This illustration was sent in by Patricia Pinsk. She works primarily with water colour, ink, digital photography, coloured pencil and collage. Patricia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (now called Emily Carr University of Art and Design), as well as a Certificate in New Media from Vancouver Film School. Web: www.patriciapinsk.com/ Facebook: www.facebook.com/patriciapinskillustration?ref=hl Twitter: @patriciapinsk
Here are the first page critiques brought to you this month by Liza Fleissig from the Liza Royce Agency.
The Tattletail’s Claw: A CreatureNet Chronicle by Jody Staton – Middle Grade Novel
“Be Careful What You Wish For”
“. . .and that, Clawdia,” says Hershey’s voice in my head, “is why you must never let two-leggers know what we are.”
I lick a paw, and swipe it across my whiskers. Curled up on his wide brown rump, warmed by his body heat, I’m lulled half to sleep.
Zzzzt! A huge horsefly dive-bombs us. Wide awake now, I swat with a paw, and miss. Hershey flicks his long black tail. Whipping horsehairs send the fly tumbling. It buzzes around his legs, he stomps a hoof. His rump becomes an earthquake. I leap to my feet, teetering because I dare not dig into his hide the few claws I have left. We are next to a water trough, and I jump over it to a split-rail fence.
“Sorry about that,” he says. He ducks his head—in apology, I think. No, he’s just rubbing his head against the edge of the trough, scratching the lump that mars his forehead. Then, stern, like the police horse he used to be, Hershey demands that I repeat what he just told me.
I blink. “About the interstellar ark?”
“Wrong. About how two-leggers wouldn’t understand. How can you teach these stories to other Listeners if you don’t know them well yourself?”
I twitch my question-mark tail. “Why? Yesterday you said how few of us—”
“Lunchtime, Clawdia.” A human voice cuts me off. From the back porch of the Schwartz Veterinary Clinic, across a gravel drive from Hershey’s farm, it’s a young voice. And familiar!
“Dookie! I knew she’d come again this summer.” Forget Hershey’s lectures—my favorite person is here! I leap from the fence, streak across the drive. Dookie jumps from the porch, falls over a small bush, picks herself up, and races toward me. We meet in a mess of legs and arms, fur and tight curls, purrings and kisses.
Here is what Liza had to say:
Staton, The Tattletail’s Claw
The writing itself is nice, with many nice details (like “I lick a paw and swipe it over my whiskers” and “his rump becomes an earthquake”). But my first impression is one of confusion—there are a lot of elements that are unexplained, and it’s rather difficult to paint a picture or figure out what’s going on.
The very first sentence is a difficult and awkward way to begin a story—with dialogue in the midst of being spoken. Perhaps the writer is trying to created intrigue, but younger readers will be confused. For one, we do not yet know they are animals and two, “two-leggers” will be an unfamiliar term.
It takes quite a while to figure out what kind of animals these are, which also causes confusion—you don’t want readers to be wondering about this so much that it detracts from what’s happening in the story.
Other questions: The cat says, “I dare not dig into his hide the few claws I have left”—why is this? Is this a detail we need to know right now, on the first page? Then, the horse says, “How can you teach these stories to other Listeners if you don’t know them well yourself?” First of all, what stories? Secondly, who are the Listeners? Third, why does the cat not seem to care about the stories (and why does the horse)? Again, you want to create intrigue, but you don’t want to leave the reader with so little to work with, and here there are just too many unanswered questions.
If this is a story about talking animals, then it’s a story for young readers. The sentence structure is a bit too complex, and combined with the above questions, I think younger readers are going to feel lost (what is an “interstellar” ark, for example?) We need to have a simpler, cleaner and more appealing introduction to the story. The set-up needs to be such that young readers want to keep on reading. The detail with Dookie is very sweet—perhaps concentrate on this as an introduction—and maybe the fact that these animals can talk is enough of a mystery that the reader will be excited to find out more.
Daddy, What’s a Redneck? by Erika Wassall Picture Book
Little Lainey squatted, tugged on the pant legs sticking out between the two tires and asked, “Daddy, what’s a Redneck?” (illus: Daddy is underneath a vehicle working on it.)
Daddy laughed. He opened his mouth to answer, but stopped short.
“Hand me that yellow screwdriver and I’ll tell you,” he said. “Your great-granddaddy was a Redneck. He worked out in the cotton fields all day, with the sun beating on the back of his NECK.” Daddy slid out from underneath the engine and smiled. “What happens to your nose and shoulders when you’re out in the sun all day?”
Little Lainey’s eyes lit up, “They get all RED!” she cried.
Daddy nodded. “Exactly! Back then, working in the fields meant you couldn’t go to school. Calling someone a Redneck could have been hurtful, meaning they weren’t very smart. People started to think that folks who worked with their hands all day were fools.”
Little Lainey stared at Daddy’s grease covered hands and sternly shook her head. “But Daddy! Your hands can fix everything! They’re the smartest hands I know.”
“Darn right!” said Daddy. “Folks often try to find ways to put others down. That doesn’t make them right. People all across the country are proud to be Rednecks.” (illus: Daddy’s leaning over so we can see his red neck)
“Why?” asked Little Lainey, as she watched the rainbows dance on the top of the oil pan.
Here is what Liza had to say:
Wassall, Daddy, What’s a Redneck?
Opening paragraph is sweet. I just don’t know how much this topic is going to interest readers. Does this make a story? What is the story here? Dad is answering a question, but what is the story? Why does the little girl ask this question in the first place?
My concern is that the title feels like a joke and it’s hard to take the story seriously upon first hearing what the title is. In fact, there may be a lot of people who take offense before they even have a chance to read the story.
Dad’s answers to the little girl’s question are nice, but there’s a lot that feels a bit too adult here and which young readers might have a hard time understanding: “Folks often try to find ways to put others down” etc.
General kid appeal: a little low. It’s hard to imagine a kid wanting to read this based on the first page (and keep going back to it). Feels a bit too earnest and “issue” driven. Combined with the title, I don’t think this would be something an editor would request over other things currently being shopped.
JEREMY’S SLED By Sue Heavenrich – Picture Book
Jeremy pulled his new sled out of the car. He squeaked his boots on the fresh snow. “Sugarhouse Hill, here I come!”
“We still need noisemakers for our New Year’s party,” said Dad. “Stick to the small hill until I get back from the store.”
“Okay,” said Jeremy. He waved to Dad and then plodded up the hard-packed path. But instead of stopping where he should have, his feet took him up, up, up to the top of the highest hill in the whole park.
“Just one run,” Jeremy whispered. He climbed into his sled. It teetered, it tottered, it wibbled and wobbled, then –
WHOOSH! Off he flew down, down, down to the line of straw bales that stopped runaway sleds. Jeremy slipped through a gap…
…. and tangled the leash between a woman and her dog.
“Sorry!” Jeremy yelled as the dog flew into the air and landed in the sled. The sled sped across the slick road, down a slope and onto the pond.
“Sliding through!” Jeremy shouted. The sled knocked a puck into the net and flipped a hockey player into the sled.
“Hang on!” The sled slid through a flock of ducks, hit a bump and flew
through the air…
… scared a squirrel out of a tree, knocked a hat off a snowman,
and barely cleared the back fence of the zoo.
Here is what Liza had to say:
Heavenrich, Jeremy’s Sled
I like the fun of the sled ride gone out of control—readers will think this is super fun and entertaining. The beginning is slow, though. Why do we need the earnest, adult details of dad telling Jeremy that he’s going to the store and stick to the small hill? Why not just have Jeremy at the big hill pondering it “mom and dad always tell me to stick to the small hills, but just once I’d like to try the big one” or something like this.
The wild sled ride itself seems to need to be slowed down a bit, too much happens too quickly. The writer could have a lot of fun here by making each thing that winds up in the sled a more fun acquisition.
The title needs to be more interesting and compelling, something that reflects the fun that both Jeremy and the reader are in for. The language as well, while nice, is not really reflective in rhythm and language of a wild sled ride. Writer should look at some comparable picture books for examples.
Rule Breaker by Angela Larson & Zander Mowat, Middle Grade Novel
Detective Derk’s Spy Manual for the Disgruntled made surveillance sound a lot easier than it was. Knelling on a bent knee, peering around a corner with a mirror, Aaron Adams switched the mirror from one hand to the other. This was just long enough for him to shake out his arm, which had started to go numb. He resumed his position, but his back and knee still ached. For the whole lunch period he’d been looking down the long hall that leads to the school’s cafeteria. He’d been on surveillance since Monday and now that it was Friday, he was losing hope that this would work. An internal debate started to brew in his mind, was it worth skipping lunch again, after the lack of success all week. Then, his target, his jerk older brother Roger Adams, turned the corner.
Roger strolled down the hall in his ‘I’m too important to walk any faster’ mode and pulled what appeared to be a coin from his pocket. Roger never has change, this doesn’t make sense, thought Aaron. Roger walked toward a row of old-fashioned vending machines. These ancient relics had been in the school forever, since a time when their Principle attended here as a kid. They were always full of candy bars, but no one carries change anymore except old people, like Aaron’s rusty teachers.
Aaron’s arm was starting to shake by the time Roger stopped in front of the vending machines. He took slow steady breaths; this was described in Detective Derk’s manual as something you should do if you ever need to steady yourself. He kept the mirror focused on his target.
Roger slid a quarter into a slot, pressed a button and the sound of the candy hitting the tray echoed down the hall. I KNOW he doesn’t carry money.
Aaron leaned so far forward the mirror started to fog from his breath. Before the image…
Here is what Liza had to say:
Larson & Mowat, Rule Breaker
Writing is a bit awkward and clunky—the very first paragraph is actually quite a mouthful to read aloud, and I worry that readers’ introduction to this story will not be as compelling as it needs to be in order to hook readers and get them interesting in reading further. Words like “disgruntled” and “knelling” (is this an error?? didn’t make sense) further confusing the narration.
Kids will find spying fun, but why is one brother spying on another? I think we need a better sense of this. And why is one brother spying on another brother at school (when he can spy on him at home)? In other words, I worry that this may come across as a plot that’s not so exciting (as opposed to having Aaron spy on someone more interesting, like a school enemy, for example).
Words are misspelled throughout (knelling rather than kneeling, Principle rather than Principal) and grammar is shaky. As an agent, this isn’t something I request to see further.
Thank you Liza for sharing your time and expertise with all of us. It is much appreciated.
Hope everyone has a Happy Halloween.