Friday, April 26, 2013

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier

Title:  Smile,
Author:  Raina Telgemeier
Publisher:  Graphix
Year:  2009
Pages:  224
Genre:  Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novel
Themes:  Coming of Age, First Love, Friendship
Age Range:  6th-10th Grade

Summary:  (From Goodreads)
Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

 While I've never been a huge fan of graphic novels for my own adult reading, I understand completely their popularity, especially with younger readers.  Connecting strong illustrations with a well-written story is sure to be engaging for readers who are transitioning from picture books to chapter books, and the number and quality of graphic novels for young readers is increasing.  Traditionally looked down upon as frivolous, the rich story telling present in modern day graphic novels-both for children and adults-is revitalizing the genre and allowing stories to be told in new and different ways.

Telgemeier's books, Smile and Drama, are not what people generally think about when they hear the term graphic novel.  The genre, popularized by horror or science fiction authors such as Neil Gaiman (The Sandman), Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (The Watchmen) and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), is often seen as a way to tell fantastical stories of monsters and heroes.  But Telgemeier's books tell ordinary stories-stories of friendship and love and adolescence, but in a format that appeals to readers who like a side of good art with their storytelling.  Smile is the story of one girl's transition from awkward, brace-faced tween to confident, self-assured teenager.  The story (based on Raina's actual childhood) is literally framed by the many things that happened to Raina's teeth, but the feelings she has and the realizations she comes to are universal for American adolescents.  I think that girls especially will identify with the story, which in itself is unusual in the graphic novel biz, which is much more geared towards male readers.  But I think that all kids, regardless of gender, will appreciate Telgemeier's wit and insight into that most painful, embarrassing time of life-middle school!

Teacher Resources:
Scholastic Lesson Plan
Raina Telgemeier's Website
Graphic Classroom Review

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