Books

100 best opening lines from children's books

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Alessia Armenise
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Once upon a time…is not the only way to begin a children’s book.

L.M. Montgomery opted for a daring 148-word sentence to open her classic Anne of Green Gables, while J. M. Barrie introduced generations of youngsters to Peter Pan with a short, sharp six words. Revisit the most memorable and gripping opening sentences of 100 essential books for youngsters - from pre-school to high-school - in the gallery below.

Here are the 100 best opening lines from your favourite children’s’ books.

Let us know your favourite children’s book first lines from the gallery, or any we missed, in the comments section below, or on Twitter.

  • The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss

    "The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said 'How we wish we had something to do.'"

  • Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

    "Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'"

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  • Black Beauty, Anna Sewell

    "The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it."

  • Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie

    "All children, except one, grow up."

  • Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans

    "In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."

  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

    "The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home."

  • Curious George, H.A. Rey

    "This is George. He lived in Africa."

  • The Little Engine that Could, Watty Piper

    "Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong."

  • Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, Ian Fleming

    "Most motorcars are conglomerations (this is a long word for bundles) of steel and wire and rubber and plastic, and electricity and oil and gasoline and water, and the toffee papers you pushed down the crack in the back seat last Sunday."

  • The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling

    "It was seven o'clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day's rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips."

  • Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

    "Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."

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  • The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

    "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen."

  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

    "'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug."

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

    "Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmond, and Lucy."

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl

    "These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket."

  • Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne

    "Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin"

  • Mr. Popper's Penguins, Richard and Florence Atwater

    "It was an afternoon in late September. In the pleasant city of Stillwater, Mr. Popper, the house painter, was going home from work."

  • Where The Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

    "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him 'WILD THING!' and Max said 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!' so he was sent to bed without eating anything."

  • A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett

    "Once on a dark winter's day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares."

  • The very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle

    "One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry."

  • Paddington Bear, Michael Bond

    "Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform. In fact, that was how he came to have such an unusual name for a bear, for Paddington was the name of the station."

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  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

    "Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-, and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof."

  • Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfeild

    "The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is farthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it so one could be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day."

  • The Story of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson

    "My name is Tracy Beaker. I am 10 years 2 months old. My birthday is on May 8. It's not fair, because that dopey Peter Ingham has his birthday then too, so we just got the one cake between us. And we had to hold the knife to cut the cake together. Which meant we only had half a wish each. Wishing is for babies anyway. Wishes don't come true."

  • Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter

    "Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were-Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter."

  • The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Jon Scieszka

    "Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story. I'm the Wolf."

  • Hansel and Gretel, the Brothers Grimm

    "Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel."

  • The Ugly Duckling, Hans Christian Anderson

    "It was so glorious out in the country; it was summer; the cornfields were yellow, the oats were green, the hay had been put up in stacks in the green meadows, and the stork went about on his long red legs, and chattered Egyptian, for this was the language he had learned from his good mother."

  • Watership Down, Richard Adams

    "The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit holes."

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J. K. Rowling

    "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

  • The Railway Children, Edith Nesbit

    "They were not railway children to begin with. I don't suppose they had ever thought about railways except as a means of getting to Maskelyne and Cook's, the Pantomime, Zoological Gardens, and Madame Tussaud's. They were just ordinary suburban children, and they lived with their Father and Mother in an ordinary red-brick-fronted villa, with coloured glass in the front door, a tiled passage that was called a hall, a bath-room with hot and cold water, electric bells, French windows, and a good deal of white paint, and 'every modern convenience', as the house-agents say."

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  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

    “When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr

    "Once there was a little girl called Sophie. She was having tea with her mummy in the kitchen. Suddenly there was a ring at the door. Sophie’s mummy said 'I wonder who that could be?'"

  • The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson

    "A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.

    A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.

    “Where are you going to, little brown mouse?

    Come and have lunch in my underground house.”

  • The Naughtiest Girl in the School, Enid Blyton

    "'You'll have to go to school, Elizabeth!' said Mrs. Allen. 'I think your governessis quite right. You are spoilt and naughty, and although Daddy and I were going to leave you here with Miss Scott, when we went away, I think it would be better for you to go to school.'"

  • Little Red Riding Hood, Jacob Grimm

    "Once upon a time there was a dear little girl who was loved by everyone who looked at her, but most of all by her grandmother, and there was nothing that she would not have given to the child. Once she gave her a little cap of red velvet, which suited her so well that she would never wear anything else. So she was always called Little Red Riding Hood."

  • Johnny and the Dead, Terry Pratchett

    "Johnny never knew for certain why he started seeing the dead."

  • The Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth, Eoin Colfer

    "My family spend every holiday in a caravan by the sea. All of us get stuffed into a bedroom the size of a car boot. We sleep with the window open. If you have brothers, then you know why."

  • The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy

    "Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches stood at the top of a high mountain surrounded by a pine forest."

  • The Iron Man: A Children's Story In Five nights, Ted Hughes

    "The Iron Man came to the top of the cliff. How far had he walked? Nobody knows. Where had he come from? Nobody knows. Taller than a house, the Iron Man stood at the top of the cliff, on the very brink, in the darkness."

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  • The Borrowers, Mary Norton

    "It was Mrs. May who first told me about them."

  • The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

    "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen."

  • Goodnight Mr Tom, Michelle Magorian

    "'Yes,' said Tom bluntly, on opening the front door. 'What d'you want?' A harassed middle-aged woman in a green coat and felt hat stood on his step."

  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

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

  • Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi

    "Once upon a time there lived... 'A king!' my little readers will say immediately. No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood."

  • Stig of the Dump, Clive King

    "If you went too near the edge of the chalk-pit the ground would give way. Barney had been told this often enough."

  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

    "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

  • The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton

    "When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

  • Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

    "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"

  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding

    "The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon."

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  • Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

    "My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt - sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka."

  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

    "You don't know about me without you have read a book called 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,' but that ain't no matter."

  • The Sisterhood Of The Traveling Pants Series, Ann Brashares

    "Once upon a time there was a pair of pants."

  • Batman: Year One, Frank Miller

    "Gotham City. Maybe it's all I deserve, now. Maybe it's just my time in Hell."

  • The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

    "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."

  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

    "Marley was dead, to begin with."

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon

    "It was seven minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears' house. Its eyes were closed."

  • The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien

    "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

  • Island of the Aunts, Eva Ibbotson

    "Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done."

  • When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr

    "Anna was walking home from school with Elsbeth, a girl in her class. A lot of snow had fallen in Berlin that winter. It did not melt, so the street cleaners had swept it to the edge of the pavement, and there it had lain for weeks in sad, greying heaps."

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  • The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken

    "It was dusk, winter-dusk."

  • The Princess Bride, William Goldman

    "The year that Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette."

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum

    "Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife."

  • Doctor De Soto, William Steig

    "Doctor de Soto was especially popular with the big animals."

  • Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

    "Once upon a time, a little girl named Laura traveled in a covered wagon across the giant prairie."

  • Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson

    "One spring morning at four o'clock the first cuckoo arrived in the Valley of the Moomins."

  • Just William, Richmal Crompton

    "It all began with William’s aunt, who was in a good temper that morning, and gave him a shilling for posting a letter for her and carrying her parcels from the grocer’s."

  • The Water-Babies, Charles Kingsley

    "Once upon a time there was a little chimney-sweep, and his name was Tom."

  • Where's Spot? Eric Hill

    "That Spot! He hasn't eaten his supper. Where can he be?"

  • The Demon Headmaster, Gillian Cross

    "'Our last moments of freedom,' Lloyd said darkly. He glowered round the battered walls of the playroom, at the motorbike posters peeling off the wallpaper and Harvey's model aeroplanes neatly ranged on top of the bookcase. 'She'll be sticking up pictures of flowers and ballet dancers when she comes I bet.'"

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  • The Animals of Farthing Wood, Colin Dann

    "The animals of Farthing Wood were facing their first winter in their new home in the Nature Reserve of White Deer Park."

  • Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl

    "Down in the valley there were three farms. The owners of these farms had done well. They were rich men. They were also nasty men. All three of them were about as nasty and mean as any men you could meet. Their names were Farmer Boggis, Farmer Bunce and Farmer Bean."

  • Tom's Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce

    "If, standing alone on the back doorstep, Tom allowed himself to weep tears, they were tears of anger."

  • Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams

    "There was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid."

  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, Sue Townsend

    "My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night. If the RSPCA hear about it he could get done."

  • Three Billy Goats Gruff, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe

    "Once upon a time there were three billy goats, who were to go up to the hillside to make themselves fat, and the name of all three was 'Gruff.'"

  • The Very Busy Spider, Eric Carle

    "Early one morning the wind blew a spider across the field. A thin, silky thread trailed from her body. The spider landed on a fence post near a farm yard..."

  • Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock, Carolyn Keene

    "Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark-blue convertible."

  • The Story of Babar, Jean de Brunhoff

    "In the great forest a little elephant was born, his name was Babar."

  • George Speaks, Dick King-Smith

    "Laura's baby brother George was four weeks old when it happened."

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  • Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

    "We moved on the Tuesday before Labor Day. I knew what the weather was like the second I got up. I knew because I caught my mother sniffing under her arms."

  • Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren

    "Way out at the end of a tiny little town was an old overgrown garden, and in the garden was an old house, and in the house lived Pippi Longstocking."

  • The Nurse Matilda, Christianna Brand

    “Once upon a time there was a huge family of children; and they were terribly, terribly naughty.”

  • Noisy Nora, Rosemary Wells

    "Jack had dinner early. Jack needed burping. So Nora had to wait."

  • Funnybones, Janet Ahlberg, Allan Ahlberg

    “This is how the story begins. On a dark, dark hill, there was a dark, dark town."

  • Carrie's War, Nina Bawden

    “Carrie had often dreamed about coming back. In her dreams she was twelve years old again; short, scratched legs in red socks and scuffed, brown sandals, walking along the narrow, dirt path at the side of the railway line to where it plunged down, off the high ridge, through the Druid’s Grove."

  • Five Children and It, Edith Nesbit

    "The house was three miles from the station, but before the dusty hired fly had rattled along for five minutes the children began to put their heads out of the carriage window and to say, 'Aren't we nearly there?'"

  • Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome

    "Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays."

  • Sweet Valley High: Double Love, Francine Pascal

    "'Oh, Lizzie, do you believe how absolutely horrendous I look today!'"

  • Heidi, Johanna Spyri

    "The pretty little Swiss town of Mayenfield lies at the foot of a mountain range, whose grim rigged peaks tower high above the valley below."

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  • Dogger by Shirley Hughes

    "Once there was a soft brown toy called Dogger."

  • Mr Majeika, Humphrey Carpenter

    "It was Monday morning, it was pouring with rain, and it was everyone's first day back at St Barty's Primary School after the Christmas holidays."

  • Thumbelina, Hans Christian Andersen

    "Thumbelina is content to spend her days rowing in a boat made from a tulip petal and sleeping in a cradle made from a polished walnut shell."

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

    "Mr Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he stayed up all night, was seated at the breakfast table."

  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Alan Garner

    "At dawn one still October day in the long ago of the world, across the hill of Alderley, a farmer from Mobberley was riding to Macclesfield fair."

  • The Box of Delights, John Masefield

    "As Kay was coming home for the Christmas holidays, after his first term at school, the train stopped at Musborough Station."

  • The Borribles, Michael de Larrabeiti

    "The swirling rain-clouds rushed on revealing the bright moon, and the two Borribles dodged behind the bushes and kept as quiet as they could."

  • My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell

    "July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky."

  • The Queen's Nose, Dick King-Smith

    "Harmony and Rex Ruff Monty sat side by side in the old chicken house at the bottom of the garden."

  • Matilda, Roald Dahl

    “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.”

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Alessia Armenise

Alessia Armenise is picture editor of Stylist and Stylist.co.uk. In her free time you'll find her tasting vegan street food around east London and sharing her (many) opinions on London Fields Radio.

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