Episode 012: “Chill Out & Stop Making This Weird: A Girl’s Survival Guide Extraordinaire” with Kelly Olson
Kelly Olson is a highly-acclaimed puberty book author and former sex ed teacher, with a passion for helping youth navigate coming-of-age challenges. Her critically-endorsed book, “Chill Out & Stop Making This Weird: A Girl’s Survival Guide Extraordinaire,” follows the journey of a young girl going through the ups and downs of puberty – including starting menstruation, developing her first crush and more. It’s rich in humor, heart, relatable characters and science-based information, and is informed by Kelly’s 20 year career teaching reproductive health to elementary school youth.
In this episode, Kelly dives into the inspiration behind the book, the message she hopes to convey to young girls about their changing bodies, the importance of empowering youth with timely and accurate puberty information, and what she took away from two decades as a reproductive health teacher. She also talks about her passion for Days for Girls – and why she decided to donate a portion of all her proceeds to our mission!
“The future is a place that we create. And I want the future story to be written – rewritten for young women” – Kelly Olson
- What inspired Kelly to write “Chill Out And Stop Making This Weird: A Girl's Survival Guide Extraordinaire,” and how to book was informed by her 20 year tenure as an elementary school teacher
- The importance of providing accurate, timely, age-appropriate information for pubescent youth – and how using fictional narrative, with a healthy dose of humor, lends itself well to tough/deep/potentially “awkward” conversations
- Who can benefit from reading this book (hint: it’s not only preteens and moms! Kelly has also gotten great feedback from dads, grandparents and everyone in between)
- What Kelly learned as a sex ed teacher, how she overcame stigma to facilitate a classroom culture of openness, and how those experiences shaped her book
- Plot points, themes and character development in Chill Out (spoiler warning!) and what her plans are for future writing projects
- Kelly’s personal “puberty story”
- Why she donates a portion of all her proceeds to Days for Girls – and why she’s so passionate about partnering with us
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: @KellyOlsonBooks
Kelly Olson’s book, Chill Out & Stop Making This Weird: A Girl’s Survival Guide Extraordinaire, shot to #1 on Amazon’s “Children’s Health and Maturing” books in its first week and has caught the attention of Books Editor for O Magazine, Oprah’s Magazine, and the coordinator of Oprah’s Book Club. It has received star reviews from RHOBH, mom and actress Kyle Richards, and numerous moms and dads alike.
Kelly discovered the most effective way to help children navigate the complex and intimate topic of puberty in over twenty years of teaching. She felt compelled to expand her reach and provide tools for children coming-of-age, to decrease anxiety of the unknown and to help eliminate awkwardness. Kelly highlights the importance of having open parent communication, the value of education and how we are all in this together.
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Jessica Wiliams 0:01
Welcome to the Days for Girls Podcast, a show about breaking barriers for women and girls around the world. I'm your host, Jessica Wiliams, Chief Communications Officer at Days for Girls International. At Days for Girls, we believe in a world where periods are never a problem. We are on a mission to shatter the stigma and limitations associated with menstruation by increasing access to sustainable period products, and menstrual health education for all people with periods. I am so excited about today's guest. Kelly Olsen is the author of the book, “Chill Out And Stop Making This Weird: A Girl's Survival Guide Extraordinaire.” She is a former teacher and our conversation is so fun. Not to mention, she donates a portion of the proceeds from the book to Days for Girls, which is really cool. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did. Now let's go on to the show.
Hello, I am so excited to have you here today! How are you?
Kelly Olson 1:02
I'm fabulous. How about you?
Jessica Wiliams 1:04
Oh my gosh, I'm good. I'm good. I was telling you before we started the recording, I've been doing a lot of conversations with researchers and folks who were you know, steeped in data around menstrual health. And so I really looking forward to this conversation because I think it's going to be quite a bit different from that.
So Kelly, let's dive right in. I am curious, you wrote this incredible little book. And I say little because it is kind of small, and you can get through it quickly. And it's an easy read for an adult. I guess what made you decide to write this? I guess that's probably a good place to start.
Kelly Olson 1:41
Well, you know, I see a lot of whitespace for the underserved pubescent girls, and I just really want to educate them in in a light-hearted format, you know, but yet I wanted it to be modern and relevant. And through that process I wanted to build community that emphasized the importance of open communication with their parents or their grandparents or, you know, teachers, anybody around them. And ultimately, which I share this with you, I think is to shatter period stigma work worldwide. I mean, the future is a place that we create, right. And I want the future story to be written rewritten for young women.
I mean, if we change the narrative for girls, and young women going forward through like an educative storytelling process, like my book, you know, and if we use humor, we can round out the sharp edges of all of the unknown and all the awkwardness that's associated with puberty. And young girls, you know, I think it's important that we provide these girls, all of us, all surrounding them, provide them with positive view, right, of this sensitive, relevant topic. So that the negative we all see the negative all the time, and I think we just need to shed the light on the positive. And there's so much power in storytelling. And it's just literally, it's a measurable, I mean, if we can normalize female topics, by bringing it into light, that it's actually natural, and it's an unavoidable event.
You know, if we can treat it with truth and respect, I guess, in my book is what I really tried to make sure. And authenticity. We can shift that culture, I think, and you know, we can provide it. Just empower, you know, young women through the story… educated storytelling process. And you know, there's just so many stories, and you and I were talking about this earlier, that need to be told, and I believe the coming of age story, unfortunately, is one that really hasn't been told in a story format.
Jessica Wiliams 4:00
So I'm curious what kind of response you're getting from girls reading this book? Or, like, what are you hearing from your readers?
Kelly Olson 4:12
Well, that's interesting. I have gotten letters from great grandmas – these beautiful handwritten cursive letters that they have read it, which kind of blew me away. And they're just saying how I actually got a couple of them and saying how they wish they had something like this when they're younger. I've heard anywhere from 88, down to an 8 year old has written me. And I've had I think another surprising fact was I had dads. I had dads write to me, you know, like single dads, who are raising daughters on their own. And, you know, back in the time when they were taught puberty, they were separated in the classroom. So boys were taught this curriculum and the girls were taught their curriculum. And you know, it was kind of a mystery around what was going on with the girls and their body.
So now you have these dads that have daughters coming of age, and they really didn't have that material. So I've had dads say that they learn things from the book, which is always interesting, right? And they're glad that they have a tool to utilize it with their own daughters, and, you know, a way to start or engage that conversation. And probably what another one of the things that's been so fun, because I've had students, former students of mine, reach out to me, and show me that they're reading the book to their daughters that are this age now. And actually, on my website, they have sent me pictures. So it's like my former students' daughters reading the book, and on my website picture photo gallery. And so to hear that, you know, my students that I actually taught this to, who's in turn are teaching it to their daughters (which yes, ages me) – it's just been fun. It's been fun to hear that come full circle.
Jessica Wiliams 6:13
So I want to go back to something you said. So you're a retired teacher, and I'm curious, like, you know, I'm 40 years old, and I, it's been a long time since I was in grade school. What was it lik, the sex education curriculum, where you taught? Were girls and boys together when that was taught?
Kelly Olson 6:34
Well, in some classrooms, I kept them all together in my classroom. And, you know, you start the conversation, you start the unit, I should say, with the conversation about what do you do when you feel awkward? Like oh, I giggle or I don't make eye contac, or you know, all of those things…kind of walk through some of those things, because, you know, that's where they're at. And I knew that it would just be a silent process, right? Like it would be the quietest unit ever, because nobody's gonna engage or ask any questions. Just try to bear down and get through it, which is what the main character in the book, whose name is Maddie, does the same – or attempt to do the same, I guess.
And so early on in my teaching career, should I figure out how to change that. So what I did is I decorated a shoe box with this obnoxious neon yellow paper. And then I labeled it anonymous puberty question box. And it just had an I put it by the door, my classroom, it just had a little slit in the top. And students could write any question related to puberty on a piece of paper and slide it into the little slit on the box. They could ask anything, and without having to sign their name. So if appropriate, and of course, most of them actually were. And they aligned with the curriculum, of course, I would answer them after lunch.
And during that unit, it was the quickest return from lunch I ever had, they would file it, and they would sit down and I pop that box, open it and read the questions. And I mean, you could hear a pin drop, but I mean, prompt return from lunch hour. So you know, that just encouraged them to ask the things they always wanted to know, but would never put their hand up and in the class and ask it. And if it got to a situation where very seldom, in all the years that I taught, was there ever something that was just really inappropriate? And if so, I would encourage them to reach out to talk to their parents, depending on what it was, but almost always, I could answer it.
Jessica Wiliams 8:47
Wow, I'm just thinking now, it didn't occur to me when I was kid, like, you know, my second grade teacher, Mrs.Barrier…does she have training to do this? Like, we just asked! I mean, what you were teaching, you know, a variety of different subjects, right, and you were just asked to teach puberty.
Kelly Olson 9:07
Right. Family Life actually, is what it's called. It's the only unit in our curriculum over the years that we ever had to have a parent signature for their child to participate in the unit. So the only unit we ever had that parent signature, they could opt out. And if they opted out, they would just be removed from the classroom. That really didn't happen. I always find it interesting. My male colleagues would always come in – and you don't have a lot of male colleagues, by the way in elementary education, at least when I taught – and they were like, how about I teach history and you take my kids and, you know, you teach family, the family life unit. But I actually, I love to teach it because kids just absorb everything and they just, they just want to know this information and they they don't know where to turn
And honestly, you know, when I was doing research and just googling some of the most basic pubic puberty terms, you could just dive into some deep web dark web sites and you want to be the first to present this information. And make sure that it's solid, and it's it's timely, it's accurate. Just create that open communication with kids.
Jessica Wiliams 10:26
So in the book, there's Maddie, and then there's Mrs. Watson who's teaching. Are you supposed to be Mrs. Watson?
Kelly Olson 10:36
Well, no, I mean, some of my things, like I just shared the puberty question [inaudible]. So that was something that I did. Some of the things, you know, are just from years of experience, and being submerged. I mean, I spend a great part of my life with, you know, 9, 10, 11, 12 year old kids. So I think that's an emergent process, you know, you just you learn a lot when you're with them. You hear how they talk to each other, you understand, you hear their questions throughout the years – whether it's the puberty box, or just coming up to you or, you know, just their conversation between each other. And a lot of it stemmed from that.
But I also, over my lunch hour, I taught a children and change group. And that was children, you know, it was a group of kids that could have experienced change anywhere from divorce and illness in the family, death, move, parent in prison, abandonment, any change. And one thing that I consistently observed, whether it was in my day to day classroom, or in the support group, was how much anxiety was rooted in the unknown, and the uncertainty of their life, you know, of life events, in that age group, and what was going on with their body. And between those two things, it just opened my eyes and in my heart to their common stresses and their anxieties, and just their hunger for understanding what's going on in their lives and in their bodies.
So I think, you know, in writing the book, I was just really careful to present that information so that it aligned with with the teacher in me, and aligned with the national health education standards and state benchmarks. I wanted to make sure that you know, that it was current it was it was sound information, it was relevant, but yet it was still straightforward. And of course, it would have a parent stamp of approval, right? But you know, that you just, it's just imperative that we're the leaders and providing this information that's age appropriate, you know, as a foundation for these youth, and then they can make sound decisions about their sexuality. And, you know, of course, I always feel, you know, in awkward situations, humor can carry you a long way. So, I, you know, want to emphasize the importance in the book. I tried! I hope you laughed us at least once, the importance of humor. And sometimes, and Maddie says this in the book, sometimes it's how you look at it. And it's not actually how it is. Like, she thought some girls in a part of the book were kind of laughing at her, but they weren't. You know, sometimes just get caught up in how you look at it vs. sort of how it actually is. And you know, humor in so many areas of life, and especially in these tweens and teens in this age group, you know, it can soften the edges that society sometimes delivers, you know, especially through the social media. And for impressionable youth, it just can soften that.
Jessica Wiliams 13:53
Yeah, and it really did. I did laugh. Maddie actually is not chilled out. [Laughs] She is like, freaking out… she is making this weird, right? And it's like, it's really cute because you get to hear all her thoughts and then her reactions when she's like, Oh my god, I can't believe this is happening, you know? And so it's adorable actually. She's a super cute character. Can you just give us a like high level overview of what happens to Maddie in the book and and like the journey she goes on?
Kelly Olson 14:27
Absolutely. So Maddie is her mom's a teacher. And she lives with her mom, but her parents are divorced. So she sees both her mom and dad. And she's experiencing this peer review unit and she's just the kid that follows the rules and everything and she establishes this big plan of how she's going to skip the last day of the program and stay home and binge on Netflix and eat banana bread and it fails. She ends up having to go and she just has the swing of emotions, right. Like you said, she's lovable. But she's confused. And then sometimes she's super confident. And then, but she's anxious and she's innocent. And she wants to understand, and she wants to lean in and ask her mom, because her teacher indicates that sometimes genetics plays a role in in your onset of your period. And she wants to ask her mom, but there's just really no time to throw it out there. So she has a struggle of how do you approach mom. And finally, she does, and mom ends up – we have a lot of cool mom moments in there, shout out to moms, you know, trying to make a intimate connection – and mom ends up sharing her puberty story, right.
And we all have a puberty story, all of us, even the dads, you know, single dads raising girls, we all have a puberty story. And that's always a good start to tell them your story, your child your story, and you know, just kind of humanizes it and makes them realize that every single person in this world is going to go through it in some fashion, male or female. And so that all plays out in the story. And there's also, you know, there's so many children these days that are raised multi generational families and living in one roof. And so there's an introduction of, her name is Glama for grandma, and grandma's involved in this education with Maddie. But it weaves through lessons and facts, you know, everything from her experience of bra fitting, and she's like, why do we have to get fitted for a bra, we don't get fitted for underwear? Can't you just pick me up some?You know, to buying tampons and pads with her mother and all of these different experiences and of course, experiencing a crash at school. But she doesn't even identify that that's actually what it is, it's kind of the swing of emotions. And at the end, you know, she kind of realizes it and connects the dots that she is kind of going through some hormone swings and it's all part of it. And then it just it all kind of comes full circle at the end and you know, in the mom moments, and then also a realization that she's actually going to have this at dads and that's another freakout moment for Maddie. But she, you know, it all comes together at the end that she realizes that she can handle it, she has it, she's got a good support system, but yet, she has to reach out to them and bring it in.
And friendships always played through this too. And the other thing that is woven in the book is life balance. and Mrs. Watson who's the teacher in the book really stresses life balance, because I think that that's something that's missing. We hear about it, as adults, we hear about it all the time – about life balance – but kids, I mean, kids need life balance just as much as adults need life balance. And kids, you know, understand that terminology. Establish it early on in their life, and understand what it means. So that is part of it too. And so are exercise and different things and personal health and hygiene and acne. And she gets her first visit and all of that is is woven into the story.
Jessica Wiliams 18:32
I love it. And one of my favorite parts is at the end – spoilers! – Mrs. Watson sends out a I list and and the list is really great. You know, and I'm curious: you said you did a lot of research and made sure that you were like, you know, abiding by the standards around this stuff. But then the Maddy adds on her own little list, which is super sweet. So I just love that part of the book. And I'm curious about your research for that and how you came up with those those points in the list?
Kelly Olson 19:10
Well, a lot of the list came from questions that were actually put into the anonymous puberty question box that was in my classroom for over 20 years. A lot of those and then in addition to that, I compiled a list of questions that I imagine they would have asked, some of my students, if they weren't seen dropping a slip in. For fear that, what if that was the only slip and somebody saw and put it in and the way to lunch or something? So I kind of formulated some questions that I thought they would ask and of course questions that came up in my support group over my lunch hour. And that was just kind of a compilation of all of that, what you think they would want to know.
And I have three kids. So I have two girls and a boy, and you know the questions or the funny things that came up through the years about that…they're probably gonna kill me for saying this now. It was just a compilation of all of those experiences, all those life experiences, and what I thought perhaps, you know, they would have and just questions from the past, you know, through the main character, that was helpful to have that box. But also, when I was teaching, I constantly looked for a novel that I could use to teach through the main character, you know, so you can teach through and have distant, yet deeper conversations about that main character's feelings. Or that main character's emotions. And capitalize on the importance of open communication, whether it was with me, or you know, with the parents or grandma or whoever, older sibling,
I always wanted something like that. That we could come together as a class, and we could develop these deep conversations, but yet, you know, you can teach to the character when you're one step removed, which always makes it more comfortable for the kids. Because then, you know, it's even one more step removed from an anonymous puberty question. In the box, you know, it's kind of hypothetical, but yet, it touches on all their hearts. And those really are questions that they have, and you can really have those deep conversations. So that's why Maddie in this book, I'm hoping can evoke some of those deeper conversations. And at the end of the book, there's discussion questions that you can have, whether you're a teacher in your classroom, or whether you're a parent, or you know, I just have people that just read it for enjoyment.
But what's also just interesting, I just produced an audio book with this just came out recently. And I had over 400 people audition for the voice! And I finally found the perfect one that in my head was Maddie. And the voice, it's from a woman that lives in the United Kingdom. And we got this put together, and it just went live last like two weeks ago. And I've already had some response from a parent who purchased the book, they listened to it in their car. So it's two and a half hours audio. And she said that it was the perfect time to have a talk, because she had a captive audience. And so, you know, there's just there's different ways you can use it as a teaching tool, or you can just use it to connect with your child or just give it to your kid and let them enjoy it.
Jessica Wiliams 22:46
I love that. So for the parents who were like, I want to to do this, what ages do you recommend this book for?
Kelly Olson 22:56
Well, from what I thought it was to what it is I've heard, from what I've gathered so far – anywhere from 8 to 88 can read it. I know! And that was not what I thought, you know, and I was thinking I would have these young, you know, pubescent girls, you know tweens – anywhere from like, 8 to 15. But like I've said, I've had dads, I've had grandmas, great grandmas, I had moms, I've had former students. So it's wide open. And you know, one thing I think that surprised me in the process is adults are telling me that they've learned something from this, you know, whether it's males or even older people. So I guess we're all learning. And I mean, the age can be anything really. But I mean, if they're trying to learn and understand pubescent I guess, anywhere from 8 to 15. But I would honestly say majority of my readers are even older, way older than that.
Jessica Wiliams 24:01
Mhmm. Yeah, I could see that. So I am curious, like, I'm gonna pivot a little bit to just you personally. What was your experience like growing up? Like, were you in a family that was open to talking about puberty, like Maddy's mom was, or did you have to kind of figure it out on your own?
Kelly Olson 24:21
Well, my mom was a teacher as well. And she came in to my bedroom one evening and dropped a little pamphlet on my nightstand and it had puberty stamped on the front of it. And she said, look it over and ask her if she had any questions and she walked out of the room. Well, I of course was mortified that my two older brothers might barge in my room so I I quickly buried it in my drawer only to pull it out later and and I started looking at it, like, all these charts and these sterile anatomical drawings accompanying with, like language would appear to be for maybe medical students. And I had so many questions, but I didn't know how to ask my mom. I mean, the days had gone on. And I kicked it around trying to figure out how, you know, the right timing. My brothers couldn't be there, you know, and all these things. And anyway, eventually ended up burying it in the trash can in our, in our kitchen. And I'm older, so this was before, you know, there was internet and Google. So I just I stumbled through it, like so many others, you know, and I just figured it out as my pubescent unfolded. And some of the experiences that Maddie had in the book with white shorts, etc, happened to me. You know, you just figure it out as you go. So, yeah, that's kind of my experience.
Jessica Wiliams 25:52
And did it help when you said…did you say you have three girls?
Kelly Olson 25:58
No I have two girls and a boy, two girls.
Okay. I bet it helped a lot though, with all of your experience, raising your girls and your boy and, and dealing with puberty.
It did. I mean, there's big swing from boys to girls, but I guess what you think they know, you think that they know these things. And even from, you know, down to shaving and things, and you realize this is not innate, that they literally need to be taught this, or they come out, like with toilet paper stuck all over their face from all these, you know, cuts and things. Because they shave dry. You know, I think that I as a parent, it's just something that you've dealt with for so long and monthly, and etc. But you forget, so quick to forget that they don't know these things. And you definitely can't take it for granted. It's just a stepping thing – whether its, like I said, whether it's shaving or menstrual products, or you know, now they have the panties that you can wear, so you don't have to have the pads and just all the different options. And to teach them what they are and how to how to do it properly. And not assume they know.
Jessica Wiliams 27:18
Right? Yeah, that's great advice. So Kelly, I know you have more books that you're working on. So tell us about it. It almost sounds like to me, you've got this series of books kind of based off of this whole theme. Tell me more about that.
Kelly Olson 27:35
Well, I wanted to write books that, like I said, there was a need that maybe I couldn't find or access when I was teaching. And one of them in my support groups was dealing with divorce – just like children and change with divorce and all of the things that they go through. So I wanted to make it real. Take a character like Maddie who – it'll be Maddie again – and you know, just with all of the same insecurities, the questions, the you know, the innocence in in the unknown, the fear, the anxiety dealing with the unknown, you know, with divorce the two separate homes, maybe one parent or another start dating, you know, that perhaps different schools, friends, neighborhoods, and you know, one parent asking a lot about the other parent and things like that. So I just, I just wanted to take another you know, awkward ,kind of uncomfortable topic and let Madison take charge and run with that.
Jessica Wiliams 28:38
I love that. And you donate a portion of your proceeds to Days for Girls, thank you for that! So when when you purchase the book, you are also supporting Days for Girls and I'm curious what made you choose our organization?
Kelly Olson 28:53
Well, I was 100% ready to publish finally this book and get it out there get it in the hands of girls, but I just felt like there's something missing. And I didn't know what it was. And so I just jumped on internet and I I spent a good deal of time researching and I researched a lot of period poverty and I finally decided I want to partner with Days for Girls International because of your mission, Days for Girls' mission to increase, you know, access to menstrual care. And of course I love the education component of it too. And I was just so impressed with all of the innovating sustainable solutions and the commitment that you guys have to shatter these stigmas and shatter the limitations that young girls or women have. And I just saw I reached out to Days for Girls. And Jessica, I just love working with your staff. I mean the first phone call I knew this was it. I mean they are literally, the women are just a joy to work with, and everybody was such a delight and I love all your passion about the cause. And so i just knew right then it was a perfect fit. So my only hope, you know, is to add value to your campaign in bringing greater dignity and knowledge and health to the lives of all these young women and girls globally. And i love the partnership and that's probably my favorite part.
Jessica Wiliams 30:24
Well, we love it too! And we do appreciate that very much, and i hope that listeners will go out and purchase your book. Okay, first of all, where can they purchase your book? And second, where can people connect with you personally if they want to learn more about what you're doing or maybe buy books in bulk?
Kelly Olson 30:46
Um well, I'm on Amazon. You can just type in Kelly Olsen or Kelly Olsen books and i'll pop up or the name of the book, “Chill Out And Stop Making This Weird: A Girl's Survival Guide Extraordinaire.” But like i said, I also have an audio book and audio is on iTunes it's on audible.com, it's on Amazon. And of course on Amazon it's in paperback and ebook too. So you can find me at kellyolsenbooks.com and if you just go to kellyolsenbooks.com you'll see all of this about Days for Girls, and the reader photo gallery, and then you can just click on the big button right in the middle that says Amazon. You just can click on that and it'll take you right through, and I encourage any listeners if they want to take a picture, send it to me on my website and i would be more than happy to upload it!
Because i really think it's critical that we build a community around this for girls, and we show them that it's cool, it's normal. Let's normalize this, let's empower them and show that there's many reading it and it's okay. It's cool. Cool mommoments are are welcomed as well. So you can find me at kellyolsenbooks.com.
Jessica Wiliams 32:00
Awesome. Thank you so much Kelly, we really appreciate your time.
Kelly Olson 32:03
Thank you, thank you for having me and thank you for the collaborative effort in changing the world for these young girls. Appreciate it, Jessica.
Jessica Wiliams 32:11
Absolutely, we do too!
The Days for Girls podcast is produced by Days for Girls International. For show notes and resources mentioned in this episode, visit daysforgirls.org/podcast. If you'd like to support the work we do on the show, leave a rating or a review wherever you listen subscribe to the show, and share episodes on social media with your friends. To learn more about Days for Girls and to join our global movement, please visit daysforgirls.org. Thank you for listening, see you next time!