A First Time For Everything

a first time for everything

A middle grade graphic memoir based on bestselling author and Caldecott Medalist Dan Santat's awkward middle school years and the trip to Europe that changed his life.

Dan's always been a good kid. The kind of kid who listens to his teachers, helps his mom with grocery shopping, and stays out of trouble. But being a good kid doesn't stop him from being bullied and feeling like he's invisible, which is why Dan has low expectations when his parents send him on a class trip to Europe.

At first, he's right. He's stuck with the same girls from his middle school who love to make fun of him, and he doesn't know why his teacher insisted he come on this trip. But as he travels through France, Germany, Switzerland, and England, a series of first experiences begin to change him―first Fanta, first fondue, first time stealing a bike from German punk rockers... and first love.

Funny, heartwarming, and poignant, A First Time for Everything is a feel-good coming-of-age memoir based on New York Times bestselling author and Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat's awkward middle school years. It celebrates a time that is universally challenging for many of us, but also life-changing as well.---from the publisher

Keywords:  graphic memoir, middle school, travel, new experiences, diversity, coming of age, finding yourself, self image, self acceptance, believing in yourself, social situations, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, If You Liked New Kid


“An international experience should be part of your education, whatever your goals, socioeconomic status, or field of study.  Every year, more than 300,000 American students study, intern, or volunteer abroad for academic credit on programs ranging from two weeks to a full academic year. International educational experiences that you undertake with thoughtfulness and purpose are valuable, regardless of duration or format.”

–U.S. State Department, “Why Study Abroad?”

“Oh, kiss me, beneath the milky twilight

Lead me out on the moonlit floor

Lift your open hand

Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance

Silver moon's sparkling

So kiss me”

– Sixpence None the Richer (1997)

In 1989, at the end of his incredibly-awkward junior high career, future Caldecott medalist Dan Santat reluctantly participated in a three-week long studying abroad trip to Europe, with one of his teachers and a bunch of kids from two different schools. A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING is a graphic memoir and coming-of-age story about a trip that turned out to be the highlight of Dan Santat’s childhood, a trip that changed his life.

The adventure began with his parents giving him a hard time at the airport about this and that, and includes this hysterical interchange:

[Dan]“‘Okay, I'm off.’

[Mom]‘Have a good flight! Hey, it’s your first time on a plane!’

[Dan]‘Yup. Don’t worry, if the plane goes down, at least my death will be quick.’


[Dan]‘LOVE YOU.’”

Over the course of the ensuing adventure, this sensitive young man meets his first girlfriend and experiences his first kiss, his first cup of coffee, his first taste of beer, and his first drag on a cigarette. And he spends a lot of time drawing. We see how, in the face of interpersonal struggles, Dan finds peace in drawing. At this age, he is already quite talented and thoroughly engaged in his art.

“Everywhere I looked reminded me of something that happened on the trip.

This boring little town.

A town that no longer scared me.”

Three weeks later, when he returns home, Dan is changed, now considering and pursuing activities he never would have previously attempted.

Many portions of this coming-of-age memoir are quite moving, particularly when Dan is dealing with his feelings for Amy who, unfortunately, was from Illinois, far from his home in California. Over those three weeks, their relationship does not extend beyond hand-holding, hugging, and a few kisses. It’s appropriate for both tween and middle grade readers, so many of whom will benefit from observing Dan’s emotional struggles, including his dealing with verbal bullying. (There are a number of flashbacks that aid in our understanding of his current interpersonal relationships with his friends and the other student travelers from his school.)

Also quite touching are a number of scenes with Mrs. Bjork, Dan’s elderly teacher who organizes and leads the trip, and who is repeatedly there for Dan when problems arise.

The stellar illustrations include all of the famous European cities and historic buildings the students visited. The various student characters are drawn distinctly; they are all easy to remember. There is no question that this one will be discussed at length by next year’s award committees.

Engaging from first square to last, A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING will inspire many readers to escape their little corners of the world and pursue similar adventures.

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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