First Lines from Literature: Part Two of Two

By Lois E. Huffman and Mia N. Small

In Part One, we told you about the Scribendi infographic “34 Compelling First Lines of Famous Books”? Many books written for younger readers also have memorable opening lines. Below are examples that pulled us into the pages of children’s books and (YA) literature.*

Can you identify the stories? (There is a key at the end of this post, but please don’t peek!)

  1. “Brrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinng! An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room.”
  2. “Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.”
  3. “I am Ivan.”
  4. “Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”
  5. “Sophie couldn’t sleep.”
  6. “There was a new student in Water Tower Elementary School.”
  7. “There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself―not just sometimes, but always.”

You can find lists of “best” first lines in children’s and YA fiction at:

Opening lines can also be used to develop students’ literacy and language. Here are several ideas:


Guess the Text.   Give students strips of paper and invite them to write down their favorite first sentences from literature. Then have class members randomly select a strip, read the sentence, and guess the book or short story in which it appears. The person who contributed the opener might then try to convince classmates who haven’t already read the book to give it a go.

Off to a Great Start.   Share information from the Writer’s Digest article “7 Ways to Create a Killer Opening Line for Your Novel” or some of the strategies for writing great opening lines from Daily Writing Tips. (The exemplars from literature at the latter site might be useful with high school students.)  Then invite your learners to implement one of the techniques. Use author’s chair or peer sharing to get reactions to the lines that students pen. Work together as a class or in small groups to rewrite sentences if needed.

From Beginning to End.   Check out the first line generator at children/first-line-for-a-story.php. Here are several opening sentences created via the site:

She felt the door handle in the dark.

The car stopped. The tinted window opened and…

The fire was getting closer.

Invite students to write an original short story using a starter they generate at the site. Guide the writing process and help students revise and edit their pieces for sharing or publishing.

In what other ways will you take advantage of compelling first lines from literature to promote your students’ reading and writing?


1) Native Son by Richard Wright 2) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler by E. L. Konigsburg                  3) The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate 4) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein 5) The BFG by Roald Dahl 6) Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry 7) The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Jester

*This short list of opening lines is not intended to be representative of the diverse reading material available for PK-12 students. It simply includes some memorable books from our reading lives.

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