Module 10–Graphic Novels

Smile by Raina Telgemeir


Raina was an ordinary 6th grader until she tripped and knocked two of her teeth out.  Readers will follow her throughout the next few years as she has surgery after surgery.   She endures embarrassing headgear, braces and even a retainer with fake teeth.  All the while she is trying to survive middle school and all the drama that goes along with it; natural disasters, friends and boy crushes.  It’s a tough road ahead for Raina, but she survives these years because of the good head she has on her shoulders.  Though at times it doesn’t seem like it will ever end.

Telgemeir, R.  (2010).  Smile.  New York:  Scholastic.

My impressions

I absolutely loved this graphic novel.  The illustrations are colorful and intriguing.  The story line is one that we can all relate to in one way or another, either because of dental work, the trials and tribulations of middle school or being teased.  I think Raina is a fantastic storyteller and illustrator.  I enjoy all of her books and this one did not disappoint me either.  I really felt for her during her middle school years.  She was able to express the up and downs and the emotions she went through very vividly through her text and illustrations.  This was a quick read and I didn’t put it down until I had reached the end.


Smile is the story of the woman behind the graphic rendition of The Babysitters Club, Raina Telgemeier.

This sweet coming of age story revolves around the elaborate procedures to fix Raina’s smile. Over the course of two years (and many dental procedures) Raina crosses the threshold of puberty while dealing with crushes, peer group struggles, and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Telgemeier’s illustrations are a delight to the eye, her character’s expressions can carry the story alone. Just the right amount of humor counters the often painful details of Raina’s dental work.

As an adult reading this book, it was difficult not to relive the pangs of adolescence in the early 1990′s. By the end I was rooting for her bravery and strength, especially when she establishes supportive friendships. I only wish that I had read a book like this to read when I was growing up.
It is no wonder that Smile was selected as an ALA 2011 Top Ten Great Graphic Novel for teens!

Penny, M.  (2011, March 7).  Review of Smile.  Retrieved from


I would like to start a graphic novel book club and this would be a good one to get us started.   Having the kids create their own graphic novel with their experiences would be a neat activity.  We could use the iPads and the drawing apps available.  This would be a good way for kids to learn a new skill plus be able to express their feeling about some rough times.

Maus by Art Spiegelman



Art Spiegelman wants to learn about his father’s past during World War II.  He depicts the conversations between his father as well as the stories his father tells him through the use of illustration.  Readers see the frustration that Art has when dealing with his father and trying to get information.  Between the conversations, we are transported to a terrible time in our history, a time we would all like to forget, especially those who lived through it.  But a time in history that we must understand so we do not repeat it again and again.  We follow his father through good times before the war and the horrible times that were to follow.  We suffer along with his father as we see him and his wife being separated not to see each other for years.  The hard labor that was expected of the imprisoned and the harsh realities and truth about what the Germans did to the Jews.

Spiegelman, A.  (1973).  Maus.  New York: Pantheon Books.

My impressions

I am so glad that I read this book.  It had been on my to read shelf for years, but I had never gotten around to it until now.  One of the best graphic novels I have ever read.  This is a hard subject to choke down and Art Spiegelman did a fantastic job of bringing the realities to light in a way that you just had to keep turning the page.  This was another one that I couldn’t put down, I obviously knew the father survived the concentration camps, but I was so interested in finding out what he went through.  I believe the use of illustrations helped me work my way through this novel.  I have a hard time with this subject and normally have to put a book down because it makes me so sick to think we did this to our fellow humans.  His portrayal of Jews as mice and Germans as pigs intrigued me and helped me to continue on this journey.   I will recommend this book to everyone, just like all of my friends have recommended it to me.


Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” the most unconventional great book yet written about the Holocaust, the one that turned Nazis into cats and Jews into mice and Poles into pigs, turns 25 this year. It was the first comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize, and it changed the way comics — the term seems wrong for “Maus” — are viewed in America. It proved they could be serious art.

“Maus” is not a graphic novel but a work of memoir and history. It tells the story of Mr. Spiegelman’s father in Poland before World War II, in Auschwitz during the war and as an old coot in Rego Park, Queens, after the fighting stopped. Part of Mr. Spiegelman’s accomplishment in “Maus” is that he turned it into a second-generation Holocaust survivor’s account, too. That is, he made himself a character in the book and threaded in his own quizzical modern sensibility. “Maus” doesn’t have a tired or sanctimonious bone in its body.

Mr. Spiegelman’s new book, “MetaMaus,” functions as a kind of artist’s scrapbook, chapbook, photo album and storage trunk. Packed with more extras than a new “Transformers” DVD, it’s a look back at “Maus” and its complicated composition and reception. His publisher calls this shaggily engaging volume, accurately enough, a “vast Maus midrash.”

An extended Q & A with Mr. Spiegelman, a kind of swollen Paris Review interview, fills most of the book’s pages, while arty and inky things pack the margins: draft sketches from “Maus”; personal photographs; family trees; official documents like his mother’s passport and his parents’ arrest records from Auschwitz.

There’s a DVD included, as well, with an interactive version of “Maus” and features like interviews and home movies. It’s O.K., I suspect, that, as with all such DVDs, few will look at it more than once; then this already-fading technology will become defunct and you will find this swastika-stamped disk at someone’s lawn sale. Let’s talk about the book instead.

The interview with Mr. Spiegelman, conducted by Hillary Chute, an English professor at the University of Chicago, is overly long and reverent. But Mr. Spiegelman is a witty and testy raconteur, and Ms. Chute knows a good deal about comics and she pulls good things from him.

The success of “Maus” — the first of its two volumes appeared in 1986 — was far from preordained. The book was turned down by many publishers, and Mr. Spiegelman prints his rejection letters here, from nearly all of America’s major publishing houses, including Alfred A. Knopf and Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

The idea of a comic book about the Holocaust was inconceivable to most. The idea made people snort. One editor wrote: “You can imagine the response I’ve gotten from the sales department.” “Maus” was finally published by Pantheon Books, which gave its author only a small advance.

“Maus” became a best seller, surprising Mr. Spiegelman as much as anyone else. “I had actually thrived on the relative neglect; it made me get up and work,” he says. “Neurotically, the anhedonic way I experienced the success of ‘Maus’ was to spend the next 20 years trying to wriggle out from under my own achievement.”

Mr. Spiegelman has been a stern critic of what he calls “Holokitsch,” and has been at pains to avoid it. His wife, Françoise Mouly, said to him, “Next to making ‘Maus,’ your greatest achievement may have been not turning it into a movie.” He knows the sort of life he does not wish to live. “I didn’t want to become the Elie Wiesel of comic books and become the conscience and voice of a second generation.”

The author is instructively apoplectic about the idea that “Maus,” because it is a comic book, is somehow “Auschwitz for Beginners,” a sugarcoated pill. When the book won a young-adult award from librarians, he was peeved. “I’d made something as mature as I was capable of making, and it seemed unfair that I was a victim of a prejudice against my medium,” he says. Ultimately, he says, “I reconciled to the fact that if ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’ can be considered children’s books, I can settle for ‘Maus’ being on those shelves.”

Still, he reprints one of his own comic strips from The New Yorker, in which he declares, “When parents give ‘Maus,” my book about Auschwitz, to their little kids, I think it’s child abuse.”

He has complex thoughts about his use of animals to represent Jews, Germans, Poles and others in his book. He notes that Israelis have resisted “Maus,” uncomfortable that “the image of mice contains the stereotype of Jews as pathetic and defenseless creatures.” Mr. Spiegelman convincingly argues that he was using “Hitler’s pejorative attitudes against themselves,” and that using animals “allowed me to approach otherwise unsayable things.”

There is some fetishizing of the artist’s tools in “MetaMaus,” things like his specially modified Pelikan fountain pens. There are interviews with his wife, son and daughter. They seem like wonderful people, but this material is total filler. More usefully, he reprints transcripts of the often moving interviews he conducted with his father while researching “Maus.”

Mr. Spiegelman is charismatic, and the photographs of him sprinkled throughout are pretty delightful. In one from his young hippie years, he resembles Che Guevara. Later, he becomes an unholy, raven-haired combination of Martin Scorsese and Edgar Allan Poe. He likes to wear vests; he tends to have a cigarette in hand.

Bear in mind that “MetaMaus” does not contain the actual text of “Maus,” though it can be read on the DVD. This is not a book to present to someone who has not read the original.

Twenty-five years after its original publication, “Maus” continues to provoke. Mr. Spiegelman recalls an incident in Germany in 1987, when a reporter barked at him, “Don’t you think that a comic book about the Holocaust is in bad taste?”

The author responded, “No, I thought Auschwitz was in bad taste.”

Garner, D.  (2011, October 12).  After a Quarter-Century, an Author Looks Back at His Holocaust Comic (Review of Maus).  Retrieved from


I would like to work with the high school English department to do book talks when they are discussing the Holocaust.  This is another one I would do a book trailer for because I think it would get their attention more then me just talking.


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