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Great children's books have the best beginnings
Best beginnings of children's books to start the new year

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Date published: 12/30/2003

WITH THE new year promising new beginnings for all of us, I was reminded of some of the best beginnings of favorite children's books.

"Where's Pa going with that ax?" has to be one of most famous first lines in children's literature. The answer to Fern's question is that her father is headed to the barn to dispose of the runt of the litter.

Even though she's a farmer's daughter, who's used to the realities of the barnyard, Fern has a soft heart, and she persuades her father to save Wilbur the pig. But as he grows up and fattens, Wilbur's life is still at risk, until Charlotte the spider discovers him.

The rest of "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White is well known to all, and it lives up to its arresting first sentence.

"Are you there God? It's me, Margaret. We're moving today. I'm so scared God. I've never lived anywhere but here. Suppose I hate my new school? Suppose everybody there hates me? Please help me God. Don't let New Jersey be too horrible. Thank you."

The opening paragraph of Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" began a new era in the world of children's books. Margaret's first-person narration of the fears and worries of a middle-class suburban girl, complete with her questions about religion, her bust size and her first period, made the book one of the first modern best sellers for children.

It also gave other writers the freedom to discuss issues that before then had been ignored in books for children.

Although Blume's books are no longer the most-requested titles on library shelves, as they were when I began my library career, they are still checked out with great regularity by the 9- to 12-year-old girls who make up her primary audience.

"Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl, and my story is worth relating even if it did happen years ago." "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle" by Avi starts with a jolt, and the drama never stops.


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