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Middle Grade Graphic Novel Memoir – Sylvie

 

 

SYLVIE

Written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz

(Walker Books US; $24.99, Ages 9-12)

 

 

As we approach the one-year anniversary of Sylvie’s publication, I had to share an overdue review of Sylvie Kantorovitz’s memoir that I only recently read. I’ve been playing catch-up following an extremely busy year during which I couldn’t help but notice how many excellent graphic novels were released.

Sylvie Kantorovitz’s compelling middle-grade graphic novel memoir about growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s France was just the book I needed to read last week. It didn’t hurt that I’m a Francophile, but even readers who don’t know the first thing about life in France will finish Sylvie feeling much more familiar with it.

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Interior art from Sylvie written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, Walker Books US ©2021.

 

While Kantorovitz didn’t set out to write and illustrate a memoir (per her Author’s Note), memories of her childhood rose to the surface during her initial approach to drafting the novel and soon her own story took on a new life. Her candor, ambiguity at times, and relatability are what make Sylvie so rich, like the perfect crème brûlée or éclair au chocolat. Add to that her irresistible artwork (including maps which I adore, translated words to help non-French speakers, and other charming details such as chestnuts at the end of every chapter/section) and you have a novel as fresh and real as any contemporary one.

As a young girl whose family came to France from Morocco, Sylvie had to deal with anti-immigrant attitudes as well as anti-Semitism being the only Jewish family where she lived. And where did she live? Well, that’s another aspect of the novel that makes it stand it apart. Sylvie’s father was a principal at a men’s teaching college so the family was given housing on campus. The vast grounds of the school suited kids like Sylvie and her younger brother whose imaginations meant there was never a dull moment.

 

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Interior art from Sylvie written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, Walker Books US ©2021.

 

Growing up, Sylvie faced the same dilemmas kids face today whether that’s friends moving away, friends you have doubts about or friends you crush on, frustration at sharing a bedroom, fitting in, finding your passion, and figuring out what you want to do the rest of your life. On top of that, when Sylvie’s father changed jobs, Sylvie’s family moved away from the teaching college to a city closer to Paris. While that meant leaving behind lovely memories it also meant new opportunities.

What I loved most about Sylvie was how introspective she was. She knew how much she loved looking after her brothers and sister―we see her family grow from one sibling to three―and other young kids. Maybe I’d be a good teacher she wondered. She thrived on alone time in her room doing art and taking outside art classes. Maybe I could be an artist but could I support myself that way? And she continually wondered what she would do in the future when her peers seemed to know exactly what their path in life was. She did not like the pressure she felt from her mother to either find a rich man to marry or pursue a career in a field that didn’t interest her. She was nurtured by a caring, inspiring father and confused by a moody, often angry mother while she navigated the important coming-of-age period of her childhood. The scenes when her parents argued and the question of the big “D” or divorce arose is something many readers will understand. When she once asked her father why he didn’t leave her mother he said he loved her, something Sylvie found difficult to fathom.

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Interior art from Sylvie written and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, Walker Books US ©2021.

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I expect many readers will enjoy reading about Sylvie’s quest for independence. Like when she finally gets a room of her own by moving upstairs to an unused storage room in the college building where her family lived. Whenever Sylvie had opportunities to study and practice art, the joy jumped off the pages right into my heart. Moments like those, captured so lovingly in the cartoon-style artwork and text, brought Sylvie’s experiences to life. I hope readers will find relevance and comfort in Sylvie’s honest and heartfelt story. The book is available in hardcover, paperback, and Ebook and is the reassuring read we could all use right now.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Please click here to read a sample chapter. 

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Middle Grade Nonfiction Book – DIJ-Do It Jewish

 

 

DIJ-DO IT JEWISH:
USE YOUR JEWISH CREATIVITY!

Written by Barbara Bietz

Illustrated by Daria Grinevich

(Intergalactic Afikoman; $24.95, Ages 8-12)

 

DIJ-DoItJewish cover

 

 

DIJ – Do It Jewish, written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by Daria Grinevich, makes a unique gift to give tweens who are eager to flex their creativity muscles. It even had me thinking about looking for my Nana’s rugelach recipe to play around with and update.

From filmmaking, songwriting, art, cooking, graphic novels to cartooning, midrash, and Judaica, there’s something here to suit everyone’s creative tastes. This clever nonfiction book jumps right into the first of its seven chapters. While the cooking chapter spoke to me the most, the songwriting chapter might resonate with your child or perhaps the one on painting and art. 

Bietz approaches each chapter by first presenting motivational insights from an expert in the respective topic whether filmmaking, catering and cookbook writing, cartooning, or creating Judaica. These pros tell readers how they became involved in their area of expertise which is always interesting. Then they offer suggestions on how to get started, what tools/equipment tweens will need, and what to do next. I can picture kids taking the book along with them as a reference guide when first getting their feet wet in a particular area covered in the book.
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Interior text and art from DIJ-Do it Jewish: Use Your Jewish Creativity! written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by Daria Grinevich, Intergalactic Afikoman ©2020.

 

Bietz then goes on to share the individual experiences of someone pursuing a creative field that resonates with them, as a hobby or career. Everything is broken down into manageable steps as seen in the text and illustrations above and below.

I especially liked how certain words are presented in a different font and color so readers can refer to these words in the glossary provided at the end of each chapter.

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Interior text and art from DIJ-Do it Jewish: Use Your Jewish Creativity! written by Barbara Bietz and illustrated by Daria Grinevich, Intergalactic Afikoman ©2020.

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Every chapter is neatly tied into Judaism so just before Passover is a great time for kids to read this book. I remember recording my family at one seder for a Jewish holidays project I had in my university media class. My professor taught me how to edit the recording so I could add layers of my dialogue on top of my family reading from the Haggadah, sharing jokes, and commenting on the food served. My whole family was on board which added to the festive atmosphere that evening. This book reminds me of that course in that it’s like having a teacher, professor, or mentor at your child’s side as they dive into an area of the arts that they feel passionate about.

Bietz and the professionals she’s interviewed all explain how easy it is to gain experience by seeking help from those closest to us—family and friends fieldwork so to speak. Grinevich’s spot art, as well as occasional photos, nicely break up the text and add colorful appeal. I hope your kids will take advantage of the upcoming holiday to explore some of the topics in DIJ-Do it Jewish by joining you in the kitchen, the synagogue, or out in your community as they gain a better understanding of what Jewish creativity is all about.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Children’s Books Celebrating the Chinese New Year

RECOMMENDED READS

FOR THE YEAR OF THE RAT

 

 

 

The rat is the first animal on the Chinese zodiac and this year you’ll see all kinds of depictions of it as the two weeks of celebrations get underway this weekend. I’ve selected two books to share that are great for all ages. The first one is a board book for the youngest members of your family and the second is a fact and personal-account-filled middle grade picture book that will educate, enlighten and entertain every reader with its comprehensive approach to the Chinese New Year.

 

THE ANIMALS OF THE CHINESE NEW YEAR
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
Translated by
Kileasa Che Wan Wong

(Orca Book Publishers; $9.95, Ages 1 and up)

This sweet 28 page board book, in both Chinese and English, features adorable photographs of children doing assorted things related to certain Chinese zodiac animal traits pictured on the opposite page. Readers learn that the 12 animals “are in a race to cross the river.” Rat, shown first, thinks about how to win. The picture is of a little boy peering into a pond. We then hear about Ox and Tiger and all the others, my favorite being the bunny. The precious photo of a mom and baby head to head, full on in conversation complements the actions of rabbit who in the race is described as chatting “to everyone along the way. The simple movements and children’s facial expressions and accompanying text for the dozen creatures help convey a bit about the Zodiac character’s personality. The Animals of the Chinese New Year provides a gentle introduction to the holiday celebrated around the world and includes a brief note from the author at the end.

Chinese_New_Year_book_coverCHINESE NEW YEAR: A Celebration for Everyone
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
(Orca Book Publishers; $24.95, Ages 9-12)

This middle grade nonfiction book is part of the Orca Origins series that explores traditions around the globe and has its own dedicated website here: www.orcaorigins.com. This particular title on the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, aims to be “a snapshot of Chinese culture,” and succeeds beautifully.

The book, with gorgeous color photos throughout, is conveniently divided into four chapters: “What Chinese New Year is All About,” How Chinese New Year Spread Around the World,” How Chinese New Year is Celebrated Today,” and “Chinese New Year Celebrations Across the Globe.” In addition there’s an intro, a final word from the author, a glossary, and resources, making Chinese New Year a comprehensive and engaging go-to book for fans of the holiday as well as schools and libraries. Children can read the book in one sitting or take it one chapter at a time.

I was quickly hooked from the start after reading about Lee’s family’s story of moving to Vancouver. Her grandfather arrived as a teenager in 1913 and worked hard to establish a life for himself there. I also liked how Lee incorporated into each chapter several other individuals’ personal stories that focused on their connection to the Chinese New Year. By explaining the holiday, its meaning, popularity and traditions, the story of Chinese emigration and the diaspora in places like Canada, the United States and Australia was also revealed. Chinese New Year addresses racism, too, and how the goal of bringing the holiday out into the public was meant to welcome others into the celebration and help them see the Chinese culture with new, more tolerant eyes.

Lee includes CNY sidebars with interesting facts such as why numbers are important in the Chinese culture. For example eight is “the luckiest because when spoken in Chinese it can sound like the word for wealth.” I learned that the number four which can sound like word death is considered the most unlucky number. I now know the significance of the colors red and gold, red symbolizing fire and a color associated with the victory of fending off the mythical beast Nian. Gold symbolizes wealth and the enduring wish that one’s family should benefit from a year of prosperity. And did you know that twenty percent of the world’s population celebrates Chinese New Year? Or that in the United Kingdom 630,000 people of Chinese descent live, mostly in London?

There is something for everyone to get out of reading Chinese New Year whether that be learning where around the world Chinese New Year is celebrated and how, why people left China for a new start in hundreds of countries around the world and what they encountered in their new homeland, or the many different foods associated with the holiday. And with that I wish you Gung hay fat choy!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Celebrating the Year of The Pig with China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe

CHINA: A HISTORY
Written by Cheryl Bardoe,
The Field Museum
(Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)

 

China A History by Cheryl Bardoe book cover art

 

 

Cheryl Bardoe’s beautiful and educational nonfiction middle-grade book, China: A History, is based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether or not you’ve visited the museum, the book serves as a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation.

 

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Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

Both a visual feast and a wealth of knowledge, China: A History provides information in a way that’s easily understood, interspersing frequent visual aids. Chapters are enlivened with full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects. Kids will be amazed to discover all the remarkable things related to China.

 

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Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

Attention-grabbing stories include the 8,000 nearly life-sized terracotta warrior statutes buried with the emperor Shi Huangdi for the afterlife. Your feet may ache when reading about the painful custom of female foot-binding (officially banned in 1911). And, fascinating for everyone who loves eating noodles: “The world’s oldest-known noodles were discovered beneath a bowl that tipped over in northwest China, and then was buried under ten feet of sediment that formed a stay-fresh seal for four thousand years.” Those are some old noodles!

 

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Interior spread from China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum, Abrams Books for Young Readers ©2019.

 

 

In honor of the Year of the Pig, it should be noted that pigs were first domesticated in East Asia in 7,000 BC.

All ages will be fascinated by this lovely book. Bold patterns accent pages and bright colors highlight additional material. The text concludes with an interesting 20,000-year Time Line.

 

@ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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