May 2009 Archives

Hooking your Reader

Hooks get the reader ...

  • interested
  • oriented, or
  • let the reader know what to expect from the book as a whole

Hooks/openings can...

Appeal to the Ear

It was a quiet night until...
Thunk, creak, & knock, knock, knock!
Someone is out there!
But who? Jackie Urbanovic, Duck at the Door

In Sooey, South Dakota
In a sloppy, stuffy, sty,
There's an itchy ol' straw bed
Where the Bed Hogs pile high. Kelly S. DiPuchhio, Bed Hogs

"Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity--Good. His dad had the pickup going." Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terebithia

Establish setting

"The temperature of the room dropped fast. Ice formed not he curtains and crusted thickly around the lights in the ceiling." Jonathan Stroud, The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy, Book 1)

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

"Korea, fifteenth century." Linda Sue Park, The Kite Fighters


"Which would you rather be, fat or dead?" Cherie Bennett, Life in the Fat Lane

"When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me. To begin with, everything was too perfect for anything unusual to happen." Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows

Generate questions for the reader

"It was a pleasure to burn." Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

"This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it." William Goldman, The Princess Bride

Look back before the present story actually begins

"Here is James Henry Trotter when he was about four years old. Up until this time, he had had a happy life, living peacefully with his mother and father in a beautiful house beside the sea." Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

"For as long as she could remember it had been the two of them. 'Me and Daddy. Daddy and me.'" Norma Fox Mazer, Taking Terri Mueller

Present the protagonist and/or antagonist

"I'm the kind of person who loves being thrilled by a scary book or movie." Willo Davis Roberts, Hostage

"I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria." Gail Carson Levine, Fairest

Present the victim

"The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast." P.D. James, Unnatural Causes

Raise the curtain on the action

"'Hey, Killer! How's your boyfriend?'
"Juliet Dove felt her cheeks begin to burn." Bruce Colville, Juliet Dove Queen of Love

"Something was wrong. Kaeldra knew it the moment she awoke." Susan Fletcher, Dragon's Milk

Set the tone of the book

"I've always loved a good mystery. Like, how do they squeeze ketchup into those little plastic packets?" Bruce Hale, The Chameleon Wore Chartreuse, a Chet Gecko book

"The house looked strange. It was completely empty now, and the door was flung wide open, like something wild had just escaped from it." Edward Bloor, Tangerine

Shock the reader

"It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea." Philip Reed, Mortal Engine

"Worms dangled in Aunt Jessie's kitchen: red worms swarming over a lump of brown mud in a bowl." Sharon Creech, Chasing Redbird

Start with dialogue (internal or external)

"Most stories start at the beginning, but I really can't say I know where that is." Sara Nickerson, How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

"'I'm leaving.' Dad stands above me in the living room." Lorie Ann Grover, Hold Me Tight

"'I don't even know what I did this time,' I say to my best friend, Harrison Emerson." Gennifer Choldenko, Notes from a Liar and Her Dog

State motive

"He chose the Lacey family at first because of the sailboat." Elaine Marie Alphin, Counterfeit Son

"I came up here to make a dead man change his mind." Hake Talbot, Rim of the Pit

Upset stereotypical images

"In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortunate to be born the eldest of three." Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle


• typos
• once upon a time - too old-fashioned and clichéd
• beginning with a downer
• trying to say everything in the first sentence
• starting in a place of inactivity
• describing irrelevant things in too much detail
• inadvertent mood switches
• baiting the reader with one story, and then swapping it for another
• a weak opening

I'd love to hear other suggestions on this topic.

Got voice? - Penny from Heaven & Elijah of Buxton

penny_sm.gifPenny from Heaven (Random House, 2006) by Jennifer L. Holm definitely has good voice. It's 1953 and Penny can't go swimming because of the fear of polio. She lives with her mom and Pop-pop and Me-me, but spends a lot of time with her dad's side of the family. Nonny still doesn't speak good English and Uncle Dominic lives in his car, but the food is great at her grandmother Falucci's house. Readers will learn along with Penny how her father died and why the two families don't have much to do with each other.

This book is a 2007 Newbery honor book. Author Jennifer L. Holm also won a Newbery honor for her first novel, Our Only May Amelia. Read about her other books here.

elijah.jpgIf you've ever read any Christopher Paul Curtis, you'll expect his historical novel Elijah of Buxton (Scholastic Press, 2007) to have good voice. You won't be disappointed. From the humor of hoop snakes to serious business of freed slaves saving money to buy their family member's freedom, this story flows.

Fra-gile Elijah is 11 and the first free born child of freed slaves in the community. Everyone remembers how as a baby he throwed up on Frederick Douglas, but by the end of the story Elijah accomplishes something else that he thinks they'll be remembering instead.

Memorable story!

Christopher is a great speaker, too. If you ever get a chance to hear him, go! Here's his website.

Sympathetic character - Ethan, Suspended

ethan.jpgNot only is Ethan, Suspended (Eerdmans, 2007), but author Pamela Ehrenberg keeps the reader in suspense about why he is suspended. Ethan is sent from Philadelphia to DC to spend the week with the grandparents he barely knows. Then he discovers his grandparents have signed him up for school and bought him school uniforms. Turns out he's the only white kid in the whole middle school. I found myself empathizing with this flawed character, worrying about him fitting in at school and what's going to happen to his family. Definitely a good read.

This is the author's first published novel. Read about her here where you can check out info on her second novel, Tillmon County Fire, that came out this spring. I'll be reading it soon . . .

The best way to have

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

Linus Pauling

You can't wait for inspiration,

You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.

Jack London

2009 Newbery Winner - The Graveyard Book

TheGraveyardBook.jpgHave you read it yet?

An unusual premise and setting, yet author Neil Gaiman had me convinced of the world he created in The Graveyard Book (HarperCollins Publisher, 2008). He breaks one of the unwritten rules of children's literature--start with your main character. Neil started with the villain. Well, actually he started with the weapon. Listen to this first sentence: "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." Hey, that's passive writing, but doesn't it work? Aren't you nervous about what's going to happen? I was and the villain is horrible, has done horrible things and is now after a baby!

I'm not going to tell you anything else, because you really ought to read it! But I will tell you Neil's website: And his blog about receiving the award. And a link to the youtube video with Steven Cobear in case you missed any of that.


P.S. FYI - Neil's twitter name is neilhimself.

Fantasy to Love - Graceling

Graceling Cover.jpgKatsa is Graced (talented) with Killing. She's very good at it, and her uncle King Randa takes advantage of that fact and has her deal with people who have angered him, disobeyed him, etc. Katsa hates what she is and what she does. She hates how most people won't even look into her mismatched eyes. If it wasn't for her few friends, and the council she started to right wrongs, how could she keep on?

Thanks, Laura M., for turning me on to Graceling (Harcourt 2008) by Kristin Cashore. I hope this well-written fantasy becomes a classic. It's another book that I'll be rereading.

In October this debut author has another book coming out--I can hardly wait! Check out her website for more details on the upcoming Fire and to learn more about this talented (or should I say "graced") lady. The title of her blog/website is: This is My Secret.

Listen to the Voices

Last time I'd sent my 23 year old daughter some memorabilia from her old bedroom, Rachel told me she read her middle school diary, then threw it away! Ackkk! What a lost resource into the mind of a middle school girl.

So this time when Rachel was here visiting from Boston, when I suggested she go through a box of "stuff" from her room, I said "no throwing away diaries."

As she read her 9th grade diary, she said, "It isn't as embarrassing as the middle school diary. At least I didn't focus on so many boys at once." But still Rachel said she was embarrassed at what she'd written. She summarized the diary for me: Bret, Bret, Bret. Kyle, Kyle, Kyle. Bret, Kyle, Kyle. And this girl, 14 at the time, wasn't even allowed to date!

One of the interesting things I discovered - she gave the diary to me - is that besides her sister (her designated driver), the rest of her family was rarely mentioned. Her life was centered on what was happening in the relationships between herself and her friends and the boys she liked. I think her dad and I rated billing along with her dog and her fish. No correct that: her fish died and it got way more words than we did.

Of course, now my daughter looks at what she wrote and wonders, "How did you ever stand me?" I refrained from telling her we'd lived through it once before. But it's been making me think. I'm working on a novel with a 14 year old girl as the main character. Now besides my own memories of that age - tainted by years - I have my daughter's diary to help me out.

More options are available to all of us today, however, than diaries. Teen blogs. Here's excerpts from several I found on the web. I've made no changes to the language or punctuation:

Got my last acceptance letter today. Now all I have left to do is to decide where to go, but this is way harder than I thought. I'm pretty much down to Berkeley and UCLA (maybe USC if my parent's are willing to sacrifice 40 thousand a year, haha, right.) What to do, what to do?!

So looking at Craigs List, the highest paying jobs for unexperienced girls like me is to become a starlet for Playboy, or adult actress-starlet. I do like money, but not the route to get that much money. So, I looked under the more innocent extras requested...

Yesterday I had a feast with my familly. First we had scarolli or somthing soup with meatballs and chicken in it. Then we had awesome raviolies with meatballs. Then salad and to top it all off we had chocolate dirt cake. Also i miss my girlfriend Sydney terribly....i had a dream about her last night...we were on world tour with green day, her favorite band. And then i saw all my friends in the dream in my classroom and we had a talent show and you had to vote who you wanted to be in it and all my friends voted me and I played Give E'm Hell Kid by My Chemical Romance and then All of Green Day's songs and then i woke up crying cause i miss my girlfriend.

Listen to those voices. And if you want more, go blog hunting on the web. Some sites are obviously written by adults - others give hints in the title that a teen wrote them. Take what you learn and put it to use making your own teen writing sound authentic.

Opportunity dances with those who

Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.

H. Jackson Brown Jr.

I was told to write

I was told to write the story I wanted to read.

Mary Ann Fraser

gollywhopper.jpgLike solving puzzles? The fun of a contest? Honesty winning out? Then check out Jody Feldman's The Gollywhopper Games (Greenwillow 2008).

Gil Goodson's dad was fired from the Golly Toy and Game Company for embezzling and life has been terrible in Orchard Heights ever since. If Gil can win the Gollywhopper Games competition, the family will have the money to move away. Gil's been studying the company's history and merchandise, but first he has to get in to the contest.

Read about this Missouri author at her site, plus get a chance to play some games.

"we become what we have to be" - Nation

nation.jpgThe above thought by Mau sums up the theme of this book on survival. Several natural disasters change the lives of many people in Nation by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins 2008). Mau has gone to the Boy's Island to become a man, but after the big wave, no one of the nation is waiting for him when he gets home. He does however find a girl, the sole survivor of the ship that wrecked on his island. And then there are those searching for the 139th heir, since the king and everyone else in between has died from plague. And that's only a hint of what's going to happen.

This moving, funny story will not disappoint. And if you haven't come across Mr. Pratchett's Tiffany Aching or humorous Discworld stories, you should check them out too.

Thanks, Jenn, for the loan of this book.