April 1st was a pretty exciting day around here. Our first kids’ story app for iPad went live in the iTune App Store. Note: If my parents were alive they’d have no idea what that last sentence meant but they’d be enormously proud anyway which is what we all need from Mom and Dad, right?
The app’s based on Book 1 of my Middle School Confidential series. It’s called Be Confident in Who You Are: A Middle School Confidential™ Graphic Novel. If you’ve got a 4th-8th grader in your life buy it for him/her. They’ll really like. The art is stellar. The story’s totally engaging. And most important, this app is actually about something — like figuring out how to fit in with other kids and still feel good about yourself. It’s also about dealing with bullies, self-doubt, friendship issues and choices that reflect who you really are vs. who you pretend to be. In other words, this awesome, full-color comic book app (with wall-to-wall sound effects and music) is about life as our 21st century kids are living it right now.
I haven’t been a tween for a century and I’m not even the parent of one any more. And yet I know what our kids struggle with every day because over the past 14 years thousands of them have emailed me asking for help.
I often wonder how people get their big creative ideas. Maybe you’re wondering where my idea for Middle School Confidential came from. Maybe you’re not. I’ll tell you anyway. It came to me in June 2002 as I sat in a San Francisco theater watching a performance of Wicked. In case you don’t know this Tony award-winning musical by the brilliant Stephen Schwartz, it’s about friendship and popularity, hanging on to personal integrity in the face of ugly rumors and smear tactics. Sounds like politics or…middle school! During the 1st act finale Elphaba (aka The Wicked Witch of the West) sings “Defying Gravity.” The lyrics are worth reading carefully:
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m tired of playing by the rules of someone else’s game
Too late for second guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes… and leap
I’d sooner try defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye I’m defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down.
I’m through accepting limits
Cause someone says they’re so
Some things I cannot change
But till I try I’ll never know
Too long I’ve been afraid of
Losing love – I guess I’ve lost
Well, if that’s love
It comes at much too high a cost…
So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky
As someone told me lately –
Everyone deserves the chance to fly
And if I’m flying solo
At least I’m flying free
To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me…
Tell them how I
Am defying gravity!
I’m flying high’
And soon I’ll match them in renown
And nobody in all of Oz
No wizard that there is or was
Is ever gonna bring me down!
At that moment this incredibly radiant, powerful, totally misunderstood young woman literally rises above her tormentors… and flies away. I sit there, thunderstruck… weeping, awed by this display of courage and self-respect. A bolt of insight explodes within my head and heart and I know something I didn’t know when I walked in the theater – I need to encourage middle school kids to fly. I know that they, more than any other age group, hold themselves back by “accepting limits cause someone says they’re so.” As the lights come up signaling intermission I stay seated, fully aware that I will write a book encouraging kids to defy gravity because without some serious help it can be too painful and difficult for them to grow up healthy and loving.
Of course many tweens stumble through 6th, 7th and 8th grade without special help. They survive then promptly try to forget the pain of those years. But so many others need an anti-gravity boost now. My books can provide that. So can this spanking new app. It can help a kid become her own best friend. Teach him about self-respect so he can learn to respect others. Give them more confidence to grow up to be thoughtful, compassionate young adults. If you don’t have an iPad, don’t worry! The iPhone/iPod version of “Be Confident” is coming soon.