Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular by Mayim Bialik, PhD, 192 pp, RL 5
**I really love this book and have a lot to say about it, so you are in for a long review. Also, knowing that many of you may order this book without seeing it, I want to share the details of what is covered
In the nine years since I started reviewing children's books, I have yet to review one about puberty because I have yet to find one worth sharing - until now. As the mother of a daughter, a longtime children's bookseller and someone who is interested sharing the best in kid's books with others, I am always on the lookout for a book like Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular by Mayim Bialik, PhD. When my daughter was headed into puberty way back in 2003, The Care and Keeping of You, part of the American Girl Advice Library, was the best (and almost only) book worth buying. Still in print, updated and now with many, many valuable companion books, The Care and Keeping of You is the perfect starter book to introduce girls to their bodies and the changes ahead, but very basic. I gave this book to my daughter when she was ten. She took it to her room, read it cover to cover, and did not want to talk about it. When she was ready to talk, six or seven years later, we did. But, I couldn't find books to give her to get her through the years until she was ready to talk. And, while I think that being able to talk to our daughters about the experience of being a woman and all that it encompasses is important, it isn't a comfortable subject for every mom and every daughter. In the acknowledgements, Bialik writes, "Mom, despite the fact that you never talked about most of the stuff in this book with me (which I will never let you live down), I am strong, smart and spectacular because of you." My mom never had any kind of talk with me and I grew into adulthood feeling untethered and ill-equipped to find a mentor, whether human or literary, who could guide me. Whether you or people in your child-raising village can offer guidance to your daughter or not, Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular is an important book that validates the feelings, thoughts and experiences of readers, something that is vital during adolescence which, especially in the social media driven world that we live in now, can be very isolating and confusing.
I'll be completely honest, the only reason I read Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular is because Bialik has a PhD in neuroscience and I respect that. However, I may have cracked her book anyway because she is one of the rare, non-traditionally (in the terms of Hollywood) beautiful women who is a successful actor and who seems to know how to draw boundaries between her work and private life. And, as someone who works with kids, specifically a student population that is more than three-quarters English language learners living in poverty, I am constantly thinking about how to reach my students and meet their needs academically and emotionally. Trying to find ways to help raise the reading levels of my students, I started reading about metacognition, which is the awareness and understanding of one's own thought process, or, in edu-speak, teaching students how to think about how they learn. In Girling Up, Bialik employs metacognitive strategies, teaching readers about themselves, physically, emotionally and intellectually, while also teaching them how to think about themselves, as adolescents and adults, which, to me, seems infinitely valuable.
When I worked for a literary agent, I learned that, in middle grade fiction, voice is very important when it comes to first person narrative and very challenging to get right. It makes sense, kids (or anyone) won't listen to (read) a voice that doesn't feel authentic and engaging. As an adult reading Girling Up and trying to think about how girls will respond to Bialik's voice, I feel that it is just middle-of-the-road enough with flashes of Bialik's unique experience and personality peppered in that it should (and hopefully WILL) reach many, many readers.
Bialik divides Girling Up into six parts that fit together and flow perfectly. Chapters titled How Our Bodies Work, How We Grow, How We Learn, How We Love, How We Cope and How We Matter take readers from the immediacy of their changing bodies through intellectual and emotional hurdles, ending with gentle encouragements for readers to try, "seeing our life as more than just this very moment," and to consider being "present and also being realistic about what's not right in front of us," both of which are important as girls grow into women. With her academic background in science, Bialik layers in important, fact-based details that both educate readers and make them feel like they are not alone in their experiences and feelings.
There are so many unique and marvelous aspects, ideas and nuggets of information in Girling Up that I had to stop myself halfway through writing this review and do some serious editing. I decided to share ideas from each chapter that jumped out at me as being out of the ordinary and worthwhile and also ones that you might want to know about before ordering unseen.
How Our Bodies Grow
- Breast, breast sizes, why boys like to look at breasts
- Yoga poses to help with cramps
- Body hair, the fact that most women in the world don't shave and the scientific breakdown of what causes body odor
- Common gender stereotypes, how we diverge from them and how to cope when we are made to feel bad for diverging
How We Grow
- Healthy Eating, starting with making sure you drink enough water
- Vegetarian and Vegan diets, about which Bialik says, "if you think choosing a restricted diet is a solution to your body image or weight concerns, talk to a health care provider or counselor, because you may benefit from a closer look at your relationship to food and your body."
- Understanding the impact of the media and social media on body image, wanting to fit in and how to combat the negative feelings that these images can bring up
How We Learn
- The amygdala, the hippocampus and learning
- The privilege of school
- Find the best way to learn, who to ask for help
- Tips for learning success including, don't skip class, keep an assignment notebook, don't procrastinate, learn to say NO to distraction, repeat it again and again, get creative - engage other parts of your brain and body when studying like making up songs
- The hippocampus is used for learning facts and figures, but it also stores emotional memories and experiences. Be thoughtful about what you watch on all platforms - you can't unsee it
- Parental restrictions regarding certain movies and shows seems like a big deal now, but in a few years it won't matter
- Have a hobby (Bialik shares her hobbies, which range from cute to cool to goofy)
How We Love
- A SUPERB checklist of signs a friendship might need help
- Physical signs of romantic feelings and hormones
- We don't all like the same types of people, standards for beauty are different all over the world
- Then and Now examples of what it means to date, court and have sex, including "Precautionary Pointers," and "How to Be Smart About It."
- What it means to be a late bloomer and why it's ok
How We Cope
- Emotional Intelligence
- Stress - Stressful life events, what is stress?
- Identifying emotional stress
- When sadness becomes depression, when anger becomes violence
- Distraction as a coping tool
- Healthy Coping Tools: Community, Focus, Prayer/Talking it out, Meditation (with great instructions on how to practice)
- Healthy Coping Tools when you are alone: Break out of your normal routine, Shift your perspective - change your mindset through self-talk and inspirational quotes, Nature, Move your body, Make ART, Mediate, Enjoy simple pleasures
How We Matter
- Decisions we make and the things we say and do can impact other people in very powerful ways
- Thinking about your future, what kind of life do you see yourself having? Where do you see yourself living?
- "Being a mom is a huge responsibility, and the more you prepare, the better off you'll be."
- Causes: What matters to you? What are you passionate about?
I can't say it enough, I need to say it again - Girling Up: How to Be Strong, Smart and Spectacular is an invaluable book with information and guidance that every girl deserves and not every girl gets.
Source: Review Copy, but I'll be buying it to give as a gift