“Who Can Turn the World On With Her Smile? Who Can Turn A Nothing Day and Make It All Seem Worthwhile?“ (*I know many of you know this old TV theme song and are singing along, right?)
Did you know that this week is National Smile Week? I think it is promoting being friendly and welcoming towards one another. It’s summer so it makes sense that many of us are happier and smiling – especially if you’re on vacation as you read this.
Since it’s such an optimistic sounding week, I thought I would try to come up with some books that go along with the topic of smiling.
One book that immediately comes to mind is Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2011 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens and 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens). I’ve also seen this on a lot of summer reading lists.
Although this autobiographical graphic novel chronicles Raina’s often painful dental experiences after she accidentally knocked out her front tooth and damaged the one next to it in 6th grade, it does end on a cheerful note and a big smile. The years before that, though, sound very painful as Raina describes in graphic detail (no pun intended) how she underwent numerous dental surgeries, had braces put on several times, had to wear the oh-so stylish headgear at night, as well as a retainer with fake teeth! She is forced to endure all this from sixth grade until she gets her braces off for good in her sophomore year of high school.
Another character you might remember who has braces (and glasses and frizzy hair) is 14-year-old Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, in both the novel and in the graphic novel adaptation illustrated by Hope Larson. Both Raina and Meg learn to stop being so self-critical and to not let their outward appearance affect how they feel on the inside. I can totally relate to both Raina and Meg, because, I too, had to wear braces for years, from 3rd grade until 8th grade (and have had glasses from a young age too). The pain of wearing braces is worth it in the end to have a great smile.
Sooner after Raina’s accident, her dentist tried to put her two damaged front teeth back into place, but they went up even further into her gums instead. She’s horrified and says, “I look like a vampire!!” After more treatment, when her teeth still don’t seem to be responding, Raina fearfully asks, “So am I gonna look like a vampire forever??”
She doesn’t end up looking like a vampire, but teenaged Chris isn’t so lucky in M. T. Anderson’s often graphic novel Thirsty. Chris is having a lot of trouble adjusting to the fact that he appears to be turning into a vampire. He keeps telling himself that he has to, “Keep smiling for another few weeks, until the curse is lifted. Keep smiling, I think, while my teeth are still square.” He’s trying his hardest not to give in to his burgeoning bloodlust. But, it’s almost impossible – and having aching braces just makes it even harder. As his hunger gets the best of him, he gives in and says, “I lower my mouth. My open lips just nuzzle my forearm…..” and then before he knows it, “My braces are just one big loopy tangle.”
I think getting smiled at by Chris might not be such a welcome sight after all.
There are people who smile too much and appear fake and insincere or those who don’t smile at all. Getting a genuine smile from them is like finding gold.
Bird, née Emily, 17, in Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug (2014 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy) is a brilliant African American student in her senior year at a prestigious DC prep school. She has a perfect boyfriend named Paul. But, the guy that she’s really falling for is Coffee, a Brazilian diplomat’s son and small-time drug dealer. Coffee wears a habitual dour face so when he actually grins, she thinks, “Coaxing a genuine smile from him has always felt like winning the ringtoss at a street fair.”
Matt from The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds is another teen character who doesn’t smile too much, not that he has much reason to since his mother’s recently passed away. He remembers how obsessed his mother was in having his senior high-school pictures taken. His mom begged him to smile for it but he says, “I couldn’t. Not because I didn’t want to, it’s just that every time a camera is pointed at me, I never knew what to do with my face.” He thinks he looks like a robot because of his inability to smile. But, maybe he will lose his robot face and not “suck at smiling” after he falls for Lovey, a girl who has had a very tough time herself but hasn’t lost her optimism or love of life.
I expected to find a lot more examples of teens’ thoughts and comments about smiling or not smiling in books – especially as it related to getting photos taken for school or for their driver’s license but I didn’t – or maybe I just didn’t have any books on hand that mentioned it. So, if you can think of others, please let me know.
(*The Mary Tyler Moore Show ran from 1970-1977)
-Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman