What makes a hook in Picture Books?





We all know that the first line or the first page(s) of the book ought to introduce compellingly the character(s) and, preferably, show the setting of the story.

Do, merely, those elements hook the reader and persuade him/her to turn the page, investing time and emotion in the story? What makes a hook from the first lines?

Before we continue, I want to mention a hook and a well-crafted story are not necessarily correlated. One of my favourite picture book authors writes boring first lines. Still, I like her stories!

Let’s start from less appetizing first lines. To generalize the categories, I removed names and specifications.

Some first lines explain only the setting with a little touch of the character introduction:

This was his first day of winter/school/holiday/… and character X was excited/frightened/…

Some first lines are focused on the character’s traits. See if it connects with you?

Character X was good at doing Y.   Character X had dream of Y.

Some other character introductory first lines start with the birth information:

In land A, on year XXXX, a boy/girl born, called B.

Now, let’s investigate a different category of the first lines. The author’s name and the publishing year are given in brackets.

I have lots and lots of balloons, far more than my litter brother. [The Remember Balloons (2018), Jessie Oliveros]

What was your reaction? Did questions fill your brain? Why has the narrator more balloons? Only more than his/her brother? Did the parents buy the balloons? If so, why did they buy more for the narrator?

Imagine… you were born before the invention of drawing, more than thirty thousands years ago. [The First Drawing (2013), Mordicai Gerstein]

This first line not only hooks any child who loves painting but also ignites the imagination machine. What would I do without my crayons?

I have no shadow. Mama says no one notices, but I do. [Luci Soars (2020), Lulu Delacre]

Storm of questions filled your mind, didn’t they? I bet any reader cannot wait to read the next page of the book.

And, this following first page became the best one I found so far:

No one ever laughed at Richard Williams, at least not to his face. When he told people about Venus and Serena and the special things his two daughters would do, they would wait for him to leave. And then they would laugh—because he had said the impossible. [Sisters and Champions (2018), Howard Bryant]

The text on the first spread not only introduces the three major characters and minor characters (people), also it tells us about the condition! Just consider the first sentence: why no one laughed in his face? What was laughable? What stopped people laughing? Fright? Respect? Neglect? I can go on with one page of questions sparked by this hook!

Why do the second bunch of first lines attract you more?

Since reading Story Genius by Lisa Cron, I think more about the effect of stories on our brain. Her book made me interested to look at the neurological aspect of storytelling.

The second bunch of examples has an invisible question(s), whereas the first bunch only informs you something about someone.  Our brain, throughout its evolution, is wired to follow interesting questions. You may not have been emotionally connected with the character by reading the first line, but the questions make you read further. You need to find the answer!

We, writers and authors, have many cards in our hands to start our stories with. Ponder among the card and play the one that produces as many questions as it could, along with introducing characters and the setting. It isn’t easy, because the invisible question should be inherent to the story, related to the character and doesn’t give away too much information at once. However, it is doable. Relook at the second bunch of the first lines.

In the next post, I share with you my thoughts, investigations, and discoveries of the “inciting incident”  in the picture books. Meanwhile, I am interested to read your favourite hooks in the comments.

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Posted in PictureBookPedia.

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