It's My Life PBS Kids Go!
Summer survival help from IML
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familyvacations1.gifAh, summer! Time to let loose, have fun, take vacations, hang with friends and family, and generally enjoy life, right? Well, that's what TV commercials would have you believe. Don't get us wrong: summer can be amazing. But not always.

Reading through your Advice questions lately, we're reminded of how certain things can make summer a less-than-carefree season for many tweens. As in:

Moving. Your BFF may be relocating with his or her family to a new state. Or maybe it's you who's headed somewhere new. Summer's a big time for this. It's never fun, but there are ways to deal. Check out IML's advice on what to do When Your Family Moves (there are tips in there for when it's a friend who's moving).

Being home alone. You're on vacation from school for a few months, but your parents probably don't get the same break from work. You may find yourself with a lot more solo time in your home than usual. And maybe that's not always a good thing, if you're bored, scared, lonely, or an alternating pattern of all three. Once again, we suggest a visit to our Home Alone section for help, or even just to sound off on the You Said It page.

Family vacations. Ah, the joy of riding in a car or airplane with your loved ones for hours on end. NOT! And then there's what happens once you get there. In between the Kodak moments, a family trip is not complete without arguments, annoyances, mishaps, and possibly some weird relatives too. And yes, we have advice on how to not just survive, but actually have fun amid all the craziness.

Starting middle school or high school. Many IML'ers have already written in to express their worries about moving up to a new school this fall. It's normal to feel some anxiety, especially if you and your best friends are headed to different places, but there are definitely things you can do now to make the jump easier. Check out our advice on Middle School and High School and you're bound to feel a little better...or at least prepared.

Summer camp. If you're an old pro at summer camp, you're probably counting the days until you leave for this year's session. If this is your first year or you're headed for a new home away from home, that can be a little terrifying. Never fear! IML is here with a whole section on Summer Camp.

The purpose of all this? We just want IML'ers to know that it's okay NOT to feel like every minute of summer is pure, unfiltered joy. It's just a time of year, not a break from real life and all its problems. If it seems like everyone else but you is having a blast...chances are, they're really not. But hopefully, with a little information and problem-solving -- whether you find it here at IML or somewhere else -- you can make the best of whatever the summer has in store for you!
 

Theme Park 101
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Thumbnail image for themepark.jpgSpring (and soon summer) is upon us! And for many IML'ers, that can only mean one thing...it's theme park time! Yes, even as you read this, vacationers of all ages are descending like crazy on countless water parks, adventure lands, zoos, and entertainment mega-worlds. A day at a theme park can be a great way to spend quality time with parents, sibs, relatives, and friends, but it's not always easy to have fun the sun (or rain, or whatever) without going absolutely bonkers, passing out from exhaustion, or demanding to be traded to a less annoying group of people.

So IML has put together this list of Top Ten theme park survival tips for tweens:

1) Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Yeah, yeah, We know this sounds like "grandma advice." But sometimes grandmas are smart! They've been around long enough to know, for example, that those stylish, bejeweled metallic flip-flops will probably shred your feet after about an hour of walking across hot concrete, and that really cute mini-skirt might make it tough to go on certain rides. It's natural to want to look and feel your best, especially if you're spending the day with friends, but you're going to have more fun in the end if you can focus on what you're doing and seeing, not what you're wearing. (Also, keep in mind that you'll very likely get wet at some point in the day, from a ride or water feature or Shamu, so wear something that dries quickly.)

2) Divide and Conquer. We love family unity and friendly togetherness as much as anyone, but to survive a long day at a mega park, you're probably gonna have to split up and take different routes at some point...especially if you have a big group. It'll save a lot of arguing and whining about "what to do next." Don't rely only on cell phones to hook back up, in case technical difficulties come up. Instead, try the old-fashioned method of "Let's meet in front of Raging Rapids at 11 o'clock."

3) Think twice about getting in that looooooong line. Yeah, we know that you want to see the just-opened panda exhibit at the zoo, or take a spin on the brand new ultra-dragon roller coaster at the theme park. But is five minutes of fun worth two hours of waiting in line? If you spent those two hours in a different way, you could take your sweet time exploring the zoo's awesome reptile house, or maybe take five rides on the park's older (but still awesome) coaster instead.

4) Shun the sugar. Wait, what? But yummies are the best part! Of course, treat yourself to one or two things during the day. Everything in moderation! The surge-and crash that comes from sugar overload, plus the physical and emotional yuckiness that too many sweet treats can give you, could put a drain on the whole experience. Drink water instead of soda (or better yet, bring a water bottle and fill it up at fountains to save money and waste), and snack on a pretzel instead of a doughnut. 

5) Know the loopholes. Help the adults you're with to read up on the theme park's special time-saving tricks and programs so you can do less waiting in line. Some popular rides, shows, and attractions may have "fast pass" machines so you can get a timed ticket to come back and skip the main line later in the day. Check insider websites and message boards to pinpoint the best day and time to visit certain attractions.

6) Throw out the checklist. Try not to have a long list of every single thing you "must" do while you're at the park. Remember, it's not about packing in as much as you can during the day, but about having an overall good time. If that means slowing down and skipping a few things, so be it. You may have a better day in the end if you take an hour in the middle to rest with a long lunch than if you powered through to the point of exhaustion.

7) Think like a kid. No matter what age you are, places like zoos and theme parks are more fun if you don't think like a grown-up. If you're with younger children, seeing it through their eyes can really make things magical. Relax and have fun. Don't try to be cool and cynical. Be goofy, especially when you actually meet Goofy.

8) Be money smart. These places are designed to practically Hoover cash out of your pockets. Maybe you rely on the adults you're with to buy you everything at the park but if not, give yourself a personal budget for the day and stick to it by bringing snacks, saving your money for one or two souvenirs you really want, and forgoing stuff that costs extra. After it's all over, you'll most remember your experiences rather than the things you bought, and you may avoid that icky "I can't believe how much money I spent" feeling.

9) Don't be a herd animal. Try not to fall into the same patterns as everyone else at the park...that just leads to crowds and unhappiness. Think different. If nearly everyone packs the lunch spots at noon, try having a light snack at eleven and then lunch at 2, when the food lines are shorter and you won't have to fight for a table. If everybody and his cousin is swarming to the main drag for the 5pm parade, maybe that's the time for you to head to the opposite side of the park and get in the (now much shorter) line for the Mayhem Mountain ride.

10) Fights and feuds are normal, but don't let them spoil things. If you and your friends and family have regular tiffs at home, being in the strange, often stressful environment of a theme park can turn those tiffs into wars. Yes, you're here to have fun...but sometimes the pressure to have that fun (plus the heat, and crowds, and exhaustion) can make it harder to come by! Try to resolve conflicts on the spot using compromises and communication. If you have to give in more than you normally would, or put up with something you would never stand for at home, then so be it. You'll probably find that all the cool distractions will help you forget your disagreement and move on to creating great memories together.

Now it's your turn: share your own stories and tips on our Theme Park You Said It page. You can also get more advice in our Family Vacations section. 

Good luck, and have fun!

 
Celeb Scoop: Lilla Crawford, Broadway's new "Annie"
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Quick: Picture a little girl in a red dress and curly red hair, singing her heart out. What comes to mind?

Would that be "Annie" by any chance? Well, of course! "Annie" is just one of those shows everyone knows, with incredible music, great characters, lots of humor, and an unforgettable story. It's become one of the most popular theatre productions performed by schools and community theatre groups. Chance are pretty good that you've seen or performed in an "Annie" near you.

Lilla-Crawford.jpgNow, "Annie" is back on Broadway with a fantastic new production starring 12-year-old Lilla Crawford. We were lucky to catch this show, which is impossible to watch without a gigantic smile on your face. It's an experience filled with pure joy for audiences of all ages. So what is it like to be "the" Annie? We got to chat with Lilla and discover she's just as upbeat yet down-to-earth and hardworking as her alter-ego. Read on!

IML: Starring as Annie on Broadway sounds like one of those "dream come true" experiences. Has it been?


Lilla: Yes! For as long as I can remember, this is all I've wanted to do. Every time somebody would ask me what I want to be when I grow up, I would always say, "I want to be on Broadway!" So I'd already been thinking that I wanted to be a theatre performer. Then I saw my first Broadway show, which was "Beauty and the Beast" when I came to New York for vacation. When I saw that, I was like, "THIS IS MAGIC. Now I definitely, no doubt, know what I'm going to do."

IML: And now you're doing it! But how did you get from there to here?


Lilla: Well first, I started taking dance classes, and then I started taking singing lessons. Then my mom put me into a year-round theatre program where I did seven shows. Every single day, I begged my mom for an agent, because a friend told us that if I wanted to start acting professionally, I needed one. My mom researched agents and I got an agent. Then I got commercials and other professional jobs. Then I was got a part in the closing cast of "Billy Elliot" on Broadway...and then I got Annie!

IML: Tell us about the moment you found out that you got the part. Was that just amazing for you?

Lilla: It was totally amazing. My manager and agent really surprised me. They had me come to my agent's office but they didn't want to tell me that I'd gotten the part. They kept changing the story about why I had to go to the office, so I started to get suspicious. When I got there, they told me I had to do a PSA for puppies. So they put me on camera and started asking me really random questions about puppies. And then finally they asked me what it felt like to be Annie on Broadway. At first, I was really confused. I was about to say I had hadn't heard anything yet. Then someone blurted out, "You've got the part!" And I was ecstatic!

IML: How many times did you have to audition for Annie?

Lilla: I did one audition and about six callbacks.

IML: Whoa! So they must have been 100% sure you were the one by then. Were you already familiar with the show and music before you auditioned?

Thumbnail image for lilla_as_annie.jpgLilla: Oh, yes! The first time I saw the musical was the national tour that came to where I lived in California. I was about three years old and I just fell in love with the show. Then I saw the movie, and then saw the show again when I was six. When I heard that they were bringing it back to Broadway, I was really excited. I just wanted to be part of it in whatever way.

IML: How do you feel your Annie is different from the well-known ones who've come before you?

Lilla: As a show, ours is definitely a little different. The choreography and direction and blocking are different. For example, we added a whole number called "Bergdorf," where you see Annie getting her new coat. Originally, she goes straight from the orphanage to the Warbucks mansion. That's one example. And in the past, they performed "N.Y.C." on a treadmill, but in our version we do a lot of dancing and running around!

IML: We loved that "Bergdorf" number because you feel extra-happy for Annie that she has something as simple as a warm coat. We also noticed that your Annie sings with a brassy "Noo Yawk" accent.

Lilla: Yes, they added that, too! At the first rehearsal, James Lapine, the director, told us he had a dialect coach because he wanted everyone to do a New York accent. Everyone was like, huh? But it was really fun.

IML: Why do you think "Annie" is such a timeless show? It takes place in the 1930's, so you'd think, kids nowadays won't connect with this orphan and her story set eighty years ago. But it still has universal appeal.

Lilla: I think it's just one of those classics that everyone loves. This is going to sound really cheesy and cliche, but "the sun will come out tomorrow" is the biggest message in the show, and that message is important to people no matter what the day and age. And Annie herself is just a big giant ball of optimism. She never gets upset and always keeps her head up, and never has a stormy gray cloud over her head. She's really strong and tough. She doesn't let people put her down, and that's inspiring for kids.

IML: Do you have a favorite musical number?

Lilla: I love the entire show; the score is just amazing. I really like "Hard-Knock Life" because I get to perform with all of the other girls, and it's such a strong number. I also like "I Don't Need Anything But You" because that number was designed for me to copy Anthony Warlow, who plays Daddy Warbucks, and for him to copy me, and we have a lot of fun with it.

IML: The scenes with you and the other orphans were our favorites, for sure. Do you guys get along backstage?

lilla_and_orphans.jpgLilla: Oh, yes! We are all like sisters. We're constantly going out to dinner with each other and doing stuff backstage together. We found this app called Video Star and it was almost like Christopher Columbus discovering land. It's a video maker, and we make video after video after video. That's our big thing right now, making movies and little videos backstage.

IML: What's a typical day like for you?

Lilla: I wake up and have breakfast. I do a kind of homeschooling where some of it's on the computer and some of it's classes around the city. So sometimes I'll have a class in the morning or do school at home. Sometimes when my friends come to visit from California, I spend the whole day before my performance with them. I don't have a regular schedule except for my performances. It changes every day. I like it because it's not boring!

IML: What have you learned about yourself from all this so far?

Lilla: Well, I have a really valuable experience now. I know what a rehearsal process is like, I know what opening night is like. I know what it's like to be part of an original cast. I know what different audiences are like. I've learned a lot and I feel like I'm ready for the next thing!

IML: And we're sure it's ready for you! Thanks so much for chatting with us, and good luck!

Lilla:
Thank you!

Watch a bit of Lilla (with Sunny the dog as Sandy for company, of course) bringing down the house with her version of "Tomorrow"...



For more information about "Annie" on Broadway, including fun games and quizzes and an enrichment guide, check out www.anniethemusical.com.


Our Theme Park Survival Guide
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themepark.jpgSpring (and soon summer) is upon us! And for many IML'ers, that can only mean one thing...it's theme park time! Yes, even as you read this, vacationers of all ages are descending like crazy on countless water parks, adventure lands, zoos, and entertainment mega-worlds. A day at a theme park can be a great way to spend quality time with parents, sibs, relatives, and friends, but it's not always easy to have fun the sun (or rain, or whatever) without going absolutely bonkers, passing out from exhaustion, or demanding to be traded to a less annoying group of people.

Recently, we visited four hot spots in Southern California (Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure, SeaWorld, and the San Diego Zoo) using tickets from CityPASS -- a company that offers discounts to attractions in most major U.S. cities and Toronto -- and came up with our Top Ten theme park survival tips for tweens:

1) Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Yeah, yeah, We know this sounds like "grandma advice." But sometimes grandmas are smart! They've been around long enough to know, for example, that those stylish, bejeweled metallic flip-flops will probably shred your feet after about an hour of walking across hot concrete, and that really cute mini-skirt might make it tough to go on certain rides. It's natural to want to look and feel your best, especially if you're spending the day with friends, but you're going to have more fun in the end if you can focus on what you're doing and seeing, not what you're wearing. (Also, keep in mind that you'll very likely get wet at some point in the day, from a ride or water feature or Shamu, so wear something that dries quickly.)

2) Divide and Conquer. We love family unity and friendly togetherness as much as anyone, but to survive a long day at a mega park, you're probably gonna have to split up and take different routes at some point...especially if you have a big group. It'll save a lot of arguing and whining about "what to do next." Don't rely only on cell phones to hook back up, in case technical difficulties come up. Instead, try the old-fashioned method of "Let's meet in front of Raging Rapids at 11 o'clock."

3) Think twice about getting in that looooooong line. Yeah, we know that you want to see the just-opened panda exhibit at the zoo, or take a spin on the brand new ultra-dragon roller coaster at the theme park. But is five minutes of fun worth two-hours of waiting in line? If you spent those two hours in a different way, you could take your sweet time exploring the zoo's awesome reptile house, or maybe take five rides on the park's older (but still awesome) coaster instead.

4) Shun the sugar. Wait, what? But yummies are the best part! Of course, treat yourself to one or two things during the day. Everything in moderation! The surge-and crash that comes from sugar overload, plus the physical and emotional yuckiness that too many sweet treats can give you, could put a drain on the whole experience. Drink water instead of soda (or better yet, bring a water bottle and fill it up at fountains to save money and waste), and snack on a pretzel instead of a doughnut. 

5) Know the loopholes. Help the adults you're with to read up on the theme park's special time-saving tricks and programs so you can do less waiting in line. Some popular rides, shows, and attractions may have "fast pass" machines so you can get a timed ticket to come back and skip the main line later in the day. Check insider websites and message boards to pinpoint the best day and time to visit certain attractions.

6) Throw out the checklist. Try not to have a long list of every single thing you "must" do while you're at the park. Remember, it's not about packing in as much as you can during the day, but about having an overall good time. If that means slowing down and skipping a few things, so be it. You may have a better day in the end if you take an hour in the middle to rest with a long lunch than if you powered through to the point of exhaustion.

7) Think like a kid. No matter what age you are, places like zoos and theme parks are more fun if you don't think like a grown-up. If you're with younger children, seeing it through their eyes can really make things magical. Relax and have fun. Don't try to be cool and cynical. Be goofy, especially when you actually meet Goofy.

8) Be money smart. These places are designed to practically Hoover cash out of your pockets. Maybe you rely on the adults you're with to buy you everything at the park but if not, give yourself a personal budget for the day and stick to it by bringing snacks, saving your money for one or two souvenirs you really want, and forgoing stuff that costs extra. After it's all over, you'll most remember your experiences rather than the things you bought, and you may avoid that icky "I can't believe how much money I spent" feeling.

9) Don't be a herd animal. Try not to fall into the same patterns as everyone else at the park...that just leads to crowds and unhappiness. Think different. If nearly everyone packs the lunch spots at noon, try having a light snack at eleven and then lunch at 2, when the food lines are shorter and you won't have to fight for a table. If everybody and his cousin is swarming to the main drag for the 5pm parade, maybe that's the time for you to head to the opposite side of the park and get in the (now much shorter) line for the Mayhem Mountain ride.

10) Fights and feuds are normal, but don't let them spoil things. If you and your friends and family have regular tiffs at home, being in the strange, often stressful environment of a theme park can turn those tiffs into wars. Yes, you're here to have fun...but sometimes the pressure to have that fun (plus the heat, and crowds, and exhaustion) can make it harder to come by! Try to resolve conflicts on the spot using compromises and communication. If you have to give in more than you normally would, or put up with something you would never stand for at home, then so be it. You'll probably find that all the cool distractions will help you forget your disagreement and move on to creating great memories together.

Now it's your turn: share your own stories and tips on our Theme Park You Said It page. You can also get more advice in our Family Vacations section. 

Good luck, and have fun!

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.



 
Living with Challenges: Anna-Marie's Story
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Recently, we posted an interview with IML'er Danielle, who told us what it was like to live with chronic illness. The response from you guys was huge, and we'd like to continue to tell the stories of tweens who have to face life with, or have overcome, some kind of physical or emotional challenge.

Our first Guest IML Blogger is Anna-Marie!

Anna-Marie's Story
Anna-Marie.jpgWhen I was a baby, I was born prematurely, weighing 1 pound, 15 oz. I was supposed to be born in June, but I was born in March, instead. Because of my premature birth, I had to stay at the hospital for approximately 4 and 1/2 months after I was born.

When I was born, my lungs hadn't even developed, so as a result, I had to be connected to a respirator while my tiny lungs finished developing. I was diagnosed with retinopathy at prematurity, and I had to get laser eye surgery at 2 and 1/2 months. Along with that, I had to get needles in my foot to draw blood.

When I finally came home from the hospital, I was still really tiny, and every cold or flu sent me back to the hospital, where I spent approximately 2 weeks. However, I was a very happy (and cute) baby. I liked the Teletubbies, Elmo, Barney, Dora, and Strawberry Shortcake, but I didn't like needles, or anything coming near my feet. My mom had to trim my toenails and fingernails when I was sleeping!

DSC_0345.JPGNow, I'm doing really good. I'm going into grade 7 this year, and I'm going into my 5th year of piano (I think it's my 5th year. I'm not sure). There are some things that will always remain in my life from being born early. Because of the laser eye surgery, I don't have any peripheral vision (meaning that I can't see out of the sides), so I was often a target for getting hit with balls in gym class (which sometimes caused really big injuries that I won't forget about). The song that has a really special meaning to me is "Who I Am" by the Jonas Brothers. I think that this song describes my life, because in the music video, there are people who have gone through challenges in their lives.

Meet teen comic artist Emma Capps
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Chapel-Chronicles-Cover.jpgWe know from your YSI submissions that a lot of you love to draw, paint, sketch, and just generally get your feelings and ideas onto paper in graphic form. Many of you have even talked about the mangas and comic books you've created. 15-year-old Emma Capps loves to write and draw comics too, and her works of art have appeared in national magazines. Her latest project, "The Chapel Chronicles," is a self-published collection of comics starring a smart (and smart-alecky) red-headed 11-year-old girl named Chapel, who often as not gets a bit lost in the world of her own vivid imagination while pursuing various adventures, from a battle of board games with her babysitter to impersonating Lady Gaga.

We recently chatted with Emma about Chapel, and her life as a young artist and writer.

IML: What's your creative process? How do you go from an empty white sheet of paper to a completed Chapel comic?

Emma: First, I brainstorm my idea. I'll try to find something I've observed or witnessed recently to use as a jumping-off point. Once I have the concept, I'll do a quick "thumbnail sketch," or a sketch that's small enough to be the size of my thumb, to block out the dialogue and what happens in the strip. Then I'll sketch the panels and ink them onto tracing paper. Once I have that, I scan the inks into the computer. I arrange, color, and letter the strip in Photoshop. Then I write some author's commentary and put it up on the site for my readers to enjoy.

IML: What's behind the decision to make Chapel the only visible human character? You have a lot of other people talking, but we never see them.

Emma: For now, I want the strip to focus mostly on Chapel's world through her perspective and highlight the hilarious and funny moments of what it means to be a preteen and teen. Chapel has other people she interacts with, of course, like her parents, her brother, and her nemesis, Fred. I have shown Chapel's family in the background of a couple strips in small paintings on the walls. Sometime in the future, I may include other characters in the strip.

IML: Chapel spends a lot of time living in a world of her own thoughts and imagination. Are you like that?

Emma-Capps.jpgEmma: I would say I have flights of fancy quite a bit...I like to think about things I've done and things that could happen. Of course, this helps me quite a bit in dreaming up new Chapel comics! For some Chapel strips, I do draw directly from my own life, but I try to always make the comics very universally appealing. I only ever use something that's happened in my own life if I think it's something everyone can relate to. Chapel and I are similar in some ways, but we're also different in a lot of ways, too. For example, I don't really like to dress up or listen to Lady Gaga, whereas Chapel does. I'd say Chapel's a lot more competitive and courageous than I am, and I actually admire how much self-esteem she has to wear crazy outfits all the time! I don't think I'd be brave enough to wear a Lady Gaga dress to a wedding, that's for sure, and I think it's great that Chapel's confident enough to go ahead with it!

IML: Chapel seems to be an only child. Do you have any siblings?

Emma: Actually, Chapel isn't an only child. She has an older brother named Barnaby, but he hasn't come into the strip yet because he's currently away at college. I, however, am an only child. I'm not really sure if being an only child has shaped my personality very much. I'm certainly really close with my parents and I'm also a very independent person, but I don't really believe that having siblings would've changed any of those things about me. I'm certainly glad I have enough space for my various art projects, but I actually LOVE kids and sometimes wish I could've had a younger sister.

IML: A lot of tweens draw comics, but you took yours a few steps further. Why make comics to publish, rather than just for yourself or for friends?

Emma: I make my comics to make people smile, and by publishing them, I can make more people happy outside of my small circle of friends. I love it whenever someone from another state or another country comments on my webcomics saying my work has made them smile or laugh. That's the most precious thing in the world to me. If I can spread my work to more people via publishing, and because of that brighten more people's days with my comics, then that's what I'd like to do.

IML: Any advice for our IML'ers who like to write or draw?

Emma: My advice would be to draw and write every day! Don't worry too much about comparing yourself to others - a trap which, I'm sad to say, is really easy to fall into - but instead create something that makes you happy. If you keep creating things that personally make you happy and proud, other people will soon appreciate that and share in it as well!

IML: What's up next for you, and for Chapel?

Emma: In the short-term, this April I'm going to be exhibiting at a comic convention called MoCCA Fest (Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art) in New York City, and debuting a brand-new book of Season 2 of my Chapel webcomics. I'm really excited to go, and I hope lots of my readers can make it out to say hi! In the long-term, I definitely want to continue doing Chapel webcomics for at least another year or two. I also want to do some graphic novels, which would be very different from Chapel in both style and tone. I'm going to be working on one this summer! I've already got most of the plot planned out and a good majority of the characters designed. I'd also like to expand my line of Chapel greeting cards and gifts. My most farfetched dream would be to one day have Chapel comics, greeting cards, and gifts in stores nationwide! If that were to happen, it would be the most amazing thing in the world for me.

IML: Thanks for talking to us, and good luck!

To check out Emma's work, check out www.chapelchronicles.com. Also, enjoy this fun peek at how Emma makes one of her Chapel greeting cards:



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! 
Read other tweens' advice on our How To Have Fun At A Dance You Said It page!


Meet tween comedian Zach Rosenfeld
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What's your favorite after school activity? Soccer? Gymnastics? Hanging out at the park? How about...stand-up comedy?

IMG_6533.JPGWe recently got a chance to talk to Zach Rosenfeld, a 13-year old from Brooklyn, NY who spends a lot of his free time on a stage telling jokes. Thanks to a program called Kids 'N Comedy, Zach is a real comedian who gets to crack up real audiences at Manhattan's Gotham Comedy Club. Here's our conversation with Zach:

IML: Tell us a little bit about Kids 'N Comedy and how you got involved with it!


Zach: Kids 'N Comedy is basically a group of kids who just want to get together and be funny. This is really just kids who want something good to do with their time, and it's really fun. When I was younger, I got interested in it because we went to one of their shows, and I decided to get involved. Normally, they wouldn't take anyone under eleven, but I was the exception. I was nine. I started out with the classes, which are weekly. Then after two or three classes, I moved up to the workshops, and then I finally moved up to the club shows. They used to have the shows monthly, and now they happen every two weeks.

IML: How do you write your comedy material? Do things just pop into your head during the day, or do you set aside time specifically to write jokes?

Zach: I normally sit down and say, "Okay, I need to get to work, because I want this to be good." Then I think of funny things in my life or things that have happened to me, and then I turn those into jokes, which are sometimes self-deprecating. And that ends up becoming about a five-to-seven minute routine.

IML: Are your family members funny too?

Zach: My mother is very funny, and I get my wit from her. She was always kind of quiet with her humor, so I become more of a spokesperson than she ever was.  My father is witty at times, but not as much as my mom. And my little brother is interested in doing this in the future, and I also did a routine about him once.

IML: Did your parents encourage you towards comedy, or did it mostly come from you?

Zach: I would say it was mostly me. Because I just went to one of these shows and I said, "Hey, everyone always calls me funny, but I've never done something like this. Maybe I can be funny like this, too." So I decided to try my best at doing something on a stage. And I've come to love the microphone, and just being on the stage and having the attention. It's just really great.

IML: Once you started taking the comedy classes, how long was it before you got on stage in front of an audience?

Zach: They have about nine weeks of practices and coming up with stuff. That eventually leads to a show where you can invite your friends and family. And now I do the monthly show, and the public is allowed to come.

IML: What was it like, the first time you stepped out into the spotlight?

Zach: I was sorta nervous. But the way I see it is...for the first three seconds you're hyper nervous, and you're tapping your foot and thinking, "When's this gonna happen? Is he gonna call me on now?" And you're pacing. And then you get on the stage. And you know your material...and even if you don't know it that well, you just get into it, and you have fun with the audience. Their laughter means a lot to you, because it shows that what you've done really helps people enjoy what's going on. I normally laugh at my own jokes...or at the reactions to my jokes.

IML: One of your stand-up routines is about your experiences with dyslexia. Why do you think audiences respond to these jokes?

Zach: People respond when you make fun of yourself. Because everyone has problems. Everyone has something that they're hiding. And for someone to go up on stage and just completely put himself out there, and give funny stories about it...they like that because it shows personality and it shows that you're not afraid to go up there and tell people who you really are and get them to like you.

IML: Does comedy help you deal with the challenges of living with dyslexia?

Zach: Well, at this point, I have what they call "compensated dyslexia." I'll always have dyslexia, but it's basically been fixed. I got a tutor, and I had been working for about four years, and I can finally say that I've become a compensated dyslexic. My stand-up routine...it didn't so much help with the dyslexia, but from the reactions of the crowd you can tell that everyone else also has problems, and they're laughing with you. It's encouraging.

IML: What was school like for you before you found ways to work through your learning disability?

Zach: In my school, they started giving pressured homework around second grade. They had weekly tests of spelling, and you had to recite a poem that you had memorized. And it was very challenging. I had to work with my mom for hours, and this was before people knew I was a dyslexic. It took up a lot of my time, but I was very confident, and I kept pushing forward. In third grade, my parents had me tested, and I was positive for dyslexia. I got a tutor and she was just amazing. I still go to her once a week. She's very funny, we joke around a lot when we do our sessions and it's just spectacular. I found ways to compensate using her techniques, and eventually it just came naturally.

IML: How has being a comedian affected your friendships at school?

Zach: It's interesting that you ask that. Recently, all my friends have been going around and asking about my routine, and it's sort of exciting. Because you know that you have a skill that most people would say they have...the ability to go onstage, speak in public and be funny on top of that. Some people expect knock-knock jokes and short one-liners, but that isn't the way I do my comedy. I would think that people would like this attention... it's a unique skill, to be able to do stand-up.

IML: Is this purely a hobby for you, or do you want to pursue comedy as a career?

Zach: Like most people, I have dreams. I think it would be great to be a professional stand-up comedian. But it is definitely a hobby at this point.

IML: Have you faced different types of crowds? How important is the support of the audience?

Zach: Personally, I like the crowd's support. But there are always days when it won't be a good crowd. You can't make your routine on what the crowd is doing. You just have to focus on having fun with yourself.

IML: Do you enjoy doing new material, or do you usually like to do tested stuff that you know is going to get a laugh?

Zach: Recently I've been falling back on dyslexia a bit. I'm taking a long break from doing stand-up because of my bar mitzvah in May. So, I'm taking a break until September but I've decided there are no more excuses and I have to get something new out there.

IML: Will you have a serious bar mitzvah, or a funny one?

Zach: I plan for it to be funny.

IML: Are there any comics out there who you really respect, or want to be like?

Zach: Just like every other Jewish comedian, I idolize Adam Sandler. I also love Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld...they're all great.

IMG_3146.JPGIML: What advice would you give someone your age who dreams of being a comedian or entertainer?

Zach: I would say, just do what you're happy with. Just do what you like or love, and if you're gonna do it, do your best, and don't be afraid of making a fool out of yourself, because that's just part of the comedy. And I've done that once or twice.  Also, you may not have the funniest life, but if there's someone around you who has something funny going on with them, do not be afraid to use peers, your parents, or siblings in your jokes, because it's just hysterical to see the reactions.

IML: Thanks for talking with us Zach, and good luck with your bar mitzvah and your stand-up!

Zach:
  Thank you so much!

For more on Kids 'N Comedy and to watch some videos that include Zach's performances, check out www.kidsncomedy.com.



How not to get broken by the holiday break
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Just seven more days until Christmas, which for many of us means a trip -- maybe a short one, maybe a loooong one -- to visit family for the holiday break. The thrill! The excitement! The adventure!

Yeah, not really.

Thumbnail image for familyvacations1.gifIt can be great hanging out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, or even parents we don't see as often as we'd like, but it can also bring stress and tension and general awkwardness. You know, the stuff nobody wants to talk about because it's kind of a downer at a time when we're all supposed to be jolly and generous. And traveling itself is often a drag and sometimes, if you're unlucky thanks to weather or other circumstances, downright disastrous.

You can't control what your family members or nature or cars and planes are going to do, but you can take charge of your own destiny here and make this holiday trip as much of a "vacation" as you possibly can. Here's some advice from our Family Vacations section:

  •  Tips for surviving the Getting There part of your holiday.

  • "Togetherness" ain't always a good thing, but here are some ideas for Keeping the Peace among family members.

  • Dealing with Relatives can be challenging and yucky; read our suggestions on how to make the most of that challenge (and yuckiness).

  • As always, check out what other IML'ers have written about memorable family vacations, and how they survived to tell the tale!

If you're one of the fortunate souls who gets to go on a vacation vacation this time of year, you'll find great advice in this section too.

Wherever you spend the next week or two, whether it's on a cruise ship or Aunt Mildred's house or just at home sweet home, we hope you have some quality time with yourself and the people who are most important to you!