Tuesday, 27 January 2015

KERRY: MY FRIENDS DON'T APPROVE

Reader Kerry has a problem… can Summer Tanberry help?

Kerry says:
I have been doing ballet and jazz dance since I was about four. I love it - it makes me feel alive, and my lessons are the happiest points in my week. The problem is that my friends don't approve. They think that ballet and dance in general is babyish and silly, and they think it's especially funny that I love it because I am not a typical dancer shape. I am quite tall, 5' 9", and also quite strongly built. If I didn't work so hard at my dance I would probably be overweight, but as it is I still stand out as being the 'big' one next to my friends. They tease me and make nasty comments and it is really getting to me. Do you have any advice?

Summer says:
I think your friends need a reality check. I bet they have no idea how much hard work dance is - and I'm pretty sure there is a bit of jealousy tied up in their attitude, too. Do they not have hobbies, or are their interests limited to making nasty gossip? Sorry, but with friends like this, who needs enemies? Their constant sniping must be chipping away at your confidence every day. You have a choice; either face your friends and tell them to stop putting you down all the time, or walk away from these girls and find some mates who respect you and the things that matter to you. As for not being a dancer's shape, so what? 99% of us who love dance will not end up being professional dancers, but trust me, it doesn't matter because we LOVE it. Dance is expressive and  empowering, and that's true whatever your shape might be. If dance matters to you, hold your head high and make your sure your friends know that it's a part of you… whether they like it or not. Good luck!

Cathy says:
Do YOU agree with Summer's advice? What would YOU add to it? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 26 January 2015

ANNE FRANK: I STILL BELIEVE THAT PEOPLE ARE REALLY GOOD AT HEART...

Another in our series of girls who made their mark on history. January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day… a fitting time to remember a brave teenager whose voice still resonates with people today. Reader Cate tells us more…

Cate says:
Anne Frank was born on June 12th 1929 in the German city of Frankfurt, to a loving Jewish family; four years later, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Nazi Germany was not a good or a safe place for Jewish families, and by 1933 Anne's parents, Otto and Edith had moved to Amsterdam in Holland, where they hoped their family - Anne and her sister Margot - would be free from persecution. Anne was a lively, bright and energetic girl with many friends; she loved school and had a strong sense of fun.

Sadly, this freedom was short-lived; in 1940 the Nazis invaded Holland and restrictive, unfair laws soon made life very hard for Jewish people. In 1942, on her thirteenth birthday, Anne was given a notebook bound in red and white checked cloth. She decided to use it as a diary and began writing in it at once. Addressing her diary entries to the imaginary 'Kitty', she wrote about her hopes, dreams, fears, crushes and much more. In July 1942, not long after her birthday, the family moved into hiding. Otto Frank left a note suggesting they had fled to Switzerland, but in fact the family, along with several others, lived a secret existence, hidden in an annexe in the attic of Otto's business offices. Non Jewish friends helped them to survive, bringing food and supplies in secret; the families had to stay silent during the day so as not to alert workers in the offices below. Anne passed her time writing, and her words are intimate, intelligent and very real, even to this day.

In 1944, after 25 months of hiding, an unknown person informed the Nazis of the secret annexe, and the Frank family were arrested and sent to separate concentration camps. Anne and her sister and mother were sent to Auschwitz; many Jews were killed on arrival at the camp, but the Franks were selected for slave labour. Later on, Anne and her sister were sent to Bergen-Belsen camp. Their mother stayed behind, and died of starvation. In 1945, just weeks before Allied Forces liberated the camp, Anne and her sister Margot died, probably of typhus. Otto Frank survived the camps and spent his life bringing Anne's words to the world.

Please read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. It is powerful and moving, but also very real and relateable. It is also full of hope. I will finish with my favourite quote from the book: 'In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.' 

Cathy says:
The story of Anne's life is so moving; through her diary, Anne comes alive and we can share her hopes and dreams and feelings -she was a girl just like us. Speaking out against injustice, hate and cruelty is as important today as it ever was. Have YOU read Anne Frank's diary? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

READ ALL ABOUT IT!

A new reading initiative is putting books right at the heart of both school and home life - find out how YOU can get involved!

With fears that children in the 21st century are reading less than previous generations, the Read For My School project aims to get children in schools across the UK to read one million books between now and March. To encourage readers to take part, the project is offering Reading Culture awards and prizes worth £1000 to winning schools. Students can enter a book review competition, and winners will get the chance to interview a successful children's author and see their interview published in children's newspaper First News.

So… how can your school get involved? It's easy - tell your teacher about it and ask them to log onto http://www.readformyschool.co.uk - they can then set up pupil accounts and access lots of materials and resources to get ready for the competition. 

Pupils are provided with a collection of books which are all available to read online, for free, via the Read For My School website. How cool? You might even find a Cathy Cassidy book on there! Of course, you can read books offline too, as long as they fit into one of the categories listed on the website… and fear not, there is lots of choice! 

Any initiative which encourages kids to get reading has to be good so why not tell your class teacher, English teacher or school librarian about Read For My School and get your school involved? It's lots of fun, and those prizes are well worth having, too!

Cathy says:
Does YOUR school take part in READ FOR MY SCHOOL? Or does it have other ways to encourage reading? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

SORCHA: I SWITCHED OFF

Reader Sorcha was a confident girl until bullying wrecked her self-esteem; and there was nobody she could tell…


Sorcha says:
I was quite confident as a small child. At primary, my reports were good, my teachers like me and I had plenty of friends. I was excited about starting high school; if only I'd known how things would turn out.

It started on my second day. The school didn't have a strict uniform policy, just a basic colour code, so I'd worn a black scarf in my hair. One of the teachers, Mr Cole, stopped me in the corridor and yelled at me in front of my friends… I was so shocked I didn't know what to say or do. He seemed to think my silence was insolence, but I was just trying my hardest not to cry. He pulled the scarf out of my hair and threw it into the bin, and he told me he didn't like my attitude and that he'd be keeping an eye on me.

He did that, all right. Over the next few years, Mr Cole made my life a misery. He went out of his way to find fault with everything I did, everything I wore, everything about me. Other kids were getting away with murder, yet I was punished just for breathing… or that's what it felt like. He sent letters home about my poor attitude; Mum  didn't stand up for me like she should have… she thought I must be doing something to provoke things. The worst time was Year 9, when Mr Cole was my maths teacher. I didn't stand a chance. He once ripped my homework up in front of the class and told me I was worthless, an idiot.


I didn't tell anyone… who'd have believed me? He had turned the other teachers against me, and slowly I switched off, stopped trying. I felt hopeless all the time, worthless, just like he said I was. I left at sixteen with poor GCSE grades and started a course at 6th form college. I stopped feeling scared… started to try hard at my work again. My grades improved and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I'm studying for A levels now, exams he told me I'd never be able to take.

Last week, I bumped into a friends' big brother. He asked how I was getting on and I told him I was loving college, that school had been a nightmare. He told me that Mr Cole had bullied a boy in his year, too, and made his life a misery, just as he had for me. Everyone knew it, but nobody spoke out. It made me think… who will be next? I've written a letter to the Head Teacher setting out what happened to me. I don't know if they'll believe me, even now, but I have to try.

Names have been changed and pictures are posed by model.

Cathy says:
Sorcha's story is a perfect example of how bullying can destroy confidence and ruin lives… and it's especially scary to think that the bully can be a trusted teacher. Have YOU ever been picked on by a teacher? COMMENT BELOW to have your say...

Friday, 23 January 2015

CHERYL: I LEFT SCHOOL AND DYED MY HAIR PINK...

Another post in our new series about growing up in different decades… we talk to Cheryl, who was a teenager in the early 1990s…


Cheryl says:
If I coud pick my favourite age, it would be 1995 when I was nineteen. A few years before that, at school, I had been very unhappy. I loved bands like The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees and was a real goth. I lived in a small town and got bullied a lot for my alternative style, even from adults in the street! I felt very isolated. The internet was still in its infancy and had to go through the phone line, which cost a fortune, so magazines were still the best way to connect with like minded people. I found some penpals through the Cure fanclub and it was always so exciting to get letters from other places.

As soon as I left school, I dyed my hair pink and went to Liverpool. I couldn't believe the difference a city made! I studied drama at a YTS place called the Oh Five One; everyone there was either in a band or liked the same stuff I did. It felt like something was changing, as the alternative scene was slowly becoming more mainstream. I got into
grunge music, bleached my hair and started singing with local bands. My friend and I started publishing fanzines and ended up running the Debbie Harry fan club! We made some amazing friends through letters and meeting at concerts. It felt like a magical time for creativity - music, films, books - so many of my all-time favourites are from that time. It felt like we could do anything we dreamed of.

The only thing I regret is that we didn't have the technology and social media of today. I think I would have felt much less isolated and 'different' in my small town school years if I could have reached out to other teens like me.

Cathy says:
I LOVE this post… and I love Cheryl's adventurous outlook and creativity! Cheryl is now a businesswoman and a mum, and lives on a tiny island… still pretty cool, y'see! Do YOU identify with Cheryl's ideas and feelings? How would you have coped with teen life in the 90s? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

KYM: EASY CHOCOLATE FUDGE!

Reader Kym shares a recipe for yummy chocolate fudge… a perfect weekend treat!


You will need:
400g chocolate
397g tin of condensed milk
100g icing sugar
25g butter
50g chopped nuts or 50g chocolate chips (if desired)

non stick saucepan
20cm square tin (line with baking parchment)

1. Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a non-stick saucepan with butter and condensed milk. Heat ingredients gently over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

2. Sift in icing sugar and mix with a wooden spoon or electric whisk if preferred.

3. Press fudge into tin and smooth the mixture down using the back of a spoon. Sprinkle on nuts or chocolate chips if required.

4. Refrigerate fudge mixture for one hour until set, then cut into squares. The fudge will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a fortnight…

Kym says:
Chocolate with around 50% cocoa solids gives a great result… and don't worry, the fudge won't last long. It's so gorgeous, I end up having a bit every time I go through the kitchen. Which is why these days, I only make it for special occasions! Enjoy!

Cathy says:
Mmm… this sounds amazing! Do you have a foolproof sweet-treat recipe? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

SISTERS: A WINTRY SHORT STORY BY LILMISS

You'll love reader LilMiss's fab wintry fanfiction about Honey and Skye, inspired by this pic of two sisters in cool hats… and with a few additions from me! Make yourself a hot chocolate and curl up for five minutes of escapism!

The world is swirling with snow as I walk through the village with my big sister Honey. It looks magical; Honey's hair, shorter than it once was after she cut it in a flurry of anger a couple of years back, is intertwined with snowflakes.
We walk past one of my favourite shops - a newly opened vintage shop - and I just can't help but notice a winter sale. Honey doesn't really like vintage - not like I do, anyway - but she doesn't complain when I drag her into the warm shop.
'Mrs Valestro!' I cry warmly, throwing my arms around the owner's stout body. 'Good to see you!'
She passes me two of the sweets she keeps in a jar on a high up shelf, a toffee penny for me and a strawberry cream for Honey. I can see Honey's mouth open to tell me off for dragging her into a shop full of old clothes, but the strawberry cream enters her mouth at just the right time and her complaint is silenced.
'What are you needing, girls?' Mrs Valestro asks. 'A silk shawl, a fifties frock, a 1930s brooch?'
Honey wrinkles up her nose, unimpressed.
'We have a big reduction in hats… 1960s ski hats, just in from America…' She lifts one, a subtle purple with lilac tones. It's looks like new.
'Honey, shall we get hats? Stay warm in the snow?'
I raise my eyebrows, trying not to laugh. Honey is toying with a pink hat with an intricate pattern, lips pursed to criticise… but the words have been swept away. She likes it; more than that, she loves it.
A sign on the wall says all hats are reduced to £3.50, but as I fumble in my pocket and bring out a tenner, Mrs Valestro pushes the money back at me.
'On the house,' she whispers.
The two of us thank her and pull our hats on, Honey still smiling like a Cheshire cat. We head back out into the snowy street.
'Why did we come out again?' Honey asks, linking arms with me.
'Mum wanted wholemeal flour and baking powder,' I reply. 'Plus marshmallows and honey and cocoa powder… we walked right past the shop!'
We turn around and head back to the grocery store, collecting everything we need and handing over the money. Outside again, we begin the ascent to Tanglewood. No longer are our ears cold; the hats hug tightly, keeping us warm. It doesn't take long to reach the top of the lane, but suddenly I don't want the walk to end.
'Hey… it was good to hang out with you, Honey,' I say. 'Walk in the snow. It was… sort of special!'
'We should do it more often,' she replies. 'It was fun. We can start a new tradition!'
My eyes blur suddenly with tears, but they're happy ones.
'I'm so glad you're back, Honey,' I whisper. 'Last year… well, nothing was the same without you. Never leave again, OK?'
'OK,' my big sister laughs.
We clasp hands and wander along the drive to Tanglewood, shopping in our arms and hats on our heads.

Cathy says:
I love this sweet, snow-themed fan fiction - and it was fun to add my own extra touches too! Hope you enjoyed it - COMMENT BELOW to have your say!