Great Opening Lines to Hook Young Readers If you're interested in getting your child or teen to keep reading during a hot, long, lazy vacation, offer them these cool summer books. Librarian Nancy Pearl's picks all have great first lines, three-dimensional characters and strong finishes.
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Great Opening Lines to Hook Young Readers

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Great Opening Lines to Hook Young Readers

Great Opening Lines to Hook Young Readers

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Well, summer vacation is here. Time for kids to swim and hang with friends and go to movies, and maybe read. At least that's what they'll do if librarian Nancy Pearl has her way. Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl, regular guest on this program. Welcome back, Nancy.

NANCY PEARL: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She always comes with a list of recommended readings. She sent me another stack of books. Nancy, I have to confess I haven't started a single one of these books you sent me.

PEARL: I was afraid of that, so I'm going have to convince you via the great first lines of the all these books that you must open them. And once you begin, you will not be able to stop.

INSKEEP: Well, I'll tell you what, let's go through it. And you and I, one of us or the other, will read each of the opening lines.

PEARL: Sounds good.

INSKEEP: Let's begin with a book here called "Tanglewreck" by Jeannette Winterson.

PEARL: And this is Jeannette Winterson. She normally writes for adults, so this is her first book for young adults. And it's a doozy, quite good.

INSKEEP: A quiet first line, though: At 6:45 one summer morning, a red London bus was crossing Waterloo Bridge.

PEARL: And there's a line in there a little further down: The bus and its passengers were never found. It was the first of the time tornadoes.


PEARL: So time is out of joint in this book, and of course it takes two young people to set it aright.

INSKEEP: I'm remembering a book from when I was kid, "A Wrinkle in Time."

PEARL: "A Wrinkle in Time," and readers will definitely see - not hints of "A Wrinkle in Time," but it's hard to write fantasies without referring back to some of those classic fantasies. And "A Wrinkle in Time," the Madeleine L'Engle book, is certainly one that will come to mind when you're reading this.

INSKEEP: Okay. Well, let's continue with the list.

PEARL: Oh, I have to read that.

INSKEEP: Yeah. It's your turn. It's your turn. Take the book.

PEARL: Yes, because I love the beginning of this. "Millicent Min, Girl Genius," by Lisa Yee.

I have been accused of being anal retentive, an overachiever, and a compulsive perfectionist like those are bad things.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: So what's wrong with that?

PEARL: And that - and I think that the thing that kids will really enjoy about reading this is Millicent's voice and how she has to learn that being a genius - and she is a genius; she's 10 years old, she's in her senior year of high school - but she has to learn that her intelligence is not all that defines her. And it all comes into play when she makes her first friend, who is clearly not a genius but an awfully nice girl.

But this is a book I think that parents will really enjoy sharing, reading out loud. Ten, 11, 12-year-olds will love this book. One of the neat things is that Lisa Yee's next two books tell the same story but from two other points of view.

INSKEEP: Oh. Well now let's move on to the next item on the list here. What are you laughing about?

PEARL: I love this opening line. You've got to read this one.

INSKEEP: Are you sure I can read this one?


INSKEEP: Okay. All right. The book is called "Ragweed" by Avi. A single-name author is what we have here.

PEARL: A single-name author, and this is another author who has written a gazillion books for kids. It is about rodents, and the main character is Ragweed.

INSKEEP: (Unintelligible)

PEARL: And the opening line will set the stage.

INSKEEP: I'm getting there. I'm getting there. Oh, here we go. It begins with a quote. "Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do."

PEARL: Don't you identify with that? Didn't you say that to your mother? Ma, a boy has to do what a boy has to do. And what Ragweed has to do is leave. He's a deer mouse, and he has to leave the forest and go to the big city to see what's what.

INSKEEP: Of course.

PEARL: And what he finds in the big city is a wonderful rock band with a lead singer guitarist who I think must have been based in some ways on Courtney Love.


PEARL: But Ragweed and his mouse pals set up a dance club for mice only called The Cheese Squeeze.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PEARL: But they learn that the big city does have its terrors and its problems, and those are in the form, of course, of cats.

INSKEEP: There you go.

PEARL: And his major enemy turns out to be a cat named Silver Sides, who is the founder and one of two members of FEAR - Felines Enraged About Rodents.


PEARL: And of course Ragweed and his friends have to really figure out what to do to outwit these wily cats.

INSKEEP: Thinking about the classic plots here - man versus man, man versus nature, cat against mouse.

PEARL: This is it.

INSKEEP: All right. The next book here is called "Feed" by M.T. Anderson. I think it's your turn to read the opening line, Nancy. There's the book.

PEARL: Although it's a boy talking, a young man talking. But this is, I think, one of the best books to give to reluctant teen, especially boy readers, and this is the first line: We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

So what I think sets this book apart from other wonderful teen novels is that this really is a book that makes you think. It's about our consumer society. And everybody at birth is hooked up to a central feed, so you don't need to go to school. You don't need to really know anything because you can Google.

INSKEEP: You need an information feed from (unintelligible).

PEARL: Totally information feed. And so there are banner heads that are floating across your head. And everything that you do there's a record of just like there is on Google. I mean, just like there is on computers, there's like these little footprints so they know what you're interested in. So, you know, if you bought a pair of Guess jeans, for example, what the banner ads will refer to is, do you like those Guess jeans? Well, this will really go with those.

INSKEEP: So is this fiction or non-fiction? Just checking, becauseā€¦

PEARL: Yeah, good question. Fearful question.

INSKEEP: Okay, one more book on the list here - "Wemberly Worried," which is a very thin one. Oh, yeah, it's like a picture book. Okay.

PEARL: Kevin Henkes is one of the great picture book authors and illustrators, and he has many, many unforgettable characters. "Lilly and her Purple Plastic Purse" is one; "Julius, the Baby of the World" is the other. His characters are all mice, and they are absolutely, achingly adorable.

But the first line of "Wemberly Worried" is: Wemberly worried about everything.

So like many of us non-mice who spend much of our day worrying about things big and small and everything in between, that is Wemberly. But she's most worried about, these days, nursery school, and she's going to start nursery school in the fall. And I think that this is one of those great books to share with kids who are starting off to kindergarten in the fall or starting nursery school.

The neat thing about what Kevin Henkes has done in "Wemberly Worried" is that the more worried she gets, the larger the font gets. (Unintelligible)

INSKEEP: You're several feet away from me and holding this up: She worried all the way there.

PEARL: Right.

INSKEEP: Giant type. Okay.

PEARL: Yes, so that is Kevin Henkes and that is "Wemberly Worried."

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, thanks for coming by.

PEARL: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Nancy Pearl, author of "Book Lust" and "Book Crush." Her complete list of books for kids and teens, along with excerpts, plus a bounty of other summer reading suggestions, can be found at

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

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