First Lines of the Last 30 Newbery Award Winners.
What does the first line of a book convey to its reader? And can you, by examining such lines in books granted the very highest of literary awards to children’s books, glean some kind of insight or wisdom by reading through them, one by one?
The easy answer to all of this is no. Of course not. Writers of books for children understand instinctively the importance of that opening salvo to their piece, but it’s just that. A single line out of hundreds. There’s no magic to it. If you write the greatest first line to a children’s book ever conceived by a human brain that will not magically bestow up on your work guaranteed praise and literary prizes.
Knowing all this, why do they still fascinate us so? Perhaps because, like a book jacket, a first line’s job is to entice. It must lure its readers in, to a certain extent. It is a promise. A promise that things will get interesting in some manner. Maybe it’ll be a thoughtful kind of interesting, or an exciting kind, or a mix of both. But the promise is there and the young reader has to, on some level, buy in.
Today, I’ve collected thirty first lines from the last thirty Newbery Award winners. And for fun, I’m not naming their books. If you’ve memorized the winners in order then there will be no surprises here for you. For me, there were some. Books I thought I remembered well had lines that often caught me off guard. Tone is so key. These lines sometimes successfully convey that tone. Sometimes? They are way way off.
“Sanzi had broken yet another rule, but she didn’t care.”
“Lita tosses another pinon log onto the fire.”
“I can turn invisible.”
“This is how I feel every single day of my life, like I’m falling without a parachute.”
“To think, only yesterday I was in chancletas, sipping lemonade and watching my twin cousins run through the sprinkler in the yard.”
“Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade.”
“Yes. There is a witch in the woods.”
“CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps.”
“At the top of the key, I’m MOVING & GROOVING, POPping and ROCKING -“
“Flora Belle Buckman was in her room at her desk.”
“I am Ivan.”
“School was finally out and I was standing on a picnic table in our backyard getting ready for a great summer vacation when my mother walked up to me and ruined it.”
“The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby.”
“So Mom got the postcard today.”
“There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”
“This is the part of the book that most people skip.”
“Lucky Trimble crouched in a wedge of shade behind the Dumpster.”
“She wished something would happen.”
“My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira.”
“This story begins within the walls of a castle, with the birth of a mouse.”
“The day after my mother died, the priest and I wrapped her body in a gray shroud and carried her to the village church.”
“Eh, Tree-ear! Have you hungered well today?”
“It was a September morning, hazy with late summer, and now with all the years between.”
“Here we go again.”
“There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”
“As summer wheat came ripe, so did I, born at home, on the kitchen floor.”
“Mrs. Eva Marie Olinski always gave good answers.”
“When animal droppings and garbage and spoiled straw are piled up in a great heap, the rotting and moiling give forth heat.”
“Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart, and that is true.”
“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”
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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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