by Kitty Felde

It’s a gimmick as old as Scheherazade: leave your audience desperate to know what happens next.

You know the tale of the beautiful Scheherazade. She married a Sultan who killed off his brides the day after the wedding. Clever girl, she brought her sister along with her and the sister begged for one last story. Scheherazade happily obliged, the Sultan listening in on the sly. Except the story had no ending.

It drove the Sultan crazy. He demanded to hear more. She happily obliged with a proper conclusion the next day…and began a new story without an ending. And did it again. The Sultan was hooked. Scheherazade lived.

Cliffhangers are why we binge watch an entire series on Netflix, why we love a basketball game that goes into double overtime, why New York fans of Charles Dickens caused a riot at the waterfront, waiting for the next chapter of what became The Old Curiosity Shop.

We want to know what happens next.

One teacher I know uses cliffhangers for read-alouds. She knows exactly when to stop in a story, leaving her students begging her to go on. (And she just happens to have extra copies of that title on her bookshelf in case a kid can’t wait for the next installment.)

You can do this at home. Turn off the gaming devices and TV, lower the lights, and read to your kids. And stop at the best parts. Casually leave the book on a table. See how long it takes for your young audience to sneak a peek at the next chapter.

Kitty Felde writes The Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts, including State of the Union, which takes readers backstage at the annual presidential address to Congress.

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