It's My Life PBS Kids Go!

September 2011 Archives

Meet teen activist and author Zach Hunter
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ZachHunter Headshot.jpgNineteen-year-old Zach Hunter has spent his teen years trying to solve a problem. That would be the problem -- a global problem -- of modern slavery. Slavery? Yes, slavery. Not a thing of the past! In fact, today there are an estimated 27 million people around the world living as slaves...and half of them are children.

Since he was 12, Zach has been working hard to spark a movement that encourages young people like him to stand up and fight for a cause they believe in. He started the platform "Loose Change to Loosen Chains" to help end global slavery, and wrote three books -- "Be the Change," "Lose Your Cool," and "Generation Change" -- to inspire young people to find a cause they're passionate about and get involved.

We found Zach's books to be well-written and really motivating, with easy-to-follow ideas and practical tips. Books like these definitely mean more as one young person speaking to another. Recently, Zach shared some of his experiences and advice for tweens.

IML: You were 12 when you first became aware of the issue of modern slavery. How did that happen? Was it something you saw or read?

Zach: It was February during African American History Month. I had been learning about some of my greatest heroes -- people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who won their own freedom and then worked to free others. I had wished I had been alive to work on the Underground Railroad. For me, the most embarrassing issue in American history was the fact that people of my skin color thought it was OK to own people of another race. Slavery made me so angry and I wished I could have done something about it.  Of course, I was only 12 -- what could I have done? It was at that time that I learned that many children my age were still enslaved today and there WAS something I could do.

IML: Once you knew you wanted to "be the change" when it comes to slavery, what was your first step? I mean, that's a huge problem. Most kids wouldn't know where to start!

be the change.jpgZach: I didn't really know where to start. I was really angry, but I knew feeling mad wasn't enough. I knew my feelings were meant to bring about change.  I did some research and found out that many of the groups that work to free slaves needed money for their work. I also learned that most people were surprised to hear that slavery was still going on. So, I decided I
could use my voice and make people aware -- just like people did during the abolitionist movement 200 years ago. I also learned that there's about $10.5 billion in loose change in American households and many people just throw it away. I thought - what if we, as kids collected change and helped to loosen the chains of oppression. It's nothing novel or new -- just a simple change and awareness drive.

IML: How has your activism helped you in other areas of your life, like family, friendships, and school?

Zach: I used to suffer from a terrible anxiety disorder. I was really nervous to go outside, go to school, etc.  But, when I began speaking up for people who are oppressed, my courage grew.  It hasn't really made school or friendships easier; in fact sometimes, they are harder. It can be kind of hard for people my age to relate to me when they find out I've written books and
speak around the world...but I'm just a really normal guy.

IML: What would you like pre-teens to know about the issue of slavery, and what we can all do about it?

generation change.jpgZach: Our generation can use our freedom and our resources to help others. 27 million people are enslaved today. Half of them are kids. They may work making bricks all day, or weaving rugs. They may be beaten and abused or kept from their families. They work long hours and have no access to school or healthcare. By speaking up, raising funds, writing school papers, posting on Facebook, and telling your friends, you can be part of the solution. You can also be smart about how you spend your money and let the companies you like know that it's really important to you that they get rid of slavery in their manufacturing.

IML: How can we educate ourselves more about this issue?

Zach: I have a lot of information on my website and also, you can check out the website for the U.S. Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Office. In my book "Be the Change," I give a lot of background information about slavery, the people who inspire me and what kids can do to help end the sale of humans.

IML: Your faith plays a big role in your work. Do you think your books will be useful to young readers who are not Christian? When it comes to fighting for something you believe in, what do you think we all share, regardless of our religion or level of spirituality?

lose your cool.jpgZach: Anyone who believes people should be free is welcome to join the effort to end slavery. My faith is important to me and I talk about it in my books -- but anyone, regardless of what they believe or how we might disagree on that issue will find a common point of agreement: our neighbors around the world deserve to be free. Working together, we can accomplish more than we can alone.

IML: You have a lot of great ideas in your books. Any particular favorites?

Zach: I am really glad I got to write about helping people find their own passion to change the world. I talk about this a lot in "Lose Your Cool." I also think the chapter on Kindness in "Generation Change" is something really practical and something we all could do better at.

IML: Thanks, Zach! Keep up the incredible work and we hope your words inspire some IML'ers!

Zach: Thank you!

Tell us: What type of volunteer work have you done or are doing now?

Celeb Scoop: Madison Pettis
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Madison Pettis.jpgIf you don't recognize 13-year-old Madison Pettis' face, you might recognize her voice: in addition to work she's done on camera with shows like "Cory In The House," she's spoken for characters in series and movies such as "Phineas and Ferb," "Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2," and "The Search for Santa Paws." These days you can hear her as Izzy on "Jake and the Never Land Pirates," the first 7 episodes of which have just come out on DVD and Blu-ray. Madison will also soon be seen on the new tween TV series "Life With Boys."

We had a chance to chat with Madison and loved learning more about her!

IML: Welcome, Madison! So first off, why don't you describe, in your own words, Izzy's character and what she's all about?

Madison: Sure! Izzy is the only girl pirate on Jake's team of pirates. She is spunky and fun and all about girl power. She can do anything the boys can do, and usually she can do it better...that's her motto! I think she's around 8 years old.

IML: Do you have in your head any kind of "back-story" for her?

Madison: I feel like she's sort of grown up with Jake and Cubby her whole life. They're not actually brothers and sister, but they're best friends. They've just gone on these adventures ever since they were babies -- that's what I pictured!

IML: Is Izzy like you at all?

Madison: I am very similar to Izzy. I also totally believe that girls can do anything boys can do. I love Izzy...she's a younger version of myself!

IML: What's been the most fun part of doing this character and this show?

Madison: The most fun part is getting to record with Colin Ford, who plays Jake, and Jonathan Morgan Heit, who plays Cubby, every week. We all get to record together and have all the energy that we would actually have in Neverland, and we play off of each other. Recording with two boys, I definitely have to hold my own!

IML: There must be a pretty good blooper reel at this point! You've done a lot of other voice acting in addition to the work you've done on camera. How are the two types of acting different?

Madison: Voice acting is very different than live action acting because you have to make all of your expression come through your voice. You have to really act it out in the booth and have a lot of energy while you're recording. You can't move around too much, but you definitely move your arms and have a lot of enthusiasm!

IML: Tell us a little about your new TV series "Life With Boys."

Madison: We just finished shooting the first season. It's from the creators of Hannah Montana, and is about a 13-year-old girl named Tess who's the only girl in a household full of boys. I have so much fun shooting that! My character is Ally, Tess's best friend, and she's super girly. She's a freshman cheerleader and into fashion and makeup. I love that character. I think the show is very relatable for girls. I'm sort of the girly-girl and the main character is into sports, more of a tomboy. The show focuses on our life balancing each other out. It's already premiered in Canada, and it will be in the U.s. very soon but I just can't give those details yet!

IML: What's your school situation -- are you in regular school?

Madison: Yup, I go to regular school, and then when I'm working I take all of my work with me. My teachers send me all the work and lesson plans, and I follow along with the rest of my class. That's probably the hardest part of acting, balancing school with work. I do 3-4 hours of school every day on set. I can usually get all my schoolwork done in that time.

IML: We met you years ago right when you'd just started on "Cory In The House." Now that you've been in the business for a little while, when you look back, what do you feel like you've learned? What's been the biggest lesson that's come out of all your experiences with acting?

Madison: I get to have so much fun every day. Being on set is so much fun. I just love it. I think that's what I've learned the most: just to have fun.

IML: What's something that people might be surprised to hear about you?

Madison: I'm allergic to dairy -- all things with milk I'm allergic to. So I can't have ice cream, pizzas, cheeseburgers, chocolate, cake...anything like that. I've been allergic ever since I was born so I don't really know what I'm missing!

IML: Wow...what's the hardest part of that?

Madison: Social things like parties are hard, because there's always pizzas and cake with ice cream.

IML: How do you handle situations like that? Do you bring your own food, or just eat beforehand?

Madison: Usually if I'm going to a party, I'll eat before because I know I'll most likely be allergic to what they have there. I also carry my allergy medicine everywhere in case I accidentally eat something I'm allergic to. I'm pretty good about knowing what I can and can't have because I'm so used to it!

IML: You're probably really good at reading ingredient labels! Thank you so much for talking to us, and good luck with everything!

Madison: Thank you!

Can a t-shirt set a bad example?
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allergictoalgebra.jpgFirst, there was a big brouhaha about a girls' t-shirt from JCPenney that read: "I'M TOO PRETTY TO DO HOMEWORK...So My Brother Has To Do It For Me." Then, Forever 21 put out an "ALLERGIC TO ALGEBRA" top that people got upset over. Both stores agreed to stop selling these shirts.

toopretty.jpgAt first, we were horrified too. What are these shirts saying about girls' intelligence? You can't be pretty and be awesome at homework? You can't wear pink and love doing complicated math? These shirts could be continuing the same false stereotypes women have been fighting against for decades, and that many of today's moms are hoping their daughters won't grow up with.

On the other hand, however...they are just jokes. Bad ones, of course. Maybe folks should be shouting loudest about how lame the humor is here. Come on, can't you designers think of something funnier?

It's a tough call and one that each of you should make for yourself. It is interesting to know that t-shirts that make fun of education were not found in the boys' departments of these stores. What's up with that? 

In the end, if you see something on a piece of clothing that just doesn't seem right to you, that makes you feel bad or just seems to make fun of something or someone in a mean or cliched way, don't buy it. Take a picture and ask your friends if they feel the same way. Write an email to the store to tell them what you think. It's dialogue and feedback like this that helps clothing retailers realize what might be offensive, and makes them really consider the message they're putting out there.

So what do you think? Are these shirts "sexist"? Tell us on our What's On Your Mind page!

Book Review: "Dear Bully"
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Bullying is such a big part of life growing up that if you ask any adult, they'll surely have a story from their past to tell you about getting bullied, being a bully, or witnessing it. When you hear these stories, do they help you feel less alone or help you understand the situation? Do they help you think past the here-and-now and instead, consider the consequences and lasting effects?

dear-bully-cvr_catalog1-345x500.jpgA new book from HarperTeen called "Dear Bully," edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, hopes to do just that, with the help of 70 popular YA authors who have contributed their stories about bullying from every possible side of the experience. These stories are funny, sad, horrifying, and thoughtful. They may make you angry, and they're very likely to make you think of something that has happened, or is happening, in your own life.

Our favorite tales include: the one from R.L. Stine, who discovered he could use his talents for being funny to turn the tables on his bullies; Kieran Scott's letter to the queen bee girl who made life miserable for a group of friends; and Lisa Yee's regretful memories of standing by while one girl got picked on by her entire school.

The thing that comes through in these stories is that whatever the experience, no matter how terrible or haunting or scarring, these writers have overcome it to be self-confident and successful adults. In many cases, the authors used the pain from their pasts in their writing, and to become stronger people.

We highly recommend this book to all tweens and teens -- whether you're being bullied or not. It's a great read that will help you better understand what counts as bullying, why people might do it, and how to deal with it while being true to yourself and what you need.

A portion of the proceeds from "Dear Bully" will be donated to the organization Stomp Out Bullying. Learn more at, which features a blog and one new story each week.

Meet our fave new band, Y i YELL
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Recently we were psyched to discover a new "teen" band that seems, well, a little different from the rest. First, there's the cool name: Y i YELL. Then, there's the two-brothers-and-the-girl-next-door thing. And then of course, and most importantly, you've got a great sound here; addictive pop songs with terrific vocals that feel current but also a little retro, in the coolest of ways.

Y i YELL is made up of 18-year-old Michael Lerios, his 13-year-old brother Demitri, and their 18-year-old friend and neighbor Gaby Symons. Read on!

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IML: Hi guys! So, how and when did each of you start playing music?

Michael: I come from a really musical family. My dad is in the music business. We've been around music all our lives and developed a huge passion for it. I started playing guitar when I was 13.

Gaby: I started singing and doing musical theatre at around age 5. When I got older, I started to take lessons. I remember feeling like it was such an escape for me and I loved it so much.

Demitri: I was 9 when I started playing. My dad just got a drum set and I started playing!

IML: Tell us about how the three of you came together and became a band.

Gaby: Michael and I are the same age. We met when we were 11 years old. I knew he played guitar and he knew I sang. We happen to live next door to each other...yes, I am the girl next door! One day he asked me to come over and play together and there was an instant musical connection, and we started to write songs. It was our afterschool activity for a while, then over the summer I heard Demitri play and I was like, he needs to be in our band! Once Demitri joined us, Y i Yell was really born.

IML: What do your neighbors and friends think about the band?

Demitri: Our neighbors think we're really loud! Seriously though, everyone's really supportive and it's great to have them be part of this whole experience.

Gaby: It's funny, when we first went on Disney XD I asked Demitri if he told his friends, and he was like, "No..." He didn't tell any of his friends! It's something we kept to ourselves so we could really let it grow.

IML: We're excited about your upcoming debut EP. What are the songs on it?

Michael: It'll have "Always the Weekend" and "Tap Your Feet." As far as what the songs are all about, we like to write songs that are based around our name. We also have a single "Y i YELL" and that's the idea for our band. Why do you yell? What makes you yell? Everything's moving so fast these days and it's hard to take a beat and step back and think about the answers to those questions.

Gaby: We want people to look at our name and think, "There must be more to this. That's cool, what is that?" That's our theme. And with every song we draw from that theme with messages our listeners can really relate to.

IML: It is a really great name. It stands out and makes people go "Hmmm, what's that all about?" So, tell us about the process of writing a song.

Demitri: If any of us have a song title or lyrics, we'll show each other and branch off of that. We all like to contribute to writing.

IML: What do you think makes a band work together successfully? How do you solve disagreements?

Michael: We do spend every single day together. But I would actually say I'm usually the mediator between Gaby and Demitri.

Demetri: He's lying...I am!

Michael: Since Demitri and I are brothers, we've been getting along better since he's gotten older. Since we all have such a great passion for music, when we get together to work it really isn't work for us. We just want to see what we can create and what we can do. Every time we go into a practice room or a studio, we push each other to be as good as we can. We all have a great friendship. Sometimes we'll go in to practice and we won't even practice because we'll be talking.

Gaby: We're always laughing. We'll start a song and really be working to get it done, and Demitri will do one thing to mock the lyrics as I'm singing, and I'll crack up! It's really become like the boys are my brothers.

IML: That shows in your videos; it looks like you're havig so much fun. You don't get that from every band, so that's very cool. What else do you think makes you different from other "teen" bands out there?

Michael: I think what makes us different is that we appeal to a broad spectrum. Gabi and I are a little older and Demitri is younger. We have so many different influences. We all bring so much to the table and it creates a certain sound, and it's something people haven't seen yet and we hope they love.

IML: Websites like YouTube are great for helping people discover new music, but it also seems like everyone wants to record a song and become an overnight star like Rebecca Black. Actually, "Always the Weekend" is a great response to that song. What's your take on all that?

Michael: It is very true that nowadays you can buy a laptop and record a record on it, basically. What we do is all out of our house. We write and record and produce our music all in our house.

Gaby: It's cool to be able to create in your space and be able to do so much with the resources around you. There's so much talent out there -- for instance, Greyson Chance is an amazing writer.

IML: What's been your favorite part of this experience so far?

Michael: The coolest thing for me is that this went from Gaby and I getting together and writing because we love music, and turning it into something we do every day now. I never thought it would become something like this.

Gaby: I agree. We're sitting here right now, and we're honored to just be talking to you! We feel really blessed to be doing what we love and have more coming in the future.

Demitri: Spending time with Michael and Gaby, and getting to know them even better. It's great to be even close to what we are.

IML: Good luck with everything...It's been really great chatting with you guys!

Michael, Gaby, and Demitri (in unison, truly!): Thank you!

You can learn more about Y i Yell on their website at In the meantime, check out their totally let's-watch-it-again video for the single "Always The Weekend":

"Faces of Hope", and some thoughts, 10 years after 9/11
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We have not one but two big anniversaries coming up this weekend. The first, of course, is the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The second is the anniversary of It's My Life.

That's right. IML was born right after these attacks happened 10 years ago. We had just gotten the news that we were getting funding to create this website for tweens, and were starting to plan it out, when that day happened. One year later, we created a section called September 11 to help IML'ers think about and talk about not just those events, but all the fears and feelings associated with them. Even though most of today's IML'ers don't remember 9/11/01, we think the information on those pages still holds some great advice, especially "Feeling Freaked Out," "Media Madness," and "Celebrate Diversity."

Faces Hope 10 Year.jpgAfter the attacks, a book called "Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11" was published, featuring fifty babies -- one from each U.S. state -- who were busy being born on the same day the world changed for most of us. The author, Christine Pisera Naman, has revisited these now-tweens in her new book, "Faces of Hope: Ten Years Later." Christine shared some of her experiences creating the book as we all reflect on this anniversary.

IML: Besides their birth date, what do the kids in your book have in common? 

IMG_0228.JPGChristine: I think they have much in common.  They are all happy, energetic, full-of-life tweens. They have never lived in a time where 9/11 has not existed but yet they see our world as a hopeful, happy place, one in which they believe that they can make a difference. They are quite a diverse group with each one  coming  from one of the fifty states. They live different lives and lifestyles that have them spread out all over the United States but they remain linked by their birthday and its significance.
IML: What have most of the kids been told about the day they were born, and how did their families keep birthdays joyous while also being respectful?
Christine: Now that the kids are approaching ten years old, the families have now begun telling them a little bit more in detail about the events of September 11.  They know that it is a sad day in our history because innocent lives were lost.  They are aware of the plane crashes and the way in which the events unfolded.  I think that in regards to "knowing," they may be at slightly different levels but it is now a part of the history classes they participate in at school so they do have knowledge.

I think that birthdays are acknowledged two-fold by most families.  We celebrate the child and the great people they are becoming just as you would any child on their birthday. But I also think that the families set aside time to make sure that they respect the bigger picture by honoring and praying for those lost and their loved ones.

IML: Do you think these kids feel a "responsibility" to the world, or at least to those around them, because they were born on 9/11/01?
Christine: Personally, I don't know if they do but I would love it if my own son felt more of a responsibility to do good for the world because he was born on 9/11/01.
IML: The book is dedicated to Christina Taylor Green, who is featured posthumously after being one of the victims of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona last January. What did you learn about Christina during the process of doing the book?
Christine: I learned that Christina was an amazing, beautiful, intelligent little girl.  She was gifted in so many ways and had so many interests that made her into the special child that she was.

IML: Many of today's 10-year-old's don't really understand what happened on that day and how it changed the world. Do you think it's important for kids to know that, or is it better to keep it in the past and focus on the present and future?
Christine: I think it's important for all children to know in a way that's appropriate to them what 9/11 was about.  It is a part of our history and they need to know about the tragic events. It is a good opportunity to teach them about the courage and goodness that came from that day. We can show and tell them that humanity banded together as one and stood up against adversity.

IML: Thank you, Christine! What a great way for us to recognize this day.

Now it's your turn: Tell us how you think the events of 9/11/01 changed the world!

New Schools Can Rule
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If you've been feeling stressed/depressed/excited/nervous about the start of school, 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!