Picture Book Beginnings

Blog 4: Picture Books – Brilliant Beginnings

Beginnings are important.

Very often you’ll see people pick up a book in a shop and flick to the first page – if they like what the see they might buy the book, otherwise they might just put it back and keep browsing.

So what makes them buy they book? What makes for a brilliant beginning? There are lots of different ways to begin a picture book, and below are some examples of different ways to make your opening stand out:

The ‘Draws the Reader in’ Beginning:

Ideally you want an opening to immediately pull a reader into the story and make them relate to the characters. NO ONE does this better than Jeanne Willis in ‘Hom’ (fab illustrations by Paddy Donnelly). This opening is perfection:

“I’ve never told anyone about Hom.

No one knows he exists. 

Only me.

And now you – because I trust you.”

The ‘Sublime Rhyme’ Beginning:

I don’t call Rachel Bright ‘Queen of the Openings’ for nothing. Check out this from ‘The Way Home for Wolf’ (illustrated by Jim field). She sets the scene, hints at who her character will be and evokes some gorgeous imagery – all in 4 lines:

“As a rainbow of lights flickered soft in the night,

Dusting diamonds of ice in a desert of white,

The wild whipping wind, it whistled its tune,

To a howling of wolves and a shimmering moon”

The ‘Huh? You What?’ Beginning:

This is where you have such an unexpected beginning that the reader can’t help but read on to find out what on earth it’s all about. A great example is ‘I am a Tiger’ by Karl Newson (illo’d by Ross Collins). This book opens with the perfectly incongruous picture of a mouse with the single line:

“I am a tiger.”

The ‘Uh oh – here’s trouble’ Beginning:

This is where the opening perfectly sets up the problem so that the reader can exactly envisage the conflict which will inevitably follow – they keep reading because they want to know on how earth the writer is going to iron this out. A great example is ‘We Found a Hat’ by Jon Klasson.  As soon as you read it you know what’s in store and can immediately get an idea of the problems to come:

“We found a hat.

We found it together.

But there is only one hat.

And there are two of us.”

The ‘This is Me!’ beginning:

Sometimes the best way to start a book is simply to introduce your character as Ian Falconer does in ‘Olivia’.  The key here is making sure that your character is drawn with such bold lines that they leap off the page.  Even from the first page it is clear that Olivia is quite a character – she stands holding a book called ’40 Very Loud sounds’:

“This is Olivia.

She is good at lots of things.”

There are lots of ways to open your story – but remember that beginnings need to work harder than any other piece of your story, as a beginning really can make or break the whole text.

Happy writing and good luck!

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