The Story of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Making of Hamilton

Have you heard about the musical Hamilton? Maybe you’ve seen the movie on Disney Plus, listened to the music, or actually seen a live performance. My kids and I enjoy listening to the music. It’s catchy and fun to sing along, and what’s also great is we learn something new while having a good time together! The musical Hamilton has been seen on Disney Plus and Broadway millions of times and has come to be one of the most popular musicals of all time. But how did the musical come to be? Do you know who wrote the story and lyrics and music? If you guessed Lin-Manuel Miranda you were right!

Lin-Manuel Miranda was born January 16, 1980 in New York, New York. 

Lin-Manuel’s parents were from Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico is an island and U.S. territory in the Carribean. Lin-Manuel  grew up in a Hispanic neighbourhood in northern Manhattan with his family. His unique name was inspired by a poem about the Vietnam War . His father worked in politics and helped  several of the mayors of New York City, and his mother was a psychologist. They often played salsa and show tunes, which are songs from musicals, at home.. 

During childhood and his teens, Lin-Manuel spent at least one month each year with his grandparents in Vega Alta, Puerto Rico. Lin-Manuel attended Hunter College Elementary School and Hunter College High School. He wrote some of his first musicals while growing up in school. 

Lin-Manuel saw his first Broadway musical, Les Misérables, when he was seven, and it made a life-long impression on him. His tastes also ran to hip-hop and R&B, and he became an excellent rapper. In high school he won the lead role in the musical The Pirates of Penzance and was very active in the school’s drama program. 

In school he met Stephen Sondheim, who later became a mentor to him, along with fellow musical-theatre legend John Kander. Lin-Manuel went on to study theatre at Wesleyan University, where he continued to perform in musicals and to write his own songs and shows.

It was there in 1999 that he wrote the first draft of his musical In the Heights, which was set in Washington Heights, a northern Manhattan neighbourhood similar to that of his own childhood. At college Lin-Manuel wrote and directed several other musicals and acted in many other productions, ranging from musicals to Shakespeare.

After graduating from college in 2002, Lin-Manuel  started an acting career, appearing in films and on television. He also performed with a hip-hop improvisation group, Freestyle Love Supreme around New York City and at festivals, including the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. 

At this time Lin-Manuel  continued to develop In the Heights with his friend Thomas Kail. The musical blended hip-hop and salsa. Lin-Manuel wrote the music and lyrics for the show. He also co-wrote a book with Quiara Alegría Hudes that is the complete script and all the song lyrics from the show. 

In the Heights opened Off-Broadway in February 2007 and ran until July, with Lin-Manuel in the lead role. It won two Drama Desk Awards. In the Heights had its Broadway debut in March 2008 and won four Tony Awards, including those for best musical and best original score. They also nominated the show for the Pulitzer Prize for drama, and its original-cast recording won the 2008 Grammy Award for best musical show album. 

Also, In the Heights will be available to everyone as a movie in theaters and on HBO in June 2021.

While Lin-Manuel was on vacation in 2008, he read a book about the U.S. Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton. The biography was written by Ron Chernow and told Hamilton’s life story. Lin-Manuel was inspired by Hamilton’s life, from his difficult childhood in the Caribbean island to his move to New York and the part he played in the American Revolution,  eventually becoming the U.S. secretary of the treasury. Lin-Manuel saw an important story that needed to be told and the wheels in his head started to turn. 

In Alexander Hamilton’s story, Lin-Manuel saw one that was very similar to that of the simple beginnings of many famous rappers. It inspired him to write a rap about Alexander Hamilton. In 2009 he later performed it for  the White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word before President Barack Obama and others.

Lin-Manuel later said he spent a year writing the Hamilton song “My Shot”, changing it countless times for every verse to reflect Alexander Hamilton’s smarts. By 2012, Lin-Manuel was performing an extended set of pieces based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, which he then referred to as the Hamilton Mixtape. The New York Times called it “an obvious game changer”.

The resulting show, which Lin-Manuel called “Hamilton” was smart, energetic, catchy, and immediately popular with audiences, and featured a racially diverse cast, with Lin-Manuel starring in the main role of Alexander Hamilton. In January 2015 the musical opened Off-Broadway at New York City’s Public Theater. It was so successful it made an early move to Broadway in July.

In 2016 they awarded Hamilton the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and that year it received an outstanding 16 Tony nominations, which rarely happens. Lin-Manuel earned several nods, including best actor in a leading role in a musical. The production eventually won 11 Tonys, falling one short of the record. They named Hamilton best musical, and Lin-Manuel won for best book and best original score. 

On March 15, 2016, members of the cast of Hamilton performed at the White House and hosted workshops; Lin-Manuel performed freestyle rap from prompts held up by President Obama. Later In 2016, Miranda and Jeremy McCarter published Hamilton: The Revolution, a book describing Hamilton’s journey from idea to Broadway success. In July 2016 Lin-Manuel appeared for the last time in the show.

The following year the musical opened in London’s West End, where it was a critical and commercial success. It won seven Olivier Awards, including best new play. In addition, Lin-Manuel garnered the award for outstanding achievement in music. 

In 2017 Hurricane Maria hit the Carribean Islands. It was the worst recorded hurricane in history in that area of the world. Many lives and property was lost.  To help, Lin-Manuel briefly returned to his role as Alexander Hamilton in Puerto Rico and used the money made from the shows to help the people there. Lin-Manuel had been active in helping the people of Puerto Rico and the arts there over the years. 

Have you seen the Disney movie Moana? Lin-Manuel wrote the song “How Far I’ll Go” and sings parts of it. In the movie Mary Poppins Returns, he played Mary Poppins sidekick and chimney sweep, Bert. He also starred in the HBO TV series His Dark Materials. Today Lin-Manuel continues today to work on many projects with different studios, including Disney.

Lin-Manuel is an outstanding example of someone who found a talent he enjoyed and dedicated his life to improving it. Can you believe he spent a year working on the songs “Alexander Hamilton” and “My Shot”? Great things don’t come easy. Often they start off very imperfect and need to be worked on over and over until they improve with time and focus. He also wasn’t afraid to take risks by being original. Many of his close friends told him his idea for Alexander Hamilton wouldn’t work. A rap-musical about a founding father was a very unique and bold idea! But he kept working at it anyway until it was a great success!

Once Lin-Manuel reached fame and stardom, he didn’t only use the money he made for his own benefit. He has found many ways to give back to the communities he grew up in and places like Puerto Rico when it was hit by a devastating hurricane. He has also worked with charities that help children who are in foster care and are being adopted. 

What is something that you love to do? Think of what your next project might be related to your interests and set a goal. Plan out how you might work on that project each day until it becomes something better each time, so then you can share it like Lin-Manuel.

The Shirley Temple Story for Kids

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a movie star?  Many people around the world dream of being famous and acting in blockbuster movies.  Lots of actors work hard to build their careers and spend years trying to get even small parts on movies. But imagine if you were just a young child and suddenly became a star before you even started kindergarten.

This is what happened to Shirley Temple.  Shirley Temple became the most famous child actress of her time during the Great Depression in America.  The Great Depression was a time when the country was very poor and most American families did not have enough money to live well.  Many people were sad about their money situation and they needed something to make them happy.  And Shirley Temple became just what they needed.

Shirley was born on April 23, 1928 in Santa Monica, California.  Her father was a banker and her mother was a housewife and she had two older brothers.  Although the country was quite poor at the time, Shirley’s family had enough money that they did not struggle.  

When she was young, Shirley’s family moved to Brentwood, Los Angeles and it was there that Shirley’s acting career started.  Her mother encouraged her to sing and and act and when she was three years old, she enrolled her in a dance school in Los Angeles.

Around this time, Shirley’s mother also began styling Shirley’s hair into corkscrew ringlets.  This cute hairstyle became her signature look and when she became famous, parents around the world started putting ringlets in their daughters’ hair so that they would look like Shirley Temple.

Getting her hair to look just right was not easy.  Every night before bed, Shirley’s mother had to roll her hair into 56 pin curls.  Shirley Temple did not like having her hair done, and she wished that she could just wear a short haircut like her hero, Amelia Earhart.

While Shirley was at the dance school, she was spotted by Charles Lamont, who was a casting director for Educational Pictures at the time. A casting director is someone who decides which actors and actresses will be put into movies.  When Mr. Lamont met Shirley, she was shy and hid behind a piano. But Mr. Lamont thought she was very cute and funny and he asked her parents if she could be in his movies.  She was just three years old.

Shirley Temple starred in many movies from the time she was three until she was six years old and became very famous.  She spent long days on set working very hard on the movies.  “Being on set” means spending time where the movie is being filmed and it usually involves spending long days filming and waiting for your turn to act.  When Shirley was not working on films, she attended the Westlake School for Girls.

Shirley starred in a number of feature films between 1932 and 1934, including Bright Eyes, Curly Top and Heidi and she became a worldwide star. In the movie Bright Eyes, Shirley sang a song called “On a Good Ship Lollipop”.  Everyone thought that she was so cute and so talented that she won a special Academy Award for the part.

Everyone around the world loved the curly haired girl.  Companies made dolls and dishes and clothing with her picture on them.  Everyone wanted to look like Shirley Temple and many girls dressed like her and curled their hair the same way. It became a very popular look.  

Someone even named a drink after her, called “The Shirley Temple”.  It was flavoured with cherry, lemon and lime and had a cherry in it.  It became a very popular drink and still is today.

Shirley became a sign of hope and optimism during the difficult years of the Great Depression.  Many people found Shirley’s attitude and energy in her movies made them very happy and optimistic. Optimistic means having a positive outlook on life and believing that the future will be positive and happy.

The President of the United States at the time was named Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt called Shirley Temple “Little Miss Miracle” for making people happy during such a difficult time for the country.  He said in a speech to the country that, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” 

By the time Shirley was 12 years old, she had made 43 films. However, as Shirley Temple got older, her movies became less and less popular.  Everyone wanted Shirley to stay the cute child star she was at first, but she was growing up.  Shirley was sad about this, but instead of wallowing, she decided to shift her focus to other things in life.

In 1945, Shirley married an actor named John Agar Jr., when she was only 17 years old. They had a daughter together but they got divorced in 1949.  The next year, Shirley Temple got married again and this time her marriage lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her new husband was a businessman named Charles Alden Black and together they had two children: a son, Charles, and a daughter, Lori.

In 1948, Shirley appeared in her last big movie, a Western movie also starring with John Wayne. Her career as a popular film star had ended at an earlier age than most actors’ had begun and she retired from acting in films in 1950 at the age of 22.

While Shirley Temple may have been sad about her movie career ending, she decided to refocus her efforts on other activities, including activities that would help others.  She sat on the boards of companies and organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Del Monte Foods, and the National Wildlife Federation.

She also decided to get involved in politics and from 1969 to 1970. She was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She later became the U.S. ambassador to Ghana and the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia.  She found a way to give back to the world again through her political work instead of her movies.

In 1988, Shirley Temple published her autobiography, Child Star.  An autobiography is a book that someone writes to tell the story of their life. 

She received many awards and honors throughout her life, including the Kennedy Center Honors and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award. In 2005, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.

Shirley Temple died on February 10, 2014, at her home near San Francisco, California. She was 85 years old. Following her death, Shirley’s family said that: “We salute her for a life of remarkable achievements as an actor, as a diplomat, and most importantly as our beloved mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and adored wife of 55 years.”

Shirley showed a great deal of charisma at a young age, which first got her noticed to be in the movies.  But it was ultimately her dedication to being a good actress and working hard that helped her build success.  Shirley also demonstrated resilience throughout her life.  Resilience means the ability to recover quickly from difficulties.  Shirley was able to shift her focus to new activities allowed her to continue to give back to the world in a positive way, even after her movie career ended. 

All of us can learn from Shirley about the power of being positive and spreading happiness and joy.  We can also learn about how to look forward to what we can do next in life when something stops working out for us.  By focusing on the positive things in life, we can continue to build happiness and meaning for ourselves and others. 

The J.K. Rowling Story for Kids

Do you remember the last time you were playing and you got so lost in your imagination that it felt like real life? That is always an amazing experience and often kids experience it a lot more than adults. I think adults could learn a few things from kids about what real imagination and play is like, don’t you? 

Inside your brain are very small things called neurons which help create your thoughts and memories and imagination. Did you know there are more neurons in your brain than stars in the galaxy? That is one of the many things that makes you an amazing being. Just think of the incredible things you can dream up and imagine and do with that awesome power alone.

One such child like you was a girl named Joanne Rowling, but her friends and family called her “Jo.” Jo lived in England with her mom and dad and younger sister named Dianne. Like you, Jo had a big imagination and loved playing in the woods and dreaming up magical stories. She wrote her first book at age six and called it “Rabbit.” After she wrote these stories she would read them to her little sister. Jo was also very close to her mother who often read to her at night.

When Jo was in primary school she was pretty normal at most subjects, but was especially good at English and writing. Around this time, her mother became sick with a disease called multiple sclerosis. This made it hard for her to do things like walk and move her body. This wasn’t easy for Jo, because she loved her mom and was very close to her. Her mother had always encouraged her to keep writing and doing what she loved most.

After primary school Jo wanted to go to one of the best colleges in England called Oxford. She was sad when she found out they wouldn’t let her in, so she went to a different college called Exeter where she studied French and the Classics. She did well enough in college, but her favorite past time was to read books by great authors such as Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Jo wanted to write her own book someday, but was still waiting for her big idea to come.

After college, Jo got a job and one day she was on a very long train ride from Manchester to London. During the ride she suddenly imagined a little boy on the train going far away to a school for wizards. A picture of this boy began to form in her mind — he had brown hair, glasses and a scar on his forehead. After the train ride she hurried home as fast as he could and began writing her story. She named the boy Harry Potter and began to dream up his adventures at the school for wizards. Finally, Jo’s big idea had come and more than anything she wanted to share her big idea with others! She planned to write seven different books about Harry Potter and his magical world.

Around this time Jo’s mother passed away from multiple sclerosis. It was a very hard time for Jo and she took all of her sad feelings and used many of them in her story about Harry Potter, who also lost his parents and spent much time wanting to be with them again. Sometimes when people are sad, they write to help them work through their feelings.

While Jo was writing, she saw an ad in the newspaper for a job in Portugal teaching English. She thought it sounded interesting to go somewhere new, so she packed up her things and took a plane to this new country. While in Portugal she would work on her story during the day and teach English at night. She met a journalist while living there and they got married and had a baby who she named Jessica after one of her favorite authors. In Portugal Jo and her husband struggled with their marriage and eventually it got so bad that she moved to Scotland with her baby. In Scotland she didn’t have a job, because she spent all of her time taking care of her baby Jessica. 

During the day Jo would take Jessica on walks around the city until she fell asleep. Once Jessica was asleep, Jo would go to cafes and sit and write her story. Because real life was so hard for Jo, she found that writing about the magical life of Harry Potter made her happy for a time.

Eventually Jo’s first book was finished and she called it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the book after Harry leaves his horrible relatives, the Dursley’s, and takes a train to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he becomes friends with two other students, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Together they learn about the mysteries of the school, deal with bullies, play a magical game called Quidditch, and come face to face with Lord Voldemort, the world’s most evil wizard who wants nothing more than to stop Harry and his friends.

Next Jo started looking for an agent, someone who would help her publish the book. A publisher is a company who prints and makes copies of the books and sends them to stores to be sold. No one knew who Jo was, so it was a while before anyone would even read her book. At least 12 publishers sent letters saying they weren’t interested in Harry Potter. Jo was frustrated but kept trying. 

Finally, the head of one publisher took Jo’s first chapter home and instead of reading it himself gave it to his 8 year old daughter, Alice. Alice read the first chapter and loved it. She said it was better than anything else she had read. She wanted the second chapter immediately! Her father and the publishing company Bloomsbury decided to publish Harry Potter and Jo would use the pen name JK Rowling! Jo was so excited! 

Before long, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone became very popular in England. It began to win awards and eventually won book of the year there. Jo’s dreams were coming true. She began to work on the next book and soon an American publisher, Scholastic, bought the rights to her book for $100,000. This was the most that had ever been offered for a children’s book. Harry Potter was a major hit!

Parents and teachers across the world were excited to see young children reading such large books at a time when many were worried that kids were watching too much TV instead. 

Soon the Harry Potter books became movies and Jo wrote more books. At times it was hard for her to keep writing and coming up with new ideas and creating stories that worked. Sometimes she would take breaks to get her creativity back. Creativity and imagination can’t always be forced. But finally Joe finished the seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the series was finished!

From all of the books and movies and other Harry Potter merchandise sold, Joanne Rowling became the richest woman in England — and a billionaire. But Jo remembered how hard it was when she was poor and a single mom trying to take care of her baby. She remembered how hard it was for her mom when she suffered from multiple sclerosis. So Jo spent much of her time thinking about how she could give back to others less fortunate than herself. She began giving much of her money away to charities, many of which helped single moms and children and those who had multiple sclerosis.

Because Joanne gave so much away she isn’t a billionaire anymore — but she doesn’t care. She knows that using her money to help others makes her more happy than having a lot of money. She knows you don’t need to be rich to be happy. True happiness comes from giving to others and seeing the smile on the face of someone who has enjoyed her books about Harry Potter.

Take some time to think about what you enjoy doing, the things that make you the happiest and cause you to use your imagination and get lost in what you are doing. Think of what you might do to get a little better at those skills. Maybe it means drawing or writing or practicing a sport or learning how to solve a math problem better. It might be playing the piano or another instrument. Remember, you have a mind as wide and as beautiful as the galaxy and can do incredible things when you put your heart and mind and time to it. 

The George Lucas and the Making of Star Wars for Kids

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…

Well, not really that long ago, and on our same planet, actually, a boy named George Lucas was born in California. George was like many other boys in his day. He liked comic books and rock music and TV shows which were a very new thing in his time. His favorite TV shows were adventure stories with daring heroes who did extraordinary things. These heroes had names such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. In order to buy his favorite things, George did chores around the house to earn a weekly allowance. One of his chores was mowing the lawn. The only problem was the family lawn mower was old, so it could be a very difficult chore. But George had the idea to save up his weekly money and buy a new lawnmower, so the job would be easier! This is called an investment, saving money toward something that will help you later.

In high school George loved cars. When he was 16 his dad bought him a car, but made sure it was a slow car, because he knew George liked to drive too fast. But George wouldn’t let that stop him from driving fast. He hung around car mechanics and garages and learned how to tinker with car engines, until he figured out how to make his little car drive faster. 

One of George’s favorite things to do was to drive around town in his car with his friends. He also liked to race other boys in his car. He enjoyed this so much that someday he wanted to be a race car driver. But one day when George was driving home he was driving very fast and very dangerous. Suddenly his car flipped over and rolled three times. George’s seat belt broke and he was thrown out of the car, just before his car smashed into a tree. An ambulance rushed George to the hospital. He was so hurt they didn’t know if he would survive. But miraculously he lived and after a couple months in the hospital, George got better. George decided being a race car driver wasn’t the best idea, so began looking for a new passion.

At school George started doing photography, which means taking pictures. He also decided to take classes to learn about filmmaking. A filmmaker is someone who makes movies. George made short movies and people really liked them. He had an eye for making movies look good and coming up with interesting ideas. His first big movie was about teenagers racing cars. It was called American Graffiti and to George’s surprise it won many awards and made him a lot of money. 

With all of the money from this movie he started to work on his next movie. He remembered all of the TV shows he loved growing up about adventures and space, and thought it would be fun to make a movie like that. His friends told him he should do a more serious movie, but with all of the sad things going on in the world like the Vietnam War, George wanted to do a more positive and fun movie. 

So George started to think up names of his heroes and the places they lived. He imagined distant planets and adventures for his heroes. He dreamed up space battles where ships flew through space and shot lasers at each other. He invented strange aliens and other creatures and made notes about their names and personalities. He would call his movie The Star Wars. 

After George wrote down all of the ideas, he needed to find a movie company who would pay for the movie. Many of the big companies thought it wasn’t a good idea. They thought The Star Wars was silly and no one would watch it. But George kept trying until he found a movie company called 20th Century Fox that liked his idea and would give him the money to make The Star Wars. 

Next George Lucas and his friends went to work improving his story. It took them many months of trying new characters and stories. Sometimes George got very bored with the work. Many times he had to go to different friends or his helpful wife to get new ideas. After a lot of work and patience he finally had a finished story for Star Wars. It would be about a young farm boy named Luke Skywalker who would meet an old Jedi named Obi Wan Kenobi. Together they would find a smuggler named Han Solo, who would help them return the missing droid R2D2 to its owner Princess Leia and rescue her from the evil Darth Vader.

Once the story was approved, George and his team found people to play the parts of their main characters, called actors. He also had a team of artists to turn his ideas into drawings so they could begin to make real costumes and ships and other props for the movie. When filming the spaceships nothing had been done like this before, so they had to be very creative and invent new ways to film the space battles to make them look real. 

George and his crew had to travel to deserts and other places across the world to film all of the places for their movie. Unexpected challenges with filming, with the crew and with 20th Century Fox didn’t leave George enough to make the movie, so he had to be creative and find ways to do things for less. By the time the movie was done, George wasn’t sure if anyone would like it.  

Finally, Star Wars was in theaters and audiences got to watch it for the first time. At the beginning when the music and the first space ship appeared on the screen everyone cheered. At the end of the movie the audience clapped and cheered and didn’t stop. They loved it! They were so amazed at what they saw. Nothing like Star Wars had ever been done before! People went back and saw it over and over. Many stood in line for hours just to see it again. George knew he had made a great movie, but had no idea how much people would love it. It became a box office hit, broke many records, and was the most popular movie for many years all over the world. 

All of George’s and his teams hard work and creativity finally paid off. They went on to make two more Star Wars movies, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Both movies were also very popular. 

A few years later George dreamed up a new hero, an archeologist who went on adventures. He named after his own dog, Indiana, and Indiana Jones was born. George made this movie with his friend Steven Spielberg and it was also a huge success.

More recently, Disney bought the rights to Star Wars from George Lucas for four billion dollars. George said he would give half of the money to people in need. Much of it will go to helping schools. 

George Lucas wasn’t afraid to try new things and use his imagination and creativity to come up with new ideas. Often our creative ideas can lead to new and exciting things. If you ever have an idea be sure to write it down, make your own story, or draw a picture of it. George’s ideas sparked the imagination of millions, and got many young people interested in space and making their own movies. 

Watching movies is a helpful way to relax our brains and open them up to new ideas. Spend some time thinking about what you might do to be creative, because you never know what your own ideas will lead to!

The Sylvester Stallone “Rocky Story” for Kids

On July 6, 1946 a boy named Sylvester was born. When it was time for his mother to give birth Sylvester’s body was not coming out easily. In order for him to survive they used special tools, which although they saved his life, caused part of his lip and face not to work right. Because of this he always had a funny smile and even talked funny. 

Sylvester grew up in the big city of New York. Growing up wasn’t easy there. His parents didn’t get along and they had to move many times. At one point he had to live with different families until he was able to move back with his father. With all of this going on in his life, Sylvester had a tough time in school and didn’t always do very well. 

But Sylvester loved going to the movies. He in the theater and stared up at the gigantic screen as larger than life heroes did amazing things. He saw how strong and fast and courageous they were and wanted to be just like them. The problem was Sylvester realized he didn’t look like those heroes. He was short and small and got teased for his smile. But this didn’t stop Sylvester. He began to exercise and do pushups and run, and do anything to shape himself into the heroes he saw in the movies. 

As Sylvester got older his love of movies made him want to become an actor, so he went to a school for actors. He tried his very best there until it was time to be done and look for a job. But finding an acting  job isn’t easy. Sylvester did all kinds of odd jobs on the side. He even cleaned lion cages at the zoo! But most of the time he didn’t have any money and it was very hard to get by. So he could pay for food, Sylvester had to sell his favorite dog. He was very sad about this. But Sylvester was determined to become an actor so he sacrificed things for it.

One day Sylvester saw a boxing match on TV. The boxers were Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner. Even though Chuck was getting beat up pretty badly, he kept standing up and fighting back. Sylvester had an idea, so he rushed home and started writing. He wrote all night and all day until the story was done. Next, he took his story to the movie companies and they loved the boxer story. They said they would pay him $125,000 for the story. Sylvester said he would sell it, but on one condition — that he would also be the star in the movie. The directors laughed at this. They thought Sylvester looked a little funny and talked funny. They kept offering Sylvester more money for the story, but he demanded that he be the star. He was persistent and believed in himself. 

Finally, the movie directors said he could be the star, but they didn’t pay him as much for the story. But Sylvester didn’t care because he believed he could be the star. And one of the first things he did with the money was bought his old dog back! 

When the movie was finished it was about a small boxer named Rocky who nobody knew. But the boxer exercised and practiced and worked very hard until in a big boxing match he beat one of the best boxers in the world! People loved the movie named Rocky! It even won many awards and became one of the most popular movies of all time. Sylvester went from being an unknown actor to starring in many big movies. He always worked hard playing his parts, and exercised and stayed strong and fast. Most of the time he wanted to do his own stunts, even though it was dangerous. Today Sylvester Stallone is known as one of the greatest action movie stars of all time. 

Later in his life Sylvester tried to do good things with the money he earned from his movies. They held an auction to sell the boxing gloves and other items from his Rocky movie and made $3 million dollars which they gave to those in need.

Remember that becoming good at something requires a lot of practice and persistence. Persistence is when you keep trying and trying even when things aren’t working out. Sylvester had a dream and stuck with it even when it wasn’t working out. Sometimes dreams take time and courage and patience. Like the boxer Rocky we can keep getting back up and trying even when difficult things in life knock us down.

Harry Houdini For Kids

Have you ever seen or heard something that you couldn’t believe, as if it was magic? Maybe you’ve tried to learn some card tricks or other illusions to impress your family and friends. With enough practice and a convincing performance, anything is possible! 

According to the subject of this podcast, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.”

Our story begin is 1874 in Budapest Hungary, when Harry Houdini was born. He had six brothers and sisters. His real name was Erik Weisz. 

Erik’s family moved to the United States in 1878, and eventually settled in Wisconsin. The Houdinis were Jewish and their father was the rabbi for the local congregation. When his father lost his job, the family moved to Milwaukee, and eventually ended up in New York City. As a child, Erik took several jobs to help his family, and first showed off his skills as a trapeze artist when he was only nine years old. A trapeze artist hangs from a rope and does tricks in the air. His performing name was ‘Erik, the Prince of the Air.’

Erik was coached by the magician Joseph Rinn while he was a teenager. When he first started out, he did not have much success. He first performed in dime museums and sideshows, sometimes also performing as ‘The Wild Man’ at the circus. In the beginning he focused his show on card tricks, and he even called himself ‘The King of Cards’ for a short time. However, other professional magicians noted that Houdini lacked the grace and finesse – or style – to be a magician who was excellent at card tricks. Because of this, Houdini would start to experiment on escape acts. An example of an escape act, is when Houdini would put handcuffs on himself and then escape them before a timer ran out.

When Erik became a professional magician he started calling himself Harry Houdini, naming himself after the French magician jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin. Although he claimed he took the name Harry as a tribute to another magician, the American magician Harry Kellar, it is widely believed that it came from the nickname ‘Eri,’ which is what Erik’s family called him.

In 1894, Houdini was performing with his brother Theodore (also known as ‘Dash’) at Coney Island. Their act was called ‘The Brothers Houdini.’ While there, Erik met and courted a fellow performer named Wilhemina Beatrice ‘Bess’ Rahner. Eventually they would marry, and Bess replaced Theodore in the act, which changed its name to ‘The Houdinis.’ Bess became Houdini’s stage assistant for the rest of his life. 

Five years later, Houdini met a stage manager named Martin Beck in Minnesota. Beck was impressed by Houdini’s handcuffs act, and encouraged him to keep concentrating on his escape acts. Beck also asked Houdini to perform on the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit, which was a chain of movies and theaters where performers could take the stage with their act and perform in front of large audiences. Houdini’s act fit right in with the other types of vaudeville performers: musicians, dancers, comedians, trained animals, ventriloquists, and strongmen. After a few months on the circuit, Houdini was performing at top vaudeville houses all over the country.

The following year, Beck was able to send Houdini and his act on a tour of Europe. Although it took a few tries for Houdini to convince any stage managers to allow him to perform in their theaters, eventually he was able to interview with the manager of the Alhambra Theater. After a demonstration of his escape act from handcuffs at Scotland Yard, Houdini was booked at the Alhambra for six months. 

For the next twenty years Houdini would go on to perform all over Great Britain. He performed his escape acts, as well as card tricks, illusions, and outdoor stunts. At the time he was one of the world’s highest paid entertainers. He earned the nickname ‘The Handcuff King’ by traveling to places like the Netherlands, Germany, France, and Russia, and challenging the local police to lock him in their jails. In Russia, Houdini even escaped from a prison transport van.

Houdini also spent a lot of time performing in the United States. Many times he would perform for street audiences, and he escaped from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets. Around 1908, Houdini switched from escaping from handcuffs to escaping from other, more exciting traps, such as a locked, water-filled milk can. He even went so far as to challenge his audiences to come up with contraptions to try and hold him. Some examples are: nailed packing crates (both in and out of water), riveted boilers, wet sheets, mailbags, and even the belly of a whale that had washed ashore in Boston!

When Houdini was in Berlin, Germany in 1912, he introduced the Chinese Water Torture Cell into his act. During the performance, he was suspended upside-down in a locked glass and steel cabinet that was filled with water, requiring Houdini to hold his breath for over three minutes. This act was performed by Houdini for the rest of his life.

Houdini wrote a book for the magic brotherhood (his fellow performers and magicians) explaining some of his tricks. The book was called Handcuff Secrets, and he revealed how many locks and handcuffs could be opened with applied force or shoestrings. Houdini also discussed how he sometimes carried concealed lockpicks and keys. When he was tied down in ropes and straitjackets, he would gain room for his body by expanding his shoulders and chest and holding his arms slightly away from his body. 

Over the years, some of Houdini’s tricks would change as he discovered ways to make them more exciting. The straitjacket escape was first performed with Houdini behind a curtain, popping out when he was finally free. When he figured out that the audiences were more impressed when they could watch him struggle, Houdini eliminated the curtains. He would also sometimes attempt his straitjacket escapes while dangling upside-down from the roof of a building in the city. 

While Harry was known for his escape act and performances, he also performed other tricks. One of his most famous non-escape stage illusions was performed in New York, when he vanished a full-grown elephant from the stage. 

Houdini was very invested in supporting the work of both professional and amateur magicians. He served as the president of the Society of American Magicians for nine years. Houdini’s goal was to create a large unified network of magicians across the country. While on his vaudeville tours, Houdini would meet with the local magicians, give speeches, and throw banquets to convince them to join his Society. He was successful in places like Buffalo, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and even London. If a local club of magicians did not exist, Houdini would gather the local magicians, introduce them to each other, and encourage them to form a club. Houdini created the richest and longest-surviving organization of magicians in the world. At this time it is made up of almost six thousand members and nearly three hundred assemblies around the world. 

Houdini would film his outdoor escapes, which led him to acting and a film career. While he started a film production company, it was not successful. Some of the titles of the films that Houdini acted in are: The Grim Game, The Master Mystery, Terror Island, and The Man From Beyond.

Harry Houdini died from a ruptured appendix. It is believed that while he was suffering from appendicitis, a punch he received to his stomach made the illness worse. Houdini continued performing until his pain and the poor condition of his health forced him to be hospitalized. He passed away in 1926 in Detroit, Michigan. 

Harry started from very simple begins, but with lots of imagination, practice and determination he became a world-class entertainer. He spent many hours perfecting his skills and strengthening his body so he could perform the task. Like Harry, you can find something you want to improve at and stick with it until you become better at it. Physical exercise is also very good for your body.

Have you ever seen a magician or a magic trick before? Learning how to entertain others with magic can be fun. Recently, my daughter became interested in card tricks. We found a deck of cards and watched a few videos about how to do some basic tricks. When you find the time, you should try it to. It’s a fun skill to develop and is lots of fun to entertain your friends and family!

The Stan Lee Story for Kids

Take our Stan Lee Quiz!

Have you ever seen the movies Spiderman, Fantastic Four or X-Men or read any of these comics?  Did you know that these were all written by the same man?  He was a very talented writer from New York named Stan Lee.  This is the story of his life and how he became the creator of many of the superheroes that we all know and love today. 

Stan Lee was born in New York City in 1922. His real name when he was born was Stanley Martin Lieber.  Stanley’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Romania.  Unfortunately when Stanley and his brother Larry were growing up, his family was quite poor.  He was a kid during the Great Depression, which was a time when many people in America did not have much money and there were not many jobs available.  Stanley’s family lived in an apartment that was so small that Stanley and Larry shared a room together and their parents slept on a fold out couch in the living room.  But they were a happy family and the Lieber brothers played together and loved reading books and watching movies about heroes.  

When he was a teenager, Stanley went to DeWitt Clinton High School where he loved writing and he dreamt that one day he would write a great novel.  He worked part-time during high school writing short articles for newspapers.

When Stanley was 15, he entered a high school writing competition called “The Biggest News of the Week Contest.” He won the prize for three straight weeks in a row! This made Stanley start to believe in himself as a writer and think that he might be able to be a professional writer one day. 

By the time Stanley graduated from high school, the Depression had finally ended but it was still very difficult for people to find a job. Stanley needed money, so he worked at a local movie theatre. He eventually heard that the publishing company that his uncle worked at was hiring, so he applied and got a job as an office assistant.  A publishing house is a company that makes newspapers, books, or comic books.  The company Stanley worked at was called “Timely Comics” and his job was to fetch things for the artists, proofread their writing and edit their drawings. In those days the artists dipped the pen in ink, so one of Stanley’s jobs was to make sure the inkwells were filled.  He also went out everyday to get the artists’ their lunches.  

When Stanley started working at Timely Comics, he didn’t realize he had started his lifelong career. At the time, comics were considered kind of silly and Stanley wanted to be a serious writer.  So he didn’t think that he would work in the comic book industry for very long.  However, he worked very hard in his job and as a result, Stanley was eventually promoted from office assistant to editor and writer.  An editor is a person that is in charge of deciding what the final content of a newspaper, book or comic will be. 

As an editor and writer, Stanley wrote his first comic-book for Timely Comics in 1941.  It was called “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge. ” It was the third episode in the Captain America Comics series that the company was making. In this episode, Stanley invented Captain America’s ricocheting shield-toss, which later became Captain America’s signature move. 

Around this time, Stanley Lieber started using “Stan Lee” as a fake name for his writing. He still wanted to be a serious writer and was afraid that serious publishing companies would not want to publish his books if he had been writing comics.  So he used a fake name and after awhile, it stuck and he eventually changed this to be his legal name. 

Because Stan Lee’s comic writing was so good, he started writing comics more regularly for his company.  He was only in his 30s, but he showed a knack for business, so he kept getting promoted into higher level roles.  Promoted means progressing into better things. Stan Lee stayed with the company for nearly 30 years until 1972.

When World War II started, Stan Lee left Timely Comics for a time to join the Army.  He worked as a writer and illustrator for the Army along with a few other jobs. Stan Lee eventually moved to the Army’s Training Film Division, where he worked writing manuals, training films, slogans, and occasionally cartooning. His military classification was “playwright” which only nine men in the entire U.S. Army had.  A few other famous people had this same job, including the children’s book writer and illustrator Theodor Geisel, or “Dr. Seuss.”

After the war ended, Stan Lee moved back to New York and went back to his old job at Timely Comics.  In 1947, he got married to a woman from England named Joan.  Together they had two daughters, Joan Celia or “J.C.” Lee and Jan Lee, who unfortunately died when she was just a young baby.

In the mid-1950s, Timely Comics changed its name to Atlas Comics and later DC Comics and then later, in the 1960s, the company changed its name again to “Marvel”. Stan Lee wrote stories in a lot of different genres, or categories of writing, including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. 

In the late 1950s, superhero comics were starting to become popular.  Stan Lee was getting bored of the stories he was writing and so his wife suggested that he try writing a superhero comic. 

The first superheroes that Stan Lee were the Fantastic Four. The Fantastic Four was made up of four astronauts Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm, who after being exposed to cosmic rays formed different superpowers. Reed became Mister Fantastic, who could stretch to incredible lengths, Susan Storm became the Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm became the human torch and Ben Grimm became Thing, who had a body of stone and could smash his enemies. 

Stan teamed up with an artist named Jack Kirby who helped create and draw the comic.  The Fantastic Four comic was immediately popular. This led Stan Lee to start making a bunch of other new comic series such as the Avengers made up of such heroes as Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America. Today we know these superheroes from their movies, but for a very long time they only existed in comic books. Each character had super powers with an interesting origin story, how they came to be a superhero, and dangerous enemies. They went on adventures and battled their enemies.

Stan worked with artist Jack Kirby many times over the years and together they created new superheroes and series such as X-Men. He also worked with a different artist, Bill Everett and created Daredevil, Doctor Strange, and his most successful character, Spider-Man. Spider-Man was a teenager named Peter Parker, who was bitten by a special spider that gave him super strength, webs that shot from his hand and the ability to climb up anything and jump very far. 

Kids and adults all over the United States and around the world loved the characters Stan Lee created.  

Marvel Comics became a highly popular franchise, and Stan Lee became editorial director and publisher of Marvel in 1972. In 1981, Stan Lee and his family moved to the West Coast of the United States so that he could help oversee the process of turning the Marvel’s comic characters into TV shows and movies. Stan Lee bought a beautiful house in West Hollywood.  Over the next 20 years, he helped make his characters into tv shows and movies. Most recently this became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or MCU and up until now includes 23 movies with 14 more on the way. It has made more money than any other film franchise, around $22 billion dollars. What’s also interesting is that Marvel Comics is now owned by Disney, who also owns the Star Wars franchise.

In 2018, Stan Lee worked on his last Marvel feature movie called Black Panther.  He was 95 years old at the time!  He died on November 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.

Stan Lee started his writing career as a poor but hard working teenager.  He worked his way to eventually becoming the leader of one of the most successful comic franchises in the world through Marvel Comics. 

Do you enjoy reading comics or watching movies about superheroes?  Have you ever tried designing your own characters?  What superpowers would your superhero have? What would his or her name be? What would their costume look like and what kind of adventures would do they go on? Now is a great time to start writing. Stan Lee started when he was just your age. And remember you can always start small with short stories or a daily journal. But little by little you can improve like Stan!

History of Hayao Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli for Kids

Do you like animated movies? Have you ever seen Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro? These are beautiful, hand-drawn, animated films made by Studio Ghibli and it’s brilliant artist and director Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki has become one of the most celebrated film animators and directors of our day, but his beginnings were small and simple and as you’ll learn sometimes fraught with danger during the years of World War 2.

Hayao Miyazaki was born in Tokyo Japan on January 5, 1941. Japan is an island across the Pacific Ocean from the United States and located in East Asia. The same year Hayao was born, Japan and the United States went to war. Hayao’s worked in a factory that built airplane parts for Japan’s air force, specifically for the fast and agile Zero fighter planes. For the rest of his life Hayao was fascinated by airplanes and the wonder of flight.

Over time Japan began to lose the war against the United States and her Allies. Soon American bombers were flying over Japan and dropping bombs on its people to try and end the war. Hayao remembered seeing the bombers and hearing bombs drop nearby. His family left the city for safety until the war ended. He would forever remember the horrible days of World War 2 and what it did to his own country. 

Young Hayao loved to draw. He wanted to become a manga artist. In Japan cartoons and comics are called manga. Hayao spent his free time practicing, but he always struggled to draw people. So instead he practiced drawing his favorite subjects like planes, tanks and battleships. He also liked to copy the drawings of his favorite manga artists. While in Junior High he saw an animated movie called Panda and the Magic Serpent. He loved the art and animation and it made him want to animate his own movies.

In college he studied politics and economics, but in his free time joined an art club and spent time drawing and getting to know other artists. 

In 1963 Hayao got his first animation job at Toei Animation and helped as an artist. His first film was called Doggie March and he also worked on a television series called Wolf Boy Ken. He continued to learn and grow as an animator, and was mentored by many other great animators. A mentor is someone who is a master at a craft and teaches someone who is an apprentice and still learning. Hayao and his mentor Yasuo Ōtsuka worked on a film called “The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun” that won them many awards. 

At Toei Animation Hayao worked alongside a woman named Ōta Akemi. They shared many of the same interests and a year after meeting, they got married. Ota would continue to work with Hayao in animation and his future businesses. 

Hayao Miyazaki continued to work on many animated films and many of his own comics, continually improving his craft. Often when you see amazing works of art or animation you may think “Wow, that artist must be really good because she was just born to be a very good artist.” But this is not the case. Great artists are not born they are made. They are passionate about a subject and continually practice and practice, usually every day, until they are much better. Like Hayao, they often find a mentor and find projects, and improve little by little until they are very good at what they do. This is the path Hayao took.

In 1979 Miyazaki moved to Telecom Animation Film, where he directed his first film. A director may work on the art, but often their job is to help bring all the different workers together to make the film happen. Also, a director may write the story themselves, or find someone to help them. They often have the idea first and recruit artists to help draw all of the animations. If you’ve ever seen an orchestra, they are like the orchestra director who isn’t playing the music, but brings everyone together to make the magic happen! This is what Hayao Miyazaki did for the film The Castle of Cagliostro, which became a hit in Japan and in the United States. John Lassetter, who later became a director at Pixar, has said that The Castle of Cagliostro was one of the first films that influenced him.

Hayao’s next big idea was to create an animated film about a princess named Naussica and her battle to save her homeland. But because movies usually weren’t made until the comic was successful, Hayao began to work on the manga about Naussica first. It ended up becoming a seven-volume manga totaling over 1000 pages and was called “Naussica and the Valley of the Wind.” Next, Hayao started work on the animated film. Audiences loved the film! In it Naussica has a fox-squirrel pet named Teto and uses her small glider to fly about. Her world is polluted and poisoned, but with the help of her friends fights to restore it to its natural beauty. Like many of Hayao’s later films, this one featured a strong heroine and themes about the dangers of pollution and war, both very important to Hayao. You’ll also notice it includes flying, which fascinated Hayao from a young age.

In 1985, Hayao with his friends Takahata, Tokuma and Suzuki founded Studio Ghibli (Jib-lee) and the next year created their first film “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” about a orphan girl named Sheeta and a boy named Pazu from a mining town. Together they go on an adventure that involves a gigantic city in the sky called Laputa. “Castle in the Sky” became the highest-grossing Japanese film that year. Studio Ghibli’s next films were “My Neighbor Totoro,” which is one my kids’ all time favorites, and Grave of the Fireflies. Later came Kiki’s Delivery Service about a friendly witch, a few others in between, and then Princess Mononoke, which became another high-grossing Japanese film year. In 2001 came Spirited Away, which won awards in Japan and the U.S. Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Even though all of Studio Ghibli’s films were originally in Japanese, most of them were translated into other languages like English so others could enjoy them as well. 

A few other popular films by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and The Wind Rises. The Wind Rises tells the story of the engineer who built the Zero, a Japanese fighter plane, the same one his father helped build when Hayao was a child in Japan. The Wind Rises, like many of Hayao’s other films, is a warning about the devastating effects of war, especially on the innocents, like he and his family during World War 2. 

In September 2013 Hayao announced he would be retiring and instead focus his time on creating artwork for a Studio Ghibli museum. But everyone knew Hayao knew he wouldn’t rest for long. He began to learn how to use computers to animate and even at his age, when most people think they can no longer learn new skills, Hayao struggled through the process and created his first computer animation called Boro the Caterpillar. Instead of retiring, he has continued working on a new film called How Do You Live? 

My children and I have watched most of the Studio Ghibli films and love them for many reasons. First of all, we love the adventure stories and the wild, exotic places they take us. We also appreciate the hand-drawn animation. Because most films use computer graphics now, it’s impressive to see animations that are sketched and colored by hand. We also love the music, which is often played by classical instruments and is relaxing. While some of the movies have violence, they are often less noisy and over-stimulating than most computer-animated movies. If you’re looking for Studio Ghibli movies that are appropriate for younger kids, our family recommends My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns and Ponyo.

Something else I love about his films is that they remind us that people are imperfect. His characters don’t always make the right decisions and make mistakes. Also, his villains aren’t always completely bad. Often they are someone who is misunderstood and once the main characters come to know the villain, they end up becoming friends. 

Watching the colorful portrayed in his films also reminds us that we live in a beautiful world and need to do everything we can to keep it that way. Life is precious and problems such as pollution and war only harm it. 

Hayao once said, “I get inspiration from my everyday life.”

He also said: “You may not like what’s happening, but just accept it, and let’s try to live together. Even if you feel angry, let’s be patient and endure, let’s try to live together. I’ve realized that this is the only way forward.”

And “Always believe in yourself. Do this and no matter where you are, you will have nothing to fear.”