Many books truly grab a reader with their opening lines and paragraphs! For example, “There were four thugs, total gangsters, in front of the house…” (Mike Lupica’s Hero), “The boy ran down the rain-soaked street, weaving between abandoned cars…” (Mark Warren’s Earthfall), and “Caleb O’Toole ran through the blazing streets until he thought his heart would burst in his chest…” (Eric Pierpoint’s The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole) all do a great job in hooking a reader immediately.
A recent lesson with a Sixth-Grade class focused on books’ opening lines and paragraphs. We enjoyed a rich discussion about how authors quite often try to draw readers in very quickly; as we discerned, this is especially important if a reader is not sure if s/he is interested in a book’s genre/topic.
To test this, the class sampled the openings of very many of our books. In our time together, each student analyzed at least three different books (which they had not previously read) and jotted down his/her thoughts. Many of the books hooked the readers right off the bat, while others developed more slowly. Here are some of the students’ conclusions, along with the books’ titles and authors:
“It hooks you because it starts telling about someone lying to her social worker. You wonder, ‘Why is she lying to her social worker – and why does she even have a social worker?'” (Zebra Forest, by Adina Gewirtz)
“It hooked me because it is talking about an orphan girl and how she cannot step foot out of London. I wonder why she can’t step foot out of London?” (The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, by Mary Downing Hahn)
“It has to be a good book, because it starts by saying that it’s hard to be fourteen and your parent accidentally unleashed the forces of chaos and destruction.” (Middle World, by Jon Voelkel)
“It hooks me because it starts with her running through the woods, with her heart beating non-stop.” (The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste)
And the three students who reviewed Aaron Starmer’s The Riverman all liked its opening:
“The opening paragraph hooked me very fast. This was because it had an extremely strong first sentence, had a death – and the person who caused the death is riddled with guilt.”
“It hooked me because it goes straight into how someone dies. I want to keep reading to know how.”
“This books hooks me because at the beginning, it talks of missing people, and you wonder what that has to do with the story and read on.”