Branford Boase Award
Waterstones Children's Book Award

Ewa Jozefkowicz

‘A heartwarming story about families, friendships, school, nature, hope and self-confidence.’ The Huffington Post

3 Minute Read

The art of a good opening

This time last year I had the absolute pleasure to go back to my own primary school, Mount Carmel School in Ealing, to speak to hold a creative writing session with the Year 5s and 6s. It was a hugely surreal experience, as the place had changed very little in the twenty years since I’d left and I even bumped into one of my old teachers!

I remember that the pupils were amazing to talk to and very perceptive. We discussed what made a good opening – one that really drew the reader into the story and hooked them from the outset. One Year 6 girl said that the best openings ‘plunge you straight into a world that you don’t want to leave.’ I wrote this quote down in my notebook. It’s definitely stayed with me. I then asked the students for some of their favourite openings of children’s books and late put the same questions to readers and writers on Twitter. Below were some recurring favourites.

  1. “When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it’s never good news.” Alex Rider: Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
  2. “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
  3. “The first time Stella Martin ran away, it was in her sleep. The second was by accident. But the third time she did it on purpose, to find out if she was human or not.” The Girl Who Thought Her Mother Was a Mermaid by Tania Unsworth
  4. “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.” Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
  5. “I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon. It was the day after we moved into Falconer Road. The winter was ending.” Skellig by David Almond
  6. “My sister Rose lives on the mantelpiece. Well, some of her does. Three of her fingers, her elbow and her kneecap are buried in a graveyard in London.” My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
  7. “There used to be an empty chair at the back of my classroom. It wasn’t a special chair. It was just empty because there was nobody sitting in it. But then, one day, just three weeks after school started, the most exciting thing that could ever happen to anyone, happened to me and my three best friends. And it all began with that chair.” The Boy At The Back Of The Class by Onjali Rauf
  8. “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  9. “‘Aaaargh!’ screamed the boy. The most monstrous face that he had ever seen was peering down at him.” The Midnight Gang by David Walliams
  10. “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” Matilda by Roald Dahl

And you? Do you have any other excellent openings to add to my list?