It's My Life PBS Kids Go!

Recently in Tweens Doing Cool Stuff Category

Meet teen comic artist Emma Capps
| No TrackBacks

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 Also, enjoy this fun peek at how Emma makes one of her Chapel greeting cards:

Meet tween comedian Zach Rosenfeld
| No TrackBacks

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 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!

  Thank you so much!

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

Meet tween entrepreneur Lily Sandler
| No TrackBacks

Blamtastic Melanie and Lily Sandler.jpgThirteen-year-old Lily Sandler (pictured, right) doesn't shop the way she used to. A few years ago, she thought that things just popped up in stores, like magic. Now she knows how much work and decision-making goes into every single product available for sale, and how many people help it get there. That's because she and her sister, eleven-year-old Melanie (pictured, left), along with help from their parents, are the founders and owners of Blamtastic Luscious Lip Balm, which makes natural lip balms especially for young people.

IML spoke with Lily and her mom Renee about Blamtastic and their journey from a random idea to a successful, growing business. 

IML: How did Blamtastic first come about?

Renee: It all started when I was reading in the Wall Street Journal about how few female CEO's there were in Fortune 500 companies. At that time there were only 12. I know women make up 50% of the workforce, so that didn't square up with me very well! I thought about my two girls, these girls who are going to go out into that workforce. I read the article to them and they said, that really stinks. I told them, "If you ever decide that you'd like to start a business of your own, I will support you, because I think that's the key to controlling your own destiny.

Lily: The idea for Blamtastic was kind of an accident. I was looking for my lip balm one day, and I said, "Mom, where's my lip blam...I mean balm!" And she said, "Wow, that would be a really good name for a lip balm company."

IML: So you had a cool idea. What was the first step from there?

Lily: We started by ordering a bunch of lip balm bases and we cooked them up in our kitchen. We saw what we liked and what we didn't like, then sent what we liked to a manufacturer and they made it for us. It was a really fun process.

Renee: At first, it was really just an experiment. As we started to play around with the product and get it out there to the community, we realized we had a good product to sell. Then the girls and I got together with their dad and decided, are we going to go for this and take it to the next level? Because if we are, we've got to get a business plan together and get funding, and get serious. So we decided to go for it.

IML: How did you first get the lip balms out there know...lips?

Lily: At first we did a test run at the mall. We saw what people were more fond of, what they didn't like so much, and in the end it really did sell pretty well. We saw that this was something that people want and need on the market: a natural lip balm. A product that's been done over and over, but making it even better and taking it to the next level.

IML: How did you put together the lip balm flavors?

Lily: We ordered different scents and sweeteners, and we tried out what we liked out of certain smells. We narrowed it down to five flavors for boys and five flavors for girls. In the end, we had ten flavors we were going to launch in the first run.

IML: Did you invite your friends to try things out?

Lily: In the beginning, we would make a flavor and I would take it to school and see what my friends liked and what they didn't really go for as much. If they didn't like it, then we trashed it. If they did like it, then we gave it a try!

Renee: I think every neighbor on our street has participated in our testing!

IML: So nowadays, who does what in the company?

This is the girls' business; they started it, but they can't run it at the level we're at now. I work 60-80 hours a week and the girls participate when they can. Melanie is kind of the creative force behind things; she'll come up with ideas and flavors. Lily is the mouthpiece of Blamtastic...she likes to participate in promoting the company.

IML: Lily, do you and your sister get into disagreements about the business?

Well, aside from me and my sister fighting about normal sibling stuff all the time, we do have disagreements about the business. Whenever we have something we're not so sure about, we'll all talk about it as a family. By the end we always seem to come to a decision about what we've been wondering about and what we can do to solve our problem.

IML: It sounds like you make sure everyone's ideas get taken seriously.

Renee: The biggest conflicts we have about developing the product line is if I come up with a concept that's just not "cool"! Lily will say, "That is just not cool enough and nobody will ever buy that." They pull me back. They know what the customers want because as tweens, they basically are the customers.

IML: You give a portion of your company's profits to causes that you care about. Why do you feel it's important to do that?

Lily: When we started our business, that was always one of our top priorities: To give back to the community and help others in need. To be able to donate something out of your business really does make it more worthwhile and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

IML: Lily, what have you learned about yourself during this whole experience?

Lily: It's been a great way to help me get in touch with my family. We've had a lot of disagreements and in the end we've been able to come through for each other, and it all comes down to the family and what we've been doing to support our business.

IML: What's your advice to other tweens who would love to start their own business?

Lily: First of all, I would like to say that starting a business is a huge commitment. But if you want to commitment to it and are really devoted, you should go for it. Do what you can to make what you're selling better and more well known to people. Make sure that you are really committing to your product and that you stick by it!

IML: Thanks, Lily and Renee! We can't wait to watch Blamtastic grow!


Renee: Thank you!

For more information about Lily's company Blamtastic, whose lip balms are cruelty-free, all natural, and feature flavors for boys as well as girls, visit

Tell us: How do you go about Making Money? If you've ever dreamed of starting a biz, check out our Be Your Own Boss game and see if you have what it takes.

Meet the "Kids Who Love To Cook"
| No TrackBacks

Recently, we were excited to discover Kids Who Love To Cook, a website and cooking series that takes you into the kitchen with seven real-life kids to show their love of food and to help make cooking exciting for other kids, tweens, and teens, through videos, recipes, tips and advice, food adventures, and contests. Since we're always looking for ways to give IML'ers more Food Smarts, we asked two of the "Kids," 13-year-old Abby and 15-year-old Isabelle, to share a little more about themselves and this very cool project.

IML: Do you remember how you first got interested in cooking?

kidswholovetocook_isabelle.jpgIsabelle: The first time I visited my grandma in Vienna, I fell in love with the pastries there and I wanted to learn how to make them, so I started baking. I was 10 or 11. And my dad is the biggest foodie! He's a walking, multi-city Zagat Guide -- he can tell you where to go if you want to eat a certain type of food or cuisine. My dad's a great cook and I must have gotten it from him.
kidswholovetocook_abby.jpgAbby: My dad is Italian and at my grandma's house, they always have big feasts where cooking and eating is an all-day event. I also remember cooking with my dad when I was 5 or 6, I was his little assistant. On my mom's side, she cooked a lot of meals when I was growing up. She was a working mom in the city but she's the type to whip up cream for the apple pie. She didn't like to use canned whipped cream! I love her chocolate pudding, beef stew, and her super-delicious version of General Tso's chicken. Eating all that good food made me interested in cooking.

IML: What was the first dish you made that you were really proud of?

Isabelle: Chocolate Cake! I've been making it since I was 11 and I can make it it with my eyes closed.

Abby: Pancakes from scratch.

IML: Where do you find your favorite recipes?

Isabelle: Online, magazines, and sometimes I watch TV shows and get inspired to cook.

Abby: I like books. I love going to bookstores and I can spend hours in the cookbook section. I also love vintage cookbooks, and I'm starting a collection.

IML: Why do you think it's important for families to cook together?

Isabelle: Cooking is a great way to bond, and then you get to eat together, which is so relaxing and fun. I also get to boss my brothers, because it's usually the other way around!

Abby: Life is so busy for everyone. Cooking with my mom or dad is my alone time with them. We catch up, gossip, joke, and laugh a lot.
IML: What's the best thing about making a recipe that's part of a family tradition or culture?

Isabelle: I love the fact that the food we have on the table are family recipes. I feel that I am still connected to the past, to my grandparents, even if they are not in New York.

Abby: It's part of my identity, and a great way to continue family traditions. When I have my own family I can tell my kids, "My mom used to make this chocolate pudding when I was your age." They are beautiful memories and I still feel my mom's love.

IML: What's your favorite quick snack to make when you don't have a lot of time or energy?

Isabelle: I love yogurt with granola.

Abby: Insalata Caprese -- I slice a tomato, some mozzarella, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and if we've got basil I add it too. We usually have tomatoes and mozzarella at home so that's my regular afternoon snack when I come home from school.  Or I put it inside a baguette and make a sandwich of it. I like to eat grapes and cheese too. I love cheese.

IML: What's your advice for young people who want to learn how to cook, but it may be more challenging for them -- like maybe an adult isn't always available to help or they just don't have the time, or it's too hard to get ingredients and tools?

Isabelle & Abby: Watch and learn from videos or cooking shows on TV! Start with simple dishes like Mini Turkey Burgers or Fettuccine Alfredo -- recipes with ingredients that are easily available at the supermarket.

IML: What's the coolest thing you've learned or experienced as part of being on the Kids Who Love To Cook team?

Isabelle: I used to be in a hurry to grow up and turn 16. Now I feel so much more mature, so there's no hurry. I also overcame my dislike of tomatoes (because of a sour tomato incident when I was a kid). I got to taste the most delicious yellow cherry tomatoes from Maine and now I love them!

Abby: Going places -- from Vermont to learn how to make cheese and maple syrup to an urban bee farm in Brooklyn. We go to a lot of interesting places and I get to taste all kinds of food!

You can visit Abby and Isabelle, along with the other awesome Kids Who Love To Cook, at

Meet tween author Bethany Huang
| No TrackBacks

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

Meet teen activist and author Zach Hunter
| No TrackBacks

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?

Meet teen sailor (and author!) Alex Ellison
| No TrackBacks

alex.jpgIf you don't think it's possible for you and your family to live peacefully together in your home, imagine if you had to live peacefully together on a boat...for five years!

When Alex Ellison was 8, he set off with his parents and his sister, Lara, for a one-year trip on their sailboat. One year became five years, spent on the Caribbean island of Nevis and other remote locations. Alex and his family shared adventures as well as challenges -- everything from tropical navigation to dangerous waters to tropical storms.

Alex, who is now 16, kept a daily journal through all of it and has turned that into a memoir entitled "A Star to Sail Her By: A Five-Year Odyssey of Coming of Age at Sea." We asked Alex to tell us a little more about what it was like to spend his tween years traveling on a sailboat and what it's like to look back on this amazing experience.

startosailherby.gifIML: Do you remember what your original reaction and thoughts were, when your parents first informed you that you'd all be going on a sailing journey together? What were you excited about? What were you sad to leave behind?

Alex: I was originally quite surprised, but I really was thrilled; it sounded like a grand adventure. I had sailed before, and I couldn't wait to do so much of it and to see new countries. The prospect of the trip consumed me, so the only thing I was afraid of leaving behind was friends and family; but some of them would visit and at the time, I thought it would only be a year anyway.

IML: How did a one-year trip end up being a five-year trip?

Alex: After about eight months of being at sea, it was almost time for my family to start returning to the U.S., but we all agreed that what we had found was too good to give up after just a year; we wanted to make it our lifestyle.

IML: Most families would implode if they have to spend that much time together in close quarters. How did you keep from driving one another crazy?

Alex: As a family, we had always been fairly close, but living in such a small space was definitely a challenge at first. My sister and I very quickly learned how our own space -- no matter how small -- was very valuable, and if you wanted that respected you had to be respectful. Eventually, we grew more comfortable and we scarcely had any issues.

IML: Did you have certain jobs or responsibilities on the boat?

Alex: Absolutely! When I started the trip I was only eight, but I still helped trim the sails, cook, and I was often on watch: looking out for lobster pots and other obstructions in the water. Five years later, I had learned a lot, and when we had to make several day passages, I took a night shift: sailing the boat by myself from 3 am to 6 am as my family slept below. It was a tremendous responsibility.

alex2.jpgIML: What was the scariest thing that happened during those five years? How did it change you?

Alex: The scariest thing that happened to me was getting sick from swimming in contaminated water. I was swimming in a freshwater stream on an island, but the water was infected from nearby livestock and some of the water got in a cut I had on my foot. The disease nearly killed me, and I had to be flown back to the U.S. for two months of hospitalization. The disease infected my brain, so I had to relearn how to walk and for a few weeks I could not do even basic arithmetic at the age of 10. I eventually regained those skills. Afterwards though, I realized that I was incredibly lucky to have such gifts we take for granted like walking and thinking.

IML: Wow, that must have been intense. We're glad you came through that. So on the flip side, what was the funniest thing that happened?

Alex: One time we were sailing through a storm, and it got so bad that we decided to seek shelter in a nearby harbor called Walliabou. It was foggy as we went in, so we couldn't even see the harbor, but we knew where we were going. As we sailed in, we passed a rock arch with some nooses hanging from it, and as we came in towards the dock, we saw an ancient-looking town. It was entirely deserted, and all the buildings were made of giant blocks of stone and had hay roofs. When we walked ashore we passed the blacksmith's shop and the cooperage.  It was like we'd sailed into the past. We finally found someone living there and we asked them what was up with the town. She smiled and explained, "Oh, they just finished filming Pirates of the Caribbean here, this was Port Royal, and they left the set up!"

IML: That is awesome! Okay, so who was the most memorable person you met during your travels?

Alex: Of all the incredible people I met during my travels, the most memorable was Joseph the fisherman. Just after my ninth birthday, my family sailed to the tiny island of Mayreau in the Grenadines. In that region, it was very common for sailors to be approached by local vendors in boats selling bread they had cooked or fish they had caught. Unlike all the others who had large, homemade speed boats, Joseph rowed around the island in a small, colorful dinghy. After selling my parents some fish one night, he invited me to come fishing with him the following day. So the following day I departed with Joseph as the sun rose in his small craft. We made our way out of the harbor and down the side of the island to a deep offshore reef. For the whole morning we pitched about in his small boat, tossing lines from our hand reels over the side. The bottom of the boat slowly filled with a rainbow of reef fish. I caught a nurse shark, but we had to let that one go since it would have filled the bottom of the boat. As we fished we talked, and I learned some interesting things about Joseph; he had no intention of marrying before the age of 50 because he wanted to avoid the whimsical nature of women until he was mature and experienced enough to handle it. He had plenty of other such advice for me. Joseph remains so memorable to me because of how he exposed me to Caribbean culture and gave me access to such a unique experience at a pretty young age.

IML: How did keeping a journal help you understand what you were experiencing?

Alex: At the time, writing in the journals was a relaxing pastime. I enjoyed writing everything about the day down. A few years later though, when I went to write my book, they were very helpful in recollecting feelings at the time and when I could use them to look at the big picture in detail, they gave me a sense of how I changed and learned over time.

To learn more about Alex and his book, visit We loved all the photos from his adventures!

"The right thing to do..."
| No TrackBacks

foulball.jpgHere's a story you may have seen on the news, especially if you're a baseball fan: A 12-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks fan named Ian McMillan catches a foul ball in his cap that a player tossed into the stands. He's really psyched for a few seconds, then he notices a younger boy who was also trying to get the ball, really disappointed and being comforted by his mom. Without seeming to even think about it, Ian runs down and hands the ball to the other kid.

What Ian didn't know is that his act of generosity was caught by TV cameras covering the game, and the announcers were blown away by it. The happy and grateful look on the younger boy's face, and the good feeling of having done something incredibly, randomly nice, was probably reward enough for Ian. But his kindness came back to him many times over; the announcers game him a baseball bat autographed by his fave player, Mark Upton, and the team invited him to come back and throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the next game.

When interviewed, Ian said he just thought it was "the right thing to do" to give the ball away, and the experience has taught him that "if you do good things, good things will happen to you."

We totally agree! (Thanks for the reminder, Ian!) You can watch more about the story and Ian's interview at ABC News. So now we want to know from you IML'ers: Have you ever done something simply because it was "the right thing to do"? Even if you didn't really want to or it meant giving something up for yourself? Tell us on our You Said It page!

Meet tween ballroom dancers Ivan & Madelyne
| No TrackBacks

Thumbnail image for ivan&madelyne.jpgWe seem to be in a dancing state of mind over here at IML. Maybe it's the heat, or maybe it's all the great summer music out there, or maybe it's another great season of "So You Think You Can Dance." Watching the show's latest episode, we were reminded of some other talented dancers we met and interviewed last year. In case you missed them on the blog back then, here they are again...because they're that awesome.

Madelyne and Ivan are just 9 years old and have been dancing together for 3 years. They placed 1st the last four times they competed. What's it like to be dancing the Samba and Rumba and Paso Doble -- and winning medals for it -- before you're even out of elementary school? Read on!

IML: It was exciting for us to first meet you in the practice room at the USA Dance Nationals, then watch you compete, and then see you win first place! What did it feel like when you won?

Ivan: When there's two couples left, just you and another one, and they call their names for second place, you know you've won first place. We were happy before we even got our prize!

IML: How did you first get started in ballroom dance, and how did you get paired up together?

Ivan: I started when I was 4. I was pretty much with different partners every single day in my dance studio. Everybody else was lower or higher in level and age than me, and then I met Madelyn and she was the perfect age and height. Our birthdays are only 20 days apart!

Madelyne: I got started in ballroom dancing when I was 3 years old. When I was 4 or 5, I was dancing with a boy named Robert who was taller than me so I only danced with him for a little bit. Then the dance studio put Ivan and me together to try it out and practice together, and finally we decided that we could be partners.

IML: When you first started dancing together, what did you think of each other?

Madelyne: I really didn't know him at first. I wasn't sure if he would be a good dancer or a bad dancer...then I saw him and his partner dance together and he was really good!

IML: It seems like you have a lot of fun dancing together, which is important. Do you ever have arguments?

Ivan: No, never! Not even one time.

IML: Glad to hear it! Do you spend time together outside of dance?

Madelyne: Yes! Last year we went to the same camp so we were there together. Sometimes we have playdates together.

IML: Do your parents dance, too?

Ivan: When my mom was a little kid, she danced. I have three reasons why I like to dance. The first reason is that I was born to dance. My second reason is that I've always had the feeling that I want to dance. The third reason is because my mom danced and her hobby went to me when I was born.

IML: Does it feel special for you to share this hobby with her?

Ivan: Yes, definitely!

IML: Madelyne, does your older sister Michelle give you advice?

Madelyne: It's really cool to share dance with her. When I need help with something or if I want to get better at something, she's there for me. 

IML: Do each of you have a favorite dance style?

Ivan: I have more than just one. My favorites are Waltz and Paso Doble.

Madelyne: I like Rumba, Paso Doble, Waltz and Quickstep. In Quickstep I like to run and it's really fast, so it's like running but you're not running. And I like to dance Waltz because it's a very slow melody and I like the sound of it. With Rumba, you've done these other dance styles that are very hard but Rumba kind of relaxes you. I like Paso because you have to try really hard, and I like putting a lot of effort into my dancing.

IML: How much time do you spend dancing?

Madelyne: We dance Monday through Saturday, every week.

IML: And you never get sick of it?

Ivan: No!

IML: Dancers in the older age groups get to wear fancy dresses, and Madelyne, we watched you collecting lost sequins off the dance floor after they performed. Do you do that at every competition?

Madelyne: Yes! I collect sequins for when we get older and I can make a nice costume! I want to put some things on a dress to make it prettier. And I like to see how they sparkle.

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

Madelyne: Once I was at a competition regional. We were doing Samba and my partner forgot the whole routine, so I had to basically do all the steps by myself. It was really funny because you could see that we were messing up. We still won first place!

Ivan and Madelyne are proof that when it comes to being really dedicated, hard-working, and talented at something, age doesn't matter.

Check out Ivan and Madelyne dancing their way to first place at the USA Dance 2010 National DanceSport Champtionships. One of the things we found interesting about ballroom dancing for kids is that there are strict rules about what they can wear in competition, which puts an emphasis on what's appropriate for certain age groups.

Meet tween musical theatre (and YouTube video) star Amanda Roit
| No TrackBacks

So it's Friday, and goshdarnit there's a certain song that's stuck in our heads even though we kind of don't want it to be. Thanks, Rebecca Black and your 144 MILLION views on YouTube! Thanks a lot!

Amanda Roit by David Needleman_02.jpgWhen we first saw the clip for Rebecca's song "Friday," we started wondering. How many other tweens are on the Web with original songs and professionally made videos? Is it an epidemic? And which of them really have the talent to make it worth watching them? We surfed around and found a video by 11-year-old Amanda Roit from Long Island, called "Stayin' Up All Night." It's another catchy tune about something tweens and teens can relate to, and Amanda has a great voice.

Turns out, Amanda's already a seasoned musical theatre star, having performed in professional local productions of "Hairspray," "The Wizard of Oz," and "Annie." We asked Amanda to tell us a little more about herself and her video.

IML: How did you get started performing. How old were you? 

Amanda: I was seven years old when I started performing. I wanted to sing and act since as young as I can I began by taking singing lessons and acting classes at seven.  I finally started to audition for plays a couple years later. and began being cast for roles.

IML: When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue seriously, rather than just participating in school productions and stuff like that?

Amanda: I knew performing was something I wanted to pursue seriously the minute I walked into my first singing/acting class; I just knew I was in the right place.

IML: Do you have a favorite role that you've played? 

Amanda: Although I have really enjoyed all the productions I have been in, I really enjoyed playing Annie (in the Broadway musical of the same name).

IML: What's the funniest or just most memorable thing that's happened to you onstage?

Amanda: My funniest experience while being onstage was when I was performing in Annie.  At the end of the show I had to sing with a dog in my hands; during one performance it scratched me and I almost dropped it!
IML: What has performing added to your life?
Amanda: Performing is my passion... and it certainly makes me confident and happy.

IML: How did the video for "Stayin' Up All Night" happen?

Amanda: The video is based on my 11th birthday sleepover... and yes, those are my BEST friends in the video, those that supported me throughout all these opportunities.

IML: What else is in store for you this year? 

Amanda: More acting and singing and learning!

IML: Thanks, Amanda. Good luck with the video and everything else!

Thank you!

You can learn more about Amanda at and watch the "Stayin' Up All Night" video here -- another perfect song for a Friday if you've got a sleepover planned! Will it be the next viral music sensation? We'll find out.