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By Madison Greenly

Guts, Raina Telgemeier’s highly anticipated graphic novel and companion to Smile and Sisters, was recently released on September 17th. Based on a true story and geared towards an adolescent audience, Guts features Raina Telgemeier as she starts the fifth grade. After getting a stomach bug, she begins to struggle with a sensitive stomach, anxiety, panic attacks, and a mean girl in school. As the story progresses, Guts proves to be a charming story about growing up and facing your fears.

For Readers: Why Should You Pick up Guts?

As a kid, I was never the “right” height, especially when high school hit, right alongside puberty. I shot up four inches in one year. As a 5’9” freshman girl, being taller than most of the boys damaged my self-esteem. Similarly, in the graphic novel, Guts, young Raina Telgemeier’s personal struggles, primarily due to her stomach issues, becomes a source of anxiety.

What struggling kids like Raina and I need to hear is that their insecurities (and resulting anxiety) can be addressed and helped. I’ve understood this overtime by talking to a counselor, and now I’ve learned to embrace my height, deal with anxiety in a healthy way, and successfully address people who may comment on my insecurities.

Raina’s story is familiar for me and others who have gained an upper hand on their insecurities, but it’s reality for many of her readers. Raina’s younger audience is facing their own challenges right now: acne, being too skinny, shyness, anxiety, struggling with schoolwork…the list goes on.

These struggling kids need to read Guts and take advantage of the advice it gives, that there are healthy ways to deal with anxiety and insecurities. Raina’s novels show readers that it’s normal to struggle and that there are ways to overcome challenges. Using her younger self as an example, Raina shows readers that they are the protagonists in their own stories. Like other literary heroes, kids can find honorable ways to defeat the antagonists (a.k.a. school bullies, low self-esteem, and changing friends) by finding a therapist and seeking support from their families.

In addition, by using the medium of a graphic novel, these uplifting messages are easier for readers to access. The kid-friendly, colorful, and eye-catching illustrations retain attention by detailing bold characters and settings. Partnered with fun, cartoony illustrations, Raina’s messages become delightful, approachable, and even more meaningful as visuals come into play.

For grade-schoolers, I would recommend picking up Guts, especially if you’re struggling with your own antagonists. For an older audience, if you’re looking for a quick read, then you’re sure to find Raina’s graphic novel endearing and uplifting.

To learn more about Guts, by Raina Telgemeier, click here.

For Teachers: Is Guts compatible in the Classroom?

We advocate for graphic novels greatly at the Pop Culture Classroom, especially for using them in the classroom. Many students entering and completing middle school will find themselves struggling with self-esteem, mental-health, peers, and insecurity, which is why Guts is a necessary addition to the classroom. Raina Telgemeier’s story has a hopeful ending and shows kids that there are options to hardships. Therapy, communication, acceptance, and open-mindedness are shown as healthy solutions. Tricky situations, like Raina’s stomach issues, can be addressed without embarrassment.

Listed below are three activities that incorporate Guts into the classroom.

For all of these, first have the book assigned as a class reading. It’s an easy read, so a week should be enough time for your students to finish it.

  1. Show-and-Tell:

For this activity, tell your students that you’re going to have a show-and-tell based around Guts. First, students should choose an object that helps them feel better when they are having a bad day and bring it to class. They can also find something that symbolizes what makes them happier, like a picture of their family or a vacation they went on.

On the day of show-and-tell, students can discuss their own personal struggles and describe how their object helps them. If they prefer not to state what they are self-conscious about or what they struggle with outright, then they can just explain why their object makes them happier during hardships. This exercise seeks to show that everyone has bad days and humanize struggles. It should prove to kids that they aren’t alone and that everyone deals with their own challenges.

  1. Creating Your Own Comics:

If you’d like to assign a more artistic project, creating comics in the classroom is a fun option that engages students. This is also an option for kids who would prefer to keep their personal struggles private. Just like Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, tell your students to illustrate something that they are self-conscious about and how they might resolve their fear. When they are finished drawing their story, you could ask if any students would want to share what they drew with the class. This project fosters creativity and allows kids to practice the writing tools of dialogue and effective plot.

Click here to see how you can make your own comics in the classroom:

  1. Mental Health Day:

For this last activity, first talk with your school’s librarian, counselor, and other teachers about participating in an event where your classroom (and other classrooms, if interested) have a day dedicated to mental health.

On the actual day of the event (it can also be a shorter amount of time, like a class period or two), your students should learn about mental health, bullies, self-esteem, and how they can be addressed. The counselor can lead a talk about what students may face and how they can get help. Ask the librarian to find books, like Guts, that focus on dealing with mental health problems positively. You can also incorporate classroom activities 1 and 2, the first as a craft and the second to strengthen the discussion.

Kids can share and discuss their own experiences, ask questions, or seek help if they need to. I’d also recommend doing a dialogue with Guts. Here are some questions you can ask your students to discuss:

  1. What are some healthy ways Raina deals with social anxiety, the mean girl at school, and/or her upset stomach?
  2. What are some things that make Raina feel better (her family, talking in therapy, being brave and trying new things, for example), and what are some things that make each of you feel better?
  3. The next time someone is mean to you, how are you going to handle the situation healthily?

Thanks for Reading!

For both readers and teachers, Guts proves to be an entertaining and promising graphic novel. Throughout the story, it shows students that they not alone and that there are ways to healthily find solutions to personal hardships. Guts opens a dialogue about embarrassing, yet human, topics, and I’d encourage teachers to strengthen the discussion with their own students about this book and its themes. Guts offers a comforting tale that all struggling readers who are looking for a meaningful nudge the right direction should read.

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