May 26th is Raina Telgemeier’s birthday! Happy Belated Birthday Raina! I absolutely adore her work and how she inspires a huge passion for reading in kids.
If you are a youth librarian like me, then you know who Raina is — without a doubt. If not….well she is the most popular graphic novel creator known to young ladies across America. I get asked about her books so frequently that the library user will not have even finished asking the question before I’m out of my seat, headed in the Telgemeier direction. Her books really resonate with children because she pours a lot of younger herself into them. Topics like new braces, anxiety, sibling relationships, friendship drama, and after-school activities are all relatable to many upper elementary or middle school crowds…especially when there are pictures too!
But with fame comes drama. Raina’s Drama came out in 2012 and made its debut on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Most Challenged Book Lists of 2014 with follow ups on the 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Top 10 Lists. Why? It includes LGBTQIA+ characters, it goes against family values, it is unsuited for its age group, and the LGBTQIA+ characters are confusing. For any of my serious academic, medical, or law librarian friends, the first instance of a gay character goes like this:
Justin: “I’ve known Greg since second grade. He’s always been thickheaded, even if he is cute.” Callie: “Wait, what?? When you say he’s cute do you mean like….” Justin: “Like, I like boys? Yeah.”
Justin is Callie’s first in real life, out of the closet, gay friend. She herself is a little confused about the whole thing, but the reader navigates this bit of drama alongside Callie. In middle school, everything is confusing because you have never experienced or done much outside of your family of origin. Callie’s family did not have openly gay members so now she is learning about that group of people. There is plenty of heterosexual middle school relationship drama in Drama as well, but that somehow goes unnoticed. For example, Bonnie and West’s break-up drama nearly ruins the entire school play.
Drama is about middle school aged characters, which suggests that its intended audience is middle school aged readers. The fact that younger readers express interest in the book is not the fault of the author or librarian, but a parenting issue. This comes up frequently with graphic novels and children who read above their school assigned reading level. Graphic novels like Raina’s tend to score lower on the Lexile framework, leading some to believe that all of her publications are intended for younger readers. For reference, Drama scores a 320 Lexile, which is around a first or second grade reading level. Professionally, I would not recommend Drama to a six-year-old, which is why I think it is the responsibility of the parent to decide what types of media their children engage with.
Raina Telgemeier has other fantastic titles for younger age groups. She also did the graphic novel adaptations of the first four The Baby-Sitters Club titles. Her work launched The Baby-Sitters Club back into popularity and there is even a Netflix series (When is Season 2 coming out!?). Drama is the ceiling of her content and she has not branched out to books with high school aged characters. I think that would be awesome because she is a literary rock star, but we shall see.
And finally, once again, Happy Belated Birthday to the one and only Raina Telgemeier! May it be your final pandemic birthday. Fingers crossed!
Holly Eberle is the Youth Technology Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library District in northern Illinois and a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee. She received her MLIS from the University of Illinois in December 2015. Her passion for the intellectual freedom rights of youth began in kindergarten when her elementary school library pulled the Goosebumps series off the shelves. She also is interested in the technological realm of intellectual freedom and privacy issues.