One Writer’s Journey

January 10, 2019

Picture Books: Opening with a Strong Hook

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
Tags: ,
The vast majority of picture books are 500 words or less. That means that a picture book author has 500 words to pack in character, story problem, setting, tone and a hook.  For those of you who don’t know the term, a hook is how you, literally, hood the reader.  What makes them want to read on?  The answer to this question varies from book to book.
The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier opens with:
Ruby’s mind
was always
full of ideas.
This beginning gives the reader two things – character and story problem.  How so?  From 7 words we learn that Ruby is a thinker, an idea person.  Because this is what Maier begins the story with, we assume correctly that this will have something to do with the story problem.  Firming up this assumption is the fact that the illustration shows Ruby sitting on the toilet lid with an easel and tablet beside her as she plans a project of some kind.  This kid has personality and I want to read on.
I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty begins with:
I want to be a
cat.  (This is said by a young frog)
You can’t be a cat.  (This is said by an adult frog/Dad)
This opening text sets the tone, showing us that this one is obviously going to be humorous.  We learn that the character is not content being himself and that his parents aren’t sure how to handle it.  That’s both character and story problem.  Young characters setting their own boundaries? That’s going to hook young readers who love the idea as well as parents who are all too familiar with the situation.
Nonfiction books or fiction that covers an unfamiliar topic can be tricky.
In Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designers Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear the first spread states:
Every story starts somewhere.
My story begins on September 10, 1890 in a beautiful
palazzo in the center of Rome. That’s in Italy.
Imagine a quiet room. Imagine a newborn baby looking up to see
her pappa frowning, her momma frowning.
When I read this book, I didn’t have clue #1 who Elsa Schiaparelli is.  Not one clue.  So the author begins with something that even clueless people like me can comprehend, babies are born.  Ta-da!  But even this simple event is going to prove problematic in this particular nonfiction story.  All this baby has done is come into the world and already mom and dad are unhappy.  Tone.  Story problem.  Setting.  And we went to read on to find out what is wrong.
With their tight word counts, picture books have to do everything a novel does but do it in less space.  Because of this, they have to start establishing story elements even as they hook the reader.
–SueBE

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