When I was a kid my mother used to constantly mention my crooked teeth, never sparing an opportunity to say I would probably need to get braces. That day never came—though my brother did have to get them—but I know I was incredibly lucky. However, even if I did have to get braces, I’d still be far luckier than Raina Telgemeier, who lost her two front teeth in sixth grade and then suffered the consequences for the next four years. She chronicles this journey of braces, retainers, false teeth, and more in her graphic memoir Smile, published by the Graphix imprint of Scholastic Books.
Raina is careful to explain every step of the process, showing her various visits to the dentist and orthodontist (and an unfortunate periodontist) and illustrating exactly what is happening to her teeth at that given point in time. It takes a lot of anxiety out of dental visits, making this ideal for pediatric dentists to give to their first-time patients, or any child patient about to undergo a major procedure.
Even removed from the dental context, the book has a lot of value for kids and tweens. The story of Raina’s toothy escapades is really just a framing device for those formidable years of her life, where she’s navigating that line between child and adult and figuring out what kind of person she wants to be. As Raina struggles with each new development in her mouth, she’s also making the transition from junior high to high school and reaching a point where she can actually choose her friends. The book has a lot to say about peer pressure, as her friends and classmates react to her teeth and other parts of her appearance with varying degrees of kindness and cruelty.
Raina Telgemeier is also the illustrator for The Baby-sitter’s Club Graphix line, so she’s well accustomed to drawing the trials of preteen girls, and this book continues that standard of excellence. The characters are cute and expressive, each panel crackling with life. The colors by Stephanie Yue are simple but bright, the background shades creating atmosphere despite a lack of detail.
Smile has proven to be very popular among the kid crowd, and why not? It’s got humor, hope, friendship, and love—all the things that should make you smile.
by Raina Telgemeier
colors by Stephanie Yue
published by Scholastic (New York, 2010)