A while back, I had the genius idea of posting about Great Opening Sentences. It struck me as a neat platform from which discuss writing in general. You can find that entry here and, as a brief follow-up, here.
A couple of nights ago, I thought of it again when Maggie and I started reading a new book together. On her own, Maggie has been blowing through the Spiderwick Chronicles. But we still love our read-aloud time together, warm and close under the covers. Lisa and Mags had already selected Beverly Cleary’s, Ramona Quimby, Age 8.
First of all, how awesome is that cover illustration? Maggie and I stared at it for a full minute. Just perfect: the expression of Ramona’s impish mouth, the choppy homemade haircut, the slender neck poking out of the sweater, the bug-eyed gaze. (I always wanted a Jigsaw Jones cover like that, btw, the character up-close and central, instead of all those middle-distance, detailed scenes.) When looking for art for this post, I kept pulling up the wrong (ever-updated) covers:
No offense, but those depress me. None of them touch the Dell Yearling cover. The interior art of that book is by Alan Tiegreen, but there’s no mention of the cover artist. It doesn’t seem to be by the same hand. The signature under Ramona’s hair reads, “Scribner.” For what it’s worth, here is (I think) the original, William Morrow cover:
Anyway, I loved the first sentence:
Ramona Quimby hoped her parents would forget to give her a little talking-to.
To me, who didn’t take notice of children’s literature until 1985, it felt like these books had always existed. It surprised me to find a 1981 copyright on this one (Ramona first appeared in the early 50’s, first earning a title shot in Beezus and Ramona, 1955). An argument could be made that Ramona Quimby has been the most influential children’s book character in the past 60 years. Junie B. Jones, Clementine, Amber Brown, and many others seem like Ramona’s direct descendants. Sometimes vivid in their own right, sometimes pale imitations, but always somewhat familiar.
For what it’s worth, the second sentence was equally strong:
She did not want anything to spoil this exciting day.
Like all great beginnings, there was only one response: Keep Reading! We had a main character who already seemed to be in hot water — that great phrase, “a little talking-to” — and was now on the verge of something momentous. Also, Cleary slyly introduces the fear that something — surely something — will indeed “spoil” this day. We’re already worried about things going wrong, great calamities. But what? Well, we’ll have to read to find out.