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November 2011 Archives

Magic, the art of astonishment, and the Amazing Max
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max 0092_prv.jpgWhen was the last time you saw a magician perform live, in front of you? Someone's birthday party maybe, or at a fair? Did it wow you, or did you figure out all the tricks in your head? Did you feel astonished by what you saw, or possibly even make you think, I want to try that?

Recently, we saw an awesome and hilarious live magic show called "The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things," and it struck us how this area of performing may not be on most tweens' radar. Not only does it have the power to really entertain people, but it can also be super-fun and confidence-boosting. We asked The Amazing Max to tell us more about why he loves to do magic, and why it's something you might want to check out.

IML: Hi Max! We totally loved your show. Can you tell us how you first got started doing magic?

The Amazing Max: Most magicians will tell you that they got the magic bug when they were a kid. That's pretty much the same with me, but it was also in my family. When my dad was growing up, he did magic; my grandfather owned a hardware store and actually made him magic tricks out of wood and stuff in the shop! Then when I was growing up, there was a brick and mortar magic shop -- you don't really see any of those anymore, everybody buys stuff online these days -- and my dad would take me in. The owner, Al, would show me magic tricks. Then we'd always bring one home, so eventually I had this collection of magic stuff.

IML: What's your favorite thing about performing magic?

The Amazing Max: Well, it feels great to get applause. Any performer will tell you that! But the truth is, for me it's not so much about the applause as it is about making people laugh, and the opposite of that would be, making people speechless. Getting to truly astonish people and leave them with wonder. I remember when I was a kid, watching a magician perform at a birthday party, and the feeling I had when I saw him take a 15-inch knitting needle and stick it through a clear balloon. I was thinking, "That's not possible, but here I am watching it happen!" And now I do that trick occasionally because it brings me back to that feeling of pure astonishment. Being able to do that is incredibly gratifying. Plus, making people laugh is one of the best feelings in the world!

IML: That's a good point -- it's not often you get to really leave people astonished. What would you say are the biggest myths and stereotypes out there about magicians?

The Amazing Max: I think that there's sometimes a myth that magicians are weird and creepy. On TV, the biggest magicians are David Blaine and Chris Angel -- they're the most visible. They both have very serious stage personas. So maybe there's a misconception that magic has to be serious and about fooling people. But it can also be upbeat and fun and funny!

IML: If someone wants to learn how to do magic, where should they start?

The Amazing Max: I do see afterschool programs in and around Manhattan, where I live, and I hope there are more in other places. There are magic camps, too. But you don't really need that in order to learn magic. When I was in elementary and middle school, I would hide out in the library and find every book they had on magic. I never found a shortage -- I would always find a book with names like "Fool Your Friends With These Tricks" or something. When people tell me they want to learn a trick and ask me to teach them one, I tell them to go looking in the library. That's how I started! There are great DVD's and online videos too. I actually have my own DVD coming out that teaches kids magic tricks they can do at home. It's called "The Amazing Max's Magic In Minutes," and it's all tricks with really simple things they can find around the house.

IML: What do you think kids would be surprised to know about learning magic?

The Amazing Max: That it's easier than they think. If you really look for it, learning magic is so readily available. Especially with online videos and books that are out there. People see a magic show and think, "I could never do that!" But in reality, it's like riding a bike, and if you practice and practice you get better. At the same time, it is a performance art. You have to get up and perform for people and get responses out of them. Fool people, have fun, make them laugh! You need to want to do that.

IML: What's the funniest thing that ever happened to you during a show?

The Amazing Max: I was doing a magic show once where I had a kid sitting in the front row, and he was laughing so hard he started crying. And then he was laughing so hard he vomited into his own lap! And you know what? He just kept on laughing. His mom simply wiped him down, and he never left the show! I've also had kids pee (and do worse) in their pants because they're laughing hysterically.

IML: Does it throw you when that stuff happens?

The Amazing Max: You know, I do so much improvisation that I actually thrive off of that kind of thing. Even when kids heckle me, or when things go differently than I planned. I actually strive for moments like that. It keeps me on my toes and I like that!

IML: Thanks for sharing some of your "magic" with us!

The Amazing Max:
You're so welcome!

If you're in the New York City area, you can check out "The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things" at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center (MMAC) Theater on Saturdays and Sundays at 4:30pm. For more information, visit

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 12-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!

Thank you!

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

Celeb Scoop: Jake Short
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jakeshort.jpgDisney Channel's new hit show "A.N.T. Farm" centers around three friends who attend their high school's gifted ("Advanced Natural Talents") program. Sometimes these talents make life easier for them...and sometimes they don't. We're sure many of you can relate!

Fourteen-year-old Jake Short stars as Fletcher Quimby on the show and is enjoying the ride so far. We had a fun chat with him recently:

IML: Hi Jake! "A.N.T. Farm" is super-popular and that must be exciting! Why don't you tell us, in your own words, about your character Fletcher, and how you two are similar and different?

Jake: Fletcher goes to Webster High School, but he's only 11 years old. He's a quirky kid who's really good at art. His main flaw is that he has a huge crush on his classmate Chyna. He gets really nervous around Chyna sometimes when he flirts with her, and makes weird comments. Fletcher and I are similar because we sometimes flirt with girls in a way that's very obvious, and makes us look like a dork! We're different in that he's way good at art, and I am the worst artist on the face of the earth.

IML: What are you really good at that he's not so good at?

Jake: Well, I do tumbling, which is flips and tricks and stuff. I've been doing that for 2 years. I love that. I don't think Fletcher would be so good at that.

IML: The crush that Fletcher has on Chyna is pretty funny. Have you ever had a crush like that?

Jake: I feel like Fletcher's pretty deep into Chyna and I've never felt quite that way about someone. When you're a tween and a teen, you just think every crush is love...Actually, I don't think anyone really knows the definition of love no matter how old you are. I think it takes time to understand.

IML: What would you like to see happen for Fletcher in the future?

Jake: Truthfully, I would like to see Fletcher interact with his art teacher. Are they friends? Does the art teacher not like Fletcher because he corrects him sometimes? I'd like to see how that would play out.

IML: How do you get along with the other cast members? Is it like you really all are going to school together?

Jake: We get along great! Even though we're all doing different school programs, when we're on set we all work in the classroom together and it's like a school environment. For fun, we do a lot of Nerf gun games, going around shooting each other with Nerf guns. Sometimes we play basketball, and other times we go to other show sets and do Nerf gun wars with them!

IML: What's been the most fun scene on the show for you to shoot?

Jake: There's one scene in one of the episodes, I don't want to say which one, but Fletcher gets splattered with a pie in the face. That was so much fun! It wasn't actually a pie, it was shaving cream and graham cracker crust. So it didn't taste so good but it looked great on camera, and it was super fun to do!

IML: Who's the coolest person you've met in your career so far, and what did you learn?

Jake: I would say Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow when I worked on "Dexter." That was fun because they're both Method actors, and Method actors really get into the character before a scene, they become the character and they're not themselves anymore. I saw that with them, and it was phenomenal. They did an awesome job and I was genuinely stunned by how well they jumped into character, how their facial expressions changed.

IML: Do you do other sports besides tumbling?

Jake: I play on a soccer team. I played all last year, I did regular soccer and then I did all-star teams. I do tumbling and flips, there's a gym I go to for that. Since I'm homeschooled, I don't get much kid interaction, so I started at this gym and I got to meet other kids. I actually met one of my best friends there, we hang out all the time. It's sort of like a fun thing, but I also go there to learn, because I'd like to do my own stunts in the future. When I do go, I get there feeling stressed and when I leave, I feel happy.

IML: Thanks for chatting with us! It's been great getting to know you better. Good luck with everything!

Jake: Thanks!