A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the autobiographical graphic novel Smile follows author Raina Telgemeier through her real-life experiences of having her teeth knocked out and the years of orthodontic work that follow during her early teen years. Because the story is true (although the names of the characters have been changed), not all of Raina's dilemmas are solved in the neatly wrapped-up way of most middle-grade novels, which may be disappointing to some readers. Although the cartoony drawings may indicate a light, fun story -- and there are certainly elements of that -- Smile is also a meaningful story of a teen's journey to self-acceptance.
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What's the story?
Like many 12-year-olds, Raina is apprehensive about getting braces. But when she trips and knocks out her two front teeth, the fate of her teeth becomes even more traumatic. For the next four years, we follow Raina through many trips to the orthodontist, mouth surgeries, and a variety of dental contraptions. Meanwhile, Raina starts middle school, gets a crush on a boy who barely notices her, experiences the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco, and deals with friends who are not always supportive and are sometimes downright mean. As Raina's teeth go through extensive changes, Raina learns to stand up for herself and discovers that following her own interests, especially art, will lead to healthy friendships with people who like her for who she is.
Is it any good?
Telgemeier's simple, clean drawings in a soft color palette are easily accessible even to readers new to graphic novels, and there is also a rich, complex story to delve into. Raina's experiences with her teeth as she goes through middle and high school serve as an excellent metaphor for her life: Her teeth will never be perfect, but with a little work, they get a lot better. In SMILE, through incidents both meaningful and trivial that span the course of several years, we watch author and illustrator Raina Telgemeier grow up. Readers will enjoy figuring out that The Little Mermaid influenced Raina's future as a cartoonist, and they may relate to how Raina can always find comfort in the art room at school. But one of Smile's most outstanding qualities is its spot-on depiction of the subtle way middle school girls can undermine one another and how Raina eventually figures out when friends make her feel more bad than good, she shouldn't accept it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Raina's experiences with her teeth make her feel like a misfit. Have you ever gone through something that made you feel like you couldn't relate to your friends?
How does this graphic novel compare with others you've read? Do you react to it differently knowing that the story is from the author's real life?
Lots of friends tease each other playfully, but sometimes they can go too far, as Raina's friends did. What's off-limits for teasing among you and your friends?
- Author: Raina Telgemeier
- Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
- Publication date: February 1, 2010
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 17
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Paperback, Hardback
- Award: ALA Best and Notable Books
- Last updated: November 4, 2019
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