Hooked by a Whale

Novelists have to consider the hook in almost every part of their writing. The title should hook the reader and lure him into picking up the book. The first lines of the novel should grab the reader and make him want to read more. The end of the chapter should leave the reader wanting more. If he wants to turn the page, he’s hooked and that’s where you want him to be.

I’ve talked about the hook at the beginning of the book in a few earlier posts, but I haven’t mentioned the hook that is needed at the end of a scene or chapter. We don’t want the reader putting down our book and not thinking about it ever again. Ideally we want to have them lose sleep and need to continue reading all through the night, but I’ll be satisfied if the reader thinks about my book after closing the pages to give the eyes a rest, as long as that reader picks up the book again at earliest convenience.

When I was teaching, I came across an old book I recognized in the school library discard pile. The librarian said it was being thrown out because it was hardly ever signed out. Not many pictures. Old plain cover. Not very exciting. I took that book to my class and read it to them a chapter at a time, just as my teacher had read this same book to my class when I was a student in elementary school. I remember wishing she would just keep on reading to us and never mind the lessons we needed to get on with. Why? Because the author had us hooked at the end of every chapter.

Here is the book: “The Baby Whale: Sharp Ears” by John Y. Beaty.

005It is very old, and so I was not surprised to find some parts of the story not valid anymore. At one point the author says that the “sperm whale is the largest animal that has ever lived.” When I read this to my class they looked at me questioningly and said, “No, that’s not right. It’s the blue whale.” But it didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for this old book. See the age in the photo below:

001The book may have contained some dated information and certainly a dated language style, but when I made adjustments for this as I read, the children in my classes were always HOOKED by the whale.

Here are some examples of the last paragraphs of chapters from this book. You can see why the children wanted me to go on reading.

002So what was going to happen next time, and what would poor Sharp Ears do when he couldn’t have his mother nearby to help him? This could be so bad! We need to know more. Turn the page!

Here is another final paragraph that hooked us.

003What an exciting book this was! And what could be more dangerous than this? Turn the page!

004Oh no! The kids were almost in tears at the end of this chapter. Deserted by their mothers! We had to resolve this one, and quickly! I read on this time. I turned the page.

Of course Sharp Ears falls in love and everything is all right again, until the end of the next chapter, and so it went to the end of the book.

I loved this book as a child, and later, when I read this treasure to my classes, many more children were hooked by the whale.

One of my boys was so enthralled by the story that at the end of the school year, he  and his mother bought me one of the most meaningful gifts of my career. On the last day of school, he proudly presented me with a small replica of Sharp Ears.


Sharp Ears sits in my kitchen window where I can see him most often. I have very fond memories of those wonderful storybook times with my classes. But one of the most important things I learned from reading to children, is valid for reading of any sort: we want to be hooked so we have a craving to know more. So writers, hook your readers!


6 thoughts on “Hooked by a Whale

    • If they only have half a chance to listen to the story, they can make up their own pictures in their minds. There was another book I read to every class. It was also never signed out of the library until after I had read it to the kids. It was an old stuffy one called Little Pear. But once the kids heard the story, they loved it! Written by Eleanor Frances Lattimore, published in 1931. There are some treasures hidden away in our old libraries.


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