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Roundtable: Our favorite First Second books

It’s hard to believe, but it has been five years since First Second burst on the graphic novel scene with a lineup that included Lewis Trondheim’s A.L.I.E.E.E.N., Grady Klein’s The Lost Colony, Emmanuel Guibert and Joann Sfar’s Sardine in Outer Space, and Sfar’s Vampire Loves.

That fall they really got on the map with Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, which was recognized not only within the comics community, with an Eisner Award, but in the larger book community as well: It was nominated for a National Book Award (the first graphic novel to be so recognized) and it won a Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature.

Five years later, First Second is well established as a publisher of quality graphic novels, particularly—but not exclusively—for young readers, and we thought it would be appropriate to have a little birthday celebration for them. We’re kicking it off with a roundtable about our favorite First Second books, and we will be celebrating with reviews of First Second books and interviews with First Second creators all week long. So let’s get to it. What is your favorite First Second book?

Scott Robins: Such a hard question to answer considering there are so many great First Second books! I would have to say that my favorite is Vampire Loves by Joann Sfar. It’s charming, quirky and pulls on the heartstrings, plus it’s a unique take on the vampire theme. Little Vampire is probably my next favorite, also by Sfar. Written for younger audience, this book has all of the edgy wit and charm of Vampire Loves and doesn’t dumb things down for the little ones. At the same time, it remains completely kid appropriate. I think it’s great that First Second has become a home for so many great European creators and books—and I’m sure there’s still a wealth of material out there that’s just waiting to be snatched up by Mark Siegel and his team.

Kate Dacey: My favorite is Sarah Varon’s Robot Dreams, a wordless comic about a dog who builds himself an android sidekick, only to lose his friend after an ill-advised trip to the beach. (Robots and salt water don’t mix, apparently.) It’s a lovely metaphor for the kind of intense friendships that many of us experience at various points in our lives: we bare our souls, share our passions, and feel deeply linked to someone for a brief period of time, then savor the memory of that connection long after the friendship has ended. If I had a nine- or ten-year-old daughter who was just beginning to experience how fragile friendships can be, I’d hand her a copy of this book, in part because Varon shows us how the dog and his robot friend make peace with what happened to them. It’s honest and sad, but hopeful, too.

Snow Wildsmith: Kate mentioned one of my two favorites, so I’ll tell you about the other: Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa. This moving allegory is about two parents who are trying to fight off the shadowy figures who have come for their son. Anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a child will understand their pain, terror, and desperation. I have never had to face that horrible prospect, but Pedrosa’s beautifully illustrated tale helped me understand the barest hint of what my best friends went through when they lost several babies through miscarriage.

Robin Brenner: My favorite First Second book depends a bit on who I’m talking to! One book I consistently recommend to educators and school librarians first, because I love it unabashedly, and second, because it’s a wonderful primary source for history, is George O’Connor’s adaptation Journey Into Mohawk Country. The actual (unabridged) diary is penned by Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert in 1634, but O’Connor’s illustrations of his record are charming, illuminating, and carefully observed. O’Connor’s recent series on Greek mythology, The Olympians, is outstanding as well, but I always feel like Journey Into Mohawk Country deserves attention as one of the imprint earlier, worthy books.

Esther Keller: I’ve never read put out by book by First Second that I didn’t like! Choosing just one is very hard. But I’ll have to go with City of Spies. In part, because I re-learned the lesson “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Nothing about this cover attracted me, and I just cast aside my review copy. I don’t even remember what made me pick it up, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. I loved the story… about one summer during World War II, when two kids are convinced that there are German Spies everywhere and accidentally stumble onto a real plot. The artwork is very retro and reminiscent of the comic book style of the 40s.

Eva Volin: Much like Robin, my favorite book depends on who I’m talking to.  If I’m speaking with a kid, my favorite jumps back and forth between Adventures in Cartooning and the Sardine series. The first because it’s a great introduction (for anyone, not just kids) on how to plot, how to pace, the importance of show-don’t-tell, etc. All this and it manages to be a great read, too.  Not many how-to books can claim that.  The second because it’s just too much fun. Sardine combines the silliness of Captain Underpants, the humor of Willy Wonka, and the plucky can-do attitude of Little Orphan Annie, rolls them all up together and serves them on a platter alongside pirates, aliens, and a spaceship named Huckleberry.  It’s an unbeatable combination.
If I’m talking to a teen, I love Life Sucks. It’s a refreshing twist on the usual (dare I say ubiquitous?) vampire story that doesn’t have an eye-rollingly romantic or even necessarily happy ending. I’ve heard complaints from other adults that this book wasn’t all that, but I’ve never heard a teen give this book less than a rave review. My other favorite for teens is a book some don’t feel *is* appropriate for teens. I disagree. I think The Photographer is an amazing book for people who are becoming aware of the world as a place that exists outside of their neighborhoods, that war is real, and that “normal” means different things in different places. 

Brigid Alverson: It’s a tough choice, but I would say the book I have enjoyed the most is The Unsinkable Walker Bean. It’s just a really classic children’s book, with a reluctant hero, a smart, brassy girl, plenty of pirates, some magic objects—all rolled together with a lot of energy and some amazing art.

And now it’s your turn, readers: What is your favorite First Second book?

Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.


  1. Kat Kan says:

    American Born Chinese for what Gene Yang accomplished with this book. I adore him for shattering the Asian American stereotype with his characters; as a mixed-race, half-Japanese person, I finally found Asian American characters to whom I could relate in Yang’s graphic novels, and I’m citing this as his first gn for First Second.

    I want to go on record saying that I have loved everything that First Second has published.

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