If you’re a voracious reader like me, you’re constantly searching for new books to consume. With so many enticing books vying for our attention, it’s a wonderful problem to have. Here is my selection method, which I’m sure many of you share.
First, I skim the plot summary (from the book jacket, back cover, or online sources). If it sounds promising, I eagerly crack open the book and read the first line. If I’m intrigued, surprised, or shocked: SOLD! If I’m still uncommitted, I’ll read to the bottom of the first page. If I’m not hooked by then: PASS! The book goes back on the shelf, real or virtual, and I move onto the next possibility.
Is it any surprise that getting published is such a challenge? Just as readers have a mountain of published books to choose from, agents and editors have the equivalent of Mount Everest to sort through every day. What should this tell kid lit writers like us? Every word counts, especially within the crucial first lines. Whether we write picture books, chapter books, middle grade, or young adult, our first page (and ideally our first sentence) must have the power to reel in agents, editors, and ultimately…readers.
“Writing the perfect first line is so #@! hard!” you cry. Rest assured, I’m crying with you. But as the masterful first sentences below attest, the goal is lofty yet attainable. In fact, I’ll bet you recognize some or all of these lines! I’m so sure, I’ll give you all a little quiz.
DIRECTIONS: Match up these 15 books with their first lines (I took the liberty of bolding the words that grabbed me hook, line, and sinker.) Don’t fret if you get stuck – an answer key follows the quiz. After you finish, please share YOUR favorite first lines!
- The first time Taemon’s brother tried to kill him was the night Uncle Fierre came over with his unisphere.
- You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.
- I have been accused of being anal retentive, an over-achiever, and a compulsive perfectionist, like those are bad things.
- Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
- Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent most of my time in bed, read the same book over and over again, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
- I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.
- My big brother arrives home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts take their rest.
- My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.
- The fox felt the car slow before the boy did, as he felt everything first.
- Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
- One hungry monster underneath my bed, moaning and groaning and begging to be fed.
- A long time ago, before there were space shuttles, super-highways, or jumbo jets, there were trains.
- Pirates have green teeth-when they have any teeth at all.
- We ran, my little brother Aron and I, down the steps of our house, along the streets of Paris, where stone angels and gargoyles looked down on us from churches, cathedrals, and homes.
- The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another.
1. Freakling (Krumweide) 2. A Long Way From Chicago (Peck)
3. Millicent Min, Girl Genius (Yee) 4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone(Rowling)
5. The Fault in our Stars (Green) 6. Wonder (Palacio)
7. An Ember in the Ashes (Tahir) 8. Because of Winn Dixie (DiCamillo)
9. Pax (Pennypacker) 10. Percy Jackson/The Lightning Thief (Riordan)
11. One Hungry Monster (Heyboer O-Keefe)
12. Niccolini’s Song (Wilcoxin) 13. How I Became a Pirate (Long)
14. Stone Angel (Yolen) 15. Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak)
I hope you enjoyed the quiz and found some inspiration! I’m happy to report that all of these books lived up to the promise of their stellar first lines. I look forward to reading your favorite first lines…whether they hail from published books or, if you dare, your own pre-published manuscripts.