Happy Birthday to graphic novelist and cartoonist Raina Telgemeier! Anyone that has worked in a public or school library within the past 10 years probably hasn’t gone a week without a young reader looking for Smile or Drama. A winner of five Eisner Awards, Telgemeier has effectively engaged adolescent readers through telling relatable stories through the graphic medium.
After creating graphic novelizations of The Baby-Sitters Club early in her career, Telgemeier was invited to join Girlamatic.com, which was a subscription-based webcomics site geared towards female artists and readers. In a 2016 interview with Cosmopolitan, she attributes her early success to the structure of Girlamatic, stating it “[offered] just enough structure – to finally tell a story I’d been kicking around in my mind for so long.” Smile, an autobiographical series based on her middle-school and high school experiences, originated as a webcomic on Girlamatic. During its run, Scholastic kept an eye on and eventually published Smile as a print graphic novel, first reaching the New York Times bestseller list in 2011.
Telgemeier’s books have been frequent targets of book bans and censorship. Drama, published in 2012, was the seventh-most banned and challenged book throughout the 2010s. Commonly cited reasons were LGBTQIA+ content, going against “family values,” and being sexually explicit. Drama is still a frequent target, especially during this current wave of book challenges against materials that depict or discuss LGBTQIA+ characters. It was included on the infamous list of 850 books to ban compiled by Texas State Representative Matt Krause in late 2021. According to data acquired by PEN America, Drama is currently “banned pending investigation” in two Florida schools and three Texas schools.
Telgemeier’s most recent publication is Guts, which is part of the autobiographical series that started with Smile. Guts focuses on dealing with anxiety and mental health issues, and critics praised its normalization of mental health problems. Whether it is a work of fiction or nonfiction, Telgemeier’s stories consistently provide an outlet for adolescents going through a variety of experiences. Again, we hope you have a wonderful birthday!
David Sye is a Research and Instruction Librarian at Murray State University in southwestern Kentucky. He is liaison for the History, Political Science & Sociology, and Psychology departments, as well as teaching instruction sessions and credit-bearing courses on information literacy. He holds a BA in History from the University of Illinois at Springfield, in addition to an MA in History and MLIS from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Prior to working at Murray State University, he has worked in public libraries and briefly taught middle school social studies.