The impact of opening lines

Children’s books are a brilliant blend of simplicity and life lessons. They can be funny, touching, poignant or charming but ultimately, they are just the books that we really love. That is why they often stay with us well into adulthood: they create an escape for readers to be transported elsewhere. This is the reason why the opening lines of children’s books are so powerful. These lines show a skill that sometimes goes unacknowledged – the ability to create whole universes in that one sentence which can stick with you for weeks or even years. They are some of the purest and most masterful lessons in escapism and produce a startling impact to many of our favourite children’s books. Whilst it is unlikely we will agree on the ‘best’ ones, here I have chosen a handful of memorable opening lines from some great children’s fiction.

  1. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.’

The opening line of the book-that-shall-not-be named contains a whole lot more than a quick introduction to setting and character. Uptight suburbs, twitching curtains, skeletons inside the perfectly delightful, rose-painted closets: all depicted in the defensive ‘thank you very much’. Rowling welcomes her readers with a knowing wink and an enticing invitation to find out why the Mr and Mrs Dursley were wrong. In a typically British manner, readers are unknowingly introduced to a brand new world that was to explode into seven books, eight films, a play, spin-offs and a whole host of all things wizardry. In just twenty-one words Rowling successfully creates a wry voice, a relatable world, and arguably the most internationally recognisable opening line in fiction.

  1. Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

‘All children, except one, grow up.’

Peter Pan, a children’s classic, has a wonderfully whimsical opening line that speaks to the child in everyone. Barrie soars into his book by instantly foreshadowing the fact that Peter Pan never grows up. As a national treasure, Peter Pan allows readers to address the inevitable cycle of life and the inevitably of growing up. Whilst it seems we all have to let go of childhood at some point (now more than ever if we are at university…) we can always revisit Barrie’s novel and be pleasantly reminded of the joy and adventure of our own childhood.

  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

‘These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket.’

If J.K. Rowling is queen of this art then Roald Dahl is most definitely the king. The national treasure that is Roald Dahl gave us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and an opening line that is quite simple in comparison to the others I have selected. Regardless, it introduces us to our favourite family, the Buckets, and subtly introduces us to the running theme of family importance in this book. As with all the best children’s fiction, the surface is rooted in normality which creates the perfect first line to then transport the reader into a magical world of chocolate rivers, oompa loompas and glass elevators.

  1. The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss

‘The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day.’

Dr. Seuss has provided many children with fun, exuberant and colourful books for many years and The Cat in the Hat is definitely no exception. This is a must-read classic for every child and its opening line encapsulates a whole world of rhyme and spirit. In only twenty-three words Dr. Seuss captures the disheartening reality of the weather not being suitable enough to be able to play outside, however, this is achieved in an upbeat way through rapid rhyme, capturing the Cat’s lively essence. Thus childlike excitement is combined with rationality, pulling the reader into an immersive story without talking down to them. This opening line is effectively gloomy in subject matter – only making the wrecking of the home much more exhilarating!

  1. The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Enid Blyton

‘“You’ll have to go to school, Elizabeth!” said Mrs. Allen. “I think your governess is quite right”.’

This personal favourite children’s book of mine has a first line that instantly captures the rebelliousness and unruliness of Elizabeth, who has a fierce desire to not attend boarding school. This instantly creates a sense of excitement and encourages the reader to find out what happens once she is sent away, whilst at the same time evokes a very real sensation of the emotions felt when your world seems out of your control and the adults are in charge. Boisterousness, escapades and expectant fun: all shown in these opening lines of Blyton’s classic. Even now, reading this line creates a pleasing buzz of anticipation at the many adventures to follow as Elizabeth does her absolute best to be expelled from school.

Shanai Momi

Image Credit: Ann Larie Valentine via Flickr

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