First Lines from the Children’s Side
The thing about the ShelfTalker blog, is that it really has fantastic posts. I know that they cover the bookseller side of things, while I handle the librarian world, but often our topics intersect, and doggone it. They just come up with great ideas. For example, there was their recent Great First Lines post. Elizabeth Bluemle had the clever notion to pick up a couple of those ARCs and galleys sitting around and to report their first sentences to the world. Her post talks quite a bit about some of the most famous first lines in children’s literary history. Lazy me, I shall simply direct you to her as she says all this far better than I ever could (and I’m feeling a tad guilty about recently weeding Quest for a Maid from my fiction collection, so don’t tell her about that).
In the Bluemle piece she covers mostly (though certainly not entirely) YA. Near as I can figure, that leaves the door wide open for me and my middle grade selections. So hold on tight, folks! I’ve plunged into my own 2011’s (which I refuse to read until the year itself, no matter how tempting they may seem) to give you a taste of some of the more interesting first sentences we shall all soon enjoy. Many many thanks to Elizabeth for the idea.
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill (Little Brown, August 2011)
“Frankie was the first to know.”
Usually I don’t go for sentences quite that cryptic, but there’s something enticing in this one’s simplicity.
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg (Walker, March 2011)
“Remember when you watched Bambi for the first time and you got to the part where Bambi’s mom dies?”
Hey, why should fiction have all the fun? Seems to me that the first sentence in a work of non-fiction is just as important as any other book. Particularly if it involves Bambi.
Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis (Atheneum, April 2011)
“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin.”
It’s almost cute, but the following sentences save it. I rather like it in and of itself, though. Has a kick to it. Plus, who doesn’t like the word “impending”?
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade, March 2011)
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell fact from fiction.”
What better way to introduce a historical figure that, to most kids, is probably more fictional to their minds than flesh and blood?
The Midnight Tunnel (A Suzanna Snow Mystery) by Angie Frazier (Scholastic Press, March 2011)
“The sun beat down so hard, spit could have sizzled on the massive rocks skirting Lobster Cove.”
Ooo. Add the Nancy Drew-esque cover to a first line that has more moxie in that little “spit” and “sizzled” than all your average Nancys combined, and you have yourself one enticing title.
Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge (Harper Collins, June 2011)
” ‘Read the paper for you, sir?’ ”
I sort of get overawed when I read Hardinge’s books. So it’s tempting to get overawed by this sentence too. All I will say is that there’s nothing better than hearing it read in the voice of a street waif and thinking it directed to an adult of some sort. Puts you in the right frame of mind for the kind of story you’ll be hearing.
Junonia by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow, June 2011)
“When Alice Rice and her parents were halfway across the bridge, Alice felt strange.”
Sold! Particularly if you don’t know if this is a fantasy, realistic fiction, sci-fi, historical fiction, or adventure title.
Freedom Stone by Jeffrey Kluger (Philomel, January 2011)
“There were two kinds of slaves on the plantation Lillie and her family called home: those who could sleep on the night before the slave seller came and those who couldn’t.”
Nicely done. And I admit, I had a hard time putting the book down after reading that. Kluger’s good at sucking you into a story, before you even knew you were going to read it in the first place.
Bless This Mouse by Lois Lowry (Houghton Mifflin, May 2011)
“Hildegarde sighed, a loud, squeaking, outraged sort of sigh, when she was informed that a new litter of mouselets had been born in the sexton’s closet.”
Even if you didn’t read the title, the first sentence is sort of a giveaway. But in a nice way.
Jeremy Bender Vs. the Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper (Balzer & Bray, May 2011)
“Jeremy Bender once heard that every time a person learned something, a new wrinkle worked its way into his or her brain.”
There you go, kids. It’s science so it shouldn’t be gross, but it’s kind of gross and therein lies the lure. And that’s before you get to the end of the paragraph, which happens to involve someone force-feeding Jeremy a local playing field.
Suddenly in the Depths of the Forest by Amos Oz (Harcourt, March 2011)
“Emanuella the Teacher described to the class what a bear looks like, how fish breathe, and the kind of sounds a hyena makes at night.”
It’s a simple sentence but there was something about its construction that I liked very much. You get a sense of the otherworldly, merely through the capitalization of the word “Teacher”. Yet it can’t be that different from our world if there are bears, fish, and hyenas. Then again again, who doesn’t know what a bear looks like? You want to know more about what’s going on instantly and so you keep reading. That is the lure of this title.
The Luck of the Buttons by Anne Ylvisaker (Candlewick Press, April 2011)
“Tugs Button darted past Zip’s Hardware, stumbled over the lunch specials sign at Al and Irene’s Luncheonette, and pushed through the door of Ward’s Ben Franklin as if the devil himself were chasing her.”
There is nothing I do not like about that sentence.
Seen any other worth first sentences in your middle grades slated for 2011? Hit me. I can take ’em.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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