Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 28, 2014

Free Fall Friday – Results

susan-dobinickSusan Dobinick, Assistant Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux is our Guest Critiquer  for March. Read the four winners and read Susan critique below:

Susan assists two children’s trade imprints. She works with fiction and nonfiction, ranging from picture to young adult books. Her specialties include children’s trade publishing, picture books, chapter books, middle-grade books, young adult books, educational publishing, textbooks, and teacher editions. She holds a B.A. in English from Chicago Goucher College.

Susan is Edith Cohn’s editor for Spirits Key, which is coming out in September. Edith has a nice interview with Susan on her blog. Here is the link:

http://edithcohn.wordpress.com/interviews/interview-with-my-editor/

 

ELLIE AND THE KING by Anita Nolan MG Novel

“I’m adopted. It’s the only possible explanation.”

The Piercing Pagoda kiosk at the mall provides excellent cover for my friend Lindsey and me while a group of kids from school—the popular ones—stroll past, but I duck lower anyway. I don’t know why I worry. I’m one of the more invisible people at school. But if anyone connects me with the man dressed as Elvis standing across the way, my name will be texted to every student in Cranford Middle School, and possible the entire state of Pennsylvania.

Lindsey glances at the older ladies—it’s always older ladies—lined up to meet my dad, and shakes her head. “There’s only one problem with the adoption theory, Ellie. How do you explain your eyes?”

That is the problem. I’ve tried to convince myself that I look nothing like my father—and I don’t—except for my dark green eyes, complete with little blue flecks. I guess the adoption theory can’t be right, but as Dad bursts into song, I wish it were.

The kids from school hang at the edge of the crowd, pointing at Dad and laughing. My faces flushes. I have a hard time swallowing. I wish he would keep the Elvis stuff out of the mall and away from anyone I know.

Gram says I shouldn’t be embarrassed. Everyone has a few skeletons in their closets. Unfortunately, my skeleton is the one dressed in gold lame singing Love Me Tender in front of the Cinnabon.

All Lindsey and I wanted to do was buy a few yards of silky white polyester. It wasn’t our idea to turn a trip to the mall into a media event. But apparently Dad decided to promote the upcoming Philly Salutes Elvis Tribute, so here he stands, dressed like Elvis, talking like Elvis, and acting like Elvis. Dad’s best friend, Norm, who is also Lindsey’s father, pretends to be Dad’s bodyguard—as if he needs one. But Elvis always had a bodyguard, so Dad does too.

HERE’S SUSAN DOBINICK:

Ellie and the King

I like the voice in this—the writing feels very authentically middle grade girl to me. I am not sure the author is choosing the right place to focus this energy, though, especially at the beginning of the book. Ellie is the one who I am interested in, but her dad is stealing the show (as, of course, an Elvis impersonator is apt to do). I think it is common for kids to be embarrassed by parents and there is certainly room for books that talk about navigating these relationships, but I want the child protagonist to be at the forefront here. More Ellie and Lindsey, please! What are they going to do with that fabric? Then, once we know and love Ellie, we can see more about the relationship with her father and relate more to her embarrassment. I also would caution against leaning too heavily on Elvis as a joke throughout the whole book—I am not sure that kids would love that joke as much as adults—so be sure to keep the ways in which Dad embarrasses Ellie relatable to people who don’t know much about Elvis.

*******

 

HALF-TRUTHS by Carol Baldwin                    Young Adult/Historical Fiction

Women can’t be scientists. At least that’s what Daddy always tells me.

But now I have proof he’s wrong.

I pick at the frayed edges of The Story-Lives of Great Scientists and stare out the kitchen window. If Marie Curie could make exciting scientific discoveries, why can’t I?

But I know better. Only a few colored kids make it to college. And if they do, it’s just to colored schools to become teachers. Not to big universities where important scientists get their start.

Science has always been my favorite subject. My best friend Darla rolls her eyes when I say the PTA should buy more microscopes for chemistry and biology. She thinks the money should go towards a gym. We can’t ever agree on that one.

I look at the clock above the kitchen sink. It’s four already. Any minute my big brother Sam will push through the screen door wondering what’s for supper. Momma, Daddy, and Big Momma will come in talking about work and expecting to smell dinner cooking.

“Gloria!” I yell out the window to my younger sister. “Get yourself in here and wash up the breakfast dishes!”

She looks up from the tea party she’s having with her Shirley Temple doll. “Let me finish pouring tea. I’ll be in soon!” She waves away a chicken that’s wandered over.

I doubt that’s going to happen. It’ll be me, not Gloria, catching heck if Big Momma comes home to a sink full of dishes. Sometimes I feel like everyone’s maid—something I swear I’ll never be. I wish I could spread a pair of wings and fly away.

HERE’S SUSAN DOBINICK:

Half-Truths

Well, this has a lot of interesting premises that drew me in right away. I’m a sucker for a strong female protagonist. I especially love books with characters who overcome societal expectations to succeed—and you just know that this character is going to find a way to succeed. I do think the author is putting all of her cards on the table right away, and I would like to see some of this develop more slowly—so, for example, she thinks that she can prove her father wrong that women can’t be scientists, but then shoots herself down quickly because people of color can’t even go to college. What would it be like to see her keep with the Marie Curie excitement a little longer, and then feel her disappointment when she comes to this second realization?

My caution with YA historical fiction is that it can be a bit of a tricky sell—when I am looking at these submissions, I am looking for historical plus a big hook; day to day life is a bit harder to reach a wide audience.

*******

 

MRS. HENNESSEY’S HENS     by Susan E. Harris     Picture Book

Mrs. Hennessey had six speckled Sussex hens. They were cheerful and chubby. Curious and cuddly. Feathery and friendly. So friendly they were more like dogs than hens.

When Mrs. Hennessey ate breakfast on the patio, the hens ran to greet her.

When she enjoyed a cup of tea under the stars, they nestled at her feet.

And when Mrs. Hennessey took her daily walk, they always wanted to walk with her.

But Mrs. Hennessey worried. “You may think you’re dogs but you’re not. You are hens! And it isn’t safe for hens to take a walk.”

One day, Mrs. Hennessey left for her walk. “My, what a windy day,” she said and headed down town. <Gate stays open and hens follow>

At the post office the wind blew hard. “Goodness,” said Mrs. Hennessey, “there goes all the mail! I must go help the mailman. Never mind. Those little dogs fetched his mail. But I’m glad my girls are home. I’m sure those dogs would’ve chased them.” She started her walk once more.

At the library Mrs. Hennessey stopped. The librarians were hanging a banner. The wind blew harder still and pulled the banner from their hands.

“My, how I wish I could help them,” said Mrs. Hennessey. “Never mind. Those little dogs caught the banner! And look how they’re hanging it on the library. But I’m glad my girls are home. I wouldn’t want them flying so high.”

She bought an apple-tart from the bakery and went to sit in the park.

In the park some children were flying a kite. The wind blew it’s hardest yet and sent the kite into a tree.

“I’m sure those little dogs will help the children. After all, they can fly.” Mrs. Hennessey thought about what she’d said. “Wait a minute! Dogs can’t fly!”

HERE’S SUSAN DOBINICK:

Mrs. Hennessey’s Hens

You know, it’s funny—my colleagues and I were just talking about liking chicken books the other day. I think the sentence length here is really spot on for picture books, and the author has a good sense of how to move the story along. I am having a logic problem, though—is Mrs. Henessey actually mistaking her hens for dogs? I just don’t know that a pet owner, especially one who clearly loves her pets so much, would make that mistake, even if she is absent-minded—and though picture books are fun places for fantastical adventures, I am a stickler for logic, so I would rather see a story that really embraces hens being hens. (Of course, I suppose the hens could dress in dog costumes—but I still am not sure that the costumes would be that believable to hide that the dogs were really hens…)

*******

 

THE THREE WIGGLY WORMS BLUFF by Wendy Greenley     383 word Picture Book

“Melting snow is swamping the soil! Time to head to higher ground,” said Papa Worm.

Papa, Mama and Baby Worm squirmed to the surface and wiggled up the grassy slope to face—the dreaded sidewalk.

“Ow! It’s rough,” said Baby.

“Go as fast as you can.” Mama gave him a pat. “And keep a lookout for birds.”

Baby wiggled as fast as he could.

But he was only halfway across when a robin swooped down.

“I’m going to slurp you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked.

“I’m a baby myself. Barely a bite, and not worth your flight. Mama is coming, she’s more than a morsel. Why don’t you wait for her?” said Baby.

The robin thanked Baby and sent him on his way.

When the coast looked clear, Mama wiggled as fast as she could.

But she was barely halfway across when the robin hopped out from a bush.

“I’m going to slurp you up and take you to my babies!” the robin squawked.

“I’d make an adequate dinner, but if you want to treat your babies to a feast you might want to wait for Papa worm. He’s coming next,” said Mama.

The robin thanked Mama and sent her on her way.

Papa did calisthenics, warming up his wiggle. Between the birds and the pavement heating up, He needed to be fast!

Papa wasn’t halfway across when the robin landed in his path.

HERE’S SUSAN DOBINICK:

The Three Wiggly Worms Bluff

I like that this has a good seasonal hook—I could imagine a class of kids reading it right at the end of winter or the beginning of spring. I also think it builds in a satisfying way—it’s an old and simple trick, but using patterns of threes (three characters, three problems, etc.) tends to work well, especially in picture books. I am not sure why the family keeps throwing each other to the mercy of the bird, though—the baby can’t actually want the mama to be eaten, or the mama for the papa to be eaten, right? I think you could get rid of the worms suggesting the bird eats the others and still have each worm outsmart the bird in a different way.

*******

I want to thank Susan for sharing her time and expertise with us. These type of critiques can help all of us improve our writing skills. We really appreciate you helping take us to the next level. Thanks again!

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy

 


Responses

  1. Thanks Susan for your critique, and thanks Kathy for this opportunity. Congrats to the other writers too!

  2. I was away this weekend and am just catching up – Thank you, Susan for the feedback on my picture book first page, and thanks to Kathy for your continual posts to help other writers.


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