Memorable First Lines

By Ellen Leventhal

ferris wheel

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.

                                        Natalie Babbitt

These first few sentences of the middle grade novel, Tuck Everlasting take my breath away. For brevity’s sake, I didn’t include the whole prologue, but trust me, the rest of it is just as strikingly beautiful. I am in awe of Natalie Babbitt’s use of language to draw the reader in and set the stage for her story.

Opening lines can make or break a story. Because I normally (although not always) write kid lit, some of my favorite opening lines are from children’s literature. As writers, we need a hook. Not a Hook as in Captain Hook, but something to transport readers into our story. Of course, speaking of Captain Hook, JM Barrie gave us one of the most memorable first lines ever. It is that first line that begins our journey to Neverland. Without it, we may never venture out of the Darling’s bedroom.

Just for fun, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite openings from varying genre. See if you can guess what books open with these lines.

  1. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
  2. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo lying on the floor.
  3. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  4. In an old house that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
  5. A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood; a fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.
  6. Once there were four children whose names are Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy.
  7. All children, except one, grow up.
  8. It was a pleasure to burn.
  9. This is George. He lived in Africa.
  10. It was love at first sight. The first time Yosarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

So how did you do? Did you know the books? What lines did you know? What lines did you have to look up? (In this age of instant information, I’m sure you looked them up if you didn’t know them.)

Please comment and share some of YOUR favorite opening lines.

Happy reading!

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