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Strands of Thought

Musings and Random Words from Kai Strand-Mostly About Writing for Children

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First 250

Author Trivia:  Jan 22’s Answer – Laura Halse Anderson

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Who is this?


Born in Chipping Sodbury. The birth of her little sister is her first memory. She worked for Amnesty International. The death of her mother changed her WIP dramatically.  She changed children’s books dramatically.


First 250 words


I recently participated in a contest hosted by Authoress. The question was: Does the first 250 words of your novel hook the reader?  The contest made me think: How much can you really do in your first 250 words, anyway?!  Would published novels pass the 250 test?  I’ve taken a random sampling from my shelf for us to review.  Do you get a sense of mc and their problem?  Do you feel the setting?  If all you saw were their first 250 words, would you be hooked?



The Giver by Lois Lowry:


It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.  No.  wrong word, Jonas Thought.  Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen.  Frightened was the way he had felt a year ago when an unidentified aircraft had overflown the community twice.  He had seen it both times.  Squinting toward the sky, he had seen the sleek jet, almost a blur at its high speed, go past, and a second later heard the blast of sound that followed.  Then one more time, a moment later, from the opposite direction, the same plane.

            At first, he had been only fascinated.  He had never seen aircraft so close, for it was against the rules for Pilots to fly over the community.  Occasionally, when supplies were delivered by cargo planes to the landing field across the river, the children rode their bicycles to the riverbank and watched, intrigued, the unloading and then the takeoff directed to the west, always away from the community.

            But the aircraft a year ago had been different.  It was not a squat, fat-bellied cargo plane but a needle-nosed single pilot jet.  Jonas, looking around anxiously, had seen others – adults as well as children – stop what they were doing and wait, confused, for an explanation of the frightening event.

            Then all of the citizens had been ordered to go into the nearest building and stay there.  IMMEDIATELY, the rasping voice through the speakers had said.  LEAVE YOUR BICYCLES WHERE THEY ARE.


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


            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.  They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country, tne miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office.  He had not wife and he lived in a very large house with a housekeeper called Mrs. Macready and three servants.  (Their names were Ivy, Margaret and Betty, but they do not come into the story much.)  He himself was a very old man with shaggy white hair, which grew over most of his face as well as on his head, and they liked him almost at once: but on the first evening when he came out to meet them at the front door he was so odd looking that Lucy (who was the youngest) was a little afraid of him, and Edmund (who was the next youngest) wanted to laugh and had to keep on pretending he was blowing his nose to hide it.

            As soon as they had said good night to the Professor and gone upstairs on the first night, the boys came into the girls’ room and they all talked it over.

            “We’ve fallen on our feet and no mistake,” said Peter. “This is going to be perfectly splendid.  That old chap will let us do anything we like.”


The Fire Within by Chris D’Lacey


            “Well, here we are,” Mrs. Pennykettle said, pausing by the door of the room she had for rent.  She clasped her hands together and smiled.  “Officially, it’s our dining room, but we always eat in the kitchen these days.”

            The young man beside her nodded politely and patiently adjusted his shoulder bag.  “Lovely. Erm, shall we take a look..?”

            “It used to be our junk room, really,” said a voice.

            Mrs. Pennykettle clucked like a hen.

            The visitor turned. A young girl was lolling in the kitchen doorway.  She was dressed in jeans and a sloppy top and had wet grass sticking to the heels of her sneakers. “All our junk’s in the attic now.”

            “And where have you been?” Mrs. Pennykettle said.

            “In the garden,” said the girl, “looking for Conker.”

            “Conkers?” the young man queried. “Aren’t you a week or two early for them?”

            “Not ers,” said the girl, “er.”

            The visitor furrowed his brow.

            Mrs. Pennykettle sighed and did the introductions: “David, this is Lucy, my daughter. I’m afraid she comes as part of the package.  Lucy this is David.  He’s here to see the room.”

            Lucy chewed a wisp of her straw-colored hair and slowly looked the visitor up and down.

     Her mother tried again: “We did the best we could with the room.  There’s a table in the corner, with a study lamp, of course, and a wardrobe we bought from a secondhand shop.  The bed isn’t great, but you should be all right if...


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


            The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.  First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.  It was small wonder, then, that he suddenly flung down his brush on the floor, said ‘Bother!’ and ‘O blow!’ and also ‘Hang spring-cleaning!’ and bolted out of the house without even waiting to put on his coat.  Something up above was calling him imperiously, and he made for the steep little tunnel which answered in his case to the graveled carriage-drive owned by animals whose residences are nearer to the sun and air. So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged, and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself ‘Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! His snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.

            ‘This is fine!’ he said to himself. ‘This is better than whitewashing!’ The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow,…


Mossflower by Brian Jacques


            Late autumn winds siged fitfully around the open gatehouse door, rustling brown gold leaves in the fading afternoon.

            Bella of Brockhall snuggled deeper into her old armchair by the fire.  Through half-closed eyes she watched the small mouse peering around the doorway at her.

            “Come in, little one, and close the door.”

            The small mouse did as he was bidden.  Encouraged by the badger’s friendly smile, he clambered up onto the arm of the chair and settled himself against a cushion.

            “You said that you would tell me a story, Miz Bella.”

            The badger nodded slowly.

            “Everything you see about you, the harvest that has been gathered, from the russet apples to the golden honey, is yours to enjoy in freedom.  Listen now, as the breeze sweeps the last autumn leaves off into the world of winter.  I will tell you of the time long ago before Redwall Abbey was built in Mossflower.  In those days there was no freedom for woodlanders; we were oppressed cruelly under the harsh rule of Verdauga Greeneyes and his daughter Tsarmina. It was a mouse like yourself who saved Mossflower.  His name is known to all; Martin the Warrior.

            “Ah, my little friend, I am grown old. So are my comrades; their sons and daughters are fathers and mothers now. But that is life. The seasons still look new to young eyes, the food tastes fresher in the mouths of the young ones than it does in my own. As I sit here in…


Eragon by Christopher Paolini


            Wind howled through the night, carrying a scent that would change the world.  A tall Shade lifted his head and sniffed the air.  He looked human except for his crimson hair and maroon eyes.

            He blinked in surprise.  The message had been correct: they were here.  Or was it a trap? He weighed the odds, then said icily, “Spread out; hide behind trees and bushes. Stop whoever is coming…or die.”

            Around him shuffled twelve Urgals with short swords and round iron shields painted with black symbols. They resembled men with bowed legs and thick, brutish arms made for crushing.  A pair of twisted horns grew above their small ears.  The monsters hurried into the brush, grunting as they hid.  Soon the rustling quieted and the forest was silent again.

            The Shade peered around a thick tree and looked up the trail.  It was too dark for any human to see, but for him the faint moonlight was like sunshine streaming between the trees; every detail was clear and sharp to his searching gaze.  He remained unnaturally quiet, a long pale sword in his hand. A wire-thin scratch curved down the blade. The weapon was thin enough to slip between a pair of ribs, yet stout enough to hack through the hardest armor.

            The Urgals could not see as well as the Shade; they groped like blind beggars, fumbling with their weapons. An owl screeched, cutting through the silence. No one relaxed until the bird flew past.

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