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Blog: This Writing Life


  • Writer's pictureMelissa Stoller

It's All About First Lines!

This content was originally posted at Children's Book Academy.

The first line in a picture book sets the tone for the story. First lines can establish the setting and identify and expand the current world of the main character. A grand opening can hook the reader in an instant, offering the promise of action, adventure, humor, and heart. And perhaps most important, the first line will hopefully encourage readers to continue reading. Sometimes it takes the first few sentences to capture an audience, but the first line remains ever important.

​Here are ten of my favorite first lines from recent picture books: 1) “The day the antlered ship arrived, Marco wondered about the wide world.” (The Antlered Ship, by Dashka Slater, illustrated by The Fan Brothers). Marco wonders and so does the reader. 2) “This is not a valentine, since those come with buckets of roses and bushels of tulips that smell like grannies fresh out of the garden.” (This is NOT a Valentine, written by Carter Higgins, Illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins). If it’s not a valentine, then what is it? Readers will turn the page to find out. 3) “Bunny loved books.” (Bunny’s Book Club by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss). This simple sentence sets up Bunny’s world, and readers who also love books will be drawn right into Bunny’s adventure. 4) “Hey, kid!” (Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri). The authors are speaking directly to the child reader. What child wouldn’t be intrigued? The reader immediately wants to hear what the author has to say. 5) “Long ago, in an ancient and distant realm called The Kingdom of Backyard, there lived a warrior named ROCK.” (The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors by Drew Daywalt, pictures by Adam Rex). Readers will continue to learn more about the Kingdom of Backyard, which sounds so familiar yet very distant. 6) “The city is big and I am small.” (Small by Gina Perry). Readers will identify with a small girl in a large city. 7) “One rainy day an Elephant was taking a walk with his green umbrella.” (The Green Umbrella by Jackie Azua Kramer, pictures by Maral Sassouni). Rainy days are full of adventure and mystery. . . readers will continue to see where this Elephant and his green umbrella are going. ​8) “There once was a bear who was more than a bear.” (BunnyBear, by Andrea J. Loney, pictures by Carmen Saldana). Who could stop reading here? 9) “Congratulations on your new lion!” (Caring for Your Lion, by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Troy Cummings.) This story starts on the title page with a note to the reader, who is drawn in immediately. 10) “It was winter, and the river winding through the enchanted forest was frozen solid.” (Little Red Gliding Hood, story by Tara Lazar, pictures by Troy Cummings). This scene-setting first line appears on the page before the title page, creating a memorable picture book opening spread. * * * So get to work creating memorable first lines that hook readers and make them wonder, smile, identify with the story, and most of all, keep reading.


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