what i'm reading: a first time for everything, delightful autobiographical tween graphic

A First Time for Everything, by Dan Santat, is a perfect tween book. 

It's funny, sweet, honest, sometimes poignant but not sad. It's a gentle comfort for every kid who has ever felt awkward and different, and an incentive for everyone who is afraid to try new things. 

It's a sensitive and perceptive portrayal of how groups are formed. We often hear that kids can be cruel, and we see that in this book. But kids can be kind, too, and the book affirms that.

I read this book a while ago, and had been planning on writing a group review with some other tween graphics dealing with friendship. I read a few, flipped through a bunch more, and didn't find anything that came close to this book in quality or authenticity. I found each of them either too heavy-handed and preachy or too superficial and vapid. 

In A First Time for Everything, Dan Santat, the author of several children's books, tells the story of the class trip to Europe that he took in middle school. 

In school, Santat had some very embarrassing experiences and was bullied. Now he just wants to keep his head down and make it through middle school without further humiliations. The last thing he wants is anything involving a school group, and certainly not a group that includes some of the same girls who had bullied him. 

At first, it's as awful as he expects. But then Dan tries something new. And it makes him happy. Then he tries another new thing. And he enjoys it. He makes a new friend. He crushes on a girl, who is nice to him. A teacher encourages him. And... Dan starts to enjoy himself. He starts to feel comfortable in his own skin.

The new experiences young Dan has are very small, but they are meaningful. With each new experience, he gains a bit of confidence. And those small steps give him the confidence to try a slightly bigger steps, until he becomes a bit brave, a bit bold, and has a great time doing so.

Santat's portrayal of the beauty and power of the first crush and the first kiss are dead-on. In fact, I found all of it dead-on. 

In flashbacks, we learn more about young Dan's prior bad experiences, which deepens our understanding of his growth. Knowing that Santat wrote this about his life, his own experiences, makes the story more poignant -- and makes you cheer Dan's triumph even more.

One thing I absolutely loved about A First Time for Everything was Santat's inclusion of actual photos he took on the trip, along with a little who's who guide to the characters. 

A First Time for Everything is not so much a coming-of-age story as a journey of self-discovery. It's the best tween graphic I've read in a very long time.


Amy said...

This book sounds great for both of my grandchildren. One is in 4th grade, the other in 8th. Which would you think it is more suitable for? A 9 year old or a 13 year old?

laura k said...

It's suitable for both. The 8th grader might find it more relateable, as it's a middle-school story, but it's suitable for kids of any age.

Amy said...