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.
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.
“I work in the magic industry. I think you’ll agree it’s a pretty glamorous: a life of spells, potions, and whispered enchantments…if only. No, magic these days is simply useful…” –Jennifer Strange
The second in the Last of the Dragonslayer series finds us once again at Kazam, an employment agency/living quarters for wizards. Our hero, Jennifer, is once again back home at Kazam, filling in for the mysteriously missing Great Zambini. Her job is to find employment for the strange, but strangely loveable group of wizards under her care. At sixteen, she’s more than competent at dealing with wizards in the fictional setting of the “Ununited Kingdom” who need work, but are not all that well acquainted with a watch. She finds them jobs, but not in “Big Magic” as it was called in the good old days. Although in the last book there was a surge of magic, since then magic or “crackle” as it is referred to in the book is again in short supply. A real energy crisis is taking place, and wizards have been reduced to using magic for very prosaic reasons. Finding jobs for wizards in pizza delivery, bridge building, finding lost things, and so on are what fill Jennifer’s day. Then there is always the official government paper work to fill out after each use of magic. Practical Jennifer and her replacement-in-training, Tiger, are back at Kazam after a particular incident that involved a Dragon, a Quarkbeast, and really, you should read the first book, The Last of the Dragonslayers for more on that adventure! It was a great read!
While life at Kazam is seeming a bit humdrum, suddenly a mysterious woman appears with an offer of a great deal of money in return for a favor. She’s looking for a ring, and not just any ring, but one that doesn’t want to be found. Full of negative magic, the ring resists those who would pursue it, but Lady Mawgon, one of the better and scarier wizards at Kazam, insists on finding it. Kazam is in needs of funds, and no one at Kazam can argue with that.
Today’s guest reviewer is Julia, a 12-year -old-San Gabriel Valley girl in the 7th grade. She enjoys reading, swimming, hanging out with her friends, and playing with her precious dog. She’d like to be a fiction writer one day and writes fabulous creative stories of her own.
The Doggy Divas: Roxy’s Rules (Sourcebooks, $6.99, ages 9-12) by Lauren Brown is about two girls, Roxy and Liz, best friends forever, who get into a huge fight because Roxy accidentally kissed Matt whom Liz likes. Now Roxy has been kicked out of Liz’s group of friends and she has no one else to hang out with, until she meets Kim and Georgia. Together they start a dog-walking business. Once Liz has heard of this new venture she tries to end it, but ends up getting busted by Matt. In all this, somehow Roxy loses Liz’s dog Little Roxy and if Roxy doesn’t find the pooch in time Liz will shut down the business. However there is happy, very cute and romatic ending which I won’t reveal or I’ll spoil it all for you! I would love to read more by this author because this book had a hook which grabbed my attention and I couldn’t put it down. I would recommend this book to people who like friendship, romance, and drama. Hopefully there is a sequel!
Summary: Portia is a normal girl but, also a detective. In this story she tries to find her missing father Patch. She also tries to find out why the new girl at school, Misty, loves animals so much and goes through a lot of challenges to find out why she is so obsessed with animals.
Author’s Point of View: The author wrote this book for kids who want to know things about true friendship.
What I Thought: I thought it was a great book and I sure learned more on true friendship! At the beginning Amy didn’t like Misty and got jealous because she thought Portia and Misty were better friends than Amy and Portia were. Then at the end all of them became friends because Amy found out it was a detective project all along. When Misty walked into her new class her locket flew open and out came her pet spider, Chester. See she loves animals!
Indigo is Portia’s mom who owns an organic market and is working on recipes for pomegranates. Indigo likes to help Portia fix her friendship problems. Like when Portia thought she was going to lose her best friend, Amy, over the jealousy with Misty. Pomegranate cake was her best invention!
I learned that talking it out with your friends will help get the feelings and sadness out of your head.