How to judge books based on their first chapter

light blue background with cartoon image of girl holding pencil and book sitting on top of check box with yes tick inside. piles of books and folders underneath with white background. black letters underneath read Miss Mahee's advice.
Bookish advice

Hi everyone, welcome to this year’s first bookish advice post. In this post I’ll be inviting you to a somewhat controversial topic among us librarians: judging books! If I recall, I’ve spent a post explaining how I judge on the covers, well, this post will elaborate how I judge based on their first chapters as well. So, if you want to find out what this librarian is going on about, you’re going to have to press the button below…

Okay, here goes.

image of woman reading book in green sling. she has brown hair and blue dress. blue background with white letters across bottom reads How to judge a book from the first chapter.
Worth thinking about…

First I need you to know that these are some things that I do when I read a book. One of the first things I look at is the description of the setting and the sequence of scenes that are being described. The author who spends a few paragraphs in painting the backdrop of the story in that first chapter has got my attention. For example, if I take J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and look at that first chapter, right at the start we’re drawn into Harry’s world. There’s mention of mysterious owls, cats reading newspapers, people in cloaks, and readers are introduced to some of the major characters in the story in that first chapter. Even now, having read the whole series a few million times, I still find myself getting excited when I re-read them!! So, friends, my advice is if after reading that first chapter you feel excited or are filled with suspense and can’t wait to find out more, then you’re on your way to a good read.

cover image of large tree on orange and green background. black box in middle with white letters reads 'To kill a mockingbird.'
A literary classic

The second thing I tend to think about is the language that the author uses. For me, as a librarian, this tends to signal the genre of the book. Yes, the cover and the spine usually have features that lend a hand in this, but there are some where you actually have to read it to find out. There are some titles that tend to begin with a description which sort of sets the scene for us, and then there are others that drag us straight into the story and we’re taken along with the characters. For me, this happens whenever I read To Kill a Mockingbird. By the second page of the chapter we’re thrust into the narrator’s childhood when she and her brother met their new neighbour, Dill and sets course for the events that change their summer. The dialogue and description in this classic read has the ability to captivate even the most reluctant of readers. I believe this is one of the reasons Harper Lee won the accolades she did with this book!! The second piece of advice is to be aware of the language used. Apart from the setting, see if you can decipher the genre of the book from the balance between the descriptive words and the dialogue. If they are creating a movie of sorts in your head, then you might find yourself settling in for more chapters!!

cover image of blue background with image of boy's head and-drawn inside. black hair with large-ish ears, one eye in light blue inside white face with word Wonder in black letters over eye.
An engaging read

The third and last thing is being introduced to the characters in the first chapter. I tend to be one of those people who prefer to know my protagonist at least by the end of the first chapter. When I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio and met that amazing young man Auggie Pullman it was so hard not to fall in love with him. That very first chapter is Auggie’s voice and what he told me in those first few pages had me hooked. By the time I realised that I was reading a book that had all the signs of being an award-winner, I had met Auggie’s whole family and a few of his new friends. Since reading Wonder I couldn’t but help comparing many of the other characters I found to Auggie!! So my last piece of advice to you is to figure out who the main character or group of characters are in the story. If you have figured out a little bit about them by the end of the chapter and it has engaged you into reading more, then you know you’re getting into a good read! 

These three main things are what hook me into the books I read. If you want the technical term, it’s the narrative or story hook. It could be a scene that has a combination of elements from what I spoke about earlier that has done this for you. For me those first chapters from the Harry Potter series gripped me and catapulted me into the world of Hogwarts long before the movies did. The cast of characters and scenery of Green Gables had me hooked when I read Anne of Green Gables when I was about fifteen or so. After reading the entire series for about the fifth time I decided a visit to Prince Edward Island would be on my bucket list!! 

So there you have a short post of bookish advice from me. If there are any other librarians or bibliophiles who have anything different that hooks them in I’d love to hear from you and the titles that you tend to re-read as a result of this!!

Have a good week ahead, stay safe and keep reading

Miss Mahee

image of little girl snuggled under blanket one hand on chin other hand pointing to page in book. soft light on the face. quote underneath reads We shouldn't teach great books; we should teach a love of reading. B.F. Skinner
On books and reading

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