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 History of Glass for Kids

If you look around your house, and it’s like mine, you’ll probably notice a very common item. Jars are made out of it, some cups and bowls are made out of it, maybe a few decorations on your shelves. This is what windows are made out of and the screens on tablets and phones. Can you guess what it is? …. If you said glass you are correct! Many household items are made from glass. Sometimes materials like glass are just taken for granted. That means we have them but we don’t really understand how they are made or the history behind them, so we don’t really think much about them. But tonight we’re going to talk about the history of glass. Where it comes from, how it’s made and the many steps through history until it became the glass we know today!

To my surprise, I found out glass has been around for a very long time. It’s funny because I thought it was a more recent invention, but the earliest known man made glass is from 3500 B.C., which is about 5500 years ago! Crazy, right? But even before that a form of glass, called obsidian, was used hundreds of thousands of years ago in the Stone Age. You’ve probably heard of the Stone Age, where early humans lived a very simple  life, just barely getting by. It was a hard life. Metals weren’t even invented yet and so basic stones were used as tools. Obsidian was one of those tools. It’s a black, glossy rock that is formed from the lava of volcanoes. Stone age humans used it to cut meat to eat and animal skins for clothes and shelter. It was very sharp, so it was a very popular rock to own! But obsidian was different from later glass, because humans didn’t create it, they just found it lying around volcanoes.

So later, around 3500 B.C. in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia humans learned to make the first glass. Most of the early glass was not clear like the glass you know today and usually they just used it for jewelry, the beads in necklaces, for example. But later they found ways to shape it into bowls and it continued to be very valuable, because very few people knew how to make glass objects. 

Over the years glassmakers became very skilled at their craft and by the time of the Roman Empire, they found ways to make it more clear and transparent. Archeologists have found many glass objects around the world that date back to Roman times, proving they were getting very good at glassmaking. The Romans also became skilled at carving (or etching) in the glass and it was traded all across the Roman empire.

By Medieval Times glassmakers became so good that they were able to create windows of glass and used them to decorate the windows of many churches and cathedrals. A cathedral is a very big church. Often these glass windows were red and blue and green and yellow, many different colors, which is called stained glass. When the light hits these colored windows, it produces a very beautiful effect. 

Next, during Renaissance Times one of the best known places for glass making was Murano, Venice in what is now known as Italy. Venice is a city literally built on the water on stilts. Can you believe that!? Venice even has a huge cathedral, or church, built on top of the water. People use boats to travel around the city and bridges over the water to connect the neighborhoods. It’s an amazing place to visit if you ever get the chance. 

So the glassmakers of Venice were very good at their work, but glassmaking required hot furnaces so it often started fires. So the city leaders had the idea to move all of the glassmaking to the island of Murano, off the coast of Venice, this way if there was a fire it wouldn’t burn down the rest of the city. Good idea, right? The first glassmakers of Murano became famous for their beautiful glass beads and mirrors. Unlike earlier glass their glass was very clear, similar to the glass you see today. And because they were so good at their job, the Murano glassmakers were paid very well and given lots of privileges in Venice. But one thing they weren’t allowed to do was leave! There were very strict rules about the glassmakers not leaving and starting their own businesses or sharing their ideas with people outside of the city. But even with the rules, some of the glassmakers were able to escape and soon the technique of making glass spread across Europe. If you visit Venice today glassmakers still live and work there and there you can see them at work, creating and shaping their glass in beautiful ways.

If you’ve never seen how glassblowing works, it’s worth finding a video and watching it, but basically one person takes a very long tube called a blowpipe. Then molten glass is heated up on the far end in a very hot furnace. They spin the blowpipe in the furnace, shape it on a metal table, and then begin to blow into the end of the pipe. This expands the hot glass on the end, making it larger. Then it’s put in the furnace again and shaped and blown through the pipe, over and over until it’s the shape and size the maker wants it to be. Finally it’s placed in a kiln until it cools and is ready to be used. Like I said, check out a video about glassblowing sometime, it’s really fascinating.

And what is glass made of? There are different materials used to make glass, which include sand, soda ash, and limestone, but it’s melted at such high temperatures it becomes a liquid that can then be shaped or made flat depending on what the creator plans to make.

So back to the history of glassmaking, in 1674 an English glassmaker named George Ravenscroft invented lead glass, which is also known as crystal, and was a major breakthrough in glassmaking. 

And then by the 1900s engineers designed machines to make glass. Do you know what happens when you find ways to build something faster? It takes less time, so it becomes less expensive. During the Industrial Revolution, an inventor named Michael Owen’s created an automatic bottle blowing machine, which could make 2,500 bottles in one hour! Soon even ordinary people were able to own glass and used them for cups, bowls, bottles, windows and in many other ways.

In the 1950s Alastair Pilkington discovered a way to make huge glass sheets by floating molten glass on a metal like tin or lead. This allowed them to create large sheets for windows and is now used widely and known as the Pilkington Process after its creator. 

Today glass is created in many different ways, using different chemicals to make it stronger so it breaks less. If you’ve noticed the glass in many phones has become stronger due to these better techniques. This is part of the engineering process. Taking something that works and using new techniques or materials to make it better. That might mean making it faster or making it work better or stronger. That idea applies to your own life. You can take something you like and work at it until you become better and better at it.

So, what do you think about glass? Is it more interesting now? I’ll bet when you see glass next you won’t think about it the same. If you’re like me, you’ll look at it and think “wow, I didn’t know it took SO long to get to the kind of clear glass we use today, and how many inventors and glassmakers it took until they were able to figure it out.” 

Next time you see something common, like the lights in your house or the refrigerator or the TV, do some investigating yourself. Find a video or an article and read all about the history of that object. It’s fascinating to find out how we got to the inventions we all know and appreciate now. 

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.”