Tag Archives: Doreen Cronin

Hook Your Readers at Hello: Part 5

Hello, all!

I’ve been remiss in continuing this series of how to begin your story, so here is Part 5. I hope something below will spark a new beginning or maybe even a new story idea for you.


I ended up revising the first few lines of a picture book recently after realizing I’d been noodling around instead of getting right to the point: the main character’s problem.

No good book is about a perfect character in a perfect world–unless that character is about to be thrust into trouble. Some characters find that trouble on the first page. Below are twenty books (picture books, middle-grade and young adult) in which the problem is evident from the first few lines.

Suggested exercise: Pretend your main character is on TV, talking to Dr. Phil. What complaint does your MC have? See if something from that complaint could work itself into your first few lines.


517NY5N54ZL._AA160_100th Day Worries by Margery Cuyler

 Jessica was a worrier.

She worried about everything.


9780689711732Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad
Day by Judith Viorst

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.



The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Hi! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Pigeon is filthy. So, I could use your help because: The Pigeon Needs a Bath.



FC9780689832130Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

Farmer Brown has a problem

His cows like to type

All day long he hears

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.


9780448466934Just Jake: Dog Eat Dog by Jake Marcionette

Like lots of kids, I take the bus to and from school every day. And, like most kids, I hate the bus. For me, it’s a lose-lose proposition. Why? Because at Kinney Elementary, there are two different kinds of bus drivers, and they’re both awful.



FC9781595146915War of the World Records by Matthew Ward

It was unclear how the human thigh bone came to be sticking out of the seventeenth turret on the World’s Largest Sandcastle. It was, however, looking more and more likely that its builder would be disqualified.


FC9780385743914I Text Dead People
by Rose Cooper

There’s no such thing as ghosts.

Ghosts don’t exist.

Annabel Craven tried to convince herself that there was no reason to be freaked. But then the wrought-iron gate slammed shut behind her with a loud clunk and she knew she wasn’t crazy.

She definitely had a reason.


FC9780544336674Anastasia Again! by Lois Lowry

“The suburbs,” said Anastasia. “We’re moving to the suburbs? I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you would actually do such a thing to me. As soon as I finish this chocolate pudding, I’m going to jump out the window.”



FC9780547237602The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.




9781423113393The Lost Hero
 by Rick Riordan

Even before he got electrocuted, Jason was having a rotten day.




FC9780545691116What Waits in the Woods by Kieran Scott

There’s no question things could have gone differently out there in those woods. One zipper more tightly zipped, one foot more carefully placed on a rotted plank, and I might not be here today. I might be roaming free instead of sitting locked up in this hole, sucking my every meal through a straw, staring at a padded wall.



This is How I Find Her by Sara PolskyFC9780807578803

On the fourth day of junior year, sometime between the second bell marking the start of chemistry class and the time I got home from school, my mother tried to kill herself.


FC9780689866241Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters
by Gail Giles

Things had been getting a little better until I got a letter from my dead sister. That more or less ruined by day.




FC9780763662622Feed by M.T. Anderson (ya)

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.




FC9781402278006The Truth About Us by Janet Gurtler

I have fifteen minutes to get home. It’s a twenty-five minute walk. I’m so dead.




 Unknown-1Don’t Stay Up Late by R.L. Stine

My name is Lisa Brooks and I’m a twisted psycho. I wasn’t always a total nutcase. Before the accident, I thought I was doing pretty okay.



Unknown-2Everything That Makes You by Moriah McStay

It was cold–too cold for the zoo. Still, the Doyles were here, looking at the cheetahs and deciding what to do next.

Ryan wanted popcorn.

Fiona wanted the pandas.



Unknown-9The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

The moment my horrible yearbook photo first appeared on millions of televisions, sending jaws dropping, phones ringing, and joggers tumbling off their treadmills across America, I was in the middle of my AP US History final.




FC9780062323286Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes

I don’t make to-do lists, but if I did, today’s would have gone something like this: 1. get drunk, 2. get laid, 3. go surfing (not necessarily in that order). Noticeably absent  from the list: get arrested. And yet here I am, spending my eighteenth birthday with my back against the wall of the Colonel’s hunting cabin, two FBI agents prowling the dark with their guns drawn, both trying to get me to confess to the murder of my friend Preston DeWitt.


FC9780545651264Backlash by Sara Darer Littman



The words on the screen don’t make sense. They can’t.

He says: You’re an awful person.

He says: You’re a terrible friend.

He says: I know you’ve been checking out dresses for the homecoming dance.

He says: What makes you think I’d ever ask you out?

He says: I’d never be caught dead at the school dance with a loser like you.

He doesn’t say it in a private message. He posts it publicly, on my Facebook wall, where everyone can see. Twenty-five people have already liked what he wrote. Even people I thought were my friends. Why would anyone like something that mean?

If you know of a great book that opens up with a problem, let us all know in the comments section.

Hook Your Reader At Hello

The new year has gotten off to a slow start for me, but I’m finally back with a series of blog posts on how to hook your reader from those first few lines.

I’ve read all kinds of “rules” about first lines, first paragraphs, and first pages. And, not surprisingly, many contradict each other.

We hear a lot about how not to start your stories: no waking up in the morning, no dreams or nightmares, no looking in the mirror, no weather, no “My name is …”, no dialogue, etc. Sometimes these can work but not very often. (See Alvin Ho below. Identifying himself by name works because it tells us his ethnicity, which is important to both the list and the story. Would it work if his name were Alvin Smith? Probably not. Same with Phineas L. MacGuire, another unusual name for a kid.)

We also hear a lot of advice about starting in scene. Yet, I recently read somewhere that when writing in first person it’s best to start with narrative to get a feel for the main character’s voice. Seems like good advice. But, of course, it depends on the narrative.

Another common suggestion is to start with a big hook. This sometimes gets misinterpreted. A hook doesn’t have to be a death, a gunshot, a car accident, etc. Beginning this way can sometimes result in a lessening of tension as the chapter goes on, much like a balloon releasing air. In addition, since we haven’t been introduced to the main character yet, the emotion often doesn’t come across because we haven’t had a chance to develop empathy. Again, there are exceptions.

The two best pieces of advice I’ve heard about beginnings are this: let your readers know they are in capable hands and create enough interest that will make readers want to read on. So how do we do this?

A while ago, I did a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators workshop on starting strong. I spent several months in the bookstore and online looking at first lines. After a while, I noticed the beginnings that drew me in fell into specific categories. Since then I’ve become addicted to examining and analyzing first lines.

So, for the next several posts, I’ll talk about different techniques that PB, MG, and YA authors used to hook me right from the start. The first is one of my favorites: starting with a list. The list can be funny, sarcastic, informative, etc. But no matter what, it must draw the reader into the story. Also, notice in the examples below that whether there are three items or ten items, the humor, tension, or emotion escalates as the list goes on, and the final entry gives a bit of a punch and/or clue that lets you know what type of story you’re in for.

If you’ve written a book that starts with a list or know of any others that use the technique, feel free to add it in the comments section. In the meantime, here are twelve examples I love:







Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

March 20
Mom says there are three things I should always remember:
1. The earth gives us everything we need.
2. When we dig tunnels, we help take care of the earth.
3. Never bother Daddy when he’s eating the newspaper.



Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

The first thing you should know about me is that my name is Alvin Ho.

I am afraid of many things.
Substitute teachers.








 Phineas L. MacGuire Gets Cooking by Frances O’Roark Dowell

My name is Phineas L. MacGuire. A few people call me Phineas, but most people call me Mac. Yesterday, when I was riding the bus to school, I came up with a bunch of cool things the L in my name could stand for. My list included:

1. Lithosphere (the outmost shell of a rocky planet)

2. Lunar Eclipse

3. Light-Year

4. Labrador Whisperer

Unfortunately, the L in my name does not stand for any of those things. It stands for Listerman, which was, like, my mom’s great-aunt Tulip’s last name or something. My mom is very big on family traditions, but even she’s not allowed to call me Listerman.








The Graham Cracker Plot by Shelley Tougas

Dear Judge Henry,

I will tell you three things right now.

Number one: I’m almost twelve years old. I do not want to go to prison, even it it’s a prison for kids.

Number two: Nobody calls me Aurora Dawn Bauer, not even my grandma, and she’s the most legal person I know. Everyone calls me Daisy.

Number three: Your face looks like squirrels flopped their tails where your eyebrows should be. I can’t tell if your eyes ever laugh, but you were all business when you told me to write this, and–



Rules by Cynthia Lord


Chew with your mouth closed

Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).

If someone says “hi,” you say “hi” back.

When you want to get out of answering something distract the questioner with another question.

Not everything worth keeping has to be useful.

If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!

Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.

No toys in the fish tank.









Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper


I’m surrounded by thousands of words. Maybe millions.

Cathedral. Mayonnaise. Pomegranate.

Mississippi. Neapolitan. Hippopotamus.

Silky. Terrifying. Iridescent.

Tickle. Sneeze. Wish. Worry.



The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy, Illus. by Todd Harris


Outlaws have too many feathers in their hats.

Outlaws are allergic to seafood.

Outlaws never forget to floss.

Oh, and outlaws are people who are hunted down because they are accused of terrible crimes.



If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince by Melissa Kantor

Cinderella                               Me

dead mother                        dead mother

wicked stepmother            wicked stepmother

evils stepsisters (2)            evil stepsisters (2)

friendless                              friendless



Deadly Cool by Gemma Halliday

There are three things you never want to find in your boyfriend’s locker: a sweaty jockstrap, a D minus on last week’s history test, and an empty condom wrapper.



Cracked Up To Be by Courtney Summers

Imagine four years
Four years, two suicides, one death, two rapes, two pregnancies (one abortion), three overdoses, countless drunken antics, pantsings, spilled food, theft, fights, broken limbs, turf wars—every day, a turf war—six months until graduation and no one gets a medal when they get out. But everything you do here counts.



Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

It’s the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.



Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amélie and Moulin Rouge. The Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, although I have no idea what the function of either actually is. Napoleon, Marie Antoinette, and a lot of kings named Louis. I’m not sure what they did either, but I think it has something to do with the French Revolution, which has something to do with Bastille Day. The art museum is called the Louvre and it’s shaped like a pyramid and the Mona Lisa lives there along with that statue of the woman missing her arms. And there are cafés or bistros or whatever they call them on every street corner. And mimes. The food is supposed to be good, and the people drink a lot of wine and smoke a lot of cigarettes.