Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tales from the Library: Raina Reigns!

It's easy to tell what authors are popular in the Children's Room at our Library. Just look at the multiple -- and dog-eared -- copies of books by Rick Riordan of Percy Jackson fame, Wimpy Kid wizard Jeff Kinney, Rachel Renee Russell, author of the Dork Diaries, Magic Tree House author Mary Pope Osborne, Erin Hunter, author of the Warriors books, and so on.
In our graphic novel section, however, it's Raina who reigns. That's Raina Telgemeier, author/illustrator of the uber-popular Smile (Graphix/Scholastic, $10.99 paperback, ages 8-12), a memoir of her traumatic dental experiences as a young teen. We've got eight copies of Smile, and our young patrons are lucky if they can find one on the shelves. It's been that way since the book was first published in 2010, and the popularity of Smile shows no sign of waning. Kids just devour the true story of how Raina endured major dental surgery and distress during her early teenage years as the result of a freak fall in which she seriously injured her mouth.
Smile, of course, is more than a dental drama; it provides s slice-of-life look at being a teenager, dealing with family issues, trying to figure out friends, etc. When I ask kids why they love Smile so much, they do talk about the trauma of Raina's dental issues, but mostly they note how they love reading about a "real" kid who deals with friendship and family challenges, just like they do. Smile won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens.

Raina, who's married to fellow graphic novelist Dave Roman, decided to mix it up after Smile, publishing Drama (Graphix/Scholastic, $23.99 hardcover, $10.99 paperback, ages10-14) in 2012. I say mix it up because while Smile is a memoir, Drama is fiction, although Raina acknowledges that it is based on her own experiences as a drama geek in middle school. True to its title, Drama is filled with the drama of the pre-teen and teen years: who likes who, who's in and who's out, etc. Raina also tackles the issue of sexual identity, highlighting the way twin boys deal with their homosexuality. Again Raina says the twins are based on some very good friends of hers, twin males who dealt with this issue as teens.

While kids in my library like Drama, they -- like Raina's fans everywhere -- have clamored for a sequel to Smile. On August 26, they'll get their wish as Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, publishes Sisters ($24.99 hardcover, $10.99 paperback, ages 8-12). Raina says it's not really a sequel but another look back at her life, this time focusing on her often-fraught relationship with her younger sister Amara. I'll save my review of the book until I get a final copy, but suffice to say that my initial impressions from the advance review copy are simple: libraries, you'd better gear up for a run on this book. Young readers will readily identify with Raina's up-and-down connection with the sister she desperately longed for -- until Amara was born. Anyone who has siblings will find themselves in the pages of this book.

Meanwhile, while kids are awaiting the publication of Sisters on August 26, they are loving another graphic novel memoir,  The Dumbest Idea Ever (Graphix/Scholastic, $24.99 hardcover, $11.99 paperback) by Jimmy Gownley, author/illustrator of the popular Amelia Rules books. In his memoir, Jimmy talks about how he got the idea for Amelia Rules and then figured out a way -- with a lot of help from his parents -- to publish the first book in the series. Readers in my library are fascinated by the way that Jimmy broke into the graphic novel business, but they seem just as interested in his teenage travails, including his rollercoaster performance as a student and his friendship challenges. Jimmy does a wonderful job at honestly portraying his teen years, and that seems to really resonate with young readers.

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