It's My Life PBS Kids Go!

January 2011 Archives

Michael and Marisa debut their music video for "The Same"
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Last summer, we met the tween bro/sis musical duo Michael and Marisa, who had recently recorded a song called "The Same." It's a song about bullying...or rather, standing by and watching bullying happen to someone else, and realizing you and that person are not all that different. Now the talented sibs have just released their music video for "The Same" and we think it's sort of great.

Says Marisa about the song: "It's important that, as kids ourselves, we stand up and defend our friends.  We have the greatest power, and the biggest responsibility, to come together as a group and let bullies know it's not okay to treat others this way. We have the strength to make a positive change to make the world a better place."

Read our interview with Michael and Marisa, and check out the new video:




You can learn more about these guys and their music at www.MichaelandMarisa.com. Go MIchael and Marisa! (And BTW, we love the beret.)


Meet tween guitarist-singer-songwriter Charlie Dane
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charlie_dane2.jpgCharlie Dane is a 12-year-old 7th grader from Oyster Bay, New York. Oh, and she's also an accomplished singer and guitarist who spends her free time writing original songs, playing live concerts, and working on her upcoming album. When we first heard Charlie sing, we were instantly moved by the soulful quality of her music. She doesn't sound like your typical tween pop star. She has an old-school style and confidence that make you forget (or amazed that) she's a middle schooler, and sings about things everyone can relate to.

It's downright cool to see someone passionate about what they do, no matter what their age. We thought IML'ers would enjoy learning more about this artist-to-watch and recently chatted with Charlie about her music and her life. 

IML: Tell us a little bit about how you first started performing music. How did you discover  the guitar and singing?

Charlie: I don't know why I wanted to start playing the guitar. One day when I was 5 years old, I just randomly asked my mom if I could start playing and take lessons. It got kind of boring just playing guitar and not being able to sing, so I tried singing and playing at the same time, and I really liked it. Since my voice was very small and I was kind of shy, I started taking voice lessons along with the guitar lessons.  

IML: How often do you practice?

Charlie: I practice every day. It depends on what upcoming shows I have and what I need to work on, or if there's a song I need to learn. I'll usually practice a half hour or an hour, something like that.

IML: What is it about the guitar in particular that you like as an instrument?

charlie_dane3.jpgCharlie: Usually beginners start with the piano because it's easier and it's all laid out for you, but I like the guitar because it's challenging. It's not what everybody else is playing. I think it's really fun!

IML: Where do you get ideas for your songs?

Charlie: It's usually things that happen around me. I pay close attention to specific things, things that people say, and sometimes when people say something really cool I make it into a song idea or a title for a song.

IML: So once you get a song idea, what do you do next?

Charlie: I think about it, see if it would be a good thing to write about as a song. Then I write it down on my phone in the notes section, and when I practice on the guitar I try writing a verse. I'll figure out some chords that I think sound pretty. Or when I jot it down I think about melodies I would possibly make with the song.

IML: Who are your biggest musical influences?

Charlie: I love Taylor Swift, and a lot of people tell me I'm just like her. I also like Demi Lovato and Lady Gaga, and older artists like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, because I'm also influenced by the music my parents listen to.

IML: What do your friends and classmates think of your music?

Charlie: They really like it! They watch my videos on YouTube and think they're cool, and they buy my songs on iTunes.

IML: Do you have any trouble balancing school and your other commitments with your music?

Charlie: Not really, because fortunately most of my shows are on weekends and things are after school.

IML: You play a lot of live shows. What kinds of reactions do you get from audiences?

Charlie: People are like, I love your lyrics, they really touched me. Especially with "Past The Point" which is all about losing people or things that you love, most people are crying and come up to me and tell me about people they've lost in their life. I just get a lot of "OMG, you sound like Taylor Swift" or "You're the next American Idol!" It's really fun.

IML: Is there one favorite performance that stands out in your head?

Charlie: The biggest one that was my favorite was when I sang the national anthem for the New York Islanders hockey team at Nassau Coliseum. It was really cool because I went out on the ice and saw myself on the monitor!

IML: Was that scary?

Charlie: Yup!

IML: Do you get nervous before you go out onstage?

Charlie: I never get nervous, but if it's in front of that many people at the Coliseum, then yeah!

IML: What has music added to your life in general?

Charlie: It's just really fun. It's not what a normal 7th graders life is like, but I like going out and playing live. I used to be really, really shy when I was little, but when I started singing and playing live, and getting up onstage, it became easier and easier. And I've met a lot of really cool people.

IML: Do you feel like you've found what you want to do in life?

Charlie: Pretty much! It would be really cool to be a musical artist. I'd love to have a career like Taylor Swift's.

IML: Well, it sounds like you're on the right track! We can't wait to see what you do next.

Charlie:
Thanks!

You can learn more about Charlie Dane and listen to her music on her website at www.CharlieDane.net. In the meantime, check out the music video for her full-of-great-guitar-riffs song "Dreamland":





Get your PBS KIDS GO! Secret Box
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For a long while now -- um, maybe years? -- IML'ers have been asking, urging, BEGGING us to have some kind of login system for our You Said It pages. And we keep saying, "It's coming! It's coming!"

Now, it actually is coming. Very, very soon. Actually, it's sort of already here...in the form of the PBS KIDS GO! Secret Box. If you spend time on other GO! sites like Design Squad and SciGirls, then you probably already have one. The Secret Box is a place for you to keep all your faves, creations, and friends across PBS KIDS GO! So we are in the process of making the Secret Box system work with our You Said It pages.

Here's what this will mean for you:

  1. You will not be able to post a message on any IML You Said It page without being signed in to your Secret Box. If you don't have a Secret Box username, you will have to get one if you want to continue to post. It's very easy to get one and literally takes a few seconds. You won't be asked for any information about yourself. You will just be asked to create a username and password, and choose a secret code that will help you if you ever forget your password. You will NOT be asked for an email address, name, age, or location. These usernames will be approved by someone at PBS KIDS to make sure they are not offensive.

  2. Once you're signed in and posting to our You Said It pages, you will be able to keep track of all your own posts in your Secret Box. You will also be able to save other things you create not just on IML but on other GO! sites. You'll be able to choose a "theme" and an "icon" to represent you; scroll down towards the bottom of the choices and you'll see some familiar faces from IML games and illustrations.

  3. You'll also be able to add and keep track of friends you meet on IML, then visit their Secret Boxes. Cool, huh?

  4. When looking at a You Said It page, you will be able to click on someone's username and see the most recent posts they made to that page. That's a nice way of "getting to know" other IML'ers and deciding if maybe you want to request them as a Secret Box friend.

  5. You'll be able to "like" someone's post just like you can on other social websites.

  6. No more "Impostering" -- someone using your IML name to post, pretending to be you. Yay!

  7. Oh, and if you just want to read posts and not write your own, you don't need to be signed in.

So here's what we would like you to do in the next month: 

  1. We know some of you IML'ers are very attached to the names you've been using on IML, because they ARE pretty unique, so we suggest you head to the PBS KIDS GO! Secret Box page right away to create a box with that name or something like it. If you already have a Secret Box but want to make another with your IML name, you can do that. We will remind you guys a few times more before we switch over, but the earlier you claim your name, the better!

  2. Since we are totally changing over, ALL of the existing posts on the You Said It pages will be gone. Poof! Not ideal, we know. We tried to figure out a way to keep the old and the new, but it would just be too confusing. So if you posted something that you really would like to see on the new pages -- something from My Writing, for instance, or anything you spent a lot of time on -- we suggest you cut and paste it onto your computer now so you can re-post it again with your GO! username once the switch happens.
We know not everyone is going to be thrilled with this switch, which will happen sometime in early March. But in the end, it will make our You Said It pages safer, friendlier, and generally more fun. We're so excited and hope you are too!


Meet tween author Bethany Huang
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One of our favorite You Said It pages on IML is My Writing, where tweens can share their original poems, stories, songs, and even excerpts from novels they're working on. Sometimes it's scary to take something that came from deep in your imagination and put it out there for others to read, but it can really be a confidence booster too. Seeing something in print, even if it's just on a website somewhere, delivers a great feeling of accomplishment!

Just ask 11-year-old Bethany Huang. At the age of 10, she wrote her first novel, titled "The Eiffel Tower's Daughter," and published it for the world to enjoy. We talked to Bethany about her journey from getting the spark of an idea to becoming a bona fide author!

IML: How would you describe "The Eiffel Tower's Daughter" to other tween readers? What popular books would you compare it to?


EiffelTowersDaughterCover.jpgBethany: "The Eiffel Tower's Daughter" is an adventure book full of suspense for readers from ages 9-12 and teen. Swanilde, the protagonist of the story, is a brave, heroic, empathetic and compassionate person. On her mother's wedding day she finds out that her new stepfather, Andreyev, is spying on her family, so she runs away from her mother to seek help from her father.  She accidentally runs into her long-lost brother Val along the way, and also meets Atemu, a chivalrous Egyptian boy. It's about her journey to reunite her family. Among the books I've read, I tried to find a popular book similar to my book but I can't find one. I like to think of it as a mix-up of all of my favorites, such as "The Daughter of Venice" by Donna Jo Napoli and "Light of the Moon" by Luanne Rice.

IML: How did you first get the idea for the book, and how did you figure out the rest of the story?

Bethany: In the summer of 2009, my mom got me this book called "The Most Fascinating Places on Earth" by Donna E. Hicks. I looked through it briefly, until one caught my eye: The Eiffel Tower. After a second of thought, I bolted up from my seat, grabbed a pen and an index card, and came up with something like this: Swanilde runs across the country to her father because her stepfather is a spy. That is how I started my book. Taking trips to places like Washington, D.C., Boston, and the Newport Mansions had given me great inspiration. I came up with most of the plot during after school activities at my town's youth center. Some other fragments of my plot were developed before I went to sleep. I would just lie still in my bed, thinking what I should write for my story next. Then all of a sudden, I would jump out of my bed and jot down every single idea that I had. The name Swanilde was inspired from the ballet "Coppeila" because it sounded French.
 
IML: What's your writing process like? Do you write a first draft all the way through, and then go back and edit? Or do you edit as you go along?

Bethany: It was hard work, but it was also really fun. All the settings inside my book are places I'd like to visit someday, and writing about it was like I got a chance to visit them.  I happen to edit it as I go along, but once I finish writing the first draft, I go back and re-edit it several times. Sometimes, I just write with a flow, or I take down a note and then write about it later.  At the beginning, I set a goal of 30 pages. Once I got there, I set my mind to 60 pages, and by the time I finished, I had about a hundred pages!

The most challenging part about writing this book was probably when I tried to force myself to write when I had writer's block.  I'd get frustrated, but before I knew it, another idea would pop into my head. The most rewarding part about publishing my book is that I can finally show other young people in this world that as long as they work hard for what they want to do and put their hearts into it, they will succeed in whatever they do and will be able to reach their goals.

IML: Did you have to do any research about the locations in which Swanilde's story takes place?

Bethany: Yes, in fact, I had to do a lot of research on subjects such as geographical locations, climate, religious beliefs, culture and history.  For example, I researched online to pick Egyptian name for characters in my book.  While researching, I've learned so many amazing facts about regions such as France, Greece and Egypt.

IML: Many authors write main characters who are an extension of themselves. How are you like Swanilde, and how are you different?

bethany_huang.pngBethany: Swanilde's character is very similar to my own -- I've always loved to think of her as myself. All the countries that I make her to travel to are the countries that I want to go to.  Ideally, I like to see myself as courageous, trustworthy and determined..exactly the way Swanilde is. The only thing that makes us different is that her childhood is traumatizing -- definitely nothing like mine!  

IML: As you were writing, did you get input from parents, teachers, or friends? What kind of feedback did they give you and how did it help?

Bethany: I've had a lot of input from my parents, and a teacher. My awesome fourth grade teacher Mr. Hill helped me with constructive criticism, feedback and editing, and was such an attentive and super cool teacher. My parents were extremely supportive throughout everything, especially through the editing and publishing process. And of course, I'm so grateful for my grandparents, who called almost every single week to tell me how proud they were. The feedback given was very positive with only several suggestions to change some of my plot. All of the feedback I was given helped me to improve my writing, and I thank them all for being so encouraging through the process.

IML: Do you keep a journal? If so, what kinds of things do you write in it? How does it help you as a writer and just with life in general?

Bethany: Yes, I keep a journal. Inside of my "Algebra notebook." I write about my daily life and ideas that I'd like to write about someday, and my secrets...Keeping a journal helps me as a writer because it helps me to organize my thoughts and realize how much I've accomplished that day.

IML: What are your own favorite books, and why?

Bethany: I have one favorite book for each genre. The "Harry Potter" series is my favorite fantasy series, while "Once Upon a Time is Timeless" is my favorite fairytale retelling series. I also love "Found" by Margaret Peterson Haddix -- it's my favorite science-fiction book. Also, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is my favorite all time classic. There's so many more books that I love-I could fill a whole page (or more) with them.  All of the books I've listed above I love for their uniqueness, creativity and twist of adventure.

IML: What's your advice for other tweens who would like to write and possibly get published too?

Bethany: Just don't give up. As long as they put their heart to a goal and work hard towards it, they can accomplish whatever they wish. Good luck to all aspiring young adults in whatever they pursue!

IML: That's great advice! Good luck!

Bethany:
Thank you!

You can learn more about Bethany Huang and how to get a copy of her book at www.BethanyHuang.com.




MLK Day 2011
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Thumbnail image for martin_luther_king_jr.jpgIf you live in the U.S., right now you're enjoying a day off from school. Woo-hoo! Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

Actually, we have a lot to thank MLK for. Hopefully you're familiar with this man and his legacy, and why we celebrate both. In honor of Dr. King, we hope you'll spend some time today on these IML You Said It pages and share your thoughts:

Volunteering
Everyone's talking about service. Serve! Serve! Serve! But what does it mean? If you're just 8 or 9 years old, can you really do that? Take a look at how other IML'ers have found ways to reach out and give something back to their communities.

What Freedom Really Means
Freedom doesn't always have to be about the big stuff. Freedom comes in small packages, too. Like being able to choose what music to listen to, or what stores to shop in, or what to wear to school. Check out other people's definition of the word.

I've Experienced Racism
Although we've come a long way since Dr. King's day, and we are so much closer to making his "dream" a reality, racism is still very real. Get a first hand look at how tweens deal with this.

We also hope you'll visit PBS KIDS GO!'s African American World for Kids, where you can match other African American heroes with the events that made them famous, send e-cards, and read comments from other young people.



How not to sweat your next test
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teststress1.gifTest stress can turn you into a mess and make your grade less, instead of doing your best, and...ah, forget it. We're out of rhymes!

But seriously, this seems like a big issue for students of all ages. How many times have you been disappointed by how you performed on a test, and felt sure that it wasn't because you didn't know the material but were instead so nervous or freaked out by the test itself? You're not alone, but there are lots of strategies to tackle this. Check out our section on Test Stress and see what other IML'ers have written about the subject on our Test Stress You Said It page.

We recently read about a new study from the University of Chicago that asked students who were anxious about a test to spend 10 minutes beforehand writing about their feelings. What happened? Those students improved their scores by a whole grade (for instance, going from a B minus to a B plus). What these researchers were trying to prove is that worrying uses up a lot of the brain's "working", or short-term, memory, so that memory can't do its job of recalling all the stuff that person studied to prep for the test.

Maybe the process of writing about test stress gets those thoughts out on paper so they're not swirling around in your head, taking up space. Or maybe it's just a relief to acknowledge that you're nervous, face the worst case scenario, and move on. Whatever. We're just big fans of the power of journaling to help with all sorts of feelings!

The next time you're really amped up about an exam, see if you can take a few minutes that morning or right before class -- in the hallway, the library, even in the bathroom if you have to -- to let that test stress out of your brain and onto the page.



 
Bullying by any other name...
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Sometimes, we experience something and we're not sure what to call it. Bullying is one of those things. You might be learning in school or other programs what it is, exactly, and what counts as "bullying" (we talk about that on IML too) . But even if you know the facts, you still may not want to use the B word. Giving it a name can make it more real and often, more serious.

bully2.jpgThis week in our Advice section, we tackle questions from two people who seem to be feeling that way. One is a boy named Robby, who wrote to us about how he's picked on for everything but doesn't think he's actually being bullied. We showed this question to our expert, a school social worker, and we decided to pass it on to our IML Mentors to see what kind of wisdom they could share. The Mentors are a group of teens, aged 14 to 18, who respond to advice questions sent in by IML'ers; they're chosen for this job because they have experience helping other young people and are great at writing and expressing themselves. The Mentors didn't disappoint with Robby's question! They came up with some terrific advice. The whole idea behind the IML Mentors is that you're getting some input from people who are a little older than you and have just gone through all the stuff you're going through, and have lived to tell the tale!

We also have some responses to last month's Parent Advice question, from a Minnesota mom named Jean. Although she didn't use the word, Jean's daughter is experiencing a type of bullying that involves excluding and ignoring someone. IML'ers just like you wrote in with lots of wonderful advice for Jean, and we chose some of the best ones to feature on the site.

If you or someone you know is experiencing something similar to what Robby and Jean's daughter are going through, we hope this advice helps you!


DVD Review: "Step Up 3" and "Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition"
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If you're a dance fan, these are long months when neither "So You Think You Can Dance" or "Dancing With The Stars" is on TV. Fortunately, a pair of new home entertainment releases should help cover the rough patch. As you may know by now, here at IML we are big supporters of dance because of the amazing creative and self-expression outlet it can give young people, and how anyone can do it. You may want to re-visit our interviews with Lauren Gottlieb, Legacy Perez, and the "Ballroom Kids" to see what we're talking about!

So you can imagine how excited we were to be able to check out the DVD/Blu-ray combo of "Step Up 3" and the DVD of "Strictly Ballroom: Special Edition." The perfect cure for winter blahs, indeed.

stepup3.jpg"Step Up 3," like its predecessors "Step Up" and "Step Up 2," is heavy on dancing and light on story and characters, but that's okay if you accept that going in. "Step Up 2"'s Moose is headed to college in NYC, along with "Step Up"'s Camille (played by teen dance queen Alyson Stoner), and finds himself in a new world of awesomely sick dancers and heated rivalries. There's some romance and betrayal, a big competition, lots of humor, the joys of forging a virtual family among people who all love the same thing, and dancing, then some dancing, and more dancing, and extra incredible dancing...and oh yeah, great music too. You'll recognize some familiar faces along the way, including "SYTYCD" stars Twitch, Legacy, and Joshua, and "Glee"'s Harry Shum Jr.

The Blu-ray includes some cool bonus features such as deleted scenes, a faux documentary on dance by the character of Luke, a bunch of music videos from the likes of Flo Rida and Trey Songz, and "extra dance moves" that were cut out of the finished film. (The DVD has all bonus features except the deleted scenes and Luke's documentary.)

So get comfy with a BFF or two, fire up the popcorn, and turn off your brain...your heart and body are all you need for this one!

IML's Rating: B+

strictlyballroomse.jpgBack in 1992, before today's tweens were even born, a quirky Australian film about ballroom dancing made a big, sparkly splash. "Strictly Ballroom" was the first movie by director Baz Luhrmann, who went on to make "Romeo + Juliet" starring Clare Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio and "Moulin Rouge" with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. Some people say it was the film that revived a worldwide interest in ballroom dancing. Whether that's true or not, "Strictly Ballroom" is definitely a funny, heartwarming, still-fresh-and-original flick that your whole family can enjoy.

Like "Step Up 3" (and many other dance films), "Strictly Ballroom" focuses on a big competition; this time it's the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix Dancing Championship. Our hero, Scott Hastings, has been training his whole life as a competitive ballroom dancer and it's his dream to take home this big prize. However, he wants to do it using his own personal dance style and not the "strictly ballroom" steps everyone else does. His parents are former ballroom dancers and now help run a dance studio, so the pressure is pretty high for him to win, and everyone wants him to just do the regulation moves. Everyone, that is, except awkward beginning dancer Fran, who convinces him to take her as his partner and teaches him some new moves of her own.

With all its flash and dazzle, some of it wonderfully weird compared to what we're used to seeing these days, the film explores timeless issues that you may relate to...such as: doing something to win versus doing it because it makes you happy, trying to live up to other people's expectations, and the classic Cinderella/Ugly Duckling story of a girl searching for self-confidence and identity.

The Special Edition DVD includes a "making of" documentary, a dance featurette, deleted scenes, a design gallery, and audio commentary.

IML's Rating: A

One of our favorite moments in "Step Up 3" occurs early on and sums up what people love about dancing: "I feel most like myself when I'm dancing," says one dancer. Then another says, "Dancing lets me be someone else for a few minutes." In other words, it can be whatever you need it to be!