When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue ParkToday we’ll be looking at When My Name was Keoko by Newbery winning author Linda Sue Park (who is also the keynote speaker at the Rocky Mtn Chapter SCBWI Fall Conference Sept 28-29).

Let’s look at what Linda does to hook us on the first page of this novel.

The Page

“It’s only a rumor,” Abuji said as I cleared the table.  “They’ll never carry it out.”

My father wasn’t talking to me, of course.  He was talking to my Uncle and my brother, Tae-yul, as they sat around the low table after dinner, drinking tea.

I wasn’t supposed to listen to men’s business, but I couldn’t help it.  It wasn’t really my fault. Ears don’t close the way eyes do.

I worked slowly.  First I scraped the scraps of food and dregs of soup into an empty serving dish. Then I stacked the brass bowls–quietly, so they wouldn’t clang against one another. Finally, I moved around the table and began putting the bowls through the little low window between the sitting room and the kitchen. The kitchen was built three steps down from the central courtyard, and the sitting room three steps up.  From the window I could reach a shelf in the kitchen.  I put the bowls on the shelf one at a time, arranging them in a very straight line.

The longer I stayed in the room, the more I’d hear.

Uncle shook his head. “I don’t know, Hyungnim,” he said, disagreeing respectfully.  “They’re masters of organization–if they want this done, you can be sure they will find a way to do it.  And I fear what will happen if they do.  Our people will not stand for it.  I am afraid there will be terrible trouble–“

Why It Works

Wow. A master at work. Even if you read the jacket copy and know what the story is about, that first line immediately draws us in. Fear and apprehension created from just a few short words. And we immediately get a sense of the character–interested and curious about what the grown-ups are saying, methodical about how to ensure she hears as much as possible. We also get a sense of place and culture and an introduction to a few of the key characters in this novel. We have a sense that something big–as in life or death big–is about to happen.

And I, for one, am ready to go anywhere Linda Sue wants to take me!