I love opening paragraphs, unless I don’t. Depending on my mood, I sometimes won’t give a book more than the first three or four sentences before I bail. I can move down an entire aisle in the library that way--pulling, re-shelving, pulling, re-shelving. So I can only imagine an editor tackling submissions day after day, and that if my opening paragraph isn’t dynamic, chances are it will be re-shelved.
I thought it would be a good exercise to read through some of the Newbery winners beginnings. And then I came up with a little game. For those of you who faithfully read the Newbery winners, you might like to see how many opening paragraphs you can match to the correct title. I don’t go back farther than 1981 and have limited space. The choices, if you need a little help are listed at the bottom. The answers follow the titles, but are written in code.
1. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest Lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.
2. On a night when the moon gazed down like an evil eye, the young prince appeared in Jemmy’s chamber.
“Boy! Tumble out of bed. I need a manservant.”
3. In Jonas’s world, turning twelve changes everything. He will finally receive his life assignment: perhaps he will become a caretaker of the old, or a childcare worker. The Elders will choose for him, Based on his aptitudes.
4. Brat opened one eye. A woman was there, a woman neither old not young but in between. Neither fat nor thin but in between. An important looking woman with a sharp nose and a sharp glance and a wimple starched into sharp pleats.
5. “Did Mama sing every day?”asked Caleb. “Every-single-day?” He sat close to the fire, his chin in his hand. It was dusk, and the dogs lay beside him on the warm hearthstones.
6. As soon as the snow melts, I will go to Rass and fetch my mother. At Crisfield I’ll board the ferry, climbing down into the cabin where the women always ride, but after forty minutes of sitting on the hard cabin bench, I’ll stand up to peer out of the high forward windows, straining for the first sight of my island.
7. So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She’s going to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark.
8. There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The Whipping Boy ('87) Sarah, Plain and Tall ('86) Holes ('99)
Jacob, Have I Loved ('81) The Midwife’s Apprentice ('96)
The Graveyard Book ('09) The Giver ('94) When You Reach Me ('10)
1. seloH, rahcaS siuoL
2. yoB gnippihW ehT, namhcsielF diS
3. reviG ehT, yrwoL sioL
4. ecitnerppA s’efiwdiM ehT, namhsuC neraK
5. llaT dna nialP, haraS, nalhcaLcaM aicirtaP
6. devoL I evaH bocaJ, nosrettaP enirehtaK
7. eM hcaeR uoY nehW, deatS accebeR
8. kooB daryevarG, namiaG lieN