Wednesday, February 25, 2015

At Age 90, Hal Holbrook Gives Teen Writer An Amazing New View On Mark Twain

Used with permission from The Mark Twain House & Museum
 John Groo, photographer
Hal Holbrook during his Feb. 17 performance of Mark Twain Tonight! at The Bushnell theater in Hartford. 

By Mugdha Gurram
HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – For more than 60 years, Hal Holbrook has brought the magic of Mark Twain to life in his one-man productions portraying the author.
The famous actor celebrated his 90th birthday on stage last week, taking up the role once again at The Bushnell in Hartford.
The audience greeted Holbrook with applause and a standing ovation from the moment he stepped on stage, along with broken choruses of "Happy Birthday to You."
Holbrook’s portrayal of Twain is unique. He’s thoroughly researched the author, so everything Holbrook says in the play was either spoken or written by Twain. Some quotes were recognizable, like, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”
Even at 90 years old, he delivered every single line perfectly.
Used with permission from The Mark Twain House & Museum
John Groo, photographer
Hal Holbrook on stage at The Bushnell in Hartford.
The play included a lot of satire – religion and politics took the hardest hit.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the show; Holbrook’s lines were punctuated with laughter from the crowd. Holbrook balanced the content nicely between humorous and serious, though. During some bits, you could hear a pin drop.
He captivated the entire crowd during his performance of a part of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of Twain's most famous novels. Holbrook walked over to a table full of books in the middle of the stage, as if he was going to pick up Huck Finn and start reading from it, but instead went into an incredible, dramatic performance of a lengthy except from the book.
The audience hung on to his every word as he told the story, word for word, from memory.
At the end of the show, Holbrook, still portraying Twain, thanked the audience and the people who helped host the show for all the compassion he’d received, saying that while compliments and praise are nice, he considered the affection the best reward, and he was very grateful to receive that reward.
I found it amazing to see Holbrook perform in the role of such a legendary literary figure. While Mark Twain is a common name, especially in high school English classes, we usually don’t learn about the man himself.
Watching him recite a chapter of Huck Finn gave me a chance to see his work afresh, with a new appreciation for the man behind the classics.

Yelena Samofalova, a senior reporter with YJI, contributed to this story.

Your tax-deductible contribution can help support Mugdha Gurram
and other students at this nonprofit at

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lady Gaga Deserved The Standing Ovation For Her Stirring 'Sound Of Music' Tribute

By Ives Cupino
Junior Reporter
OCONTO FALLS, Wisconsin, U.S.A. – Pop star Lady Gaga performed a stunning tribute to The Sound of Music and its star Julie Andrews at the 2015 Oscars.
Sans meat dress – her infamous costume at a 2010 music awards ceremony – Gaga opted instead for an elegant, flowing white gown.
Although she was without her antics, Gaga’s performance Sunday night was memorable in its own right – and as it should be. This year marks the classic, Oscar-winning film’s 50th anniversary.
Accompanied by several violinists, she skillfully belted out a medley of the musical’s most famous hits: “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Edelweiss,” and “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
After such a dazzling performance, the star-studded audience gave Gaga a well-deserved standing ovation.
Andrews herself then came onstage to hug and congratulate Gaga.
“Dear Lady Gaga, thank you for that wonderful tribute,” Andrews gushed. “It really warmed my heart.”
Your tax-deductible contribution can help support Ives Cupino
and other students at this nonprofit at

The Annual Oscars Disappointment

Jonathan Lee /

By Jonathan Lee
Junior Reporter
EL PASO, Texas, U.S.A. – The Oscars – whether you’re a movie person or not, you’ve probably heard of this prestigious award show.
You’ve also probably been sorely disappointed by the results.
Maybe you were rooting for the reclusive Song of the Sea to win top honors for best animated feature film, or maybe the fast-paced jazz-inspired movie, Whiplash to take the cake.
Whatever it may be, it seemed as if the judging panel just couldn’t fully appreciate the intricacies of your treasured movie of the year. Sadly, you turn off your TV and realize it doesn’t matter what others may think.
You believe that How to Train Your Dragon 2 really had the best animation, and you eventually forget about the whole thing – until next year.

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

'The DUFF,' A Realistic View Of High School

By Sydney Hallett
OAKVILLE, Missouri – Most high school movies tell you absolutely nothing about high school and give students unrealistic expectations about freshman through senior year.
Whether students burst out into song, get into drama with different cliques, or are run over by a school bus, most movies don’t help with an eighth grader’s fear of high school.
The DUFF, to be released Friday, Feb. 20, breaks away from stereotypical high school movies and, for the most part, it tells it like it is.
It tells the story of Bianca, played by Mae Whitman, who is a normal teenage girl. Her friends are extremely pretty.
Bianca’s annoying next door neighbor Wesley, played by Robbie Amell, labels her as the D.U.F.F. – the “designated ugly fat friend.”
Wesley then helps Bianca lose her label as the DUFF to try to get the guy of her dreams. Instead, an embarrassing video ends up on social media and she is labeled as the ultimate DUFF.
As Bianca struggles to find herself and write an article about how she feels about Homecoming for the school newspaper, she faces challenges: interacting with popular girls, talking to cute boys, and overcoming her social awkwardness.
Before seeing The DUFF, I didn’t have high expectations.
I thought there would be a view jokes, but for the most part, I felt as if it was going to be the common high school movie. But it was a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be.
Sometimes the filmmakers tried too hard to be funny, but for the most part, Whitman’s character was so relatable that it was hilarious to watch her do things that I would do.
Granted, the ending was cliché and predictable, but it was the plot and the idea of “labels” that really made this high school comedy realistic.
At times, The DUFF felt so true that I got second-hand embarrassment from Bianca’s awkward behavior, but that was what made the movie funny, and at times, serious.
Though far from an amazing comedy, it is definitely worth the watch, especially if you are in high school.
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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Student Writers: The Mayborn Could Be An Impressive Part Of Your College App

Young Spurs of 2014 included two Youth Journalism International reporters. Here, the group stands with author Bryan Burrough, who led the group of young writers last summer.
If you are a student at a high school or community college in the United States and want to inject excitement, inspiration and purpose into your writing, consider entering the Young Spurs competition.
The Young Spurs is a contest held each year through the Mayborn Literary NonfictionConference. 
The Mayborn, which is put on by the University of North Texas, is held each July at a swanky hotel in Dallas.
2014 Young Spurs and YJI reporters
Kiernan Majerus-Collins of Connecticut
on the left and Johanna Boedenauer of
Georgia on the right, with Pulitzer Prize-
winning journalist and author Sheri Fink.
This year, the 11th annual conference, is July 17-19. But the fancy digs aren't the best part of the amazing weekend.
The best part is the people you'll meet at the Mayborn. They're dedicated to the craft of writing, to making their work better and some of the friendliest, most welcoming folks around.
Young people who like to write can enter a piece of narrative historical non-fiction, from five to 20 pages in length, with sources, to compete for a chance to take part in the Mayborn for free.
It’s not an easy task, but it isn’t supposed to be a breeze. Put your mind and heart to the task and you can do it.
YJI writer Katie Lothrop won the Young
Spurs contest in 2012 and 2013. In this
2013 photo she is with biographer James
McGrath Morris, who led the group of
young writers that summer.
Judges will select 10 winners from the entry pool of young writers. Those lucky students will get attend the conference, but for a full day before that, they’ll get to work in a small group setting with an acclaimed professional writer on their winning stories.
Ultimately those pieces will be published in the prestigious Dallas Morning News.
After their one-day workshop, the student writers join professional writers in listening to incredible speakers – accomplished writers who are among the best in the business. During the conference the speakers are also often accessible for questions and discussion.
Youth Journalism International co-founders

Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus flank
George Getschow, the brains and heart of
the Mayborn.
Students, not only is it a thrilling experience to go to the Mayborn, learn, improve and be published, but you earn a national writing award. That’s a pretty impressive bullet point on any college application or resume.
Even more, though, you’ll likely meet friends for life that weekend. There's something about the spirit of the Mayborn, the idea that all the writers there are part of a "tribe" no matter their age or background.
At YJI, we know this from experience since three of our students have had the honor of being part of the Mayborn. All of them found it an amazing, life changing experience. You can, too.
What are you waiting for? Go to this link for more details and get writing. Your entry is due March 31. Good luck!
Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at

Monday, February 16, 2015

Zorbing: Having A Ball In New Zealand
Beth Pond, center, and her friend Chelsea Saccu, right, celebrate after experiencing zorbing in New Zealand while zorbing attendants steady the orb.
By Beth Pond
Senior Correspondent
ROTORUA, New Zealand – Little did I know that a town that smelled like rotten eggs would be the site of one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done.
There I was, sitting in the back of our tour bus, plugging my nose in an attempt to prevent myself from getting a whiff of sulfur, when I saw it for the first time.
At first glance it looked like a headache waiting to happen, but something about the picture of a guy in a giant ball that piqued my curiosity.
After seeing another advertisement, I was hooked. I’d found the silver lining of spending two days in an odorous geothermal area.
Moments after changing into my zorbonaut gear – a special fast drying outfit – my friends and I were crammed into the back of a van, flopping about, while being driven up a very bumpy hill.
The cool thing about zorbing is that you can do it alone or with one or two other people.
"Zorbonauts" like Beth Pond enter and exit the orb through a round hole in the ball.
And they're off! The zorbs begin their roll down the hill.
The eight of us divided up into two groups of three and one group of two. Three zorbs were brought up to the top of the hill on a conveyer belt and placed in gates, so that they wouldn’t move when we dove in.
Up close, the zorbs resembled large, opaque, inflatable balls. In order to get inside, you have to dive in through a round hole on the side of the zorb. We did hydro-zorbing, which means that there is a small amount of water in the bottom of the zorb. It was winter in New Zealand, so the water was warm, very warm in fact.
Above, one of the zorbs is carried uphill on a conveyor belt on the left while another rolls downhill and a few wait behind a gate at the top. Below, an attendant goes to collect a zorb at the bottom of the hill.
My friend Chelsea and I were the last of the three groups to go, so we had the longest wait in the zorb. We lounged out in the pool of hot water, giggling with anticipation.
The ride attendant came over and told us to stand up, so that once he sealed the door we could begin walking to give the zorb momentum. We couldn’t see anything, which heightened the mystery of the experience. The two of us began walking, pushing the inner wall of the zorb, almost like two hamsters in a wheel.
Inside the zorb. Beth Pond and
Chelsea Saccu had a great time.
Neither one of us managed to stay upright very long. We began sliding about inside the ball. I was on my back for most of the ride, not tumbling around doing flips like I had originally expected. Going down the hill in the zorb was sort of like what I’d imagine being inside a washing machine is like. The two of us slid about. The water sloshed underneath us, lubricating the zorb.
Our laughter echoed inside the zorb as I somehow managed to end up on my stomach, facing in the opposite direction. To my relief, the two of us had plenty of room and weren’t constantly colliding into each other like we might have if there was a third person with us.
At the end of the ride, the attendants tilted the zorb, so that Chelsea and I could slide out through the door. We then caught up with our friends, who had all ridden down the hill with three people in their zorbs.
The eight of us began talking over each other, swapping stories of whose feet were in whose face during the ride, and who got the wettest.
Zorbing was amazing. It might be worth a 17-hour flight back to New Zealand just to do it again.
Read an accompanying YJI piece about
New Zealand's capital, Wellington.

Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at

New Zealand Capital Is Fun And Eclectic

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /

A cable car near the Botanical Gardens in Wellington, New Zealand

By Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan
Junior Reporter
WELLINGTON, New Zealand – In the past, Wellington was often described as a lacklustre capital due to its small size and lack of global political clout.
But in an attempt to encapsulate the spirit of the entire nation, Wellington has reinvented itself by restoring old monuments and building new ones.
Today's Wellington possesses a fun, eclectic and enriching vibe.
Wellington is probably one of the most backpacker-friendly capitals in the world.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /

An aeriel view of Wellington, New Zealand
Little money needs to be spent on transportation as the compact downtown – home home to many hostels and museums – can be traversed by foot.
Most museums are free and the majority of places of accommodation are affordable.
I started the day at Cuba Street. There, people who are walking around can be forgiven for thinking that they are in the middle of Havana or Miami.
Being the bohemian quarter of Wellington, Cuba Street is home to numerous shops selling urban outfits and antiques, cafes and restaurants. It is definitely the best place in town to scour for those "Made in New Zealand" souvenirs for loved-ones back home.
Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /

Cuba Street in Wellington, New Zealand
U.S. State Department map

Next, I decided to enrich my trip by visiting the New Zealand of Museum Te Papa Tongarewa. In the Maori language, the museum's name means "Container of Treasures."
The museum did live up to its name. Unlike most national museums where an ancient facade awaits you, the exterior of this museum is modern and funky.
Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /

The New Zealand of Museum Te Papa Tongarewa

Selvaganeshmoorthi Balakrishnan /

The photo above shows a life-size Maori

meeting house in the Te Papap Museum.

The photo below shows the Beehive, the 
Executive Wing of Parliament.
Inside, a gamut of bone and rock samples, anthologies, artefacts and interactive displays help break down New Zealand's complex human and natural histories into bite-size pieces that all visitors can understand.
For those yearning to see New Zealand's distinct present-day flora, a trip to the Botanical Gardens is worthwhile.
Though perched atop a hill, the Botanical Gardens can be reached effortlessly at a small price thanks to New Zealand's oldest cable car system. Don't forget to pop by the Cable Car Museum when visiting the Botanical Gardens!
From the cable car station at the bottom of the hill, I decided to end my day by visiting the Parliament grounds.
The Parliament and the Executive Wing of Parliament, known colloquially as the 'Beehive' due to its bizarre shape, is open to visitors eager to learn more about the country's democratic rule-making process.
A tour, which lasts an hour, is the only way visitors can enter the core of the buildings within the Parliament grounds. The tour was informative and guides were both knowledgeable and had a great sense of humor.
In sum, Wellington is definitely far from a lacklustre capital. Despite its small size and population, the "world's coolest little capital" can cater to every taste and budget. 
Read an accompanying piece about zorbing in New Zealand here.
Your tax-deductible contribution can help support 
Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan and other students at this nonprofit at

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hill-Stead Museum Is A Winter Work Of Art

Zhang Xinxin /
Large icicles hang from the front of the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Conn. on Wednesday. The museum is home to world class art, including many works from the Impressionists.
Wang Xindi /
Visitors get a snowy welcome to the Hill-Stead.
Zhang Xinxin /
The stone walls on the Hill-Stead property are now covered in snow.
Wang Xindi /
The long drive gives the visitor a sense of grandeur, but does not convey the priceless art contained within.

Wang Xindi /
The Hill-Stead Museum is a large house, built for entertaining.

Wang Xindi /
Of course, there is a well-stocked museum gift shop.

Wang Xindi /
The Hill-Stead property is home to the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, held each summer. 
Wang Xindi /
To enter the museum, visitors walk along a stone path to the carriage door. No photos allowed inside, though.

Wang Xindi /
Even the sky over the Hill-Stead is beautiful.
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Photo Essay: Touring Trinity College

Yang Shanghua /
The 1933 Gothic style Trinity College Chapel stands out on campus. 

Yang Shanghua /
Inside the chapel, tour guide Jacqueline Bosa, right, tells a tour group about the historic building.
Yang Shanghua /
The front of the chapel.

Yang Shanghua /
The organ in the main chapel at Trinity College contains nearly 5,000 pipes.

Yang Shanghua /
The Long Walk passes the Gothic building that both houses students and contains classroom and office space.
Yang Shanghua /
Jacqueline Busa, a student at Trinity and a college tour guide, talks with a group inside Mather Hall, the main dining facility on campus, while Emily Bland, a first-year student and tour guide, listens.
Yang Shanghua /
A statue of Bishop Thomas Church Brownell, a founder of Trinity College, is a focal point on campus. 
Yang Shanghua /
The Roy Nutt Building is designed to look like the periodic table of elements.

Yang Shanghua /
Tour guide Jacqueline Busa addresses a group of visitors at Trinity College.

Yang Shanghua /
Snow blankets the Trinity College campus.
Yang Shanghua /
Austin Arts Center at Trinity College.
Yang Shanghua /
The sun sets on the Trinity College campus in Hartford.
Yang Shanghua /
Trinity College Chapel.
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