Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Favorite First Pages

Week of February 13—From Beginning to End
Wednesday, February 16—Favorite First Pages

You know I’m a picture book addict. You know that I’m a picture book nerd. But even addicts and nerds can be finicky. As I said yesterday, when I am browsing through picture books, I first notice the cover and if I’m interested I read the first page. The cover and first page usually help me decide if I’m interested in reading on and/or purchasing the book.

Today I’m going to share some great first pages. I hate to call them favorites. How can I possibly pick favorites? But these are definitely some first pages that caught my attention and I’ll tell you why.

     Avery kicked the toe of his boot in the dirt. He looked at everyone at Cowboy Camp and knew he was all wrong. His belt buckle was too big. His hat was too small. His boots were too red. Even his name was wrong. The other boys had tough names, like Hank and Jimmy Jean. Whoever heard of a cowboy named Avery? he thought.

From: Cowboy Camp by Tammi Sauer and Mike Reed

I love that I already know that Avery is a misfit. The character is well drawn already. And who hasn’t been the one who didn’t fit in? I can relate, thus I will purchase! I’ve read enough picture books that I’m already thinking from this first page that all the things that Avery thinks are so bad are probably going to be helpful in some way in the story. I also love that I’m already hearing Avery’s thoughts and thus I know the character’s voice.

     When I was nine or ten years old I couldn’t wait for Saturdays.
     Every Saturday, I got up early, dressed, and rolled my bicycle out of the garage.

From: Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester L. Laminack and Chris Soentpiet

A feeling of nostalgia is evoked by the words “When I was nine or ten.” I’m hooked immediately. I know that every kid (including me) looks forward to Saturdays, but I don’t know why this character likes Saturdays so much. I’m interested. Then the fact that he gets up early and grabs his bike makes me think an adventure is coming. I want to know more.

     In 1920, six-year-old Esther McQuigg studied her mother making tea. “I could do that,” she said.
     “Make tea?” asked Mama. “The older girls do that.”
     “But I want to learn,” said Esther, and she did. She pumped water in the kettle and set it on the woodstove to boil. She scooped tea leaves into the teapot, then poured steaming water over them. Esther strained the tea into cups, one for her mother, one for herself.

From: I Could Do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White and Nancy Carpenter

I love little Esther’s independence immediately. When I first read this page I did some calculations from the date and age mentioned and determined this girl was a contemporary of my Granny Raney. The tea-making details hook me. Why? I have no idea, but I know if the details of making tea are interesting the rest of the book will be interesting, too.

     Day after day, the punctuation marks showed up in Mr. Wright’s classroom. Day after day, they did their jobs.
     They put up with being erased and replaced and corrected and ignored and moved around.

From: Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver and Lynne Rowe Reed

The punctuation marks show up to class? Living punctuation marks—I’m ready to buy it already. The fact that I also get a sense of the punctuation marks' growing frustration (after all, look at what they’ve been putting up with), lets me know something big is going to happen. I don’t know what these living, breathing punctuation marks are going to do, but I sure want to find out.

In the middle of the nice,
The moon was on the rice
And the Mice were scoutaprowl . . .

From: Once Upon a Twice by Denise Doyen and Barry Moser

The mysterious quality of the rhyme is what first caught my eye (and ear). I immediately knew the rhyme/meter was modeled after Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”. I’ve used “Jabberwocky” for years during poetry units with elementary kids, so I knew I had to have this book. I wasn't disappointed. The entire book has theother-worldliness that the first page promises.

     I remember that day in 1909 as if it were yesterday. President Taft was coming to our town to dedicate the new flagpole! No one had talked anything else for weeks.

From: The President and Mom’s Apple Pie by Michael Garland

I laughed out loud when I read this first page. Imagine that the most important item on the president’s agenda is dedicating a flag pole. Imagine that a town would invite the president for that reason. Imagine the country’s most rotund president standing beside a flag pole. Imagine that this event was what everyone had been talking about for weeks. Imagine that it’s based on a true story. I’m intrigued, I have to read on.

Down the Jetway with a grin,
take your set and buckle in.

From: The Noisy Airplane Ride by Mike Down and David Gordon

I love the onomatopoeias that begin this book. And isn’t that exactly what we all sound like as we lumber down the jetway? The simple meter and rhyme scheme are pleasing to read. The subject is something I’ve not seen in a picture book, so I’m interested.

“I’m a pout-pout fish
With a pout-pout face,
So I spread the dreary-wearies
All over the place.”

From: The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna

Why on earth is this fish pouting? For good or bad, I immediately thought of a pout-pout person in my life and how he can always rain on everyone’s parade just like the pout-pout spreads the dreary-wearies. I have to see where this story goes, what havoc the pout-pout causes, and if he ever changes his pout-pout-itude.

     6:32 A.M.
     This is the farm.

     My partner, Bill, and I were working the barnyard shift. It was peaceful. Quiet. Then we got the call.

From: The Web Files by Margie Palatini and Richard Egielski

Again, I’m hooked by nostalgia. I remember “Dragnet” and how each episode began with a voiceover similar to the opening of this book. The clippy pacing, short sentences, and matter-of-fact writing style are different/unexpected and I want to read on.

     Sam was a library mouse. His home was in a little hole in the wall behind the children’s reference books, and he thought that life was very good indeed.

From: Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

So Sam, THINKS his life is good. Something about that line makes me think things are either going to go very well or very bad for this mouse. (Secretly, I’m hoping for bad.) I love the setting and the viewpoint Sam must have.

     See this man?
     This one here, sitting on the porch?
     That’s Mr. George Baker, and he’s a hundred years old, no kidding.

From: Mr. George Baker by Amy Hest and Jon J. Muth

The two opening questions interest me. They make me wonder. Then George is introduced and I find out something astounding about him. As I read the first page I immediately wondered who was talking and why that person was so interested in George. It was enough to make me keep reading. I’m glad I did!
     Betty and Billy brought Walter home from the dog pound. “Nobody wanted him,” said Billy.
     “But we love him,” said Betty.
     “Well, he smells awful,” said their mother. “I think you’d better give him a bath.”

From: Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray

You know that I teach fourth graders. I’ll buy just about any book that has fart, burp, or underwear in the title! The book promised to be funny from the onset and the immediate introduction of the characters, the feelings of affection, and the problem are perfect. (Do you waste too much time starting a story? This first page is an example of how not to do that.)

     There once lived a group of penguins in a nice icy land.
     One Goodly, one was Lovely, one was Angel, one was Neatly, one was Perfect.
     And one was Tacky.
     Tacky was the odd bird.

From: Three Cheers for Tacky by Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger

A Tacky, odd bird—what’s not to love? I’m already rooting for Tacky and I’ve barely started the story. After all, who hasn't been surrounded by Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect. BORING! I want to see how Tacky succeeds and how the others come to appreciate his tackiness.

Little Mabel blew a bubble, and it caused a lot of trouble . . .
such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bubble way.
For it broke away from Mabel as it bobbed across the table,
where it bobbled over Baby, and it wafted him away.

From: Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy and Polly Dunbar

The sky is falling! The sky is falling! I mean . . . the baby’s in the bubble! The baby’s in the bubble. What a hilarious premise. Of course, I have to know what happens to the baby. The alliteration is fantastic, too, and lets me know that the baby can’t be in real danger if the tone is this light. I have to find out what Mabel will do.

The bottom line is—there is no bottom line. Each first page stands on its own and has to be crafted to grab the reader, introduce the story, and keep the reader reading. What a challenge. What an opportunity.

It’s Your Turn!
1. Spend some time with your favorite books. Explore the first page of each title and see what makes it appealing to you.
2. Look back at one of your stories. What portion do you envision appearing on the first page? How can you make it hook your readers and keep them reading?

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