Middle Grade Books: Favorite First Lines

28 Mar

Lately, I’ve been very much submerged in the land of middle grade books, what with the release of Cavendish approaching (in — oh goodness — five months from today!), drafting The October Year, and reading a bunch of fantastic middle grade fiction.

It has been glorious.

There is something so special about books written for this age group.

Maybe it’s that the really good ones transcend age groups altogether, becoming these timeless, classic stories that anyone — regardless of age — can always return to and enjoy. (And I do find myself returning to them more and more as I grow older.)

Maybe it’s the purity of these stories. The characters realize that they are growing up, that everything is changing, that they are leaving childhood behind. It is bittersweet and scary. But they’re not completely grown-up yet. They’re in the land of first crushes, not first loves. They can still view the world through the wonder-filled lens of a child — even if those moments are starting to occur less and less frequently.

Or, heck — maybe it’s because the majority of middle grade books seem to be written in third person, which is my favorite narrative mode, both to read and to write.

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, I re-read middle grade books more than I do books written for any audience. They are comforting, inspiring, haunting, and full of adventure.

Below are some of my favorite first lines from my favorite middle grade books. Feel free to share some of your own favorite first lines in the comments! Middle grade books only, please!

A Wrinkle in Time: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Coraline: “Coraline discovered the door a little while after they moved into the house.”

Matilda: “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.” (I cheated a little bit here! But that second line is just to good to leave out.)

The Phantom Tollbooth: “There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself–not just sometimes, but always.”

The Golden Compass: “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchens.”

Liesl & Po: “On the third night after the day her father died, Liesl saw the ghost.”

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making: “Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.”

Breadcrumbs: “It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems.”

When You Reach Me: “So Mom got the postcard today.” A non-entity of a first sentence, it may at first seem . . . until you read the rest of the first paragraph: “It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She’s going to be a contest on The $20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark.” So again, I guess I cheated a bit here. But I just¬†love the blunt, conversational narration of this book’s main character.

Plain Kate: “A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.” (Whether or not this book is middle grade or young adult is up for debate; it’s certainly dark enough to skew older, but I still lean toward upper middle grade.)

So tell me: What are some of YOUR favorite first lines from middle grade books?

13 Responses to “Middle Grade Books: Favorite First Lines”

  1. S. Kyle Davis (@skyledavisbooks) March 28, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Umm……. dude? You forgot, like, the BEST FIRST MIDDLE GRADE LINE EVER!!!

    “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

    I cheated too, because how could you not? That second line is so good too. And then there’s the third, and the fourth, and the… well, I don’t have enough space to put the whole series into here, I guess. But you get the point. But yeah, I love that first line. Hits you in the face with the voice.

  2. Rachel Danae Brown (@MayDay_Aura) March 28, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    Oh, those are some of my favorite MG books too: A Wrinkle in Time, Coraline, Matilda, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Golden Compass, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making! (I also just purchased a copy of Breadcrumbs and Liesl & Po is on my TBR list.)

  3. Starr Hoffman March 28, 2012 at 5:42 am #

    Two of my favorites… Both are also cheating a bit. ;)

    The Hobbit–when I can’t sleep at night, or I need comforting, or I can’t figure out what to read, I recite these opening lines in my head.

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

    It’s comforting and rhythmic and humorous: PERFECT.

    And then just because it’s the first book, MG or otherwise, I ever read to me or by me… The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:

    “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.”

    • Jared March 28, 2012 at 9:37 am #

      I can’t believe you’d mention Narnia but not The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

      “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

      • Kendra March 28, 2012 at 10:39 am #

        One of my favorites! Eustace certainly did deserve it.

      • Starr Hoffman March 29, 2012 at 5:17 am #

        Oh my gosh, YES. Excellent point, that line is sooooo awesome. :)

  4. defyingthemustnts March 28, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    “If you’re reading this, it must be a thousand years from now. Because nobody around here reads anymore.” -The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick (Shh, I couldn’t resist adding the second line. The third is also pretty fantastic.)

    “In the land of Ingary, where such thigns as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really do exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.” – Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (I was a lost cause at this point.)

    “The note said: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH. It was written in capital letters in ordinary blue ballpoint, and it had appeared between two of the geography books Mr. Crossley was marking.” – Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones (Okay, the first line alone is pretty awesome. But the SECOND needed to be included.)

    “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.” – The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

    • mindy March 28, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      The Bad Beginnin by Lemony Snicket…my favorite!

  5. Christina Diaz March 28, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    A favorite of mine: “Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.” – Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

    • Starr Hoffman April 3, 2012 at 4:59 am #

      yes, yes, LOVE! i re-read one of L.M. Montgomery’s short stories last night when i couldn’t get to sleep.

  6. grace March 28, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    “I only invented Zombie Tag three weeks ago, and we’ve already lost seven spatulas.”
    –Zombie Tag by Hannah Moskowitz

    Don’t you want to know what happens next??

  7. deniz April 1, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    Love your first three choices! And don’t forget The Hobbit…

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