“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.