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It Takes Guts

Scholastic kid reporter Amelia Poor interviews author and cartoonist Raina Telgemeier.

I recently traveled to a bookstore in Pennsylvania to interview author and illustrator Raina Telgemeier. When I arrived, about a hundred excited young fans were already there to meet her. Many were clutching her latest best-selling graphic novel, Guts.

The book is Telgemeier’s most personal story yet. She describes her crippling childhood fears of getting sick and throwing up. When her worries developed into panic attacks, Telgemeier’s parents took her to a therapist. Guts is the story of how she learned to tackle her fears in a positive way.

Amelia Poor: What inspired you to write Guts?

Raina Telgemeier: Guts is inspired by pretty much my whole life. I’ve had anxiety since I was a kid, and it’s something I’ve always lived with and never really knew how to talk to people about. So now that I’ve written a couple of other graphic novels about my life, my family, and my friends, I decided it was time to write one that was about my anxiety and how I deal with it.

AP: In Guts, your therapist tells you to “try anyway.” How has that advice helped you in life?

RT: A big part of my therapy was [dealing with] things I didn’t want to do. She would say, “Just try.” Foods that I didn’t want to eat, she would say, “Just try them. What’s the worst thing that could happen to you?” 

The more I did those things, the better I felt. It was good for me to be able to see that the world was not going to end, even if I took a bite of something that didn’t taste good to me. 

That’s stayed with me for most of my life, and I think it also applies to writing Guts. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it, but I figured why not try? Why not just start writing and see what happens?

AP: Guts is your third autobiographical book (after Smile in 2010 and Sisters in 2014). Why do you write about your own life? 

RT: When I was a kid, I used to read books that were about real people’s lives. Some were written a hundred years before I was born, but I would think, “Wow, this character is just like me.” So I know that reading a story about a character that you feel similar to helps you feel better. 

Then if your friend reads it too, that gives you a chance to connect. So I just hope [my books] are a way for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with one another.

AP: You not only write your books—you also illustrate them. Why did you decide to become a cartoonist?

RT: (laughing) I think cartooning chose me. I started reading cartoons when I was about 9, and I just loved them so much that I immediately had to start making my own—and I never stopped.

AP: If you could go back and give advice to your fifth-grade self, what would it be?

RT: I’d want her to know she’s not alone, even though that’s how it felt. I wish I could go back and tell her that, but at least now I’m able to tell other kids that they’re not alone.

Continue the Learning Journey

Was there a time in your life when you felt nervous or afraid? Can you understand what might have made you feel this way? What made you feel better at the time? Write your feelings and thoughts down in your notebook or journal.

Meet Raina Telgemeier

Watch a video interview with author-cartoonist Raina Telgemeier.

Watch this video interview with Raina Telgemeier to learn how she manages stress. Then interview your friends or family members. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Think about a time you overcame a fear. What steps did you take?
  • What is one strategy you use to calm yourself down when you feel anxious?
  • Tell me about a time when you used humor to help manage a stressful situation.

Make a list of the five top stress-relieving strategies based on your interviews and the video. Running short on ideas? Here are a few more to consider: exercise, yoga, meditation, restful sleep, helping others.

Raina Telgemeier at Work

See how author and illustrator Raina Telgemeier creates her best-selling graphic novels.

Now it’s time to become an expert. For each stress-relieving strategy, answer the following questions: What is it? Who should try it? How does it work? Think of a fun and creative way to display your tips. You might want to turn your tips into cartoons, or film your own stress-relief class. For cartooning tips, see the slideshow “Raina Telgemeier at Work.”


Finally, share all your hard work with your friends or family members. Present your five top tips and try the strategies together. Now you have a valuable resource to help others through tough times!

This article was written by Scholastic Kid Reporter Amelia Poor for Scholastic News 5/6 magazine.

Image Credits: Artwork © 2019 by Raina Telgemeier, from the book GUTS published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc (top image); Courtesy of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps (Amelia Poor and Reina Telgemeier); Artwork © 2019 by Raina Telgemeier, from the book GUTS published by Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. (illustrations)