Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Raina Telgemeier's novel Smile was the perfect read for the holidays, and not just because it was set in San Francisco, which got our located-in-New-England book club thinking of places without snow.

Okay. The truth. I chose it as the holiday book because I knew it would be a fast, engaging read. My daughters each read it in about two hours and other book club moms reported similar results.

Smile is a graphic novel and an excellent opportunity to teach kids that "graphic" does not necessarily mean "full of excessive, gratuitous violence and generally inappropriate content." It's also a memoir, which means you get a two-for-one on the vocabulary lesson. Most of the book club members had never read a memoir before and were surprised and delighted to find that this actually happened to the author. Oh! No! Not in the Schadenfreude sense! With braces either just going on or just over the horizon for many of these kids, Smile resonated with them all from the beginning.

But Smile isn't only about braces. It's about bullies and self esteem and bravery. It's about dating and puberty and finding your passions. We talked a lot about what made Raina's friends behave the way they do, and whether or not they would have treated her differently if she hadn't knocked out her front teeth. The kids brought up the fact that Raina dismisses Sammy the same way that Sean dismisses her. They empathized with her loneliness not only once she stands up for herself, but also while she deals with being alone-in-a-crowd. Our members also noticed that the art provides visual clues to the story's subtext that would normally be described in words, and that the book both begins and ends with a photo session and the word "smile."

You can find several resources for Smile online. The blog The Classroom Bookshelf has an activity guide here, and Scholastic's Mother-Daughter Book Club has a page of discussion questions here which you can download as a pdf. There is also an excellent post up at The Graphic Classroom.

If, like us, you can't get enough of Raina Telgemeier's work, you're in luck. She has a second book out, titled Drama, and her third original book, Sisters, is due out in September of 2014. Raina has also illustrated four graphic novel adaptations of The Baby-sitters Club. Her website, Go Raina! includes her blog, a list of upcoming appearances, comic-related links, and more. And it's all right here.

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