Saturday, 26 July 2014


A new series looking at different religions and belief systems… reader Laura talks about what it's like to be Buddhist!

Laura says:
I have been a Buddhist for two years - ever since I found out about the religion! I wanted to follow because I like the ethics of no killing any creature; and as I found out more and more about the religion, I realised it was perfect for me. I wasn't born into a Buddhist family, as you may have guessed, but my mum and dad have been really good about me converting. They even put 'Buddhist' down as my religion on my school papers! My friends have also been really supportive - one of them actually bought me the two little Buddhas on either side of my shrine.

I follow the teachings to the best of my ability, but I am not super-religious! I do lie sometimes - doesn't everyone? - but I also respect my religion very much. I can't go to a temple to pray as there are none close to where I live, but I do try to celebrate most of the festivals and events. On the festival of Wesak, I set off some paper lanterns from a hill nearby, which was amazing - well, actually, I did it the night after Wesak, as it was raining on the actual date! Releasing the lanterns symbolised letting go of our sins and spreading love around the world. It started raining again after a while, and I did wonder whether some of our local farmers were confused at the sight of those lanterns!

I have a shrine to the Buddha with three small Buddha statues, some flowers, some elephant statues and a burnt candle. I'm not allowed to light candles or joss sticks in my room (probably for the best as my shrine is right above my bed and my very flammable bedsheets!) so I light a candle downstairs, blow it out and bring it up. It's lit in spirit! Every night I set aside fifteen minutes to do some quiet thinking, my way of meditating. I don't believe in pushing all thoughts out of my head - our thoughts make us who we are - so I think positive thoughts instead. It really helps me to feel happier and gets my life into perspective!
Cathy says:
Wow… I love Laura's determination to follow Buddhism to the best of her ability… and it really does seem to be giving her a kind of peace and perspective in her life! Do YOU follow a particular religion? COMMENT BELOW to share your thoughts on Laura's choice or to tell us about your own beliefs! 
(Note on the series: you may have very different views, but PLEASE respect the beliefs of others in your comments!)

Friday, 25 July 2014


Thirteen year old Samiksha lives in Chennai, a big city in India... she tells us about life there...

Samiksha says:
I live in an independent house at the heart of Chennai; it has three bedrooms and a terrace where I can play. There are many trees in the area so we get lots of fresh air and see all kinds of birds! I'm lucky enough to go to one of the best schools in the city. It's co-educational which means boys and girls study together, and we have smart, summery uniforms. The climate here is hot and humid throughout the year, so we need to stay cool! My school can be strict when it needs to be, but the rest of the time the teachers are really friendly, and we have a huge playground and an indoor meeting area too. My favourite subject is English - I enjoy writing essays and short stories! We have a chauffeur, who takes me to and from school.

The staple diet of India is rice, gravy, dhal, pickles and roti; dhal is a dish made from lentils cooked to a soft, soupy or porridge-like consistency, and roti is a kind of flatbread. Indian food can be spicy and tangy but not all types are. There are many vegetarian dishes as some Indians do not eat meat, but many do. We do have many international cuisines here too - American, Mexican, Italian, Chinese and many more. We enjoy western food just as much! My favourite food is roti with channa gravy, which is made from chickpeas.

We have western clothes and in the city these are worn routinely, but we also wear traditional Indian clothes, mostly for functions or celebrations. The picture is of me wearing a traditional Indian 'ghaghara'. It is made of flowy georgette fabric with pink satin roses and I absolutely love it! I worse it to a wedding - I always feel beautiful and happy wearing it! India has a very rich heritage and culture. We are a democratic country and people of many different religions live here. I am a Hindu; the religion involves many rituals and festivals and we have some really interesting religious stories such as the 'Mahabaratha' and the 'Ramayana'. Some of the important festivals of the Hindu religion are Diwali, the festival of lights, and Holi, the festival of colours.

In India we have both joint and nuclear families, and family does play a very important role in Indian culture. I think in the near future more and more people will see the importance of having a joint or extended family and work towards this. India is a very beautiful country and in places it is very developed and sophisticated. We have many beautiful and historical monuments such as the Taj mahal in Delhi and Agra in North India. The only downside is that we have a really large population. India is a mixed economy so poverty exists side by side with wealth. Mostly, though, there are many average income households!

I love singing and one day I'd like to be an internationally known singer - it's my ultimate dream! For me, it is a very proud feeling to be born an Indian - it is a great place to live. I love my country very much!

Cathy says:
I've loved hearing Samiksha's account of living in Chennai... awesome! It has made me more determined than ever to visit India one day. COMMENT BELOW to share your views, or, if you're a reader outside the UK yourself, let me know if you'd like to write about YOUR country!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014


Another in our series of reader problems… as solved by the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS! Today COCO TANBERRY takes a turn…

Hannah says:
There are many things I don't like about this world… poverty, cruelty, war… I could go on. I would like to make a small difference by going vegetarian, but my parents won't let me - even though I wrinkle up my nose at anything, well, DEAD! How can I go veggie and still stay in my parents' good books? Help!

Coco says:
I know, right? Parents sometimes just DO NOT GET IT. They worry about crazy stuff like where you will be getting your protein and have visions of you fading away to nothing the minute you give up meat. They think it's just a phase. Well, I have been veggie for almost three years and I can tell you it is NOT just a phase, and I am NOT wasting away, and I get plenty of protein, thank you very much. Actually, the best way to get your parents on side is to show them you've done your research. A good place to start is with the Vegetarian Society who can answer all your questions, help you make the change easily and painlessly and reassure your parents that eating veggie means eating healthy! You can contact them here. Why not start by offering to cook a veggie meal for the family once or twice a week? This will show them you're serious… and it's good training for you in case you have to make your own meals now and then! Good luck!

Cathy says:
I went veggie at fourteen, after a couple of years of trying to show my mum I was serious… she got there in the end! Do YOU have anything to add to Coco's advice? COMMENT BELOW to offer your words of wisdom to Hannah!


Do you have a fave pair of summer shoes or sandals? Or do you love to walk barefoot across the sand? We asked you how YOU like to step into summer…

Hazel says:
I got these sandals from Macy's (my favourite shop ever!) a few days ago, and I love them! They have a small heel, which is one of the best things about them…  they aren't flat, so I don't feel like I am walking on the ground, but I'm not staggering about in crazy six-inch heels either! They are really comfy as well, and equally perfect for exploring the streets of San Francisco or for strolling around a museum. They are awesome!

Manda says:
This pic was taken last summer… it was one of those sunny days when it's not too hot, just perfect, and it seemed a good idea to go out into the garden and sketch characters from Les Mis. I probably don't spend as much time outside as I should - I'm not good at the sunbathing thing, but drawing was cool! This was my first attempt at drawing anything Les Mis related and I have definitely improved since then… but I don't think I got much of a tan!

Nettie says:
My dress sense is usually described as a cross between shabby chic and hippy by my friends! The dress is from Joe Browns - everything they make is gorgeous. It's great for summer days because you don't get too hot… and the boots are my bright pink Doc Martens. They took a while to break in, but now I wear them everywhere! They are summery to me because of the colour - the bright pink fits in with bright summer colours and because the British weather is so lovely *cough*… when it rains, at least my feet stay dry!

Eden says:
I love the summer because after wearing big clumpy winter shoes I can have my feet in the sun. I love feeling the sand on my feet… it makes my feet feel soft and smooth! I like to walk on the stones to toughen up my feet and I love to feel the warm grass on my feet too. I have lots of different coloured flip-flops so I can wear a different pair every day. I love to take off my school shoes and run down to the beach and paddle in the sea…

Blue says:
Well, it's summer, and these are my feet… does that count? These are my strawberry socks, so they ARE summery, I guess. They were given to me by my mum who bought them for herself but then decided they'd suit me better. I'm standing on a patch of grass behind our house… it's not our garden, exactly, but I'm not trespassing… I'm allowed to be there. And no, I am not taking my socks off… this is Scotland, remember?

Cathy says:
Brilliant… I am a boots girl and try to hang onto them at all times, although I do have a pair of flowery canvas boots… that's as summery unless there's a serious heatwave! What are YOUR fave summer shoes? COMMENT BELOW and share the love!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


We asked you for your favourite things about summer… this is what you said!

Daisy says:
Summer means not having any cares or worries and having fun with friends!

Lauren says:
MORE ICE CREAM!!! Also Christmas (don't panic, I live in South Africa!), pool parties, orchestra tours and a trip to Marine World if possible. And an excuse to wear sunglasses all the time!

Chloe says:
Running through fields, fun with friends, the seaside, ice creams, fairs and bonfires!

Vicky says:
Summer means meeting new friends! I met a bunch of Americans last year, and this year I hope to meet my pen-pal! Also eating ice cream and picnics in the park…

Latifa says:
Summer means endless fun and awesome fashion, Lucozade and 7Up and making the most of life!

Chloe Dawn says:
This year it will mean the end of exams (FINALLY!) and worrying about whether I've got into Sixth Form or not. Most years it means camping, barbeques, reading in the sun and not having to worry about school and homework for a while!

Chantel says:
No school! Summer means relaxing, theme parks, being wih my family, having lots of free time, going to the beach… and wishing it would never end!

Pippa says:
Summer is the BEST! I love going to the beach, having time off school to spend with my friends and going on holiday… we are going back to Cyprus for the first time in five years this summer! Summer has the best weather, and wearing hats and sunglasses and flipflops is cool!

Princess says:
Family vacations, chilling with friends, no schoolwork worries, playing out till the streetlights come on, beach trips, family BBQs, festivals and carnivals. It's the busiest and the best time of the year - fun, ice cream and a whole load of sunshine!

Cathy says:
Do you agree? COMMENT BELOW to have your say and share what summer means to YOU!

Monday, 21 July 2014


We take a look at what's cool and awesome in the book world for older teens… 

Jo Nadin says:
I write books. A lot of books. Which is another way of saying I spend most of the day dreaming about being other people in other places and then putting that down on paper. I do a lot of dreaming, but my latest book has elements of nightmares in it too: it's a thriller for older readers called EDEN. When her cousin Bea dies in a house fire in London, Evie returns to her childhood home of EDEN, on an estuary in Cornwall, desperate to make up for mistakes in the past. But she's not the only one seeking redemption. Bea's boyfriend Penn washes up on the river too, and Evie finds herself falling for this dark and possibly dangerous stranger. It's a book of twists, turns and surprises; about finding out who you are, who you want to be, and who you can get away with being…

Cathy says:
I've read EDEN, and loved it - beautifully written and totally addictive, it will keep you guessing right until the end...

Hilary Freeman says:
I've written six books for teens/ young adults, and am currently working on the seventh. When I'm not writing books, you'll find me still hunched over my laptop writing articles for newspapers and magazines; and, being an agony aunt, giving advice to young people! My other jobs have included being a leg model and a very bad cleaner. My books are about the kind of issues that teenagers face every day. Friendship and romance feature strongly, but self-harm, internet identity, shoplifting, problem parents and celebrity have all featured. THE BOY FROM FRANCE is the third in my Camden Town series, about a group of friends who all live on the same street in Camden Town. THE BOY FROM FRANCE is Vix's story, and it's vaguely my story too, as my boyfriend is from France and has recently moved over to live with me in Camden Town! When Vix's classmates find that their visiting French exchange students will include boys, everyone is very excited; everyone that is, except Vix, who has a sick mother to cope with and has no time for boys. But her student does turn out to be a boy, and what's more, he's gorgeous and charming. But is he for real? How long can it last? And will Vix's secrets and lies destroy the relationship?

Cathy says:
I'd have loved this story as a teen… I never went on a school exchange, but always dreamed of it! THE BOY FROM FRANCE sounds like a perfect summer read!

Do YOU have any must-read suggestions for older teens? COMMENT BELOW to share your views!

Sunday, 20 July 2014


We don't understand mental illness very well, and of course, what we don't understand can frighten us. But what is it like to struggle with mental illness? Brave reader Karina explains...

Karina says:
Ever since I was very young, I've had problems; I hear voices. For a long time I thought it was normal and that everyone had those voices, but of course that's not so. If I ever mentioned this in conversation, the voices became negative and threatening, say the most horrible things. I began to realise something might be wrong. Around that time I witnessed a car crash and that was when the visions started - they're too graphic to even describe, but still I didn't speak out… I couldn't.

I was fifteen when I finally told someone. By then I was depressed and cried most days, and every time I tried to tell someone the voices would stop me, saying that my family would disown me.
Eventually I found the courage to ignore the voices and I told my mum, and since that day I have been getting proper medical help. I have medication which helps, and I am re-training my mind to be less negative.

My advice to anyone with mental health issues is not to be afraid, and to talk about how you are feeling. Speaking out is a step forward - you can say, 'I am beating this.' I told my mum and my best friend first, but it doesn't matter who you tell as long as you get some help. You can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or look at the websites for MIND or Time To Change. They have helped me loads. I waited so long to hear someone say 'You are not alone,' and now I finally believe it. There are many people with the same problems as me... and there is a way forward for us all.

Karina's name has been changed to protect her identity: pics are posed by model.

Cathy says:
Karina has learned that speaking out is the only way to get help for problems like this - and that help really IS out there. I'm so impressed at her bravery and her determination to reach out and help others. COMMENT BELOW if someone you know has struggled with a mental health issue - or if you'd like to send a message of support to Karina.