As we approach the one-year anniversary of Sylvie’s publication, I had to share an overdue review of Sylvie Kantorovitz’smemoir 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.
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.
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.
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.
BUNK 9’S GUIDE TO GROWING UP: Secrets, Tips, and Expert Advice on the Good, the Bad and the Awkward Written by Adah Nuchi Illustrated by Meg Hunt Vetted by Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar (Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8-12)
★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly
Bunk 9 at Camp Silver Moon is traditionally a bunk for 12-year-old girls who experience their first kiss or get an unexpected visit from their first period. But this summer the Silver Moon Sisterhood, 16-year-old C.I.T.s (Counselors in Training) take over their former bunk and are reminded of what it was like to be twelve. Bunk 9’sGuide To Growing Up written by Adah Nuchi and illustrated by Meg Hunt, with medical supervision from Dr. Meryl Newman-Cedar, takes an innovative approach to answering age-old questions about puberty.
“While there are a whole lot of changes that happen on the road to womanhood, they’re all leading somewhere completely wonderful. (And once you get the hang of them, tampons aren’t scary at all),” inspiring the teens’ idea for a book because the Sisterhood says, WE’RE HERE TO HELP.
The girls of Bunk 9, I mean young women, leave behind “the book” that contains magical and non-magical secrets, tips and expert advice for girls on the good, the bad, and the awkward, for the next groups of girls the following summers. Each girl has her own unique personality from Brianna the social butterfly, Emma L. the science wiz and Makayla the expert bra shopper.
The composition style book begins remembering Week One when the C.I.T.s were a mere twelve. It was the fourth Summer the girls would spend together, and they were anxious to meet each other as they were dropped off. But when Abby runs to meet Brianna she discovers that her old friend towers above her. Abby looked like a stick figure. As they unpacked their belongings, Emma R. displayed a stick of deodorant, while Emma L. had a little razor. As the reader turns page after page, she learns about the very beginning of puberty through a drawing of a real-life girl whose body changes as her hair starts to grow in new places and her hips begin to widen.
Hunt brings the reader into the story with colorful comic book art depicting the first time caring for your hair entirely on your own; saying no to zebras and getting white marks on your shirt (or how to put on a shirt without getting deodorant on it) with drawings of a zebra and a girl struggling to put her shirt on over her head. The drawings allow the reader to see pictures of women’s breasts and men’s unclothed bodies without feeling embarrassed seeing real life photographs.
Each C.I.T. journals her own tips. Abby tells the reader what it’s like to be a late bloomer and we learn about the disastrous results of Grace stuffing her bra. With sticker art of cacti, butterflies and rainbows you would place on a school book, the reader encounters real-life stories that all tween and teen girls will eventually experience. The reader learns about pads and tampons; cramping remedies; and various diets and feelings.
One of my favorite chapters is Week Six where the 16-year-olds discuss health. The reader learns that “staying healthy is about more than eating right; it’s also about getting regular exercise.” And as we encounter Jenna and Grace not getting along, we see that young bodies aren’t the only thing that changes during puberty― feelings and emotions change too. Explained in a way that all preteen girls can relate to, these not so easy topics are discussed in a manner that allows the parent to teach these necessary topics while the girls see that they may have differences but they should never allow them to tear them apart. Girls will walk away feeling like they, too, are part of the Silver Moon Sisterhood.
ALL ABOUT US: Our Dreams, Our World, Our Friendship Written by Ellen Bailey Illustrated by Nellie Ryan (Andrews McMeel Publishing; $12.99, Ages 8-12)
There’s nothing better than sharing your most precious thoughts, feelings, and dreams with your best friends. Writer Ellen Bailey with illustrator Nellie Ryan, have created a wide variety of games, quizzes and questionnaires to play along with your BFF to find new ways to discover why your friendship is so special in All About Us, a companion book to All About Me.
Ryan’s illustrations welcome the reader to two diverse teenage girls surrounded by water colored painted red, pink and blue hearts who are happily asking and answering questions on knowing me and knowing you; special memories of when they met; and what does the future hold for them.
Friends are asked to individually make a playlist of their top ten tunes marking Hit or Miss on the side, letting the BFF choose if your songs are a hit or miss, and the BFF gladly does the same for your list. Daydreaming about your future children wouldn’t be fun without listing your top boy and girl names, and seeing if your pal and you will both have daughters named Emma!
With hours of questions displayed on lavender and white pages to keep best buds occupied, tween readers can complete the questions page by page or skip around to find what interests them. From drawing silly sketches of your friend to choosing their top movie choices for movie night, the reader creates a lasting record of their friendship. Ryan allows plenty of space to complete quizzes and fill-in sections. Knowing that girls will find a page that fits the mood and moment, each page ends with date, time and place and completed by which is a great way for friends to remember the day with fondness.
Bailey gives preteens a chance to walk away from the computer screen and spend time together learning things they never knew about their BFF, while rediscovering new details of what they already know. This is a great book to bond girls together and use their imaginations by exploring their artistic and writing skills.
PROJECT YOU: More Than 50 Ways to Calm Down, De-Stress and Feel Great Written by Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD Illustrated by Veronica Collignon (Switch Press/Capstone; $14.95; Ages 14 and up)
★Starred Review – VOYA
Growing up is hard and learning to feel good about yourself under everyday stressors is something everyone needs tools for to lead a happy, healthy life as broken down by children’s book author Aubre Andrus with Karen Bluth, PhD in her latest bookProject You, with a mix of photos, and illustrations by Veronica Collignon.
Andrus breaks down 50 ways to simplify life for the young adult reader, acquainting them with concepts of mindfulness, breathing, healthy eating and finding balance. Chapters such as the physical practice of yoga, demonstrates photographic poses for relaxation and stretching. Photos of young girls journaling in foreign cities and then a drawing of a girl holding a gratitude journal gives a wide assortment of visuals to reach various moods. The reader is given ideas on ways to de-stress with recommendations for happy music from the ’60s to present to change your mood, and finding a new hobby such as photography or learning a new tune on the guitar.
“The more you stay in the present moment, the more you’ll let go of stressing about things that may happen in the future or things you might regret about the past. This is why a lot of research has shown that people who practice mindfulness are less depressed, less anxious, and less stressed.”
This book lists activities, exercises, crafts and recipes that can help all ages transform their mindset and their emotions. Mindfulness tips are displayed throughout the book, such as in the chapter “Find A Furry Friend”, Andrus says, “Whether it’s your pet or an animal in a petting zoo or park, take time to just observe the animal. If you notice that your mind starts to drift as you are watching, gently bring your attention back to that animal.” As I read through the book, I skipped chapters then returned to them later; checked out the songs she suggests to uplift my mood and put ingredients on my shopping list for her smoothie recipe.
Adults can read the book and make suggestions to their teens, or teens can read and create their own gratitude journal. “The Wellness Check” was a great way to review what may need improvement and how you can make these changes. The last chapter “How To Ask For Help” gives the reader resources she can turn to whether it’s a doctor, social worker or school counselor she knows asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker. It’s a great book to keep on the bookshelf and return to when you need that extra support.
THE COMPLETE COOKBOOK FOR YOUNG CHEFS by America’s Test Kitchen
Interior photography by America’s Test Kitchen
Interior illustrations by Sourcebooks, Inc.
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $19.99, Ages 8-12)
★Starred Review – Booklist The #1 New York Times Best Seller
An Amazon Best Book of 2018
Middle-grade foodie or picky eater?The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs, a National and Regional Indie Bestseller from America’s Test Kitchen, works for both kinds of kid. Foodies will enjoy testing their know-how; picky eaters get involved in the process, opening doors to new foods. The text guides the inexperienced, starting with the basics: “read carefully, stay focused, practice safety, mistakes are OK.” Tools, kitchen lingo, and how to best do things are explained. Fancy touches such as garnishing and plating make dishes shine.
Beautiful color photos accompany the 100+ kid-tested and kid-approved recipes. Each is rated with one to three chef hats to quickly identify the difficulty level (more hats = more complexity). Symbols also note whether the recipe requires a knife, microwave, stovetop, oven, or if no knives or heat are necessary. For example, hummus is a one-hat, no knife/heat recipe, whereas Mexican Street Corn warrants three hats, the use of a knife, microwave, and oven. Using the Tea, No Kettle method, my daughter tried steeping tea bags at room temperature to make tea without bitter notes and that worked really well. I also found the suggestion in Decorating Cupcakes to keep sprinkles within the cookie cutter a clever idea and would recommend this anyone, especially to add a special design touch.
The book concludes by explaining the US Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate illustration to help kids recognize the major food groups and portioning. Each Complete Cookbook recipe has a caloric and nutritional breakdown in an easy-reference chart, a no-pressure way for kids to read about choices they can make each day. Also mentioned are the benefits of eating with others, exercising, and understanding that “it’s about good habits—not perfection.” These important messages communicate that we make a difference in our lives, one choice at a time.
Click here for America’s Test Kitchen kids website.
Be Prepared, a middle grade graphic novel written and illustrated by VeraBrosgol, is the book I needed in middle school. Aside from the fact that I never actually got to go to summer camp, I imagine my experiences would have been eerily similar to the protagonist’s trials and tribulations, including the torture of the unknown when it came to outhouse bathrooms. (I did go camping a lot and have never met a Port-a-Potty I liked, but then, who has?). The expressive and verdant illustrations truly capture the specific tumultuous emotions of tweens and beyond and captured my heart with the integrity and honesty given to this age group.
Even though your kids are back to school with visions of summer lingering in their heads, Brosgol’s novel will help quell some of those summer pangs. Written from the perspective of a young Russian girl named Vera who is trying to fit in with her peers, Be Prepared simultaneously pulls the reader into an immediate place of recognition as well as a fresh perspective from a Russian family.
While her friends have big houses and to-die-for birthday parties, Vera struggles to gain acceptance in her smaller home she shares with her Mom and little brother. When Vera finds out from a Russian friend at Temple that a special summer camp exists geared towards Russian kids, she almost explodes with delight at the thought of going to a camp where she can relate to her peers and make some new friends. Since her school peers have been to sleep away summer camps and trips all over the world, Vera listens intently and absorbs information as they talk extensively about it all, hoping that following this summer she’ll have camp stories to share as well.
Vera and her brother have never been to summer camp, and she is determined to convince her mom that they should both go. And they do. As the first day of camp approaches, Vera is bursting at the seams. Her younger brother remains apprehensive. Thrown into the midst of a tent with two older campers who are seasoned participants, Vera’s welcome is not what she had in mind. Initially frowned upon for being so young, Vera’s artistic skills impress the older campers and they start asking for drawings. In return, Vera is suddenly at the center of attention she always thought she wanted. But giving away her art quickly turns into giving away her contraband candy stash as well as turning a blind eye to other campers she might have a genuine connection with. When Vera is caught with candy in her shared tent by the camp counselor, every bunk is raided until all the candy is gone, and Vera’s popularity with the older girls plummets. Adding to Vera’s stress and dismay is the fact that her younger brother seems to be enjoying camp just fine and isn’t anxious to leave as soon as possible like she is.
The turning point for Vera is her camp counselor encouraging her to find friends that don’t ask for something in return for “friendship.” Soon Vera finds out that a young camper with a missing guinea pig is an interesting and fun person to hang out with. At the end of camp both Vera and her younger brother come to terms with some of the pros and cons of summer camp on the drive home and, in a tender moment of sibling connection, find out that they have both struggled.
Check out Be Prepared and feast your eyes on the amazing artistry and storytelling skills of Vera Brosgol, an author your kids are sure to want more of.
HELLOFLO: The Guide, Period. THE EVERYTHING PUBERTY BOOK FOR THE MODERN GIRL
Written by Naama Bloom
Illustrated by Fleur Sciortino
Read an excerpt from HELLOFLO: The Guide, Period.
Just scroll down for a taste of Chapter Seven
courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.
(Dutton Children’s Books; $19.99 Hardcover & $12.99 Paperback,
Ages 10 and up)
Tweens and teens will enjoy HELLOFLO founder Naama Bloom’s shame-free attitude towards all things period-related, making this an ideal read for girls entering puberty and interested in learning more about their bodies. Got questions about bras, cramps, facial hair, shaving or tampons? The answers are all in here. Bloom’s even included stories from girls and women who’ve been there and whose experiences will remind adolescents that they’re not alone. Know someone who needs this information or will need it soon? Consider sharing this post with its enlightening excerpt about changes that occur in the brain during puberty. They’ll want to read more. This honest and empowering guide, vetted by doctors, covers a variety of essential topics such as:
· BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: HELLOFLO encourage early detection practices, and emphasizes the importance of knowing your body, starting with instructions for giving breast self-examination (pages 40-41) · STUFF WE WANT TO HEAR ABOUT: Like period-proof underwear and a recommendation for a good gynecologist, there is some information that is meant to be shared. Everyone has someone – a young girl, a grown woman, a mom, a dad, an aunt, a big sibling – who would want to hear about a modern and inclusive puberty guide. · FOR YOUR FYI: What are fallopian tubes, again? Do periods attract sharks? When did modern shaving start? There is so much information packed into HELLOFLO’s colorful diagrams.
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER SEVEN, MIND THE GAP:
We’re going to talk about your brain and how it develops. This is critical information that I didn’t have until I was already a grown-up. Once I learned about this stuff, I realized how helpful it would have been to know all of this when I was still a kid. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.
What you’re about to read is an introduction, a vastly simplified overview of brain function and development to help you understand what’s happening. This is not a complete explanation; it’s really just broad strokes.
Think of your brain as your command center. In this command center there are approximately 100 billion neurons. Neurons are cells that transmit information through your brain.
Your brain, and its neurons, perform important functions and are responsible for your behavior, feelings, and judgment.
Your brain completed approximately 95 percent of its development before you were six years old. Your brain, like your body, had a major growth spurt. Right now, while you’re going through puberty, your brain is having another growth spurt, and the pathways that make connections between your actions and your brain are further developing.
Have you ever seen a plasma globe? It’s a clear glass ball with a mixture of gases and an electrical current. When you aren’t touching the outside of the globe, it looks like a bunch of small lightning bolts coming from the center. Then when you touch the outside of the globe, the bolts come together to form fewer, stronger bolts. Your brain develops much like a plasma globe. There are bolts, or neural pathways, in every direction. Then, like someone’s hand is placed on the globe, the smaller neural pathways disappear in favor of fewer, stronger neural pathways.
During puberty, it’s as if there are a few hands being placed on your plasma globe to make fewer, stronger bolts. Here’s an example. If you really love to play a musical instrument and you keep playing throughout your adolescence, those pathways will become permanent and you’ll likely keep playing that instrument, or at the very least maintain the skill, for the rest of your life. But if you stop playing and practicing during adolescence, those pathways will slowly get weaker or even disappear. The cells and connections that are used frequently will survive and flourish until they essentially become hardwired. But the paths that aren’t used are the small bolts that disappeared. These pathways don’t have to be lost forever; you can always learn new skills or re-learn those that have been lost. But your chances of hardwiring skills increase if you work on them throughout your adolescent brain growth spurt.
How theCommand CenterMakes Decisions
The way your brain is developing also impacts the way you make decisions.
There are two parts of your brain that are critical to -decision making: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Think of these two parts of the brain like this: The limbic system makes decisions based on emotion, and the prefrontal cortex makes decisions based on logic. The tricky part for you is this: Your prefrontal cortex, or rational brain, is not fully developed until you are about thirty years old; those bolts in the prefrontal cortex are just starting to get stronger. But your limbic system bolts are nice and strong.
The Limbic System
The limbic system is the part of the brain that controls your emotions. It controls your tears and your laughter and your anger. This part of the brain will be pretty much fully developed by the time you go through puberty.
Your limbic system wants you to feel good. It’s the part that loves your friends. Because it’s fully developed before your prefrontal cortex, your rational brain, sometimes it can get you in difficult situations. For example, when you’re with your friends and someone has an idea to do something fun, but perhaps risky, your limbic system will get excited to ride along. Since it’s fully developed, it might get to a decision quicker than your prefrontal cortex. Your fully developed limbic system plays a big role in the peer pressure adults worry about.
Another great example of how to understand this distinction is to think about using helmets. When you’re a little kid you wear a helmet when you’re riding a scooter, riding your bike, or skiing, rarely challenging your parents. But when you get a little older, sometimes helmets seem less cool. Your brain hasn’t gotten stronger or more resistant to concussions if you fall. But you are making decisions for yourself and you are choosing what feels good, not necessarily what’s the safest. That’s your limbic system talking without getting feedback from your prefrontal cortex.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. When I was a teen it wasn’t considered cool to zip up a winter coat and wear a hat. I still recall freezing outside with my friends in the winter because I was more concerned about pleasing them than I was about staying healthy. My limbic system won a lot back in those days.
The Prefrontal Cortex
As we discussed, the prefrontal cortex won’t be fully developed until you are roughly thirty years old. Yes, thirty! For many of us, that’s after we choose to begin families. Hard to imagine, right?
The prefrontal cortex is in charge of making rational decisions. When you were little you needed your grown-up to tell you not to touch the stove because it was too hot and you’d get burned. The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that tells you these sorts of things as you get older, so you don’t need your grown-up around all the time to make sure you don’t get hurt.
This is important so I’m saying it again:
The part of your brain that is responsible
for making rational decisions is not fully formed until you’re thirty years old.
As you get older, the decisions you’re faced with are more nuanced than whether or not you should touch a hot stove. Also, the really complicated decisions are often made with your friends who we know now impact your limbic system. That’s why this is such critical information.
An undeveloped prefrontal cortex is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. You’re still on the hook for all your actions. You remain responsible for you. However, it does mean you might have to work harder in order to make good decisions.
When you’re a grown-up all these parts work together at the same speed. When you’re going through puberty, it can sometimes feel a bit like your limbic system is in charge.
So what’s a girlto do?
For one thing, be patient. When I said your prefrontal cortex won’t be fully developed until you’re thirty that doesn’t mean that it’s not capable of making good decisions. What that means is that it operates more slowly than the other parts of your brain. So while the emotional part of the brain is moving quickly, the prefrontal cortex is sluggish to respond.
There is one thing you can do to help you make better decisions: slow down. Give your rational brain a chance to process and catch up. Find a quiet place and really think about your decisions. You’ll be glad you did.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Naama Bloom is the founder of HelloFlo.com, a modern-day health site for girls and women. Her mission for HelloFlo was to create a place where women and girls could learn about their bodies in an open and honest environment without any shame and with a healthy dose of humor. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and two children. HelloFlo:The Guide, Period. is her first book.