Never open a book with weather.– Elmore Leonard
…such as the famous, “It was a dark and stormy night” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. The best opening sentences in children’s novels take the reader captive immediately. They introduce character, setting and problem; they fire the imagination; and are clear about what is happening:
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on … that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.– Kurt Vonnegut
(Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions begins, “This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”)
My favourite children’s opening is from Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, deftly introducing the 3Ps (person, place and problem) all in a single sentence:
“Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Match these classic openings from children’s novels to the titles below.
1. All children, except one, grow up.
2. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
3.The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff.
4. Here I am, Ralph William Mountfield, banished to my bedroom on Christmas Day.
5. Keith the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered Room 215 of the Mountain View Inn.
6. My father is put in the stocks again! Oh! the injustice of it!
7. When Old Tip lost his bark, Uncle Trev had to teach his horse to bark and chase the cows up to the shed for milking.
8. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.
9. I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
Titles: The Iron Man, I Capture The Castle, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Devil-in-the-Fog, Matilda, The More the Merrier, Uncle Trev, Peter Pan
Jacob Appel gives some more in-depth advice for crafting an effective opening.