AND THE BACKYARD BIRDS ALL LISTENED by Michele Norman Picture Book
A birds’ nest rested on the branch of a flowering tree.
It was lined with springy-soft moss.
And inside, three babies wiggled and jiggled for warmth.
Every day, the mother left the nest to bring her babies food.
Every night, the babies dreamed bird dreams…
…Of feathers and flying…
…Of singing while winging…
…Of building nests of their own.
But one terrible night,
The wind whipped…
A branch dipped…
The nest slipped…
The birds flipped…
Onto the waterlogged lawn.
The mother hovered over the pile of sticks.
“Pwee! Pwee!” she shrieked.
The rain slapped…
The thunder clapped…
But she heard no other sound.
So she prodded the tumble-down nest.
She pulled at the pile of twigs.
She poked at the mound of mud.
With a shake and shudder, each of her babies finally juddered free.
HERE IS LINDA:
And the Backyard Birds All Listened by Michele Norman
The first page is quiet and poetic, with a lulling sort of quality that nicely gives way to the rising tension of the baby birds’ peril. I would recommend clarifying the protagonist from the outset. I initially thought the babies were the protagonists, given the mention of the birds’ desire line, which could be central to the story—to fly, build nests, and become independent. The conflict would then directly hinder that desire. However, they don’t have much agency, as the mother is the one taking action in their need, so it then seems as if the mother is the protagonist of the story. If that is indeed the case, then we need to make her dreams/goals evident, rather than the children’s.
THE WAR WITHIN by Amanda S. Kirkham – Adult
Elsie awoke with a start. Adrenaline surged through her veins and her heart pounded with booming thuds. Beads of sweat covered her forehead as she struggled to catch her breath. “Stop! Stop it…No!” her screams cut through the darkness. She scrambled out of bed and lurched for the door. Her foot caught causing her to stumble. Her muscles tensed as she attempted to right herself. Meeting the floor came hard and fast. The room spun and a wave of nausea washed over her. She pounded her fist on the floor.
Nightmares. The same bad dream that plagued her, repeating itself over and over again, forcing her into a panic. She rolled to her side and wiped her face. The white noise of the air conditioner filled the silence in the room. Several minutes passed before she got up. She headed back toward the bed with a clouded mind. Perched on the edge of her mattress, she grabbed her water bottle from the nightstand and popped two sleeping pills in her mouth. She took a long pull to quench her thirst and peeled off her drenched top dropping it on the floor. After crawling under the covers, she clutched her pillow and drew in a long relaxing breath. The nightmares were increasing in both frequency and intensity. Determined to chalk it up to life experience, she buried her head beneath her pillow, ignoring the ruddy glow of the alarm clock, only to eventually return to a fitful sleep. This pattern continued throughout the night as it had for a few months now ever since the riot.
The humming fluorescent was not kind as she stared into the mirror the following morning. Elsie looked like she hadn’t slept at all and for the most part that was true. Though she always felt fatigued, sleep wasn’t the desperate escape she had hoped it would be. Rather, it magnified her thoughts of despair.
HERE IS LINDA:
The War Within by Amanda S. Kirkham
I do enjoy a quick-paced read and this is certainly within that category. There are two things, however, that do tend to be overused and I would urge the author to reconsider the opening because of them: 1) Waking up from a nightmare and 2) Looking into a mirror. Now, a character can have nightmares and even look into a mirror, naturally! It’s just that I wouldn’t necessarily lead with that. In what other way can we introduce the character that stands out more? We can ground the reader more effectively with a different, more memorable scene that doesn’t read like many others.
THE LAPRAN LINK by Carol Foote – Middle Grade
From the front gate, Jennifer couldn’t see the house, just the long driveway winding through the trees. But when she stepped in a bit and followed the drive, as she did every day on her way home from school, she caught sight of the mansion, glistening white and majestic against the hillside. The Randolph estate, it was called. Raaan-dolph. Jennifer loved the way the sound rolled over the roof of her mouth. Lord and Lady Randolph, she fancied. Except they didn’t have lords and ladies in California.
As far as Jennifer knew, no one had ever seen the occupant of the house, but there was lots of speculation in her neighborhood. Some said it was a young woman who had been deformed in a terrible accident and didn’t want to be seen. Others swore it was a notorious criminal in hiding. Kids, whispering of ghosts, kept away from the estate. All except Jennifer.
She’d often climbed the back wall to watch the swans in the pond there. And she’d wandered the rooms countless times in her mind, imagining marble floors and Persian carpets, crystal chandeliers, winding staircases…and a life of infinite possibilities.
But she had only ventured up the driveway in the past month when she’d started sixth grade and her walk home took her past the tall main gates. They always stood open, as if inviting her in. It wasn’t really trespassing. After all, they were practically neighbors.
Today as she headed toward the estate, she heard a laugh behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Kayla and Megan two blocks back. Jennifer picked up her pace and prepared to shout a casual, “Hey! Gotta run. Late!” if they called out. But they wouldn’t. She heard more laughter and pictured their ease together. If only she could be like that. She used to think if she just had the right clothes or lived in a nicer house, she’d fit in. But she’d decided it was something inside her that was different. Sometimes it seemed as if everyone else was on a merry-go-round, whirling past her and laughing, while she couldn’t even hear the music.
HERE IS LINDA:
The Lapran Link by Carol Foote
It’s an intriguing opening between the lonely protagonist and the beckoning estate. To strengthen, the author could remove much of Jennifer’s impressions in the first paragraph, moving them just a bit later (and stripping phrases like “she saw” or “caught sight of”—not necessary when the image can just be shown to the reader). The point of view could begin in a more distant third person perspective, like a wide shot camera lens panning over the grandeur of the grounds before zooming into a closer third person POV that starts to filter in Jennifer’s impressions. That initial distance could showcase the solitude of the mansion and mirror the protagonist’s loneliness that will eventually draw her onto the grounds.
FAST FRIENDS by Bebe Willoughby – young adult
I met Jeff Hadley on a Monday. By Friday I was in love with him.
I couldn’t stop thinking of his grey-blue eyes that seemed hypnotic and mysterious. He was tall and slender, and his face was angular with high cheekbones. He just missed being handsome, but he was awfully good looking.
The Beach Club opened today. I was a new lifeguard, and I arrived early to take a morning swim. I told Mr. Scot, my boss, that I was going to swim. “Never swim alone,” played in my head. My mother and I used to swim early in the morning, but she died in March so I must do it by myself. I pulled my arms through the water and kicked hard. I was heading in. When it was shallow, I stood up and walked to the beach. I was looking at the water and watching the small ripples come toward shore. I didn’t see the young man putting up umbrellas. I walked by him, and then he dropped the umbrella and the wind made it hit me, and I fell to the ground. “I’m so sorry,” he said, running to me.. “Not used to putting up umbrellas.” He paused. “Are you all right?”
“I think so.” He offered me his hand, and I took it which pulled me to my feet. I shook myself off, getting rid of some of the sand.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“I’m Jeff Hadley.”
“Eve Williams,” I said.
“Nice to meet you, but I’m sorry the way it happened.”
We stared at each other. Then he smiled and I smiled back.
“Yes. I’m so sorry about the umbrella.”
I gave him a smile, and walked to my lifeguard stand. I climbed up and watched Jeff secure the umbrella, and then walk to the clubhouse.
HERE IS LINDA:
Fast Friends by Bebe Willoughby
I like the opening lines, since it sets up what the story will be about: Love at First Sight. The first page could be strengthened by cutting down the over-explanations. Trust the reader to know what’s happening by skipping over certain details (i.e., “He offered me his hand, and I took it which pulled me to my feet” can be trimmed down to “He offered me his hand and pulled me to my feet—it’s assumed that she took it). Also, how can we amp up the dialogue so that it goes beyond the typical introductions (“my name is”)? What might they say to each other in their first exchange that pulls the reader in (and each other in)? Lastly, the death of Eve’s mom is mentioned without a clear reaction from Eve. She might not want to dwell on it in her thoughts, but how might she physically react to indicate some sort of turmoil? Her mother died recently, so I can only assume it’s an important factor in the story. If it isn’t, I wouldn’t mention it so soon (and that it happened so recently).
Linda thanks for sharing your time and expertise with all of us. It is much appreciated.