RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 22 Ed DeCaria

Welcome to

RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 22

Ed DeCaria


  Ed DeCaria

I am please to introduce

today’s guest blogger

Ed DeCaria

RhyPiBoMo 2015 Bird with Feather



How To Get Your Readers Past Line One



First lines are like fangs.


They break your readers’ skin, take hold deep within, and draw them — willingly or not — into your world.


I asked Angie to skip her customary guest introduction so that I could illustrate a key point about first lines. As the author of this post, displaced by time and space, I had absolutely no idea what you as the reader would have been doing one minute ago. Some of you might have just made a pot of coffee, others of you might have just finished a meeting, still others might have laid a kid down to nap or hopped on a bus or sat on a toilet. How could I have known?


What I did know is that I needed a strong first line that would give me a chance of grabbing and keeping your attention regardless of your point of entry. Whether or not you would even “like” my sharp-toothed opening didn’t matter to me – what mattered was that you wouldn’t keep scrolling right to Angie’s next post. That you wouldn’t bounce to another website or app. That you wouldn’t put down your device completely. That you would stay with me until line two.


I like to believe that, from line two until the end of a poem or story, writers can control readers’ minds. We set up scenes, cast doubts, foreshadow conflicts, etc., each element placed perfectly after last and before next. Once readers are in, they’re in, and they submit themselves to our whims. But before that, between real life and line one, we have no such control. We first have to coerce it away.


This, in and of itself, is not a revelation. However, if you audit the children’s poems and picture books in your house/library/bookstore – and perhaps your own manuscripts, too – you may notice that these types of works often miss their opportunity to hook readers right there on line one. It is as if authors take for granted that they already have readers’ full attention, and that readers WILL read each poem or story in its entirety, when one or both of these may be untrue.


I first shared this observation with the Poetry Friday community a few years back, and posed the open question http://www.thinkkidthink.com/are-the-first-lines-of-kids-poems-memorable/ Are the First Lines of Kids’ Poems Memorable? This sparked an interesting conversation and elicited many examples of first lines that readers perceived as “compelling, urgent, and/or unusual” – three criteria proposed elsewhere as characteristics of a great first line. (If you haven’t read that post or the comments below it, you may wish to do so quickly now, but make sure you come back!)


Since then, I have paid much closer attention to how poets and picture book authors begin their works. One excellent (and efficient) way to experience first lines in action is to browse children’s poetry anthologies. Not only do most anthologies feature a wide variety of poets and styles, many also include a gift-wrapped package near the end of the book called an “Index of First Lines.” Every once in awhile, I like to open an anthology to this index and just read the first lines, one after the other, until I come across one that I can’t help but flip back to continue reading the rest of the poem immediately (because when a first line is really good I CAN’T NOT read the rest). After reading it, I reflect on why I chose that poem in that moment. What about that single line drew me to that poem? I didn’t know the author, couldn’t read the title, had no sense of form or length, could see no accompanying photo or illustration. I had nothing to go on … except that magical first line. What made it so special to me?


While classifying great first lines as “compelling, urgent, and/or unusual” holds up in abstract, as I reenact my readings of great first lines in my head, I find that those terms do not truly describe my experiences in those moments, which are always much more concrete. These firsthand emotions, reactions, and thoughts are (by definition) impossible to summarize in a handful of terms, so what may be more helpful is to start looking at some examples.


Here is the Index of First Lines from the anthology Forget-Me-Nots, edited by Mary Ann Hoberman:

Ed 2



My experiences from these first lines included:


• Imagining an origami world. An origami universe!
• Fearing going down that horrible street, but wanting a quick peek to see why it is so horrible.
• Predicting whether or not she’s gonna go talk to the famous man eating soup or not …
• Wanting to meet this promiscuous Jenny girl.
• Imagining slowly sinking my feet into that dark brown river …
• Picturing myself holding the actual earth in my hands, with the moon on one side and beaming, rising sun on the other. What power I have!


Here’s another, the Index of First Lines from the anthology Climb Into My Lap, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins:

ed 3


My experiences from these first lines included:


• Remembering all of the times I’ve drawn chalk pictures all over my sidewalks at home.
• Picturing a cartoon-like stick figure dog that’s actually a real-life dog. How skinny is he, really?
• Thinking of all different kinds of skin – slimy fish skin, soft baby skin, leathery sunburnt skin, etc.
• Being transported mid-climb into a tree in front of my old house.
• Closing my eyes, willing those talkers to Just. Stop. Talking.
• Mumbling “What the heck does ‘brillig’ mean? And what are ‘slithy toves’?”


And finally, this is the Index of First Lines from the anthology A Family of Poems edited by Caroline Kennedy:

*ed 1

My experiences with these first lines included:


• Imagining how this hound is going to deal with that porcupine …
• Wondering just who is this tough kid talking to and why is he addressing him as “Sir”?
• Realizing I have no idea what masons do when they start upon a building. What do they do???
• Sighing and agreeing YES – please compare me to a summer’s day …
• Picturing wind in all of its manifestations – leaves blowing wildly, flags waving, umbrellas flipping inside out …
• Trying to conceive of how maggie and milly and molly and may all came to be together …

Those were just a few of my first line experiences. What about YOU? Among those shown above, which first lines spoke to you? Which did you just gloss right over or, worse yet, actively dismiss? Did any of them make you start writing your own line two right there in your head? Did any of them send you off into full-on daydreams? Are any of them still driving you crazy because you don’t have the book in front of you right NOW?!?!?


THAT is the reaction you need to strive for in your first lines. Make readers want more. Drive them crazy. If I’m holding your book in a store and randomly open it to page 18, then the poem on page 18 better start with a great first line. If not, then I’ll probably flip to page 19 and see what’s there. If I’m still not feeling it, maybe I jump to another page and read one more opening. But if that still doesn’t pull me in, then that book is probably going back on the shelf … never to be picked up again.


Picture book authors: This applies to you, too. When I pick up a book off the shelf (or get a sneak preview online or whatever) and read your first page – it had better be good! The hardest part is over – I am already holding your book in my hands, and I am committed to reading page one. But it’s on you to get me to page two.


I have one final point for you to consider: New technologies will likely make first lines even more critical for authors as time goes on. Though I haven’t yet found any software products/sites/apps that are delivering tremendous value to readers in the poetry or picture book space, they are getting better, and the “search and discovery” space will continue to heat up. For now, I’ll use the current Poetry Foundation app as a rough example of where I think things are headed …

Ed 4

Get the App

Here I typed only the keyword “thief” and twenty-six poems came up. It’s a smartphone app, so screen real estate is at a premium, so I had to choose one – and only one – way to view the poems. When I tapped First Line, this is what I saw, a straight list of first lines. Naked. Alone. Exposed. The only thing left to do is to scroll up, scroll down, or tap to read a poem.


Which first line will sink its fangs into my neck first?




About Ed:

– Launched March Madness Poetry (#MMPoetry), an “epic event” that has been embraced by a global community of kids’ poetry writers and fans.
– Generated over 400,000 site visits, 20,000 Facebook likes, and nearly 8,000 reader comments in just twelve weeks (March 2012, 2013, and 2014 combined). Growing 50-60% year over year — all word of mouth.
– Featured on CBS TV, in USA Today, The Boston Globe, poetryfoundation.org, scbwi.org, poetry4kids.com, and countless other smaller newspapers, websites, and blogs.
– More fun in the works. Stay tuned!



 Thank you Ed!

I have known Ed through The #MMPoetry Contest for the past two years as a contestant. He is unbelievably great with poetry and numbers as he runs this amazing contest beginning with 64 “Authletes” and ending with one final winner, in a matter of a few weeks. There are kids in classrooms voting, the public votes and even the Authletes vote in a bracket style competition, to determine winners each round. I am always amazed at the amount of balls he must be juggling throughout this process, and he has a full-time job too! WOW!

I am proud to say  that last year I applied and was accepted into the contest, losing my first round to a wonderful author, Elizabeth McBride . This year, again I was accepted and made it through 2 rounds before going down to Carol Samuelson-Woodson with my word “funereal.” Try using that in a kids poem! LOL

It is great fun and I’ve enjoyed participating both years. Maybe the blessing for me is in the losing, as RhyPiBoMo is steaming full speed ahead, mid March, about the time Round 3 begins…at least I’m consoled knowing that losing eases my stress level! Ha!

You must all check it out next year! Sometimes a little pressure is good for our writing!



RhyPiBoMo 2015 Optional Writing Prompt: 22


This is NOT part of the pledge. It is an option for a writing exercise for those interested. You will not publically share this as part of RhyPiBoMo but may keep a journal of your writing this month for your own review.


Today’s writing prompt is to pull out your favorite manuscripts and poems.

1) Make a list of the first lines.

2) Now, use your fangs…write new first lines that will kiss your reader, vampire style, and not let them go!




We have a


on Thursday

so don’t miss the blog!

Hmmm…I wonder what it is? Hee Hee!





Don’t Miss the

Friday Night BIG Finale Rhyming Party!

RhyPiBoMo 2015 Rhyming Party



April 30th is Poem In Your Pocket Day!

Print out copies of your favorite poem and hand them out on Thursday to friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Let’s all celebrate Poetry by actively making a difference in someone’s day by reading a poem.

Share! Share! Share!

Poem in your pocket

Sponsored by Poets.org

More info on Poem In Your Pocket Day


Writing in Rhyme to WOW! class logo

ONLY 1 spot left!

The $99.00 discounted price ends Thursday.

Do you enjoy writing rhyming picture books?

Do you find rhyme challenging?

Do you want to pep up your prose with poetic techniques?

Then this is the class for you!


Writing in Rhyme to WOW! is a 4 week course,

M-F with daily lessons, writing prompts, rhyme journaling, creating tools you will use, group poetry readings, webinars and critique groups, and a one-on-one webinar critique with Angie.

Each class begins on the first Monday of the month and the weekly group webinars are on Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, (Chicago Time) or at a time that best suits the group due to time zones of those involved.

I am beginning to sign people up for June and July!

If you register now for June or July, I will give you the $99.00 price!

Contact Angie with questions.

Sign up now before the classes are full!

Click here for more information!




Need a Rhyming Picture Book Critique?

Angie offers

rhyming picture book and poetry manuscript critiques.

A One Time critique is ($25.00) or a Twice Look critique is ($35.00)

See the tab above or click here for more information.



RhyPiBoMo Gift Shop is Open!

Cafepress notebook


Please stop by and see what’s available this year. There are notebooks, mugs, buttons and more. All proceeds will go to WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS!

Thank you Tanja Bauerle for these gorgeous images!!!



Official RhyPiBoMo 2015 Registration ended on April 8th.

If you are not officially registered you will not be able to participate in the Golden Quill Poetry Contest, in Rhyming Critique Groups or will not be eligible for daily prizes.

To see if you registered in time go to the Master Registration List on the drop down menu under the RhyPiBoMo Blog tab above.

*RhyPiBoMo 2015 Pledge

YouPlease comment below. You MUST add your FIRST and LAST names

You to be eligible for today’s prize!


55 thoughts on “RhyPiBoMo 2015 Day 22 Ed DeCaria

  1. Zainab Khan

    Thanks for reminding me how important the first line is of any book or poem. I enjoyed reading your article.

  2. Rita Borg Wow! what a great article , Ed! I have bookmarked it to read it over and over again. Writing poetry for children is ever so difficult but I know I need more practise, so thanks for the extra push.

  3. Kristi Veitenheimer – What a wonderful post! I often struggle with not only how to word my opening line, but also with where exactly to begin my story. It’s always great to see good examples!

  4. I am a first line admirer in great works of fiction–yet how could I have forgotten to apply the same principle to poetry? thank you, Ed!

  5. Ed, what a great challenge. You had me at “fangs, I had to see where you were going. Thank you for an excellent post on a very slippery skill. Maria Marshall

  6. Good post, Angie & Ed! First lines of a book (or poem) are extremely important – even if they aren’t memorable – for two big reasons: one, as Ed said, it pulls the reader into the story; but second (and possibly even more importantly) it pulls a potential BUYER of that book into the story, and encourages him/her to make that purchase. I’ve written radio commercial copy for 25 years, and I always tell people the first line of a commercial needs to attract interest/attention by connecting with the listener…the same is true for fiction.

    • Thanks Matt! It is so important and not something we talk about much in picture books. We talk about hook but that first line, as Ed showed us, is critical. I am going back to review and revise my first lines right now!

  7. What a great post — love the idea that after leaving them wanting more at line 1, lines 2+ “control the readers’ minds.” Thanks Ed. Val McCammon

  8. Ed,

    Thanks so much for the post. It makes you want to revise each and every manuscript’s first lines to be a one that will sink it’s teeth into you. Thanks so much for your advice.

  9. Caroline Twomey-what a fantastic post Ed! Thanks for reminding me how important first lines really are. I had so many ideas pop into my mind just from going through the lines mentioned here!

  10. Thank you all for reading and responding. Glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you take to heart the advice within. Good luck with your revisions and new projects! -Ed

  11. Rachel Hamby
    This is great advice. I know my brain wakes up and pays closer attention when the first like does something unique. “Did he say fangs? Wait, what?”

  12. Charlotte Dixon-

    Ed, you got me with that first line-LOL The blood of adventure took a tumble and sucked me in-love it! Thank you for sharing those first lines. I try to make that first line ping, but it can be tough. Thank you for fanging my membrane today 🙂

  13. This is a great reminder. I have a mug with many famous first lines and every time I drink my tea, I’m reminded of this important principle. I’m off to think of some really SHARP first lines!

  14. Hi, Ed! Thank you for sharing your experiences with these first lines. I like “imagining slowly sinking my feet into that dark brown river …” – Manju Howard

  15. Ed, Thank you for your article on first lines. When I think of favorite poems and books, it’s usually that first line that grabs me and pulls me in. – Judy Rubin

  16. Melanie Ellsworth – Ed, Thanks for all these examples of spiny first lines! I had similar reactions to some of the lines that grabbed your attention. Now to think more about what it was about those lines that was powerful – some were particularly sensual, some gave vivid images or had unique settings/characters, or were really funny. I will have to look over my own first lines and ask myself the question you pose: “Did any of them send you off into full-on daydreams? Are any of them still driving you crazy…?”

  17. I simply love this post. It’s my favorite one (so far) this month. You’ve definitely shown us the importance of first lines. My favorite of the children’s poetry first line pics you posted is: When the last giant came out of his cave… That certainly catches one’s attention.

  18. You definitely got my attention, Ed! Thanks for the informative post, and the reminder about the power of first lines!

    Maria Gianferrari

  19. I was wondering what was going on when Angie didn’t do her usual intro. Great job, Angie and Ed. This month I’ve actually been looking at more traditional poems that children “should” know. Most don’t do a thing for me. Fang? Nope. Not even close! I can’t imagine them meeting a child’s so what test. Thanks for including so many positive examples in the post. Great post. Darlene Ivy

  20. Mary Warth
    Thanks so much Ed! I have a couple of anthologies at home and I never thought to use them this way. I will definitely use this tip!

  21. Ann Magee. Thanks, Ed, for this post. As a PB writer I know how important first lines/page 1 is. But as a poet I don’t think I pay as much attention to it as I should. I will certainly pay more attention now. By the way, I’ve extremely enjoyed being part of your March Madness Poetry Event these last 3 years. Thanks for all you do!

  22. Thank you all for the continued comments and feedback. I wish I had time today to respond to everyone individually, but I have too much going on today. I AM reading everyone’s comments, though, and appreciate you taking the time to add your thoughts. So glad that I took the time to write this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s