Picture Book Hooks: Picture Books with Good Hooks
As always, with the necessary economy of words in a picture book, the ‘hook’ needs to happen on the first page – ideally in the first sentence or two. You have only this much time to draw your reader in, to engage them in the story, in the drama unfolding. Time was, we could begin with “Once upon a time…” (or “Once there was…” or any variation thereof), and weave a world for the reader before establishing the characters, plot and conflict. Not any more. Now, we must begin with a bang – with an action that immediately suggests the issue at hand and the character grappling with it. Only in this way can we expect our modern young reader with a thousand and one things competing for his interest to want to read more.
Here are a few examples of what I consider to be great hooks in picture books – great opening lines that establish character and conflict and hook the reader from the get-go. See if you can recognize their source (answers below).
More importantly, see if you can sense why their ‘hook’ is successful:
- Art class was over, but Vashti sat glued to her chair. Her paper was empty.
- Oh, good. It’s you.
- This is my room, before I made it fancy.
- One day, Lilly’s teacher, Mr. Slinger, announced to the class that he was going to marry Ms. Shotwell, the school nurse.
- The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him “WILD THING!”
- David’s Mommy always said, “Oh, David!”
- Amos McGee was an early riser.
- What do you have there?
- One day, Olivia was riding a camel in Egypt.
- Who am I?
- The Dot, Peter H. Reynolds.
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, Mo Willems
- Fancy Nancy, Jane O’Connor
- Lilly’s Big Day, Kevin Henkes
- Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
- Oh, David! David Shannon
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Phillip C. Stead
- It’s a Book, Lane Smith
- Olivia and the Missing Toy, Ian Falconer
- I Stink! Kate McMullan