First Lines of Children’s Books Revised for a Pandemic + Contest

I was recently inspired by a blog post featuring the beginnings of ten classic novels for adults, rewritten for our time of social distancing. I thought it would be fun to do the same for some iconic middle-grade novels.

CONTEST: Take a look at the ones below, and then crank up your creativity to post the real first line and a revised first line of your favorite middle-grade book in the comments section. A panel of judges will choose a favorite on January 2, 2021 at 11:59 PM, and I’ll donate $50 to one of the following charities (winner’s choice): St. Jude, Feeding America, or Doctors Without Borders. I’ll post the winning entry on Sunday, January 3.

(Click on the titles and go to the Look Inside feature if you’d like to read the original first lines.)


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

“Where’s Papa going with that axe, and why isn’t he wearing a mask?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a dark and stormy night, but no one cared because they were all sheltering in.


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, disinfecting his groceries with Lysol wipes.









Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas with just lousy gift cards,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly fine refusing to social distance from others in the grocery store, thank you very much.


The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen, where she’d surely be roped into baking yet another loaf of sourdough.











Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

When I left my office that beautiful spring day, I had no idea what was in store for me and that I should have stocked up on toilet paper on the way home.


Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

We moved on the Tuesday before Labor Day. I knew the pandemic still wasn’t over the second I got up. I knew because my mother didn’t even bother to sniff under her arms.


Seven Wonders Book 1: The Colossus Rises by Peter Lerangis

On the morning I was scheduled to die a large barefoot man with a bushy red beard waddled past my house. Thankfully, he was more than six feet away.










The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial and found guilty just because she forgot to cough into her elbow.


Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a Zoom party, there was much disappointment in Hobbiton.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink because everyone is either working from home or being homeschooled, and it’s the only place where I can get some peace and quiet.






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Dorian Cirrone
Dorian Cirrone's most recent middle-grade novel is the award-winning,THE FIRST LAST DAY. She has published several books for children and teens. Visit her at
  1. Love these!

    The BFG, by Roald Dahl:

    Sophie couldn’t sleep, because who can sleep anymore, and even if she could, how would it be any different from being awake?

  2. I’ve enjoyed reading all of these. Here’s mine.

    Kristy’s Great Idea, Baby-Sitters Club #1

    The Baby-sitters Club. I’m proud to say it was totally my idea, even though the four of us worked it out together– over Zoom.

  3. What a great idea! I loved these!
    Here’s my change to the first lines of Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes.
    On rocky islands gulls woke. Time to be about their business. Silently they floated in on the town, but when their eyes sighted no bits of garbage because all the people were sheltering in their homes, they began to scream and quarrel.

  4. From Little House on the Prairie:

    “Once upon a time, back when we stil kept track of time, a little girl named Laura traveled with a covered mouth and nose across the giant prairie.”

    • Ha! And what day is this? Thanks!!

  5. Harriet the Spy

    Original: Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town.
    Modified: Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Quarantine.

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    Original: Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York,
    Modified: Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York, that mid-March day before Governor Cuomo’s first press conference.

  6. For the book Middle school bites, Tom bites back by Steven banks.
    Original:The bat on the windowsill looked up and said “hello?”

    Rewrite: “the bat on the windowsill looked up and said “Smello” or maybe it was fellow? Or hello? Hard to say as he was wearing a mask that muffled his speech.

  7. This was a great idea!
    From Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth:
    There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself—not just sometimes, but always. When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in.

    The rewrite:
    There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself— especially during the pandemic. When school was in person, he longed to be remote, and when he was remote he longed to be in person.

    • Good one! Thanks for participating!!

  8. One of the great first lines of all time… BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo —

    My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog.

    The rewrite:

    My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for toilet paper, Clorox wipes, a package of yeast ; they didn’t have none, but I came back with a dog.

    • Haha! Love it! And Kate DiCamillo is one of my all-time favorites!

  9. (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist the urge to rewrite my own first line!)

    FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria J. Coe

    As soon as we get off the elevator, I know something is wrong.

    As soon as we get off the elevator, I know something is wrong – the hallway is crowded with people and none of them are wearing masks.