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February 2010 Archives

Book Review: "Serafina67 *urgently requires life*"
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You may have your own blog, and if you don't, you probably have a friend or two (or two hundred) who does. Have you ever written about something that shouldn't have been made public? Ever been the subject of a blog post meant to hurt your feelings? Ever read a blog that made you think, "Maybe my life's not so bad after all?" If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you'll definitely relate to "Serafina67 * urgently requires life*" by Susie Day (Scholastic).

serafina67.jpgSarah (blogger name Serafina67) is 15 years old and living with her recently-divorced mother in a townhouse outside of London. Poor Sarah has a LOT on her plate in addition to the normal teenage worries about school, friends, and how she looks in skinny jeans. Not only have her parents recently split, but her dad's getting married again, to a woman Sarah fondly refers to as her "stepmonster." In addition to that, she's got a best friend who's a bulimic, a rockstar boyfriend who may be perfect or may be cheating on her, and she's got to deal with her mom's new (creepy) boyfriend. Last but not least, she's seeing a therapist because of something just referred to as "The Incident" in most of the book, which tells us there might be more behind Sarah's lighthearted, self-deprecating blog posts than it seems.

"Serafina67" is a funny and fast read. It's really fun to follow the blog posts and figure out who's who, as well as watch Sarah's blog get more popular as she gets new readers who she doesn't even know (or so she thinks). Although the book's very entertaining, sometimes it reads a little too quickly, in that events and emotions whiz by before you can really tell what happened or have time to process everything. Sarah could've slowed down the LOL's and OMG's a little bit to actually talk about what was going on and the book would not have lost any of its humor or entertainment value; it just would've been more memorable.
IML's Rating: B+

Celeb Scoop: Mirai Nagasu
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Last night two Americans made their debut on the Olympic stage: 17-year-old Rachael Flatt from Colorado and Mirai Nagasu, 16, from California. Both young women weren't "expected" to medal in the ladies' figure skating competition...but both performed wonderfully in the short program. Rachael hit a personal best with her routine and Mirai didn't let a nosebleed ruin her concentration. You go, girls!

mirainagasu.jpgIt's really fun to watch teens from all countries in a competition like this. But do you wonder, like we do, if they're missing out on a normal life? How do you deal with all the challenges of friends, crushes, family stuff, and high school when you're also a world-class athlete?

Last year, IML got the chance to talk to Mirai Nagasu about this. She was "just" the U.S. National Champion back then...but we knew we'd be seeing her at these Olympics. Even if you're not a big figure skating fan, she is amazing to watch (especially those spins!). We hope you'll check out our interview with Mirai, and we'll be rooting for her tomorrow night during the competition finals!

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We're always on the lookout for ways tweens can make a difference. Let's face it -- it's not always easy to volunteer or help others when you can't drive, don't make much (or any) of your own money, are busy with school and activities, and need a parent or guardian's permission to do pretty much anything. But based on what IML'ers have been posting on our Volunteering and Helping My Community pages, you guys have so much heart and motivation and commitment when it comes to those who are less fortunate.

barefeet.jpgHere's a great outlet: Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity that collects shoes from the warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you. They give away these shoes to people in need, regardless of race, religion, class, or whatever. So far, Soles4Souls has given away over 5.5 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes in over 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States.

How many shoes are just sitting in your closet, possibly too small or out of style or simply forgotten? Send them to some needy feet! When we did this recently, during a shoe drive to help earthquake victims in Haiti, it felt fantastic to know that those sneakers that never-quite-fit-but-we-could-never-admit-it would actually get worn by someone who had lost everything.

Find stores near you that collect shoes for Soles4Souls, get information on how to organize a shoe drive in your school or community, and more at

Watching the Olympics - "With Glowing Hearts"!
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Are you watching the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics? We are! Even though we don't normally watch sports like skiing, figure skating, snowboarding, and luge, how can we not get caught up in the athletes' stories?

medals.jpgIt was wonderful when Lindsey Vonn realized a lifelong dream and became the first U.S. woman to win the downhill, and inspiring when mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau snagged Canada's first Winter Olympics gold on home soil, and so romantic when pair figure skaters Hongbo Zhau and Xue Chen stood together at the top of the podium after 18 years of being partners. Shaun White manages to be the best in the world at his sport and also a really sweet guy, and Evan Lysacek's look of joy when he realized he'd won the men's figure skating competition was something that we'll never forget.

Yes, it's great to win. Medal counts are fun to keep track of. Victory and success is so darn inspiring!

But we find the Olympics to be even more enjoyable to watch when you keep in mind their true mission and purpose. The Olympics are meant to be an arena for amateur athletes worldwide to come together and perform their personal best in competition; the keyword being "amateur" -- from the Latin amator, or amare -- to love. So in spirit, the Olympic games are played for love of the sport. The Vancouver 2010 motto of "With Glowing Hearts" sort of says it all for us.

The TV news coverage doesn't spend a lot of time on athletes who come to the games with no hope or expectations of a medal. They come because they love what they do, and they want to give it their all and challenge themselves. Sometimes that effort results in something shiny hanging around their necks, but more often it does not. And that's inspiring in a much more important way. The Olympics remind us that it's who you are -- your attitude, your commitment, your determination -- that matters more than what you can do, or what wins and losses happen that might be beyond your control.

When Lindsay Vonn fell during the women's super combined and was disqualified from the race, she said in an interview: "I'm not walking away disappointed, because all I can do is my best." It's that attitude that really lifts our spirits, and makes Lindsey a winner for us!

Talk about your own sports and what you love about them on our Solo Sports and Team Sports You Said It pages!

Book Review: "Cutting Myself In Half"
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Imagine being 14 years old and weighing nearly 300 pounds. That's officially what they call "morbidly obese," which means your weight is actually a life-threatening condition. It also means 3X size t-shirts and size 44 jeans, and not fitting into the desks at school.

For Georgia teen Taylor LeBaron, this was reality. Maybe it's reality, or close to it, for you or someone you know.  After all, health experts estimate that 9 million kids and teens in the U.S. can be considered overweight.

Cutting Myself.jpgThat's why Taylor, now 17, has written a really cool new book called "Cutting Myself In Half: 150 Pounds Lost, One Byte at a Time" (HCI Books). Over the course of 18 months, Taylor lost more than half his body weight by creating something he calls The Ultimate Fitness Game to track calories, get exercise, and keep himself motivated. "Cutting Myself In Half" is partly a memoir, with Taylor recounting his old habits, what gave him the courage to change his life, and some of the challenges he faced; the other part is a practical, hands-on guide for other young people to want to get fit.

We found Taylor's honest voice and realistic approach to be refreshing, and it's hard not to be inspired by someone who was able to lose over 150 pounds. If you want to change your eating and exercise habits, you'll appreciate this sound advice from a teen who's been there, done that. IML chatted with Taylor about his journey and what he hopes other young people will get out of the book.

IML: You talk about this in the book, but what were some of the things that contributed to you being overweight at age 14?

At 14 I consistently wore black and hid behind dark sunglasses.jpgTaylor: I was living a life that was totally the opposite of healthy. A healthy lifestyle requires regular exercise, wise food choices, and correct food quantities. I spent most of my time working on my computer and playing video games instead of riding my bike. I made bad food choices. And I had no idea what a serving size looked like. 

IML: What were some of the excuses you made for yourself to avoid dealing with your health?

Taylor: I told myself I was a big guy, built FORD tough or like a football player. But if I was so tough, how come I was panting for breath when I climbed the stairs to my bedroom? I blamed my DNA. I told myself that I had the fat gene, so I was destined to be overweight. But I was the one who chose not to exercise. And I was the one who said, "Supersize it!" each time we stopped for fast food. Life changed for me when I stopped making excuses and took responsibility for my own fitness.

IML: What were the toughest moments you experienced during the time it took you to lose the weight?

Taylor: Getting started was tough. I felt like I had so far to go that a little exercise and a few diet changes couldn't possibly make a difference. Now I know that fitness is like a major snowstorm. A snowstorm can shut down an entire city. But a snowstorm is just millions of fragile snowflakes. They're only powerful when you put them together. One workout session isn't much by itself, but put a lot of them together and you have powerful results. Another tough time was when I'd been working hard for several months and no one noticed the difference -- not even me. It was tempting to quit when I didn't see immediate results. But after awhile, it was like I reached the top of the rollercoaster and the rest of the ride was downhill. Once I lost enough weight for people to notice, fitness became fun.

IML: You had some pretty stressful things happen in your life during this period and you found ways to deal with them without using food. Do you feel like you're better at handling stress now? What are some other tools you've picked up that come in handy when facing even just everyday stress? 

Taylor: I have definitely had some unusual stressors in my life, and I gained extra pounds in response to the stress. But that was because of my own bad choices. Stress doesn't cause weight gain. It's the way we respond to stress that can put on pounds. Once I learned to use exercise to deal with stress, I actually lost weight during one of the most stressful times of my life! Now when I feel stressed, all I want is to lift weights or run on the treadmill. I can feel the stress melt away when I exercise. Kids have lots of stress, some big and some small. There's not a lot I can do to reduce the stress, but I can attack it head on. Exercise is my weapon against stress.

IML: How have your friends reacted to your book? Has it inspired anyone you know to "answer the call"?

Taylor School Picture 2009.jpgTaylor: My friends have all been supportive. I've even heard from kids I went to school with five years ago, saying they saw me on TV or read my book. My friends at school don't treat me any differently. I'm just Taylor. Everyone knows I'm committed to fitness, though, and I get some good-natured teasing when I turn down birthday cake and junk food. But I think a lot of my friends have become more fitness conscious after reading my book. My kid brother has decided to start playing the Ultimate Fitness Game (that's what I call my fitness plan because the prize is a whole new lifestyle). Maybe facing his weight now can help him avoid some of the challenges I faced.

My mom (always my best friend!) is now my workout partner, and she's lost 75 pounds following my plan. And I've had contacts from dozens and dozens of new friends (from age 10 to a lady in her seventies) who have read my book and answered the call to fitness. It's exciting to have even a little part in helping people choose a fitness lifestyle. 

IML: What would you say to other kids and teens who may look at your book and think, "Ugh, not another weight loss book that makes everything sound easy! It's not!"

Taylor: I agree! Getting fit is tough. But it's not as tough as a lifetime of obesity. I think my book is more than a weight loss book. It's a book about total fitness, and everyone needs that. A naturally thin person who eats junk food and doesn't exercise will not have a healthy heart and strong bones. Everyone can play the Ultimate Fitness Game (UFG) with a goal of becoming healthier. One person who wrote to me said she was so thin that if she lost any weight, she'd disappear. But she started UFG so she could encourage her boyfriend, and now she's excited about getting healthier herself. 

IML: You were lucky in that your family was extremely supportive of everything you did. Some kids aren't that lucky -- especially if their parents are also overweight and don't have the same commitment to change their lives. What's your advice for kids like that?

Taylor: Having support at home is great, but you can find encouragers in a lot of places. Websites like this one, for instance! Just hearing that others are struggling with the same problems can be a boost. I have a blog on my website ( and I love it when kids write. We encourage each other!

You can find neighbors and friends and teachers to encourage you, too. And once you start losing, the people who notice and take time to say "way to go" become a special group of encouragers.

IML: How do you think your life would be different right now if you still weighed 300 pounds?

Taylor: I'd still be the same person on the inside, with the same goals and dreams. But I'd have less chance of fulfilling my dreams.  Extra weight can hold us back physically, socially, and professionally. Getting fit has opened more doors that I ever imagined. People don't take time to look past the extra pounds to see the amazing person in each of us. That's lousy, but that's the way it is. We can't change people, but we can change the way they respond to us by getting rid of the extra weight.

Finally, people see Taylor instead of a fat kid. I'm free to be me without worrying about how people are responding to me. At one time, my future opportunities were hindered by my weight. Today, my opportunities are only limited by how big I want to dream.

IML: Thanks, Taylor! Good luck!

Taylor: Thank you!

If healthy eating habits, fitness, and weight loss are on your mind, check out IML's You Said It pages on Food Smarts, My Exercise Time and Eating Disorders.

IML's Rating: A-


Movie Review: "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief"
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If you've read the book "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," you know the basic gist: Percy Jackson is a New York teen whose life is far from perfect. His dad took off when he was a baby, his mom got remarried to a selfish, smelly oaf who treats them both like crud, and he's having trouble in school thanks to a double whammy of ADHD and dyslexia. About the only thing that brings Percy any peace is hanging out alone at the bottom of the school swimming pool, where he can hold his breath for... seven minutes? Hang on! How the heck is THAT possible??

percy-jackson-movie-poster.jpgIt's possible because Percy is no ordinary teenager. Although he doesn't know it yet, he's actually a demigod -- the child of a Greek god and a mortal human. Yep, Percy's dad is none other than Poseidon, god of the sea, and brother to Zeus the boss-man and Hades, lord of the Underworld. And this is where the trouble starts, because someone has stolen Zeus's master lightning bolt, and Percy is the main suspect in the theft. Great. Percy's already reeling from the discovery that his best friend is half goat (a satyr) and that one of his teachers is mostly horse (a centaur). Now he's got to find the bolt and return it to Olympus. If he can't make it by Zeus' deadline, the world will face the consequences of an all-out war between the gods. No pressure, right?

Okay, okay. So that's the setup. Now, to answer the big question: how is the movie? Short answer:  it's mostly awesome. For the longer answer, here's a handy-dandy IML like/didn't like guide:

We Liked:
  • The Story. Admittedly, this story bears a rather striking resemblance to the Harry Potter books, what with a "loser" kid suddenly finding out he's a big important hero in a parallel world he's never known about, and so on and so forth. But there's still a lot to love about this tale, and it's easy to root for Percy and his new friends on their quest to save the world.

  • The Scope. A lot of our favorite books have been made into movies in the past few years, and while Hollywood often gets things right, they just as often drop the ball, making films that seem somehow smaller and less magical than the written version. Rest assured, Percy Jackson is a BIG movie, with top-notch visuals and effects, thrilling action sequences, and locations that dazzle and impress.

  • percy-jackson.jpgThe Actors. Logan Lerman does a great job in the title role, and Alexandra Daddario is totally believable as the tough-as-nails daughter of Athena. But we were especially impressed with Jake Abel, who plays Luke, son of messenger-god Hermes. He's not a major character, but he totally steals the scenes he's in.

  • The Comedy. This is a fantasy adventure movie, but there are also a lot of moments that make you laugh, thanks mostly to actor Brandon T. Jackson, who plays Percy's wisecracking pal/protector, Grover the Satyr. He's a half-goat with a hip-hop attitude, and we like him a lot.

  • The Themes. There are tons of great messages in this movie, and we won't go into all of them. But here's one of our favorites: the things that challenge you, that other people might call your weaknesses, can also be your strengths. In other words, if you look at things in a new way, "different" can turn into "extraordinary."

  • Flying Converse high-top sneakers. With little flapping wings. Enough said.

We Didn't Really Like:

  • Trendy Fashions. Does Logan Lerman really need that oh-so-perfect Zac Efron haircut that never seems out of place, even after a grueling sword battle? Are those hipster tee-shirts really necessary? These things are distracting, and in a few years (or months) when styles change, they might even make us laugh a little.

  • Cheeseball Scenes. Not every scene in the movie works. One in particular, which features Uma Thuman as the snake-headed baddie Medusa, actually feels like it's from some different, far sillier movie. It's like a serving of stinky cheese in an otherwise great flick.

  • Scary Moments. Don't get us wrong...we like being scared at the movies. But some of the horror elements in Percy Jackson (like fiery demons in Hades) go a little too far, and they aren't necessary. All they really do here is make the movie too intense for some of IML's younger readers, which is too bad. If they'd left 'em out, we'd have a movie almost anybody could see and enjoy.
Okay, that's our take on it. What do YOU think? Are you planning on seeing the movie? Did you already go? Got anything to say about it?

"Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" is rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language.

IML's Rating: A-

Celeb Scoop: Legacy (from SYTYCD Season 6)
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image001.jpgFans of "So You Think You Can Dance" on Fox will probably never forget Jonathan "Legacy" Perez, the amazing, often emotional street dancer who won over viewers with his earnest, hard-working personality and ability to tackle every dance style thrown at him. Although Legacy didn't ultimately win the title of "America's Favorite Dancer," he was definitely a lasting star of the show.

Recently, we chatted with Legacy about his journey so far and how he hopes his dancing inspires young people to go for their dreams. What a cool, sweet, just-plain-nice guy he was!

IML: Can you tell us a bit about what you've been doing since SYTYCD ended?

Legacy: Right now I have a movie that just came out called "B-Girl," about a girl who has a tough time in NY, moves to the West Coast, finds a dance crew and they accept her. I'm one of the characters in that movie. I also have a small role in "Step Up 3D," which comes out in August, and I'm going to be dancing on the Oscars show with Adam Shankman. Right now I'm mostly doing some choreography and taking acting classes.

IML: So your career has definitely gotten a kick-start!

Legacy: Oh, big time!

IML: What's it been like to meet fans? What kinds of things do they say to you?

Legacy: Because I'm a street performer and I still get out there, I meet a lot of people who come up to me and express how my being on the show has influenced them. People really responded to the fact that I'm not technical and the whole show revolves around that. Being technical is not a mandatory thing, but if you can pull it off and you have ambition and drive and you want to learn and your personality shows, they bring you on the show. It was like diving head first without knowing what I was going to encounter. It was really crazy for me and it made people say, "If he can do that, as a person and as a dancer...and humble himself and just jump right in not knowing if he's going to look stupid doing a waltz or whatever, it's going to help me find what I'm going to do, not caring what anybody says, but because I have a desire." I think they found hope in themselves because of Legacy the street dancer going in there and being positive and taking obstacles and making them opportunities. I get emails from kids saying, "I don't even dance but I'm taking dance classes now." People are sometimes scared of dancing because they think you have to look cool, but really it's just movement to music and everybody has that, and I think if they connect to that part of themselves, it helps you in life. It's like a release.

IML: What were a couple of the most memorable moments from your time on the show?

Legacy: My contemporary piece with Kathryn, and seeing the judges' reaction to the piece. A lot of people were saying that when I got praised during the show, I would look down. I'm not used to listening to praise. I come from a circle of friends; we're all B-boys and street dancers, everybody's from the hood. I come from a really bad part of Miami. I'm used to people saying, "It's cool, whatever." They're not going to say, "You look amazing!" That's a whole other world. So I'm hearing that, looking down, thinking, "What are they saying? How should I be acting?" I thought that was the most memorable moment because it actually allowed me to give thanks and appreciate how the world was seeing my conviction and my desire. I felt like that was my biggest accomplishment. The fact that I stayed on longer than anybody expected -- people thought I'd be out the first or second week. So when I got praised by the judges I thought, now I have to do even better next time. I have to do better not just for me but for the viewers, because when they see me do better, and try to get better, then maybe they'll try to do the same!

IML: Hearing praise is hard for a lot of people. Are you better at it now?

Legacy: Now, it's just a conscious decision of making it not about me. Because in the end, you're doing what you're doing because you want to learn and share with people. If I had my talent and lived in a jungle by myself, it would be meaningless. The only reason dancing means something to me is that people are watching and saying, "Wow if he did it, I can do it."

IML: Tell us about how you got started dancing. How old were you?

image007.jpgLegacy: I was 15 -- that's kind of late. I was supposed to be a professional soccer player. My dad was a pro player in Colombia and he taught me when I was 4 years old, and I was playing all the time. That was my life. Then all of a sudden, I had an injury where I broke my hand and I had a cast, and the only ting I could do was go to the skating rink and skate around the rink. In the middle of the rink there were people breaking, so I'd stop and look and be like, "Whoa, what is that?" As soon as my cast came off, I was like, "I want to be the best at this." I still feel like I'm trying to become that because you can never be the best, just the better version of yourself.

IML: Did you take dance classes?

Legacy: Nope, no classes at all back then. I learned everything on the street. I used to get cardboard and put pieces of tape together and tape it down in the pool area and just dance for 8 hours. As a B-boy you're taught to pick up other people's movements and switch them around to make them your own. And in a sense, being on SYTYCS was difficult because choreography is all about imitating the choreographer who's teaching you the routine. It was weird for me to be like, "I need to look like everybody else right now." But adding your character to make it yours, that's the difference. I started being interested in choreography about 3 years ago, and took one class. I did awful, and I stayed in the back of the room. I felt like an idiot during the first 8 count and stopped taking the class. But I eventually took 5 or 6 classes where I slowly figured it all out.

IML: When you were 15 and started breaking, what did your non-dancing friends think? Did you have soccer buddies who gave you a hard time?

Legacy: Some of them teased me a little to show off. But I surrounded myself with other B-boys, and we always rolled together. When you're a dancer and you're young, it's like you're a superhero. People were like "Oh my God, you can spin on your head?" People were amazed at what we could do and I felt like the coolest kid. I surrounded myself with people who were great and made me look good even when I wasn't.

IML: It sounds like you gained a lot from coming into that community and having dance in your life. How else did it help you in those years right after you started?

Legacy: It gave me courage and it gave me the ability to attack anything else. Because breaking, it's not easy at all! I'm a big fan of, "Anything you put your mind to, you can accomplish." They call me Legacy because my skill level was up to par with people who'd been dancing for 3 years when I was just dancing for 8 months. Someone came up to me when I'd just won 2nd place in a competition and was like, "You just took out all these amazing people...somebody must have passed on the legacy to you." I like that idea, but I interpret it like I'm living up to that expectation, so I don't get overconfident. It gave me that ability to say, "You know what, I can do this. I'm going to play tennis...I'm going to add my style to it and get good at it. Okay, let me try to play the piano..."Whatever it was, I had certain confidence that I could do it. I mean, once you spin on your head, you're like "Anything is possible"!

IML: Why do you think it's important for young people to get involved in some kind of artistic expression?

Legacy: I think the arts can be challenging, and to be really good at something, you have to put your whole soul, mind, and body into it and drive yourself. The greatest things come from obstacles. Then when you add in everything you have as a human being and figure out any art, like drawing or music or even just listening to music, I think you find yourself.

IML: What were you like in middle school?

Legacy: In 5th grade I loved the physical fitness exam and I got a gold medal plaque because I'd done the most pull-ups of anybody! I wanted to be fit and run the mile, and each time I'd try to beat my time. I used to play the piano back then too. I was just very ambitious about learning and eager to figure out what life was about. My mom was Buddhist so I was figuring out what was what about different religions. I was into MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice who were out at that time. I wasn't really a trouble kid; I had straight A's. I had an older brother who was like the cool kid, when I was in 6th grade he was in 8th. I always felt like I had to earn my position and the fact that I had to earn it felt good.

IML: Who were your role models back then?

Legacy: When I was younger, my father was my role model. Just because he played soccer and taught me, and the way he taught me made it seem like nothing was impossible. He's the reason why I'm ambidextrous when I dance. He'd give me $20 a week and take me to play soccer and every time I touched the ball with my right foot he'd take a dollar from me. So I became lefty, and when I was able to use both I was stronger on my right side. I was eventually able to make goals from any angle of the field, and became the team "secret weapon," and that's all thanks to my dad. I also had uncles who were kind of famous in my 'hood because they had the truck that would move up and down, with a big bass. I loved them, they'd pick me up from school and I'd feel like the coolest kid. My brother was also a role model.

IML: If you could leave IML'ers with one piece of advice, what would it be?

Legacy: Do what you love, and love what you do!

IML: Thanks, Legacy, and good luck!

Legacy: Thank you!

If you missed Legacy's performances on SYTYCD Season 6, you can catch them online at

First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" Campaign
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Some trivia for you. How much time each day do you think the average American kid (aged 8 to 18) spends plugged in to some kind of screen. That includes watching TV, surfing online, playing video games, and texting on your cell phone. What's your guess?

1) About 2 hours
2) About 4 hours
3) About 6 hours
4) About 8 hours

If you picked #4, you're right! Yes, it's true! According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, today's tweens and teens spend a daily average of 7 hours and 38 minutes hooked up to electronic media. If you think all that might be contributing to young people being overweight, you're right.

logo_letsmove.gifThat's why First Lady Michelle Obama has just kicked off a campaign called Let's Move, aimed at helping families, schools, community leaders, and health professionals tackle the problem of childhood obesity and figure out practical solutions. It'll be interesting to see what kind of change the Let's Move campaign can make happen, and whether we really can reduce the amount of childhood obesity in the U.S. Why does it matter? Childhood obesity can lead to a long list of big health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea. Plus, the yearly health care costs associated with obesity in the United States could be as high as $147 billion. Yikes!

Of course, too much screen time and not enough physical activity has a lot to do with young people being overweight, but it's not the whole picture. Food choices and eating habits play a huge role too. IML has lots of good info on all these subjects; get in on the First Lady's mission and check out our sections on Food Smarts, Eating Disorders, Team Sports, and Solo Sports.

Book Review: "Smile"
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Puberty is hard enough without having to deal with some kind of ongoing physical problem, like a chronic illness. Or scoliosis. Or eczema. Or falling and damaging your two front teeth and having to endure braces, surgeries, dorky headgear, and a retainer with fake teeth attached over the course of several years.

smile.jpgYes, this really professional illustrator Raina Telgemeier when she was in middle and high school back in the late 80's and early 90's. Fortunately for us, she survived to tell the tale with "Smile," her autobiographical graphic novel just published this month by Scholastic. Through funny yet realistic illustrations, honest narration, and totally relatable dialogue, "Smile" takes us from the moment Raina's young life changed with a simple trip and fall (doh!) through cringe-worthy doctor visits (you may have trouble reading these if you're eating or have an upcoming dentist or orthodontist appointment!) and self-esteem issues ("You look like a vampire!"), with some crushes, friend problems, and an earthquake thrown in for good measure.

You'll enjoy taking Raina's journey and coming out on the other side, especially if you have braces. You can also check out her website, which features online comics and a blog, at

Don't forget to check out our I Have Braces You Said It page full of IML'ers thoughts on the whole metal mouth thing!

IML's Rating: A

Advice on Valentine's Day dances
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Today, we're wondering: Does anyone ever actually have a good time on Valentine's Day? Maybe if you're in the lucky 1% of people who are happily, securely going out with someone, we can see you enjoying the holiday. But if you're going out with someone but things are a little weird, if you just broke up with someone, if you're not going out with anyone, if you have a crush who doesn't know you exist, if you have a crush who knows you exist but isn't sure how he/she feels about you, if you don't have a crush at all, or if you're a human being with any one of a hundred other situations that we haven't mentioned...Valentine's Day can be, well, not so much fun.

The whole thing is just a lot of pressure and a big marketing ploy to sell cards, candy, and red teddy bears, right?

heart.jpgOkay, we're not really that cynical. Valentine's Day doesn't have to be so all-or-nothing. It's one of those things that really is whatever you make of it, and a "valentine" can be so much more than an object of romance. Do you have parents, siblings, friends, or relatives who have made you feel the love in your life? And how about being a valentine to yourself? Can you celebrate the things about you that you're proud of, happy with, and maybe even love? Think about how to make the holiday your own.

Once you've done that, hopefully you won't stress over dances and other V-Day events planned at school or in your community. But if you're still stressing, here are some ideas:

  • Go with friends. Even if you have a crush and are tempted to try and go with him or her, take that angst out of the equation. You'll probably have more fun with your buds anyway, and who knows...maybe something natural will happen with that crush once you're there.

  • Have fun with the outfit. Dress in whatever makes you feel good (and comfortable), rather than what you think will impress someone else. You and your friends might come up with some kind of "theme" and coordinate. If you want to make your outfit special but can't afford a whole new getup, buy (or borrow) one cool accessory like earrings or a belt.

  • Dance. That may seem like a big "duh," but sometimes it seems like that's the only thing people aren't doing at these things. Here's an opportunity to just let loose and move. Make a pact with at least one friend that you'll be the first people on the dance floor, and see how quickly others join in. Or make it your mission to get a teacher or other adult chaperone to boogie down. Try to think positively and not so much about what people might think of you; chances are, they're jealous that you're having such a good time.

  • If you can't bring yourself to dance, then do some People Watching. Not so much to gather gossip, but rather, just to learn about behavior. Pretend for a minute that you're an alien scientist come to Earth to study the strange social habits of young humans. Try it; it's pretty fun! 
Share your own advice on our How To Have Fun At A Dance You Said It page!

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Yes, we still really like The Jonas Brothers (okay, we HEART them!). Their Disney Channel series "JONAS" continues to be funny and charming and, we think, the best written of all the DC shows. It does make us want to break out some old VHS tapes of "The Monkees," which was clearly the inspiration here (if you have never seen "The Monkees," we urge you to take care of that right away).

IHeartJonas_Photo_02.jpgWe blogged about the first DVD release of "JONAS" and now there's a new one, "I HEART JONAS," that compiles seven episodes which, strung together, tell the tale of Joe and the brothers' childhood-friend-slash-wardrobe-stylist Stella realizing slowly -- very, very slowly -- that they sort of, well, like each other. That way. These episodes show off Joe at his goofiest (not counting that "Single Ladies" video), as in: meeting Queen Elizabeth in a sparkly Sergeant Pepper outfit, paralyzed by stage fright in a school production of "The Three Musketeers," trying to perform on national television with laryngitis, and eavesdropping while hiding in a garbage can. The DVD also features a cute "You've Just Been JoBro'd!" segment with Jordin Sparks.

It is sweet to watch Joe and Stella ping-pong back and forth on their feelings and actions towards each other, and the final episode does not disappoint in the "Finally!" department. Does it resemble anything you've experienced when it comes to that situation? You like someone as a friend, and they like you...but is there more? How do you explore that without ruining the relationship? It's super tricky and almost everyone goes through it; see what other IML'ers have to say on the Crush On A Friend and Opposite Sex Friends YSI pages.

There are no easy answers in that subject, but it's always fun to see the Hollywood treatment. We'll leave you with this moment from "I HEART JONAS":


Thoughts on Taylor Swift
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With last night's Grammy Awards, Taylor Swift can officially change her name to Taylor Sweep. Because she has completely ruled this past year, winning pretty much every award and honor the music industry (and media) can come up with. Beyond all the accolades, the girl is just everywhere.

taylorswift.jpgJudging from some of your comments on the You Said It boards, that's not necessarily a good thing. There seems to be a definite Taylor backlash out there. Some people think that many fans like her simply because everyone else does and they're following a trend. Some say her music is not real country but just "bubble gum pop," and others are saying she's not a good influence on young people because all she sings about is boyfriends and breakups. Those observations are true in many ways.

So we tried to take a good look at Taylor Swift and what she's really about. It's easy to be cynical about a person who's clearly been gifted with many talents, from writing (she did win a national poetry contest in 4th grade, and wrote a novel when she was in middle school) to comedy and acting, to of course writing and performing music. Do you know someone like that at your school -- someone who just seems to be good at everything (and date the hottest guys too)? Do you maybe wait for that person to mess up somehow? To fail, to get burned, to get taken down a peg? It's natural to feel that way and sometimes we think some of the Taylor Swift criticism comes from that place.

What we like about Taylor is that from a very young age, she seems to have stayed true to who she knows she is. She did not let rejection or pressure keep her from doing exactly what she wanted to do, and focused on songwriting as the thing that was important to her. It's cool that Taylor writes about very personal experiences and isn't afraid to share them with the world, and it's cool that she's had the same loyal BFF since 9th grade and donates much of her time and money to various charities. She seems like a nice person and we'd love to share a smoothie with her.

In the end, she's not any different from any other entertainer. Some people will love her, some people will not, and some people won't care one way or another. She'll probably be around for a while and won't always be so successful. One day, Taylor will likely make a record that's kinda lame. And that'll be okay, because that will mean she's only human...and that year there will be someone else who sells a gajillion albums and wins 500 awards, and Taylor will feel jealous and cynical about that person the way some people feel about her right now.