Posted by: Kathy Temean | May 31, 2013

Free Fall Friday – Results – Melissa Faulner

melissafaulnerBelow are the winners for May’s First Page Critique with MELISSA FAULNER, Editorial Assistant, ABRAMS Books for Young Readers and Amulet.

Hope you enjoy what the winners sent in and reading Melissa’s thoughts on the four.

By Jennifer Ann Reinharz

Willa loved her balloon. The Grand Marshal gave it to her. It was pink, happy and just the right size for her hands. She did not like the long ribbon. It always got in the way.
{Illus. note: So she cut it}

Snip. Snip. Snip. Hiss. The balloon shrunk. Smaller. Smaller. Smaller. Until it looked like a flat, rubber, pancake.

“Mommy, fix it!” she wailed.

“Sweetie, the balloon has a hole. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Daddy, my balloon popped! Fix it!”

“Take a deep breath. I can’t fix it, but I’ll get you a new one.”
Willa took a deep breath.

She opened the junk drawer and found a screwdriver, a pencil, and a purple glue stick. Lining up the tools, she began to sing, “My balloon broke. It’s ok. I’ll fix it.” But the screwdriver pinched, the glue clumped, and the pencil was too thick.
{Illus. note: to plug the hole in the balloon}

So Willa went back to the drawer. This time she found a stack of sticky notes, a bunch of paper clips, and an elastic band. “My balloon broke. It’s ok. I’ll fix it.”

When that didn’t go very well, Willa took another deep breath.
“Help me,” she begged her brother.
{Illustrator note: He is coloring. Crayons are stored in a coffee can}

“Your balloon deflated. You can’t fix it,” he said. “Just do something else.”

Willa spotted his coffee can. It reminded her of the marching band. She dumped the crayons out.


Jennifer Ann Reinharz

What a great concept! I think that most children (and their parents) can absolutely relate to having that one object to which they form a swift and lasting attachment, and sadness that follows when it inevitably breaks (or pops as the case may be). What I really liked was Willa’s resourceful attitude, and her conviction that she can fix the balloon—this teaches children creativity, problem solving, and perseverance, even in the face of doubt.

The narrative style here is light and clean, which I think works well. However, I found myself wanting just a bit more detail at times (nothing that would overwhelm the text). For example, it says that the Grand Marshal gave Willa the balloon, but I don’t know that it will be clear to young readers what a Grand Marshal is, and why he/she would have balloons to give away. Additionally, while I like that Willa runs to the junk drawer to fix the balloon herself, it doesn’t feel as though this action logically follows talking to her parents. Her dad mentions he can’t fix it, but perhaps we need to see that moment of decision when Willa decides to fix it herself. I also like the use of her song to create repetition, but, again, this doesn’t feel quite connected to the rest of the story/Willa’s character. Why does she sing this specific song? Does Willa love to sing? I think a lot of these questions could be addressed by developing Willa a bit more as a character. Is she the type of little girl who loves to fix things herself? Is she always tinkering with things? Answering questions like these might also help flesh her out and better highlight her initial decision to trim the ribbon herself.

Overall, this is a good start! I think the author just needs to work to further develop Willa as a character, which will help inform the decisions she’s making and her actions throughout the story.

The Seven League Boots by Joyce McPherson (MG Fiction)

Once upon a time a girl named Madeline lived in the village of Villamyra in the kingdom of Myristica, a peaceful kingdom seldom bothered by ogres or sorcerers or even fairies, though there was a kulack who attended the king in the castle. Madeline lived in the inn with her father, who was the innkeeper. She liked to listen to the tales travelers told of journeys and quests, but in all her ten years she had never been farther than the Myra Bridge at the edge of the village.

One day in late spring, Madeline hugged a basket of laundry as she made her way to the clothes line behind the inn. She imagined she was carrying a treasure chest across a barren waste to ransom a forgotten princess. The castle loomed in the distance. Her arms ached, but it was just a few more steps and she would be there.

At last. She set down the basket with a bump, and the smell of soap wafted upward. She glanced at her treasure and saw only a limp heap of laundry. It was hard to be a treasure hunter while smelling soap. She reached for a dish towel and wondered why nothing ever happened in Myristica.

By the time the first row was hung, a fresh breeze had sprung up and snapped the towels like sails on a ship, or…like flying, she thought. She caught up a rag and held it above her head, then raced as fast as she could, braids whipping behind her, across the yard. “I’m flying like a bird,” she called.

“You don’t look like a bird.”

Madeline glared in the direction of the voice and saw Herbert coming around the corner where the chicken house stood.

“I thought you were helping your dad in the smithy today,” she said.

“He had enough help for one day. Somehow the bellows caught on fire.”

He looked so glum that Madeline instantly forgave him for his first comment.


Joyce McPherson

What works well about this opening page is that the reader is quickly pulled into the detail and imagery of the story. Madeline is clearly an intriguing character who has spirit and dreams which extend far beyond her seemingly adventure-free life. (Doing laundry is an adventure no one is excited about!) I also really enjoyed the line about the towels snapping in the breeze “like the sails on a ship.” What lovely imagery!

My biggest overall concern, however, is exactly how much information is packed into this first page. While I think it’s good to include a lot of relevant details early on to help establish the reader in the story, a lot of the world-building details here are being “told” to the reader instead of “shown.” If Madeline is our main protagonist, then perhaps it would make more sense learn about the kingdom using her as a lens. Her character has to be able to carry us through an entire novel, so the reader should feel a strong connection with her. For example, since she’s interested in adventure, perhaps as she’s walking with the laundry, she’s also keeping a weathered eye out for ogres or sorcerers who might steal her treasure chest, even though Myristica is a peaceful kingdom seldom bothered by magical creatures, etc. That’s one possibility to organically work in the details about our setting/the world while also learning a bit more about the protagonist. I think that will also help to slow down the pacing a bit, which, even on the first page, feels a bit rushed.

Definitely a strong and intriguing start. I’d definitely flip to page two!

MOUTH OF THE SOUTH by Patricia Nesbitt – MG historical

Fingers of July sunlight snaked through the interlocking foliage overhead and scattered brown diamonds across the lazy waters of Sugar Creek. Patsy and Olivia paddled barefoot, ankle-deep, down the main channel, stopping ever so often to turn over a rock or scoop up petals blown into the water from near-by mimosa trees.

They tucked the feathery mimosa clusters into their hair and behind their ears. Sweat beads still sprinkled their foreheads from the bike ride down Arnold Drive to the creek.

“Does it have to be for two weeks?” whined Olivia. “Why not just one?”
Eleven-year-old Patsy shrugged. “Dunno. Just is, I guess.”

“You’re NOT going to like it, you know.”

“That’s what you keep telling me—for a gazillion times now. But this is Girl Scout Camp, not church camp. It’s bound to be different.”

“ALL camp is the same: bad food, hot cabins—it’s JULY, for crying out loud–, and boring crafts.” Olivia bent over to scratch a chigger bite. “Not to mention the other obnoxious campers whose parents sent them to camp to get rid of them for two weeks. Tell your mom you feel sick and can’t go.”

Patsy turned over a large rock, watched a crawdad wiggle away, and swished her hands in the water to clean off the mud. Olivia isn’t usually such a sour-puss, she thought. I bet she’s worried about something.

“No can do,” said Patsy. “You know how Mom is…Money’s already spent.”
Olivia batted at a low-hanging cluster of leaves. “Besides, Miss Queen of I-Hate-Change, why on earth would you want to spend time away from home with a bunch of total strangers?”

“Well, I’ve been thinking camp might be…,” began Patsy.

“I know an adventure,” finished Olivia. “You’ve said that for weeks. But what if…”


Patricia Nesbitt

I’m a definite sucker for rich imagery and detail, so I really enjoyed this opening paragraph! There’s a sort of tangibility to the prose here that really pulls the reader in, allowing them to immediately sink into the setting. However, it’s a good idea to be vigilant about overdoing it, since an overload of detail can sometimes cause confusion. In the second sentence, for example, it says they paddled barefoot (which makes me think of swimming), but were only ankle-deep in the water? It’s also good to be aware of making sure the details included feel organic and don’t disrupt the flow of the story.

The great thing about this first page is that we really get a strong, immediate sense of the dynamic between Patsy and Olivia and the conflict between them (though it isn’t clear from the first page, obviously, whether Girl Scout Camp will be the focus of the entire novel). These are clearly two girls who have been friends (probably best friends) for a while, and it seems as though we’re being set up to read about a summer during which that dynamic is changing. My concern, though, is that it’s not entirely clear which of the girls is the protagonist of the story. We’re given insight into Patsy’s thoughts (though, I’m always a bit wary of that particular device as it can feel a bit overused), but opening with Olivia’s question threw me a bit. Perhaps it could help to work on developing more of the details through Patsy, if she’s the intended focus.

Additionally, I had a question about the categorization of this as middle grade historical fiction. A lot of the dialog feels very contemporary, especially words like “sour-puss” and “gazillion.” If this is indeed intended as historical fiction the author will definitely want to check certain phrasing to make sure it’s appropriate to the setting.

This is a great start—I’d definitely keep reading.

CALL OF THE CROW by Debbie Emory, middle grade fantasy

The last breath of spring floated in the air as Festy, a bright blue boggart, flew out of the dark forest that stood behind the town library. The moon cast light through the glass walls, giving the books inside a mysterious glow.

A bucktooth hung down either side of Festy’s snout as the small dragon-like creature drew in his widespread wings and crept into the library through the book return slot. He knew exactly where to go.

Once inside the lobby, Festy flung open the double doors as though they weighed no more than his big toe. Blue dust shot out of his tail as he flew to his favorite corner to perch on a polished wooden shelf. He ran his claw across a line of books until he found the familiar worn cover. “There you are,” he said.

He tapped on the front, but the face of the world famous human did not move as it normally did. “William? You there?” Festy said in his British accent.

“Celebration is starting soon.”

The ghost of a dark-haired gentleman floated out of the book. He wore an old-fashioned plush velvet suit with puffy sleeves. The high collar of his white ruffled shirt made it look as if his head sat on a large platter.

“Tis I.” The ghost of William dusted off his clothes before pulling a tall wool hat out of the book. “Shall we join the others? I do hope we haven’t missed the dance of the gnomes. Charming fellows.”

Before the two could leave, Festy heard the slam of the metal flap on the book return slot. His pointy ears stood up straight. “Hear that?” He knew no one in the small southern town of Caryville would be dropping off anything so late at night.


Debbie Emory

A very intriguing first page! It’s a wonderfully descriptive opening, that strikes a nice balance between a playful tone and the mystery involved with sneaking into a library at night in order to fetch a book ghost (who I assume is William Shakespeare). This may be something that’s addressed later, but I immediately began to wonder at the mechanics of summoning the ghost of William. Is he the only ghost that can be summoned from the books in the library? If there are others, why aren’t they joining as well? With fantasy, I find it’s good to be very clear about the limitations of the world.

I also think that the use of dialog here is nice, and includes a nice flow of detail that feels very natural. Though, I did wonder about calling attention to Festy’s British accent—if he’s going to be the protagonist of the story, does this need to be drawn to the reader’s attention? Perhaps there’s a more subtle way to do this? Maybe the author could call out William’s more posh accent in relation to Festy’s?

The pacing here also feels just right for a younger middle grade read. There’s a good balance of detail and plot development, and you’ve set some nice conflict at the very end of the first page that definitely has me curious about who just entered the library!

Melissa, wonderful job! I’m excited about meeting you at the June Conference. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us. I know it is very appreciated.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. congratulations Debbie. Your story is alive!


  2. Congrats to all the writers who received critiques. Such an honor to be among your company; loved reading your stories. Also, thanks to Kathy for the first pages opportunity and to Ms. Faulner for her helpful and insighful comments.


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