A Graphic Novel Smiles!

Author Raina Telgemeier relives braces in middle school

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

As a child, Raina Telgemeier fell and broke off two of her front teeth. The ensuing years involved painful surgeries and braces, embarrassing headgear, and lots of personal growth.

Telgemeier turned her real-life experience of living through this trauma during her middle and high school years into a popular graphic novel. Titled Smile, the book was nominated twice for the Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards for Outstanding Slice-of-Life Comic.

In Smile, Telgemeier takes a funny look at some very serious situations.

"I really wanted to try to find the humor in everything I went through, even the pain," Telgemeier said. "Storytellers make even the most awful events entertaining to hear or read about."

Telgemeier is certainly a storyteller, using her skills with words and illustrations to build a compelling, entertaining, and enlightened tale.

Middle school is tough for everyone, but what about someone constantly struggling with oral surgery and mouth gear?

"It's a weird time in most people's lives, because everything and everyone is changing, and you'll start facing decisions about who or what you want to be," she said, adding a bit of advice. "Just try and be true to yourself. Don't feel like you have to go along with what everyone else is doing, if it's not your thing."

As a result of her dental struggles, Telgemeier was often bullied and teased, even by friends. Smile is the story of how she deals with it all, including an earthquake and boys! But the bullying was the worst obstacle she had to overcome.

"It's a vicious cycle," she said of bullying. "I let my friends tease me for years before I finally stood up to them. When I did I felt so much better."

Smile is not her first book. Telgemeier has illustrated several editions of The Baby-Sitters Club and co-authored X-Men: Misfits with her husband, Dave Roman. Roman is also an illustrator, best known for his X-Men: Misfits comics.

Although she never considered herself much of a writer, Telgemeier said she did very well at creative writing in school. She much preferred drawing, however, but had trouble coming up with ideas for stories for the comics she wanted to create.

At the age of 12 she figured out how to make both skills work together. She started drawing pictures of herself and friends and her own life.

"It took me a long time to realize that that was okay," she said. "Real life is full of interesting stories."

When Telgemeier was in sixth grade she drew a few comic strips called Brian and the Brain, about a boy named Brian with a super-smart twin brother nicknamed The Brain. This was before the TV cartoon show Pinky and the Brain. A friend wrote the stories that Telgemeier illustrated.

"I wish we'd kept going with it!" Telgemeier told the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

A new book is currently in the works. Telgemeier is working on a graphic novel about the kids on their school's drama class stage crew.

"I can't say too much about it yet, but so far, I'm really having fun working on it," she said.                                   

For more information, check out Kid Reporter Danielle Azzolina's review of Smile. You can also log onto Telgemeier's website for more information about the author and her books.

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The Scholastic Kids Press Corps was a team of about 50 Kid Reporters around the nation that brought news to life with reporting for kids, by kids.