up on by his older bros? Will Kevin grow apart from them when he gets married?)

These are real people who are growing and changing just like the rest of us; we hope they only have great things lying ahead for them.

Check out IML's sections on Sibling Rivalry and Birth Order to get advice on sib situations and share your experiences! And then enjoy this Jonas video clip, which is one of our faves.




"Impostering"
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We know that so many of you love to post on our You Said It pages because they're moderated and safe. Meaning, we look at every single submission to make sure it doesn't contain anything that's inappropriate, offensive, or just plain mean to other users. While our site may not have as many cool activities as your favorite virtual world or chat room, we hope that at least IML'ers feel they can express themselves without fear of online bullying.

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Still...some users find a way to make others on IML feel hurt and angry. You've even come up with a name for it: "impostering." You've been "impostered" when you've been using a certain name on IML, and then someone else posts using your name. Since we don't have a login system (yet), it's unfortunately very easy for a person to do this, and we're really sorry that anyone's experienced it. Here are some things we'd like you all to keep in mind:

  • Because we read so many submissions every day, it's hard for us to recognize that someone is pretending to "be" someone else on IML. Occasionally, it's obvious, and in those cases we'll delete the post.
  • Since we delete or edit any posts that contain what we consider to be inappropriate language or subject matter, don't worry about someone "impostering" you with a submission that's going to offend or hurt people.
  • You may think you've been "impostered," but it might be just an innocent mistake. If you have a common name or have been using a cute alias, it's not unusual for someone else to want to use the same one by coincidence. If it happens a lot, post a message to your same-namer and see if you can work out a compromise.
  • If you want us to remove a post where someone has used your name and you feel it's on purpose, send us an email at itsmylife@pbs.org and we'll take care of it as quickly as we can. 
Our You Said It pages are for IML'ers to share your experiences, feelings, and advice. We hope you can all help us keep them safe and fun!
DVD Review: "Earth"
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When we read IML'ers postings on our "Helping The Environment" You Said It page, we get the feeling our planet's future is in really good hands. So many of you are already doing what you can to conserve Earth's resources or educating yourselves about how our actions affect that floating ball in space we call home. 

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Earlier this year, the movie "Earth" was released in theatres and maybe you got a chance to see it on the big screen; now it's out on DVD and Blu-ray. If you love Planet Earth (or maybe just have a little crush), this flick is much more than a nature documentary. It tells the story of one year on the planet, capturing incredible footage from every continent and focusing on three very different animal families (polar bears, humpback whales, and elephants) trying to survive in challenging and changing conditions. It's by turns fascinating, funny, tension-filled, and sad. (If you're like us and hate to see animals scared or suffering, a few scenes are hard to watch. But all part of reality and important to see.)

We watched this and kept thinking, "Whoa! How did they shoot   
that?" Fortunately, the DVD offers up a real treat: a behind-the-scenes mini-documentary showing the awesome amount of work, patience, and expertise that goes into making a movie like this. 
IML's Rating: A

Hopefully "Earth," along with other films and TV programs like it, will inspire young people to get involved in wildlife conservation. Because our favorite animals in this movie were the humpback whales, we've gathered a few tips on how you and your family can help them out:

Seek out information about conservation issues
--Check out books from your local library on whales and the places where they live to learn more about these amazing animals.
--Contact local conservation groups to find out what they are doing to help animals like the humpback whale and to learn how you can get involved.
---Visit zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to see marine mammals, support marine mammal conservation, and learn more about how you can animals like whales in the wild.

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--Conserve water at home. Help family members check for leaky faucets and encourage them to use cold water in the wash. Challenge your entire family to take shorter showers, turn off the water when brushing their teeth, and make a rain barrel. This saves water for animals (and people) everywhere.
--Remember, all drains lead to the ocean! Be careful what chemicals, pesticides, and household products you use. Encouraging your family to use green cleaning products is one way to help keep waterways clean. Finding alternatives to chemical pesticides is another way to help wildlife. And recycling motor oil and disposing of hazardous waste properly can ensure pristine lakes, rivers, and oceans for future generations.

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for and purchase environmentally friendly products
--While many whales are protected from hunting, they sometimes still end up trapped in nets or fishing line intended for other animals. If your family eats seafood, make sure it is "whale and dolphin safe" - meaning it is caught in a way that won't hurt other animals.
--When dining out, have your parents ask if the seafood is sustainable - meaning it is caught in a way that won't hurt the fish population or other animals (such as whales and dolphins).
--When fishing, use eco-friendly gear such as fishing line that will decompose and lead-free spinners and weights. Learn about environmentally friendly hooks that can reduce damage to fish during catch-and-release fishing trips. All of these things can help protect aquatic animals and habitats.



September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance
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Eight years ago, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed the U.S., and the world, forever. IML was created not long after that, and on the first anniversary of the attacks we created a section called simply "September 11th." Some of the issues we talked about back then still apply today (we especially love reading Sam and Harry's story again and again).

Last April, President Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, officially recognizing September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance. We can't explain the importance of this as well as the President and First Lady can, so here's part of their call to service:

"We call on all Americans to join in service on September 11 and honor the heroes of that dark day as well as the brave men and women in uniform who continue to protect our country at home and abroad. Whether you have devoted a lifetime to service, volunteered for the first time this summer through United We Serve, or have yet to lend a hand in your community, we hope you will take part in this effort. We encourage you to visit www.serve.gov and find a volunteer opportunity in your neighborhood or download tools to create your own project with family and friends...This September 11, and in the days, weeks, and months that follow, let us recommit ourselves to service, renew America's promise, and work together as one people and one Nation."

We hope you and the people around you are able to volunteer some time tomorrow. If not, then we hope you find time in the near future to jump into a volunteer opportunity! For ideas, check out IML's guide to Volunteering.



Book Review: "My Self", "My Life", "My Beauty", "My Look"
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Well obviously, we are all about advice over here at IML. We love giving it, and we love getting it, and we love to see all of you doing the same. Hopefully, if you came to our site for some helpful tips or solutions to some kind of problem, you found some answers. There aren't a lot of other places out there that provide advice just for tweens.

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That's why we couldn't wait to check out a new book series by Marlene Wallach, President of the Wilhelmina Kids & Teens modeling agency. These four books are: "My Self: A Guide To Me"; "My Beauty: A Guide To Looking & Feeling Great"; "My Look: A Guide To Fashion & Style"; and "My Life: A Guide To Health & Fitness." Aimed specifically at pre-teen girls, they offer solid advice on a range of topics including skin care and hair care, physical fitness and stress relief, clothes and makeup, and self-confidence and relationships.

What we like about these books: they're spiral bound and feel sort of like personal help notebooks, filled with quizzes, mini-worksheets, practical quick-hints, and real-life stories. While the books don't go into deep detail on any one topic, the fact that each section is short and to-the-point could come in handy if you're having a bad day and just want a few encouraging tips or words of wisdom. The tone of the books is upbeat and positive, and really aims to empower you to help yourself. 

What we didn't like so much: In trying to cover such a broad range of subjects, some serious ones are glossed over too lightly. A few of the books are organized in such a way that it's hard to find what you're looking for, especially if you have a specific problem you want to read about. The photos are cool and colorful, but we wish the girls pictured weren't all skinny models; we would like to have seen a better representation of "real" girls of different sizes. 

The bottom line: if you're looking for something fun to read with your buds at a sleepover or talk about with a parent, or just want some advice to keep handy when your body image or self-confidence is down in the dumps, these books are worth checking out. They won't offer all the answers, but will probably serve up some yummy food for thought!

IML's Rating: B


New Schools Can Rule
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To all of you who started school this week, we hope everything's going well! And if you start next week and fully plan on being stressed/depressed/excited/nervous over the weekend, we feel your pain. This is definitely a time when everyone's on a roller coaster of emotions. All you can really do is ride it out (and not scream too much). 

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If you're starting a new school, that roller coaster probably has some extra loops and dips. Remember that you're not on it alone, and others have gone before you. We've gathered together our best advice and tips in one place to help things go a little more smoothly:


Advice from the Mentors and experts on all sorts of new-school drama, from lockers to uniforms to getting organized.

A principal's Top Four helpful hints for surviving the leap to middle school.

Tips on dealing with older students at your new school.

And of course, you can read about other IML'ers' experiences on the "Going To A New School" You Said It page.

We'll send you off with our list of the Top Five Reasons Why Going To A New School Can Be Pretty Awesome:

5) You know that teacher you never quite got along with? Not there. You won't see him in the halls. You won't have to pass her classroom. Phew.

4) Most people weren't around for that horrifyingly embarrassing thing that happened last year. And if they were, they won't remember for much longer, because pretty soon somebody else will do something even more embarrassing, and you will quietly thank them for it.

3) There will be at least one thing that's much better than your old school. Maybe it'll be a bigger or better-located locker. Or a great new teacher. Or no more uniforms. Or a club or team you can't wait to join. Keep a lookout for that thing. Even when it seems like everything else kinda stinks, you'll find it. 

2) The new cafeteria's "Mystery Meat" will taste different than your old cafeteria's "Mystery Meat." 

And 1) Three words: Fresh. Crush. Material. (Yeah!)

Good luck to all of you!