Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Picture Book Opening Lines

This will be the last time I rave about the articles in Alice Pope's 2009 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market. I Promise. Pages 37-43 contain "Great Opening Lines in Picture Books" by Lisa Wheeler. She compares the opening lines to first dates. Her analogy is funny and memorable.

Wheeler describes  (and gives examples of) openers from lots of PBs. She says that opening lines are like meeting for the first time face-to-face. They let readers know WHO they are dating. Secondly, Wheeler says some first lines are flirtatious. They give the readers just a sneak peek at all that is to come in the book.

According to Wheeler opening lines can also set the mood of the "date" for the reader.They let readers know if this story is serious or silly. Happy or sad. Quiet or rambunctious.

Wheeler says that some PB authors set a tone of mystery with their opening lines. That's a line that leaves readers with a big question which makes them turn that page.

Other opening lines tell the reader where the story not only begins, but where it is headed. These openers give readers a sense of place.

Wheeler also points out the need to keep opening lines fresh. She warns us not to use those same old "pick-up" lines that have been hashed over a thousand times. Be original. I try. I really do try to come up with original phrases, metaphors, opening lines. It stretches my brain for sure.

Lastly, Wheeler warns us not to overdo it in first lines. Don't try to cram too much into that one line. After all, she says, the point of writing great first lines is to tempt the reader into reading the next line and the next and the next. You get the idea.

I decided to go through my collection of PBs and try to identify some opening lines.

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford
On a summer night, Harriet gazes at the sky and talks with God.

This line leaves me wondering. Where is she? Why is she talking to God? It also leaves me wondering what Harriet has to do with Moses.

Chicken BIG by Keith Graves
On a teeny little farm, in an itty-bitty coop, a very small hen laid a big, humongous egg.

Silly--that's the mood. Makes me think this is going to be a tall tale. It also gives me the location--on a farm.

Dance Me, Daddy by Cindy Morgan
Spinning around on the tops of his feet, she smiles like an angel and looks up so sweet.

This is going to be a sweet book. A book about love and family. A happy book.

Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord
Great day, grin day, build a car to win day,
Cheer day, chase day, gonna have a race day!

This opener promises me the story will be fun and fast and exciting. Yeah!

Song of Night: It's Time to Go to Bed by Katherine Riley Nakamura
It's time for bed. Stars fill the skies.
Now it's time to close your eyes.

The rhythm and rhyme tell me this will be a musical, lyrical book and the "bed" and "stars' and "close your eyes" let me know this is a quiet, bedtime book for young children.

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle
One warm day, from a tiny egg a little cricket was born.

This opener introduces the MC and gives me a sense of time and place. Where we are and even where we are headed, because after a little cricket is born it's bound to grow up. Right?

So, how did I do? Why don't you try this exercise? Just pull PBs off your shelves or library shelves and read the openers. Would you be so kind as to post your results here? Pretty please with sprinkles and a cherry on top?

Thanks! I know I can count on you!

1 comment:

Carol Baldwin said...

I love the comparsion of opening lines to first dates. That will stick! Now...I should probably read the opening lines from some MG novels too!