‘Yes! No! Maybe? What! Hello!’ The best opening lines in children’s books

Phobias are unpleasant things – up there with brussel sprouts and liquorice allsorts. But a load of people have them. Shark-haters? They got landed with Selachophobia. School-loathers? Didaskaleinophobia. And authors – want to know their phobia? The thing that really freaks them out? The thing that sends shivers of terror down their spines? THE  BLANK A4 PAGE. Because beginnings are frightening for a writer. No matter how good your ideas are, getting that first line onto the page is tricky stuff.


But the opening line is as important as the cover or even the title. It’s the deal-breaker in that 30-second decision of whether the reader wants to buy your book or read on with your story. Moontrug recently read a very helpful article by picture book author, Kim Tomsic, who in turn was told a ‘golden nugget’ of information by famous author, Richard Peck: ‘action in books for the young must start before the opening line.’ And here’s what he meant:


‘Minutes after the shootings, everybody’s cell phones rang.’ (After by Francine Prose)
‘When all’s said and done, killing my mother came easily.’ (Almost Moon by Alice Sebold)


You’ve got to plunge your reader into a story that they can’t possibly put down. So lines like ‘One day I got up and brushed my teeth’ ain’t gonna cut it. You’ve got to hand the reader a line that totally transfixes them. Here are a few of Kim Tomsic’s favourite opening lines to help you grasp the idea:


1. ‘If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it.’ (The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck)

2. ‘Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial and found guilty.’ (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi)

3. ‘Life was good before I met the monster.’ (Crank by Ellen Hopkins)

4. ‘Of all the kids in seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun. Me.’ (The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt)


And here are some of Moontrug’s absolute favs:


1. ‘The monster showed up just after midnight.  As they do.’ (A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness)

2. ‘Yes! No! Maybe? What! Hello.’ (Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree by Andy Stanton)

3. ‘Sometimes there’s no warning.’ (Oath Breaker by Michelle Paver)

4. ‘When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.’ (Stormbreakerby Anthony Horowitz)

5. ‘It was seven minutes after midnight.’ (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon)

6. ‘On the morning I was scheduled to die, a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house.’ (Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis)

7. ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ (I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith)

8. ‘There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.’ (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis)


So no matter how scary starting a book may seem, you’ve got to do it. Imagine if JK Rowling had never written: ‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much’ or RJ Palacio had never scribbled down the words: ‘I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.’ Being an author means being BRAVE, being BOLD. And even if the opening line doesn’t come to you right away, start with the second line and go back to the opening line later. Below are some story title ideas – have a go at writing your own first line to them and send Moontrug your ideas: abi@moontrug.com. And if you fancy another short but sweet writing task, enter Moontrug’s ‘One Sentence Story’ Competition

– The Floating Child
– Mask Man
– Rain Monster
– The wild woods
– The cursed mirror

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