Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Behind the Books: If There’s No Hook, There’s No Book

Back in January, I wrote this brief post about the importance of the hook in an expository nonfiction picture book. After reading that post, several people asked me to write about his topic in more detail. Your wish is my command.

The hook is the spark that ignites the reader’s curiosity and inspires them to keep reading. Shana Frazin, a staff developer for Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Readers and Writers Project, created a terrific anchor chart pointing out the specific craft moves I used to build the hook in No Monkeys, No Chocolate.

I describe the evolution of the hook for Can an Aardvark Bark? and its interplay with the book’s text structure in this interactive timeline.

Sometimes the hook makes a complex concept or process more relatable to young readers. It shows how the information in the book connects to a child’s everyday life or experience in the world. Examples include:

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer

Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and T. S. Spookytooth

If You Hopped Like a Frog by David M. Scwartz

No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart and Nicole Wong

Pipsqueaks, Slowpokes, and Stinkers: Celebrating Animal Underdogs by Melissa Stewart and Stephanie Laberis (coming in September)

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
In other cases, the hook gives readers the opportunity to think about a familiar topic from a unique perspective. It may encourage them to question what they thought they knew. It may even lead them to reconsider their view of how the world works and their place in it. Examples include:

Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart and Sarah S. Brannen

Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fischman and Isabel Greenberg 
If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Willams

A Leaf Can Be by Laurie Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija

One World, One Day by Barbara Kerley

A Rock Is Lively by Dianna Aston Hutts and Sylvia Long

Weeds Find a Way by Cynthia Jenson-Elliott and Carolyn Fisher
Finding just the right hook for an expository nonfiction book takes time and patience and persistence. Seriously. Sometimes it takes me years. The process involves digging deep and thinking about a topic from many different angles. And it requires the ability to see the world from a child’s point of view.

In all likelihood, your search for a hook will lead to one dead end after another, but it’s worth the effort. When you finally stumble onto the perfect hook, all the pieces will suddenly fall into place. You’ll know exactly what your manuscript needs to be and how to achieve your vision. And the result will be a captivating book that only you could have written.


  1. So true, Melissa! Looking forward to your new books!

  2. I love this, Melissa--and thanks for including LEAF CAN BE.... I often struggle with finding/choosing the just-right hook, and trial-and-error is all part of the process. Off to share this with some other writers:>)

  3. Hooks are like titles, so difficult to find the right one, but when you do, it resonates! Thanks for a terrific post!