'High up in the attic'

We have been reading SO MANY books lately, and I don't know who enjoys it more: the kids or me! 

Lately I've been admiring the ones with a riveting opening line, the kind that immediately hooks a young reader. They thrust you into the center of the action. They introduce a compelling protagonist or an intriguing problem. They conjure a sense of place. They draw you right in. 

Here are eight of my favorites, spanning a century (and skewing toward the vintage). Grab one for an autumn picnic! 

 

1. Pet of the Met (1953)

"High up in the attic of the Metropolitan Opera House, in a forgotten harp case, there once lived a white mouse named Maestro Petrini." 

What a brilliant opening line! Don Freeman, the creator of Corduroy, illustrated this book, which was written by his talented, lesser-known wife, Lydia. 

2. Raggedy Ann Stories (1918) 

"Marcella liked to play up in the attic at Grandma's quaint old house 'way out in the country, for there were so many old forgotten things to find up there." 

Another great attic opener! This sentence bursts with a sense of place. It marked the debut of Johnny Gruelle's beloved Raggedy Ann and Andy series. 

3. The Cat In The Hat (1957)

"The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day."  

The problem of boredom is a familiar one. But the solution is surprising!   

These opening words launched Beginner Books, Random House's wildly successful children's publishing house directed by Dr. Seuss. 

 4. The Big Honey Hunt (1962) 

"We ate our honey. We ate a lot. Now we have no honey in our honey pot." 

The first page in the first Berenstain Bears book, published by Dr. Seuss' Beginner Books imprint, gets young minds turning.  

The remedy to this problem carries readers to the very last page -- much to Papa Bear's chagrin. 

5. The Circus in Peter's Closet (1955) 

"Peter and David Timpkins used to live in a little apartment in the big crowded city of Washington. But one snowy winter day they moved to a big house in the little town of Blue Ridge."

I love that contrast of big and little. Trouble comes with this change of place for 5-year-old Peter, the protagonist. Don Freeman's illustrations are enchanting. 

6. Fletcher and the Falling Leaves (2008) 

"The world was changing." 

Four words, one sentence -- and an intrigued young reader. 

"Fletcher was beginning to get worried." 

7. Mr. Shaw's Shipshape Shoeshop (1970)

"Mr. Sylvester Shaw was the best shoemaker in town. His shop was in an old building on an old street, between Mr. Brown's Bakery and Mr. Green's Grocery."

Making playful use of alliteration and repetition, this opener teems with a sense of place. The book is full of rich details, both illustrated and written. ("Every Wednesday at twelve o'clock noon, whenever the weather was nice, he'd close his Shipshape Shoeshop and walk down to the docks.") The title is a great example of tongue-twisting reduplicatives, sure to tickle the ear of a young listener.  

8. The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (1979)

 "Six times Miss Hester's dog Fritz had bitten dear cousin Eunice." 

This may be my favorite opening line of all. It immediately draws children into the action and credits their intelligence. They don't need a soft set-up; they can handle a real conflict involving a number and three different names. 

This Caldecott-winner was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg of Jumanji and Polar Express fame. 

 

 Which books would you add to the list?

 


 Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and four children in Inver Grove Heights. Read all her posts at mnparent.com/charmed