Thursday, 31 March 2016

CAMILLE: THE BRONIE COMMUNITY!

Reader Camille writes about the Bronie fandom community... and why it matters to her!

Camille says:
There's a cartoon currently on TV called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The show was originally created for children, mainly girls, but has attracted a much wider fanbase, myself included. Adult fans are called Bronies and a lot of them are male... the appeal is much wider than the makers of the show might have imagined! So far, I have only ever met two other Bronies of my own age in person, but in October I am going to a convention called BronyCon which is basically a weekend long party with tons of other Bronies. There are stalls with art and toys made by fans, and panels with some of the voice actors. Some fans have even written music based on the show and at one convention, a fan created an amazing light show for everyone. It's an amazing community, both online and in the real world.

The problem is that people who haven't watched don't really understand and some of them pick on you. I get teased at school a lot for wearing a pony t-shirt for PE. People say, 'Well, if you don't want to be teased, why do you keep on wearing it?' But this misses the point; I should be able to wear what I like without fear of judgement. I reply: 'Because I'm not afraid. I won't hide what I enjoy just because others hate it.' Men who like the show get even more hassle. People can be really harsh to these adult fans, labelling them with all kinds of names and making judgements on them, which is kind of ridiculous. It's a free world, and we should not judge what we don't understand... people should be free to follow their own interests, even if they are not what others might choose. We are all different.

Most people don't even understand why Bronies get so involved and so enthusiastic. It's because at the end of each episode, one of the Mane Six (the main six characters in the series) will tell their lesson for the day. They call it a friendship lesson, but they are lessons you can take and convert into a lesson for teen or adulthood. Of course, I don't expect everyone to see the appeal in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, but for me the show has real value and I'm proud to be a fan. Don't judge what you don't understand!

Cathy says:
I know a few of my readers are My Little Pony fans (or should I say Bronies!). I also agree with Camille that somebody with an unusual hobby or interest should never be bullied or harassed because of this... live and let live! Have YOU ever watched the show? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

CAITLIN: NERVOUS ABOUT MY FIRST DATE...

Reader Caitlin is worried about going on her first ever date... can HONEY TANBERRY offer good advice to set her mind at ease?

Caitlin says:
I've just got into a relationship with my crush and we are going on our first date in the Easter holidays. Neither of us have ever dated anyone before and I am really nervous. How can I avoid letting my crush see this? And what do people DO on dates anyway?

Honey says:
You don't say, but I'm going to assume your crush is a boy (if not, apologies, but this advice should work either way!) First of all, he likes you... he's asked you out and arranged to see you in the holidays, so he is probably as nervous as you are. Second of all, a date is meant to be fun... it's a way to get to know each other better. What do people DO on a date? That depends, and you get to have a choice and a say in it too! For the first few dates, it makes sense to plan something fun, so you avoid awkward silences. Choose something that both of you will enjoy - ice skating, a day at the fair, watching a film you both like the look of or going to a sports event could all be good. Doing something specific means there is less chance you'll end up hanging around the street corner, sharing a lone can of lemonade. (That can be fun too, but only once you know each other better!) If you're doing something together, the conversation should come easily. As for that moment at the end of a date when a kiss seems to be on the horizon - try to relax and see enjoy the moment. A kiss is not compulsory - if you don't feel ready, that's fine. Equally, if you want to take the initiative and start the smooch, that's fine too. Remember, a date is all about fun and getting to know your partner better... enjoy every minute!

Cathy says:
Good advice from Honey... what would YOU add? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

HAZEL: SAVE OUR LIBRARIES!

Reader Hazel was upset to learn that her local library is under threat of closure... find out how YOU can help her to save it...

Hazel says:
To say my local libraries have played an important part in my life is a slight understatement. I had my first library card at just over two weeks old, and when we moved to California temporarily in 2014, I had a new library card within 24 hours of landing on American soil. I have never been without a well used library card, and go to one library or another every few weeks to stock up on new books. Sadly, there are now plans to close eight out of nine of our local libraries in West Berkshire, and also to discontinue the two mobile libraries. Not only that, they plan to cut some children's centres, the Domestic Abuse Response Team, and the Community Furniture Project. The government has cut 44% of our revenue support grant and that means we have to save nearly £19 million. Libraries are not life-saving services - not in an obvious way anyway - but  I do not believe that closing eight libraries is the right choice.

These cutbacks could be the ruination of libraries in this country. One library for 155,000 people is just not enough. There must be other ways to do this, creative solutions... we must look into everything before the libraries close their doors for good. Libraries play a fundamental role in every community, hosting events and classes, arts and crafts fairs, toddler story time, continued adult learning and internet access amongst other things. Libraries can inspire young people and help them decide what they want to be in life. In my own experience, I have picked up new hobbies and found new interests thanks to things I have seen or found at my local library. Some people say everything is turning to ebooks and that library closures do not matter, but what about children? They need time to browse slowly, to hold different books in their hands as they make their own decisions about what they want to read. They need the chance to pore over every page, to have a wide range of books to explore as their reading levels increase and their interests widen.

In the UK we need to increase literacy rates - and libraries offer the opportunity to explore and learn for free. Young children and the elderly and unemployed do not have access to a school library - and some schools do not have libraries at all. Perhaps we cannot keep every library open, but we must surely do everything in our power to save this amazing community resource. Most of the books I have read in my life have been library books. I have discovered so many amazing authors who've enriched my life, changed how I see things in the world, made me laugh, made me learn. I would hate to rob future generations of the same opportunities.

There is a petition to save Berkshire's libraries... if you can take time to sign the petition, it would be SO appreciated. You can sign the PETITION HERE... and ask your friends and family to sign too.

Cathy says:
You can see Hazel in THIS SLIDESHOW from eighteen months ago, helping to support Liverpool libraries... she's at 1 minute 19 seconds in. Hazel supported me with that fight, and I will support her with Berkshire libraries... will YOU? Please COMMENT BELOW to show Hazel some support and sign that petition if you possibly can!

Monday, 28 March 2016

BETH: GROWING UP WITH CC BOOKS...

Book blogger Beth met Cathy Cassidy at a teen book event recently... and Cathy asked her to recommend some YA reads for older CC readers!

Beth says:
A big thank you to Cathy for this opportunity... I unexpectedly bumped into her at an event a few weeks ago, and now this... it's crazy! So... let's start with how I got into Cathy's books. I began by reading CHERRY CRUSH, borrowed from the library, and it all kicked off from there. Honestly, I absolutely fell in love with Shay - a sweet guy who writes songs and plays guitar? Yes please! Between then and starting to read YA (Young Adult/ older teen) books, I read and adored most of Cathy's books. It became a personal goal of mine to finish them all. I could relate to or fall in love with most of the characters, which is why I love those books so much!

As I got older, I moved on to YA books and began to blog about them... blogging has become a great resource for me, allowing me to connect with other readers and talk about new releases and also those books I adored before YA.

My taste in novels hasn't really changed over the years - I love romance and contemporary and read most of those genres. It's taken me a while to find books I adore *almost* as much as Cathy's novels, but here is my list of favourites... if you're an older teen who likes CC books, try these next!

The Truth About Forever
by Sarah Dessen

Sarah Dessen's books were probably some of the first YA books I read - and I still love them today!

Cathy says:
I have read this and LOVED it. All of Sarah's books are just wonderful!






Second Chance Summer
by Morgan Matson

I cannot recommend Morgan Matson enough. She writes in a light-hearted but deep way about love, friendship and the importance of second chances!

Cathy says:
Oooh... a new author to me, I will have to check this book out!








Beautiful Broken Things 
by Sara Barnard

Unfortunately, there are not many YA books out there that focus solely on friendship - which is why I loved this book so much! I would also recommend How To Be Bad by E Lockhart, if you like reading about teenage friendship (and road trips!)

Oh, and while we're here, everybody go and read Gingersnaps by Cathy herself!

Cathy says:
Love, love, LOVE this book! A great choice!




All The Bright Places 
by Jennifer Niven

I fell in love with this book from the first page. It's absolutely mind-blowing!

Cathy says:
Oh my... awesome. And heart-breaking! Health Warning: please have a box of tissues nearby when reading!







The Love That Split The World
by Emily Henry

...And the 'mind-blowing' tag can definitely be applied to this book too! If you love romance with a twist (and/or time travel/ sci fi,) then here you go!

Cathy says: 
Another new author to me... I will be tracking this book down soon, thanks for the tip, Beth!








There were many other authors I just didn't have the space to include here, but I'd also love to recommend authors like Jenny Han, Stephanie Perkins, Jandy Nelson, Lisa Williamson and Rainbow Rowell, along with many others! Looking for more YA? I write a book blog, which you can find here! Enjoy... and may your shelves forever overflow with books!

Cathy says:
Great suggestions from teen book expert Beth... I think I'll have to ask her back to do more guest blogging soon! Have YOU read any of the books above? Do YOU have any cool recommendations to make? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!


Sunday, 27 March 2016

OUR EASTER TRADITIONS...

Readers share their favourite Easter traditions... what are YOURS?

Violet says:
We don't have Easter traditions really... Mum says she's bought me an Easter egg but won't tell me what it is. I'm excited because I usually buy my own, and it's nice to have a surprise! I have pet bunnies and I'll spend some time petting them. We don't really celebrate Easter in a religious way but I'm not about to turn down chocolate and fluffy bunnies!

Lisette says:
Our family are Catholic and the religious side of Easter is important to us. It all starts on Pancake Day, which was originally a feast day before a period of fasting; then it's Ash Wednesday and we get ashes smudged onto our foreheads at a special mass. Then it's lent, which commemorates the time Jesus spent forty days and nights fasting in the wilderness. I usually give up chocolate but this year I gave up Coke as well! It's not easy to start with but you get used to it. On Good Friday there's a service to remember how Jesus was put to death and then on Easter Sunday we start the day with mass to celebrate his rising from the dead. After that we go home to a late breakfast - scrambled eggs - and only then are we allowed to have our chocolate eggs! In the late afternoon, we go to my grandparents house for a big Easter dinner!

Beth says:
I know it's Easter when we make chocolate crispie cakes in Home Ec! They're something I have made lots in the past, really easy and fun!

Kym says:
We usually go along to a National Trust place to do an easter Egg hunt... they're always good! Then Easter dinner at the grandparents' house!

Katie says:
When I was really young, my primary school always did Easter crafts... and one year my mum painted eggs with us! The Easter bunny traditionally comes to our house and leaves chocolate by the door, but this year was different - I witnessed the buying of my Easter chocolate and it's a DC Comics egg which I am very excited about!

Ella says:
Nan hides clues around the house and me and my brother have to follow them to the next room and the next set of clues. They eventually lead to a hidden Easter egg or a basket of little chocolate eggs... there's usually two prizes, because otherwise I would never win!

Karen says:
We do everything you can think of and more! We're christians and it's a big celebration in our house...lots of church stuff, a tea party Sunday. an egg hunt and youth club amongst other things. It's as big as Christmas for us and so much fun!

Picture of yummy chocolate cupcake nests from reader Marie... many thanks!

Cathy says:
We have an Easter tree... blossom branches hung with little wooden eggs and chicks and rabbits... and tiny chocolate eggs are hidden around the house for all to find... and we paint eggs, too, and roll them, How about YOU? COMMENT BELOW to share your Easter traditions!

Friday, 25 March 2016

THE WHITE ROSE: SOPHIE SCHOLL

Sophie Scholl was a German student who had the courage to speak out against Hitler and the Nazi regime - and paid a terrible price for her bravery.

The White Rose movement was a resistance group active in Nazi Germany between 1942 and 1943. The group was small in order to maintain secrecy, and members were young students who attended Munich University - two of those members were Hans and Sophie Scholl, a brother and sister, who were determined to fight the Nazi regime as best they could. Hans and Sophie had been raised in a family which was critical of the Nazi regime, and Sophie held a firm christian faith which gave her the courage to oppose what was happening around her. The White Rose group made and distributed anti-Nazi and anti-war leaflets and painted anti-Nazi graffiti on walls, and in doing so they risked being charged with treason and put to death.

Sophie's boyfriend, Fritz Hartnagel, was a German soldier and had witnessed Russian prisoners of war being shot and buried in a mass grave; he had also heard about the mass killings of Jews and others taking place in concentration camps, and had discussed these things with Sophie and her brother. This pushed them to begin distributing leaflets against the Nazis asking German citizens to resist the regime. Sophie was a vital part of the operation because as a young girl it was felt that she may be less likely to be stopped and searched by the SS.

However, Nazi Germany was a police state and at war with much of Europe; they were enraged at the activities of the White Rose group; as Sophie and her brother Hans handed out copies of the sixth leaflet, they were seen by a Nazi party member and reported to the Gestapo. They were arrested, interrogated and put on trial for treason. When asked about her activities Sophie replied:

'Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.'

Sophie, her brother and their friend Christoph Probst were pronounced guilty of treason and sentenced to be put to death by guillotine. Sophie remained brave and courageous in spite of a broken leg incurred during her interrogation and her death sentence. Her final words on walking to the guillotine were these:

'Such a fine sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?'

Sophie Scholl was just twenty one years old when she was killed. In the following months, the Gestapo arrested and executed the remaining members of the White Rose group and many other students from the university were also executed or sent to concentration camps. When World War Two ended in 1945, the Nazi regime was overthrown and gradually the bravery of Sophie Scholl and the White Rose group came to be recognised and celebrated. The actions of the White Rose group are a symbol of how even a small group of people can take peaceful action to oppose a brutal regime.

Cathy says:
Did you know about the life and death of Sophie Scholl? How far would YOU go to challenge injustice? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

JULIA: I'M ALWAYS SECOND BEST...

It's problem page time again on DREAMCATCHER... this week, reader Julia has a question for Skye Tanberry!

Julia says:
Skye, I totally identify with how you feel to be in the shadow of Summer. My BFF is smart, beautiful and very talented at drawing. People always ask her to help with spellings or maths questions and sometimes I find myself whispering 'I know the answer...' but nobody even thinks of asking me. Please don't think I am jealous - I'm not - but I feel bad knowing that others don't think I am as capable as her. We have talked about this before, and she knows how I feel. In a funny way, I also feel bad for her, because people do expect her to know all the answers and she is a girl who hates to disappoint.

Skye says:
I really do empathise. I used to feel very overshadowed by my twin Summer, but like you I began to see that there is a dark side to having people expect so much from you. It can be a huge pressure. Summer is the most sparkly, dramatic twin - the one people notice - but it hasn't always made her happy. In the same way, your friend feels anxious to please everyone and that can be a burden sometimes. There are advantages to being the quiet one... when you DO do something cool, people are surprised and impressed. I actually like flying under the radar most of the time - I'm quite shy, and would hate the constant scrutiny and pressure of having others demand so much from me. You have spoken to your friend about the way you feel, and that is good - this must not drive a wedge between you. It's not something either of you have chosen, after all. As you go through school, you may find you can both move outside of the box others have put you in, try new things, exceed expectations. Friendship is a bond between the two of you, and that should always come first... along with a knowledge that both of you are awesome and unique and every bit as good as the other one. Good luck.

Cathy says:
Some good advice from Skye... would YOU add anything to it? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

COOL NAMES… A LOVE/ HATE RELATIONSHIP?

We talked to more readers about the ups and downs of having a cool, unusual name…

Eddison says:
My mum's friend suggested Edison if I was a boy, and my dad liked it, so it was agreed. As I was a girl, they just added an extra D to make it a bit different. Dad says Edison Lighthouse was the name of a band in the 60s and 70s, and as Dad worked at a recording studio it seemed to fit! I really like my name as it's unusual and makes me stand out. I don't like it when people ask my name and I reply 'Eddison' and they say, 'No dear, your first name!' That can be annoying, but I try to remember that they aren't used to it and are just confused. Mum just calls me Ed as it's shorter and easier, but my grandparents say that Eddison is my name and that's what they will call me!

Hazy says:
My parents decided to name me Hazy because they met at my dad's farm in the middle of the countryside and as they got to know one another more, my mum noticed the beautiful hazy mornings you would always get there. They moved into the farm together and had my brother and sister, Kya and Apphia - Kya means 'diamond of the sky' and Apphia is a Greek godess of the moon. When I was born, they decided on Hazy, looking back at those early hazy mornings when they had first met. It's quite a 'worldly' name, a weather-inspired name I guess, and when my younger brother was born they followed on from this and called him Tarran, which means thunder (quite accurate, I think!) I love my name now but to begin with I wanted a less unusual name. These days I like having a name that is unique!


Oleander says:
My name is Oleander, which most people will agree is pretty unusual! It came about because my mum had seen a movie called White Oleander. I think the film was based on a book by Janet Fitch - an oleander is a kind of flower or tree. I love my name because I think it's really pretty, but a part of me doesn't always like it because sometimes people spell or pronounce it wrong!

Elle- Mae says:
My mum liked the name Ellie but she changed 'Ellie' to the spelling 'Elle' because it was a little bit different - nobody she knew had the name Elle! Mum's birthday is in May, so she put Elle and May together and changed the y to an e! I love my name because it's unusual - it's very special to me! Many teachers pronounce or spell it wrong - it's quiet easy to make a mistake with - but I correct them, and once you know how to spell it it's easy! When's the best time to have a different kind of name? At school, definitely, because your name is mentioned a lot in class, on the register and when your friends call you. When people ask what my name is, they smile a lot because it's so unusual!

Adelaide says:
I think my name is quite unusual… I don't know anyone else called Adelaide! That's why I like it - nobody has the same name as me! People ask me if I'm named after the city in Australia, but I'm not… I did visit there when I was a baby however, and I hope I can go back one day! My mum likes to joke that Adelaide was one of the first names in the baby book, but actually my parents chose it because it means beautiful and noble. When I'm a parent I might pick something a bit easier to spell, though - friends never know how to spell my name and I've actually got it wrong myself once or twice!

Rohan says:
What I like about my name is that when I meet someone new or go to a new place, there's around a 99.9% chance that nobody else will have the same name as me! It's pretty unique, and I like that. What I don't like is when teachers - well, all kinds of people, really - say it wrong, especially if they've only just met met me. It's spelled 'Rohan' but pronounced 'Rowan'… so people often write it as 'Rowan' and I have to correct them, and that gets annoying! My sister is called Lauren and she can get magnets and keyrings and so on with her name on, but I can't… that's annoying, too. But I love my name either way!

Cathy says:
Loving these cool and unusual names... which one is your fave? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 21 March 2016

WHY LIBRARIES ARE COOL!

CC readers share a little library love...

Eva says:
Libraries are full of imagination, full of lives. The lives of those in the books and the lives of those reading, all who have entered the library over the years. For those without friends and family, the library offers comfort and escape... and all for free.

Rebecca says:
Libraries mean a lot... they're my personal escape. Walking down the aisle, running my finger across the spine of every book I walk past. Imagining the stories and theories, feeling how much heart and soul the authors have put in. Libraries are quiet and peaceful, and whenever I read there I find I can imagine myself in the story.

Hayley says:
It's the smell for me, all those books in one place, slightly musty and dusty. The school holidays are the best... you can read a book a day, travel to new times and places... and if the book doesn't 'fit' then you just take it back.

Liz says:
Libraries allow me to go back in time, discover new worlds, walk in other people's shoes... plus I discovered CC through my library, years ago, when Sundae Girl was recommended to me by a librarian!

Rhuadhan says:
For me, libraries are an escape... sure, you can sit in your room with a book, but nothing beats the paisley print carpets and book smell of a library! Books are the best thing in the world, a portal to any land, any time. Libraries are like heaven for me, I love them... and not just the books, some libraries are architectural wonders. However, a library could be a wooden shack and I'd still love it!

Caoilinn says:
Libraries are magic. They allow you to go wherever you want... back in time, forward in time. You can go wherever you want to... to magical kingdoms far away, or into fictional lives that are just like yours. They are hundreds of stories and adventures all in one room!

Kiramae says:
Libraries are a chance to escape the world around us!

Sanika says:
Libraries are bliss! The sound of flipping pages, chairs being discreetly pulled, the smell of pages... and new adventures in the world of a book!

Sarah jade says:
Libraries mean you can still get lost in other worlds even if you can't afford to buy books - the opportunities to escape are endless!

Ishika says:
Entering a library is like entering another world... one made up of stories of fairylands, dreams, mysteries, war and love. My sister always went to the library near our house and one day I went with her... I'm hooked now, and libraries invoke a lot of happiness in me.

Cathy says:
Loving the library shout-outs... awww! Do YOU love your library? COMMENT BELOW to tell me why!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

MANDA: IT'S OK TO BE QUIET!

Reader Manda has some very wise words on being an introvert teen...  a must-read!


Manda says:
Friendly reminder to all those this may concern: it's OK to be quiet. It's OK not to talk all the time. You know why I'm saying this? Because I didn't hear it nearly enough growing up. I'm eighteen and I am only just realising in the last year or two that this is OK, that I don't actually need to change. All my life, people have been asking me, 'Why don't you talk more?' 'Are you shy?' 'You're very quiet...' (Why thank you, Captain Obvious, I would never have noticed!) Well, I don't blame them. Most of them meant well... they probably just wanted me to join in more, or get to know me better. Maybe they genuinely couldn't understand why someone might not want to talk all the time. I didn't really see it as peer pressure. To me, it didn't feel like actually changing who I was, just learning to express myself better, to 'come out of my shell' as everyone put it, gain confidence in myself. It was more like an extension of myself, a better version of the same person I already was.

And in a way I was right. Part of it is natural. As I get older I am growing more comfortable with myself and others, with hearing my voice, my accent, accepting that I won't always be heard or paid attention to. That's OK, and you know who I've got to thank most of all? Not the people who told me I needed to talk and socialise, but those who accepted and included me for who I already was. That's why I want to stress what others don't stress enough... it's OK. If you can answer people when they speak to you and hold some kind of conversation, if you can speak when it's necessary and valuable to do so, you're already doing great. That's all you really need in life. And if you struggle even with that, that's OK too. Things will get better.

The point is, it's OK not to like talking to strangers, not to like talking loudly, not to feel comfortable shouting over seven other people to be heard. It's OK not to talk so much you end up talking about nothing, or worse, bitching about other people because there's nothing of substance left to talk about. It's Ok to sometimes be ignored or forgotten because there will always be someone talking louder... the people ignoring you might just be jerks, or they may not even realise they're doing it. Either way, it's their loss, not yours. It's OK to worry that you're not funny enough or interesting enough, to think 'They'd want to be friends with me if I could be more spontaneous...' People will always be drawn to the crazy, entertaining ones - we love to laugh, be entertained, surprised. But it's OK not to be that person ALL the time, because we all have the potential to be, even if we don't show it, or don't know how.

Somehow, if you're anything like me, you WILL meet amazing people who see past that top layer, acknowledge you as a multi dimensional human being rather than forever stereotyping you as the 'quiet' one. They'll make an effort, take a second glance and accept you for whatever you are and include you in their personal circle. And you know what the irony is? Those people who don't care about your 'interesting' side are more likely to see it than the ones who only want to see that! It's OK to save your loud, funny, crazy, interesting side for the people who actually care about who you are, not who you could one day be. That's the weird thing about confidence - you have to understand that who you are already is OK. Don't EVER let society convince you otherwise.

If even one person reads this and ends up feeling happier about being themselves, I'll be content. And to all my extrovert friends... I love you too. Life wouldn't be the same without you!

Thanks to models Cait and Ana for the photos!

Cathy says:
Wow... love this, Manda! I am introverted too, and wish I'd known as a young teen that that was OK. Are YOU an introvert  or an extrovert? Maybe a mixture of the two? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

AURORA AND THE POPCORN DOLPHIN...

My lovely author-pal SARAH WEBB has a brand new book out, and I think you'll like it... it's the third in the Songbird Cafe Girls series and features Aurora (Rory) who lives on Little Bird Island. After Rory's mum dies, she struggles to connect with anything... until she meets Click the dolphin! I asked Sarah to tell us a little about her inspirations. Ooh, and there's a quiz, too!

Sarah says:
My new book, AURORA AND THE POPCORN DOLPHIN has just come out in Ireland and the UK, and features a very special dolphin called Click. I've always been fascinated by dolphins and whales. When I was nine I tried to teach myself how to speak humpback whale by listening to a plastic record of their amazing song. Strange but true! The record came attached to a copy of National Geographic magazine and it was one of my prized possessions. Every day after school I'd shut myself in my room and wail and moan like a humpback. My mum used to rush into my room thinking I was sick! If you've ever heard a humpback whale singing you'll know what I mean...

There are lots of dolphins in the waters around Ireland where I live and I've been lucky to see them on many occasions; I've seen whales too, in both Ireland and New Zealand. I had so much fun researching this book and learned a lot about sea mammals along the way. I used some of my (and Rory's) favourite dolphin and whale facts to write this quiz - hope you like it!

Rory's Dolphin & Whale Quiz... 

1. What animals are whales and dolphins most closely related to?
a/ crocodiles
b/ hoofed mammals like hippos
c/ elephants

2. What is the largest animals that has ever lived on earth?
a/ fin whale
b/ tyrannosaurus rex
c/ blue whale

3. Can dolphins drown?
a/ yes
b/ no

4. How do dolphins sleep?
a/ they curl up on the sea bed
b/ they float on top of the water
c/ they shut down half of their brain

ANSWERS: 
1. B - lots of people answer elephants, but they are most closely related to hippos!
2. C - the blue whale can weigh up to 170 tonnes, the weight of 30 African elephants. The t-rex only weighed 7 tonnes.
3. A - like all mammals, whales and dolphins have to breathe air. Whales can stay underwater for 90 minutes, dolphins need to breathe every 10-15 minutes.
4. C - dolphins have to be conscious to breathe so cannot go into a fully deep sleep. Instead they shut down half of their brain, which is called uni-hemispheric sleeping!

You can buy AURORA AND THE POPCORN DOLPHIN by Sarah Webb at all good bookstores, or order online!

Cathy says: 
Sarah's 'Songbird Cafe Girls' series is cool... check it out! Do YOU have a fave author you'd like to see featured here? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

INÈS: I WANT TO HOLD A CAKE SALE!

It's problem page time again and reader Inès wants to hold a charity cake sale... but she needs some advice and support from COCO TANBERRY!

Inès says:
Coco, you are my favourite Chocolate Box Girl - please help! I want to sell cakes for a charity, but I am not sure which one - perhaps the WWF, the Cleanwater Marine Aquarium or Lumos, JK Rowling's charity. The problem is, my parents say we must first take care of people and animals come second - but what will become of the animals if everyone thinks like that? That's why I want to hold a cake sale to raise awareness. I know that many teenagers do not care about animal extinction but as you say, Coco, 'They are much more likely to part with their cash if cake is involved!' I really want to change opinions in my school. Please help!

Coco says:
Brilliant stuff! Yes, people will tell you that people come first - I myself believe that animals and people are both really important and caring about animals does not mean you don't care about people. You find that people who are cruel to animals have very little respect for people either - the two things are linked. I don't mind whether you raise money for animals or for people, but I am glad you care enough to do SOMETHING - which is more than many people do! First of all, choose your charity - don't worry too much about which one, just choose one and stick with it. Make some posters and leaflets to explain to your classmates what you are doing and why, and then have fun making the cakes - get a few friends involved too, they'll love it! Good luck with what you are doing - I promise, just standing up for what you believe in is quite a powerful and inspiring thing. Go for it!

Cathy says:
I agree with Coco... Inès just needs a little confidence boost to carry through her fab idea. Have YOU ever raised money for a charity? COMMENT BELOW to tell us more!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

YOUR HOROSCOPE FOR MARCH...

Skye Tanberry has been consulting her crystal ball again... will her predictions for March ring true for YOU? Read on and see!

ARIES:
You've been living life at top speed for way, way too long... it's time to slow down and catch your breath. Calming things down a little doesn't mean missing out - just the opposite. You'll have time for fun, friends and family, and time to stop and smell the flowers!

TAURUS:
March is a month to get your life in order - especially where money is concerned. If that piggy bank is empty, make some plans to raise cash or hunt down a part time job. You'll be glad you did, as the next few months promise to be very full-on!

GEMINI:
A family member may be getting to you right now - take a deep breath and try to walk away from the conflict. Fighting is no way to solve the problem... try to see their point of view if you want to reach a compromise - you may end up being closer than you were before the rift.

CANCER:
While there are no big dramas in the stars for March, you're more than happy with that... a quiet life suits you fine! School, home, friendship and fun are all ticking over nicely, and that is all you ask for. A perfect month for showing people how much you care!

LEO:
You are entering a period of drama and change, and while this will be good in many ways, it may be stressful too as you struggle to keep up with everything. Find routines to keep life running smoothly underneath while things are up in the air - and take time out with friends to relax when you can!

VIRGO:
Home and family are a slightly stressy area for you right now, but stay calm and face any challenges head on rather than brushing them under the carpet. You are stronger than you think, and you can cope with what is happening. Keep your cool and avoid blaming others for the drama!

LIBRA:
You're in a sunny, spring-like mood this month... and just take a moment to notice how much easier life can be when you keep your temper and show a smiling face to the world! You are never short of charm, but keep your drama-queen streak under control and watch how people love your new mood!

SCORPIO:
Cash may be scarce this month, but the problem is only temporary so don't let it stop you from having fun. Make a list of things you can do with friends that won't cost the earth... and learn to find the fun in ordinary things. It's a lesson that can last a lifetime!

SAGITTARIUS:
You've been struggling a little with challenges and problems, but you can beat the blues by focusing on work and hobbies and channeling your energies into this. It will not only distract you from the tricky stuff but may open up new doors of opportunity for the future!

CAPRICORN:
You rarely share your worries and fears, but something may be on your mind just now that shouldn't stay secret. Talk to a parent, trusted teacher or a loyal friend and get your anxieties out in the open... this may help you to face and beat the worries, rather than just bottling it all up.

AQUARIUS:
Friendships may prove a little slippery this month... but before you blame others, ask if you are being the best friend you can be. Don't judge or neglect your friends, and step right back from gossip - act the way you'd like others to act with YOU and you'll get through any sticky moments with ease.

PISCES:
Patience doesn't always come easily to you, but it's essential right now. Yes, things are moving in a positive direction, but perhaps not quite as fast as you would like! Take a deep breath and trust the universe to unfold just the way it needs to. You'll get there, I promise!

Cathy says:
Are Skye's predictions accurate for YOU this month? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

MAKING UP IS HARD TO DO...

Are you crazy about make-up or do you prefer the minimalist approach? Readers tell all about their relationship with make-up... and teen bloggers Laurel and Robyn give you a make up tutorial too!

Stephanie-Jade says:
I love my make up! I wear it whenever I go out as it makes me feel much happier - people say I don't need it but I feel it gives me my own uniqueness! As you can see from the picture, left, I like eyeliner, shadow and foundation - subtle but with flair!

Jess says:
I wear make up when I feel like it... I really value my skin ever since having severe acne which has now, thankfully, cleared up. I use Laura Mercier as it's the only brand that doesn't make my sensitive skin itchy or likely to break out. I love to go bare faced and feel the wind on my face and not have to worry about smudging my mascara or applying a new layer of lip colour, but I also find it therapeutic to do my make up in the mornings! I choose a natural look if I'm going out with friends and tend to go bolder if I have a big event or party.

Chloe says:
I haven't had too much interest in make up until recently due to having lots of skin allergies, but I now have found some hypo-allergenic brands that are safe for me to use... let the fun begin!

Esme says:
I wear clear mascara and lip balm on a daily basis, but I do like seeing extravagant make up looks and I enjoy looking at all the colours. I wouldn't want all of that on ME though, unless it was a very special event where it wouldn't look strange!

Ella says:
Liner and mascara every day, but when I'm tired I don't put anything on my face. In the picture to the right, I was made up for a birthday party...

Sophie says:
I wear make up every day at school, but not loads and loads - just a natural look, unless I'm in a really good mood and feel like adding some eyeliner! Out of school, I'll wear a normal coat of daily make up - primer, concealer, foundation blended in with a foundation brush, mascara, lip liner, Mac lip gloss, blusher, bronzer and finish off by making sure everything is blended. I do this most days unless I'm too tired - it gives me confidence!

Zaila says:
I love make up! People assume I'm insecure but actually I think I'm quite confident - I use make up because it's fun! I like trying new looks and use YouTube all the time for tutorials. UrbanDecay and Mac are my favourite brands.

Scottish sisters Laurel and Robyn have a fab tutorial on Robyn's YouTube channel, The Hat Hippie. It's friendly and fun, just like having a friend or sister pop round to help you get ready for a cool night out! They've kindly agreed to share it here... take a look, and give the YOUTUBE channel a follow!

Cathy says:
Fascinating views on make-up! I rarely wore much as a teen, but I kind of need it these days! I absolutely LOVE Robyn and Laurel's youtube tutorial... give it a watch! Do YOU love make up or can you live without it? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

MILLIE: I'M SO SCARED OF PUBLIC SPEAKING!

Reader Millie has a nerve-wracking problem - can Skye Tanberry offer any solutions?

Millie says:
I have a serious fear of public speaking - I get so nervous I feel physically sick, and on one occasion I actually was. Every year in English we have to give a speech and this is looming up soon. I am so anxious it is all I can think about. Plus we also have to do a class assembly in front of our whole year, and I have to speak in this also. I'm scared that I will fall over or that my mouth will go so dry I can't speak... or worse, that I'll start crying. Please help... this is taking over my life!

Skye says:
First of all, these fears can only take over your life if you allow them to. You are in charge of how you act and react to things, and you can get a grip of your feelings. I am very shy too, so I do understand - I don't like the limelight, I am much more of a behind the scenes person, while Summer, my twin, seems to come to life in the spotlight. I asked her once how she handles the nerves, and she said that she feels just as scared as I do but that she carries on and does it anyway. Once she begins dancing, the fear subsides and she loses herself in the dance. I've used this advice to help when I have to do speeches at school... I choose a subject I feel very strongly about and tell myself that the class need to hear about it. I often do a PowerPoint presentation too, because the pictures give the class something to look at apart from me, and they also act as a prompt if I forget what I am meant to be saying. It does work... my last speech was about 1920s costume, and I was so wrapped up in it all that I ended up quite enjoying it! Don't give negative thoughts head space... you won't fall over, or lose your voice, or be sick, or cry... those things would only make things worse, so focus your energy on staying calm with some slow, gentle breaths. Sometimes, we have to do things we don't enjoy - but the sense of achievement when we manage to do them is huge. You can do this, I promise!

Cathy says:
I agree 100% with Skye. I was horrified when I realised that being an author involved giving talks to huge groups of people at schools and book festivals, but I didn't want to let anyone down so I made myself do it. These days, it's one of my favourite parts of the job. And yes, those nerves can actually help to keep you on your toes! Do YOU agree with Skye's advice? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Monday, 7 March 2016

JESSICA: I'M AGAINST ALL BLOOD SPORTS!

Reader Jessica explains why her love of animals led her to volunteer with one of the UK's most outspoken animal welfare charities...

Jessica says:
The League Against Cruel Sports is an animal welfare charity that campaigns against cruelty inflicted on animals in the name of 'sport'. I discovered the organisation through one of their online petitions against the badger cull, and went to their website and looked through their achievements and ongoing campaigns against fox hunting, hare coursing and other blood sports. I knew that I wanted to get involved with their mission as much as I possibly could.

I got in touch with the League and became both a member and a volunteer. I started out by raising public awareness of the charity and the work they do, getting signatures for petitions and lobbying my local MP who sadly is a supporter of blood sports. We campaign against horrific traditions abroad - bull fighting, for example - as well as issues closer to home.

One of the League's greatest achievements was getting hunting banned in England and Wales when the Hunting Act of 2004 was passed. It had taken 80 years of tireless campaigning to bring that law into being, but alas our wildlife is not safe. The Conservative government have stated several times that they would like to repeal (reverse) the hunting ban. The threat of this happening is very real, and we will never stop fighting the minority of blood sports supporters who want to overturn the ban.

The League's work is only possible because of the tremendous support given to it by the public. If you would like to help defend and protect our animals, both at home and overseas, do check out http://www.league.org.uk/ and find out how YOU can help.

Cathy says:
I am not only a long-time supporter of the League Against Cruel Sports, but - thanks to Jessica - I am also now a 'celebrity supporter'. Do check their website out, but be warned, some of the issues discussed there can be upsetting, so it's perhaps best for older readers. I have a feeling Coco would be a big fan, though! Do YOU believe that fox-hunting and other blood sports should remain banned? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

HEY, SOUL SISTER...

Readers tell us which CHOCOLATE BOX GIRL they most identify with, and why... 

Millie says:
I love the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS books because they include realistic problems you might come across in life. My favourite is COCO CARAMEL as I am very like Coco! Like her, I do bake sales all the time, at home and at school, mostly for the charities which support red pandas and turtles, as these are my favourite animals. I also raise money for cats and dogs homes, because it is an important cause. I am not even very fond of cats, but I do adore dogs, puppies especially!

Rachel says:
I'm seventeen and I have so loved the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series. The books are all special to me but the one I relate to most is SUMMER'S DREAM. Last year I was diagnosed with anorexia which seemed to be linked to the stress of GCSEs and some major confidence. The book is so personal to me now as I can really relate to Summer's feeling around her body and food. I am desperate for others not to feel the way I have felt. From a young age, I want to educate my children about mental health and try to keep their confidence and overall happiness as high as I possibly can. I think the book SUMMER'S DREAM could help young people to understand eating disorders and hopefully keep them away from having those problems themselves. Some days, being anorexic can feel like the loneliest and most isolating illness in the world... this book has made me feel less alone by reminding me that my family have my best interests at heart, and that there are other people out there who feel like me.

Sam says:
I'm fifteen, almost sixteen, and I love all of the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series... but my favourite is definitely Honey. I relate to her on such a personal level. Just like Honey, I recently got expelled from school for doing something stupid. I also had to move countries to go and live with my other parent and go to school there. This has been quite hard for me and I re-read SWEET HONEY when it happened and the similarities between us scare me. I like to party, I'm flirty, scandalous... we are both pretty self-destructive and lost. The fact that Honey got through everything considering the obstacles in her path gives me some sort of hope that things might improve soon. I'm happy that Honey found good friends like Tara, Ash and Bennie... I am yet to find good people like that, but I hope I do. Honey will always be my favourite from the series and she has helped me through a lot recently.

Cathy says:
These posts are amazing - and very emotional, too, in some cases. I'm awed that the sisters from the CHOCOLATE BOX GIRLS series have made such an impression and helped so many people through difficult times. Which sister do YOU identify with most? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Friday, 4 March 2016

CARYS: RAINY DAY THOUGHTS...

Reader Carys shares the sad thoughts that sometimes go through her mind... and wonders if other people feel the same.

Carys says:
I call them 'rainy day thoughts' because they creep up on me unawares sometimes on long, grey days when the rain sheets down like it might be the end of the world. Those are the days when everything feels difficult. I don't want to get up, don't want to go to school, don't want to go out into the big, wide, wet-and-miserable day. I feel as grey and sad as the day itself, and I know that the slightest thing will upset me that day. If I miss the bus, if a car splashes water onto my school uniform, if the boy I like doesn't even look at me, if my best friend spends too long talking to someone else, if the grade on my essay homework is anything less than an A*.

Sad days suck. They sap away at your self-esteem, make you question your capability to do things well, or do them at all. You wonder why the teachers put up with you, why your friends don't ditch you for someone nicer, kinder, brighter, more fun. The harder you try to hide the sadness, the more it leaks through, and people begin to look at you oddly, with pity, as if you might have some kind of rare virus that is contagious. They smile, but their eyes slip away and you find yourself sitting alone in a corner of the library, counting the hours, the minutes, to home time. When you get home, your temper sours and you take it all out on your mum, your dad, your little sister. Then you hate yourself even more.

I used to think I was going mad, that I had depression, maybe even something worse. Then I began ticking the days off on my calendar and saw that the bad days, the low days, often came just before my period. Could the sad days be down to hormones? It looks that way. My doctor said I was healthy, that hormonal swings were normal, a part of growing up. My mum said I didn't have to put up with it, so she did some research on PMT or pre menstrual tension and changed the way we ate. As a family, we cut back on salt, sugar and processed foods, dumped cola drinks and junk food. Mum, me and my little sister started doing regular yoga together, to a DVD. I still have 'rainy day thoughts' just before my periods, but it doesn't feel quite as bad as it used to. Perhaps it the healthy eating stuff, or the yoga which does seem to help me relax and chill out, or perhaps it is just that I now know what is behind the mood swings.

Whatever the reason, I don't get so scared when my mood swings down to a low point, because I know it will swing back again. Even on rainy days, you know that the sun will come out again in the end.

Awesome photographs by reader Emily - wow!

Cathy says:
A brilliant description of teen mood swings... so well expressed, Carys. Do YOU get mood swings linked to your period? Have you found anything that helps? COMMENT BELOW to have your say!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

BECCA: I MISS HAVING A BEST FRIEND...

It's problem page time on DREAMCATCHER again, and reader Becca has a friendship question for Honey Tanberry...

Becca says:
Last year I started high school with a group of girls I wasn't really friends with. In primary I had a close group of friends I always hung out with, and one of the girls was my best friend, but we drifted apart over the years. By the time I started high school, there was nobody from my primary going that I felt close to at all... I missed my old friends, and I am not the most confident person to begin with. Now I sit with a big group of girls. The more confident ones have made best friends already and formed smaller groups, but I don't really have anyone special. I'd love a best friend, but I don't know how. I remember how cool it was to have a best friend back in primary and I miss that. Also, I can't help thinking that if I can't even make girl friend, how will a guy ever like me? How can I make better friends? Do I need a best friend?

Honey says:
Like you, I had good friends in primary... but not so much after that. I always had plenty of friends, people to do things with, but it took me a while to suss that they weren't really good friends. I didn't make real friends until I met Tara and Bennie at school in Sydney, and I almost messed up with them because they weren't the kind of 'cool' kids I was used to hanging out with. So... you don't need a 'best' friend, but it's good to have close friends, yes. They don't happen by magic - give the kids you're at school with a chance. Suggest meeting up outside of school and gradually get to know them better - in time, you may grow closer to some of them. Join clubs, both in and out of school, and don't judge anyone as not being 'friend material'. Listen to other people, be open and interested in them... slowly, you will make connections. By the way, I've never had any problems getting to know boys... so why should you? They'll let you know if they like you, but take my advice and put friendship first, ahead of boys. That's a lesson I wish I'd learned a long time ago.

Cathy says:
Interesting advice from Honey - do YOU agree? COMMENT BELOW to have your say.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

HOW TO PERFORM LIKE A PRO!

Reader Katie has written the first of a fan new 'how to' series... tackling the skills you'll need to step into the limelight! What are you waiting for?

Katie says:
Do you fancy yourself as a Jennifer Lawrence, gracing the silver screen? Or a Taylor Swift, with a microphone in one hand and a guitar strapped to your back? Heck, maybe you're a Pam Ayres, a Maddie Ziegler or even all four! Here are some tips that will have you strutting down the red carpet in no time!

1. Find What You Enjoy
All performers know the stage is their calling. Even if you haven't felt it yet, listen to your inner diva when you sing along to a certain song, listen to the actor when you get asked to speak in front of the class. You could even be a ventriloquist or a circus acrobat, Somewhere, a performer lies within the special people who were brought onto this earth to entertain!

2. Find Out What You Are Capable Of
For example, I cannot dance or sing very well, but I can act and speak poetry. You can seek advice from your friends, parents, even teachers who specialise in your form of performing art. It's fun just to try new activities, so if you;re not 100% sure you've found your talent, try it as a hobby and see where it takes you! Just remember - the director knows best!

3. Look For What Your School Has To Offer
If you've been performing since you were tiny, like me, you may have cemented yourself in a school or organisation already. My Speech and Drama teacher has been teaching me for ten years! But when you get to high school, you need to think of option subjects, right? If you feel the warm glow of the spotlight, pick Drama or Music and support what can often be minority subjects. Remember, you are there to get good grades. just like in a Science or Maths class!

4. Practice, Practice, Practice!
Yes, it's sometimes icky, especially when there are much more relaxing things you could be doing, but when you nail your dance or song or script, you don't have to worry about it - everything comes naturally! That means a lot less work during rehearsal. You can focus on what you are ready to do - perform!

5. Start Writing Your Acceptance Speech
Now you are ready to be the Mockingjay, the pop star, the bard or the ballerina. Just go out on stage and have fun! Take a bow, pro performer!

Pictures: Katie's annotated script of the play Animal Farm, and a shot of her performing as one of the Miss Fezziwigs in an amateur theatre performance of A Christmas Carol. Awesome!

Cathy says:
I love this... it almost makes me want to step onto the stage too... almost, but not quite! Could YOU write a 'how to' feature for DREAMCATCHER? Why not COMMENT BELOW and tell me more!