Smile, written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier with color by Stephanie Yue, has been on the shelves since February of this year. It caught my eye because it kept bouncing back and forth between the Young Readers section and the Graphic Novel section in the kid's department while corporate decided how to classify it and, while it bounced back and forth it kept selling. Selling very well for a graphic novel, and a one with a girl main character at that. So, I mentally added it to my To-Be-Read-Pile. Then Smile started popping up on book review blogs that I read. Finally, Barry Deutsch, author of the superb graphic novel Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword mentioned the book among his list of favorite graphic novels in an interview at books4yourkids. One in December, as I snuck a few of my favorite graphic novels onto the Diary of a Wimpy Kid display at work (really, does this book NEED a second display in the bookstore??? It sells itself!! Let's get some lesser known books on the endcaps!) I decided it was time to buy Smile. That night I intended to only read a few pages but ended up reading it from cover to cover and staying up WAY past my bedtime... It was well worth the loss of sleep.
Telgemeier got her start adapting Ann M Martin's beloved Babysitter's Club (which recently got an update and prequel by Martin) into graphic novels now known as BSC Graphix. Her first original novel, Smile is an autobiographical comic. As Telgemeier says on her website, the comic as "born out of a need to get the whole experience down on paper, since I spent so much time telling people about it." Part of the reason that I put off reading Smile for so long is that I was judging this book by it's cover. I assumed that it was a graphic novel about a girl who gets braces and, while it is, it is so much more and so completely compelling, immediate and entertaining that I am going to be recommending Smile, along with another new favorite of mine, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow to all the preteen girls and their moms I see reaching for Wimpy Kid and it's female cousin, The Dork Diaries.
Smile has a fabulous title page that shows the view from the top of a mountain overlooking San Francisco. The next page shows cars zooming down the freeway, as we later learn, taking sixth grader Raina to her first orthodontist appointment where she'll get prepped for braces. Later that night, running with her friends after a Girl Scouts meeting, Raina trips. When she pulls herself together, she realizes that she has knocked out her two front teeth. Telgemeier does a fabulous job capturing the fear that she and her parents felt as well as their response to the situation. One of the things that I love most about Smile is the role that Raina's parents are given in the graphic novel. They are calm and loving, sometimes make goofy jokes, and always there for Raina, whether it's her mom driving her to various doctors or chewing out the periodontist who, during a deep cleaning of Raina's gums, neglected to anesthetize her properly, causing Raina to faint on the way out of the office, or grudgingly allowing Raina to get her ears pierced on her thirteenth birthday.
What follows over the next four years is Raina's journey to regain her front teeth, cope with the pain of the procedures and the general pain (physical and occasionally emotional) of wearing braces and the accompanying gear while at the same time dealing with the usual middle and high school dramas from frenemies to crushes to finding something you love.
At first, the orthodontist thinks that Raina's front teeth can be jammed back into their roots and heal, leaving stumps to reshape into front teeth. The stumpy front teeth make for an odd look. However, the teeth don't take properly and have to be pulled. OW!!! Then, with braces, the orthodontist begins to move Raina's remaining teeth to towards the center of her mouth to close the gap. During this time, Raina wears a retainer with false teeth on it. She also experiences the regular middle/high school experiences of getting crushes on boys, being socially awkward and not always being your best self.
Raina also sees the movie The Little Mermaid and, despite her initial belief that it will be boring, is wowed. I love the graphic for this section of the novel and am sorry I couldn't find a copy of it to share. It's very cool to see an inspirational moment of origin for this wonderful author & artist's career! By the end of the novel, we see Raina at her final orthodontist visit, painting a giant poster for a sophomore school dance and smiling for a picture with her friends and it all feels so amazing when you think about what she has been through. I just can't imagine Telgemeier telling her story any other way - the experience of having no front teeth, or abnormal front teeth, during one's adolescence is such a visual one. The graphic novel format takes the edge off of some of the gore and pain that must have been an intense experience for Telgemeier, and her wonderful, crisp, detailed and, ultimately cheerful (I really couldn't think of a better adjective) illustrations make the story and images in Smile so easy to read and lose yourself in right from the start. Above all else, I think that Raina's story is the kind that girls will read and think, "Maybe I can do this, too?" and, "Maybe this thing that seems horrible that I am dealing with right now won't be the end of me." There is a smile at the end!
Raina in Smile and today.
This photo, which I love, is from an interview with Raina at NYCgraphicnovelists
Don't miss Raina's long awaited new graphic novel that is every bit as fantastic and wonderful and memorable as SMILE: DRAMA.
Bob Shea is clearly a father. There is no way you can read his two most recent books, Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and Dinosaur vs. the Potty and think anything else. Ok, maybe you might be thinking that he remembers his own childhood really, really well. However, if you read the dedication in Dinosaur vs. the Potty you will learn that he IS a dad (he thanks his son for remembering to use the potty) and that he has a great wife (whom he thanks for reminding his son to go to the potty.) Kids love dinosaurs and kids, when they are just learning to use the potty, like to wait as long as possible to go. If you have potty trained a child, you know what I am talking about. Shea takes this theme and turns it into a high energy, past paced book that is actually a little bit suspenseful! In Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, you knew the end was inevitable. Dino WOULD go to bed. But, in this new book you're never sure until the end if Dinosaur will hold out too long and have an accident or if he will make it in time... Getting to this conclusion is hilarious as Shea lists the many challenges that Dinosaur faces throughout the day, accompanied by Shea's bright, colorful illustrations that are a little bit primary and a whole lot of playful.
The book begins with Dinosaur roaring and insisting that he doesn't need to use the potty! He drinks lemonade, he romps in the sprinklers.
And, my favorite, a THREE JUICE BOX LUNCH!!!
Then, there is the wading pool where Dinosaur waters his pretend whale!!
Finally, splashing in the rain puddles it appears that Dinosaur is doing a victory dance, but NO! It's a POTTY DANCE!! Will he make it to the bathroom in time?
THE POTTY WINS!! The book ends with the line that many of us have uttered over and over, "Close one, Dinosaur! Real, real close."
You can watch Bob read Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, enhanced by some nice animation.
I am a firm believer that there is a book that can address any issue, any concern, any dilemma. Books can show, books can teach and books can help kids to understand the way the world works. When I had my first child, I couldn't wait to buy Taro Gomi's essential Everyone Poops. While there isn't too much that needs to be learned about the subject, Artie Bennett's The Butt Book does do the service of showing kids that everyone has one, what the various names for it are and what it is good for. I know that this word is off limits in many home and considered crass by others, but in my house it is the most expedient way of getting to the bottom of the issue, no pun intended. And, knowing that this is a somewhat sensitive issue, I thought I'd give this book a test run before deciding wether or not to review it. Every Monday I volunteer in my son's kindergarten classroom. Besides the usual tasks, I have the pleasure of reading one or two books to the kids each week. I had the teacher, a 27 year veteran who has taught all grades, approve the book and then I read it to the kids.
It was great! I showed the kids the front and the back of the book and told them that we were going to read a book with a silly word in it. The The Butt Book rhymes and I have to say, Bennet does a fabulous job with the rhyme scheme and meter. He has said that his inspiration for this book was Dr Seuss's body books - The Foot Book, The Ear Book, The Eye Book, The Tooth Book - and his writing is definitely comparable to Seuss's rhymes. I read a few pages and, when we got to the couplets that read:
Some names for butts have foreign flair:
tuchas, keister, derriere!
In England where they call moms "mums,"
people call their buttocks "bums."
I discovered the perfect place to take a break from the book and talk to the kids about all the different names we use for this anatomical aspect. It was amazing how many different names there are.
They thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book as well. The discourse on animal butts, the importance of human butts and a few other asides make for a fun read and a great story time. I had twenty little people, butts planted firmly on the floor, eyes on me with full attention for the time it took to read this book, and I can tell you, I usually lose the attention of one or two kids no matter what I am reading, but The Butt Book proved the exception!
Written by comedian, actor and writer Michael Ian Black and illustrated by a longtime favorite of mine, Kevin Hawkes (Weslandia, written by Paul Fleischman), Chicken Cheeks is really funny and fun. The text is simple, yet creative and alliterative and the illustrations tell most of the story. As the book begins, we see a bear on a step ladder staring up towards the top of a tree. The text begins with, "Duck tail," and we see a duck go up on top of the bear's head. On top of the duck comes "moose caboose," followed by "chicken cheeks," "penguin patootie," and "polar bear derriere." Hawkes' illustrations of the animals are both realistic and humorous and the bright color palette is appealing. The totem pole of animals continues until we reach the last one, "duck billed platypus, gluteus maximus," when we see that the bear is trying to reach a bee hive. "Bumblebee bum" leads to the toppling of the tower and a pile of disgruntled animals. The build up to the top, the suspense and the funny animal butt names make this a fabulous read out loud and a great companion to The Butt Book.
And, if you can spare three minutes of your day, there is a very funny video of the author reading his book...