THE SEA-KING’S CHILDREN Written and Illustrated by Vesper Stamper
Aelfe lugged the stone up the narrow cliff-path, curling her toes through her thin wool shoes to grip the wet ground more surely. A loose pebble turned her ankle, but she swung her body toward the cliff wall—left—instead of the sheer drop—right. The whipping wind amplified, and the wisp of a girl pressed herself against the cliff wall to keep from flying away.
When she was finally on the coarse grass of the plateau, she dropped the stone and flipped it end over end to the pile. Aelfe twisted it into the scrub grass until it nestled in the dirt, and searched a nearby rock pile for the next smaller one. Carefully, she tested the balance of each, finding the flattest parts, and stacked them into cairns fit for the judgment-seats of sprite and fairy kings.
This one will do for the brown sprite, she thought, And he will send me a silver piece in a limpet’s shell for thanks.
Around the edge of the entire promontory, Aelfe built cairns, hauling big boulders, almost as heavy as herself, against her belly. To keep her balance, she arched her back so far that her heart faced the sky, her chin tucked into her collar. Aelfe’s black hair whipped in the wind, wet and salty from sea spray. Her eyes reddened and teared. Her mother’s sunset-colored tweed shawl wound around her arms but gave her little warmth.
Aelfe stood now in the middle of her stone circle and pulled the shawl tighter. She looked approvingly at the cairns, now properly suited to the sprite king’s use.
“Here you are,” she called to the group of fulmars flying overhead. “Come take your places for court. I’ll be back tomorrow for the coronation.” She beckoned the birds down to the circle of miniature houses made of small flat stones, their fine roofs made of bundles of dried grass, anchored by pebbles tied down tightly with yarn.
Here is Louise’s Critique:
I like that I am immediately pulled into some action, which makes me curious to read more about why Aelfe is lugging this stone in the first place.
I would like to know more about what she looks like and her age, beyond that she is a “wisp of a girl.” Also, I am curious as to how big this stone is, since it seems to be giving her trouble. Is it the stone’s size or the age of the girl that is making it so heavy?
I like that the mention of sprites is within the first page, since I know right away that there is a fantasy element to the story. Once again, knowing her age would help clarify whether these are literal sprites, or if Aelfe is so young that she believes she sees them.
There is a lot of great description of the stones, the birds, the grass—but I need a bit more to let me know where she is exactly. Is she in a fantasy world? Ancient times? Even just a few more subtle hints could go a long way in making it more clear who or where Aelfe is.
(Some of these issues might be clarified by the illustrations, but since I don’t have them I am going off of the words alone).
PLAYING WITH FIRE YA Contemporary By Margo Sorsenson
There he was, the hottest dad of any of her friends, leaning against the side of his silver Mercedes, talking with another parent in the parking lot next to the soccer field. Spencer’s heart gave a little flip as she bent down and retied her soccer cleats and stood up, ready for practice. She adjusted her ponytail. Had she put enough gloss on her lips?
Coach Foster blew the whistle. “Ladies, two-on-two drills, please.” Coach Foster was pretty hot, too, but, well, he was married. Mr. Cartwright, her friend Gianna’s father, however, was most definitely not married, and, more important, his blue eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled at Spencer, after he’d made a funny comment. Spencer shivered, thinking of how she’d first met his eyes straight-on in the rear view mirror of his car, when he was driving the girls home after a late night game two weeks ago. They’d locked gazes for an instant that seemed to last a year, leaving Spencer breathless in the back seat.
“What are you staring at?” a familiar voice asked. Spencer turned around to see her best friend Madison, tapping a soccer ball back and forth between her feet. “Come on. I know he’s hot, but he’s way too old for you,” she said.
Spencer felt her face flush. “Whatever,” she retorted and stole the ball from between Madison’s feet.
As she jogged along the sideline, dribbling the ball between her feet, looking across the grassy athletic fields, she could see the varsity baseball team practicing, with Colby Hanson, the catcher, standing up and hollering something at the second baseman. Colby was cute and pretty smart, but he sure was all about Madison. He was always hanging around after baseball practice, watching the girls’ varsity soccer team finish up their practices. Lots of the girls thought Colby was awesome, but Spencer noticed Madison didn’t seem to care that he was always there.
Keeping pace with her, Madison looked over at the baseball team. “Those guys are too young for you, huh?” she teased. “Colby’s pretty cute, and maybe he’s smart enough for you.”
HERE IS LOUISE’S CRITIQUE:
I like the uniqueness of starting the story with talking about the hot dad, who a lot of teens wouldn’t be crushing on. However, I want to know why he is hot, rather than being told he is hot with blue eyes. What makes him different than the hot blue-eyed teens at school? His sexy five o’clock shadow? The muscles sticking out from his polo? That George Clooney grin? I need swoon-worthy details!
I felt a little overwhelmed with how many character names I was introduced to within the first page. Coach Foster, Mr. Cartwright, Gianna, Spencer, Madison, Colby—for me it’s a lot to keep straight when we don’t have interaction with all of these characters yet.
I like the dialogue between Madison and Spencer, and it feels authentically “teen” In fact, I would have liked this little back and forth to continue on, even if just for a couple more sentences. This would add a bit more flavor and give a peek into their friendship, plus help break up the big paragraphs of description.
I would read on with this, because it feels like it’s going to be a fun, flirty read from the first page.
GRANDMA LUCIA’S SOUL YA fiction By Gerardine Luongo
IS YOUR MIND DIFFERENT FROM YOUR BRAIN?
That’s the first thing you see when you walk into Sister Agnes’s philosophy class every Monday morning. Well, not the same question, but the sign that reads “Today’s Show Stopper– fill-in-the-blank.” She calls them show stoppers because, as she says, her intent is to get us to stop our day-to-day show (whatever that means) and THINK!!! Personally, I think that’s a lot to ask of anyone at 8:45 on a Monday morning.
After homeroom, philosophy is my first class of the week; it lasts 60 minutes and then we have it again for 45 minutes every Thursday afternoon. Oh yeah, it’s a lot, it’s crazy but it’s why my parents wanted to me to go to this school My name is Jake, well actually its Giovanni but everyone calls me Jake or sometimes John. I’m a freshman at Saint Thomas Aquinas High School on 74th Street in Brooklyn NY. Philosophy is what we call a reck, or for this class, a wreck! A reck is a required class, and philosophy is a reck freshman through junior years. Seniors get to choose from a series of electives because by then they have either been accepted into a college or will basically be rolling cannolis in their family’s bakery somewhere because at some point along the way they dropped it all for sex, drugs, or both.
Getting into St. Tom’s is hard, really hard. I went to St. Tom’s grammar school across the street and they place big emphases on making sure you get accepted into the St. Tom’s HS; if you don’t get accepted, no big deal, your family should just probably move to a new parish. They do a lot to prep you to make sure you get the grades, take the extra-curricular classes, and pass the Regents exams that will get you accepted into St. Thomas HS. In whatever way they calculate acceptance, going to the grammar school is only worth about 5 points on a scale of like a million. I was pretty sure I was going to end up here but my parents were DAMN sure I
HERE IS LOUISE’S CRITIQUE:
I’m drawn in immediately by the rhetorical question-sign and the character’s voice. I love the little bit of humor about nobody thinking at 8:45am. (So many of us can relate!)
The second paragraph read like an intense speed-dating round to me, with Jake trying to tell us every detail about him in few minutes. It’s too much information too quickly. Some of it can be weaved in later, while other bits are details that we don’t really need at all. For instance, I don’t need to know how many minutes he has each class and on what day. It slows down the pacing.
The third paragraph again goes into a lot of detail about St. Thomas. I would love some dialogue, some action—something else besides this background information.
I can tell Jake has a great voice, but it gets lost a bit. His sense of humor and teen-voice will pop so much more once the pacing is picked up and extra details removed. I’d like to see what Jake’s up to!
DIGGING UP THE JACKSONS Upper MG Time Travel By Sharon Sorokin James
Pru ran the tips of her fingers over each worn, simple headstone until she came to the one headstone that was different. Her fingers traced the garlands of flowers ran down the edges of the stone’s face, vines and stalks emerging from skeleton heads, the simple carved letters etched into the stone – Hannah Bowen Jackson born May 22, 1675 Died July 9, 1695.
Lowering herself onto the grassy grave, Pru sat yoga-style, arms composed, palms up. Bits of grass and a dusting of earth stuck to the bottoms of her bare feet. She closed her eyes, letting the early summer sun cover her like a soft, warm shroud, breathing in and out, slowly and steadily, the perfect morning ritual. Laila told her that when you meditate, you need a mantra. Something like “ommmmm,” said Laila, soothingly. But ommmmm did nothing for Pru. After much anxious casting about to find the most relaxing and focused mantra, she had finally decided upon the word, “ever.” Sometimes she punctuated it with an “and,” as in “ever and ever,” until it rolled through her mind like a cloud or a river, or a heartbeat.
Surrounded by the unbroken chain of her ancestors, the words “ever and ever and ever” felt as natural to her as breathing. Someday, not for a long, long time, but in seventy or eighty or ninety years, she would be buried here too. It was inevitable, like one of those timelines showing the ascent of man, except that in her family’s case, it would be the descent of the Jacksons.
The whole chain was dead now, except for her grandfather, her father, and herself. The Undead, she called the three of them. Her mother didn’t count, not being a Jackson by blood.
HERE IS LOUISE’S CRITIQUE:
I like that this scene opens in a graveyard. I’m drawn in wondering what is going to happen and why Pru is meditating.
The fact that she has her own meditational phrase “ever and ever” is great. It makes me wonder how far back the Jackson line goes. What would Pru do to ensure the Jacksons live on? It’s good that it makes me think of these things, because it means you’ve grabbed my interest.
I’m not sure what Pru looks like, her heritage, or how old she is. If a few more hints could be laid early on, I would have a better idea of who Pru is and where this is going. I’m also getting mixed clues as to when this story takes place–she’s doing yoga, the graves have dates from the 1600s—is she mourning an old ancestor or a recently deceased one?
Also, I would like to see a little more personality from Pru, even if only a sentence of something she’s thinking to herself or a line said out loud to the dead. I haven’t heard from her or what she’s feeling. I want to fall in love with her right away.
You’ve made me want to know more about Pru, her father, and her brother—The Undead. It’s also interesting that she doesn’t include her mother as one of the family, since she’s not a Jackson by blood, which makes me wonder what her relationship with her mother is like.
I want to thank Louise for taking the time out of her busy schedule to share her expertise with us. I know it will help the four who are shown, but it should help everyone else who reads the first pages and the resulting comments. Thanks, Louise!