Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 29, 2016

Free Fall Friday – First Page Results


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Below are the four first page critiques by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill from Red Fox Literary.

Stephanie Fretwell-Hill represents both authors and illustrators of board books, picture books, middle grade, and young adult. She will consider stories in any genre, but looks for a strong voice, rich and multi-layered plots, and stylish, classic, or quirky illustrations. Most of all, she loves anything that really makes her laugh.

How to submit: Stephanie will be open to unsolicited submissions for six months (ending mid-July 2016). Please send art samples, complete picture book text, or first three chapters of a novel (and a query) to querystephanie [at]

BLUE SHADOW by Karen Konnerth – Picture Book 514 words

Nobody ever noticed that Isha had an extra shadow. It was blue.

It lived in her house even though she never fed it, following her everywhere, whispering in her ear.

“Are you sure you should try that? It looks hard.”

“Quiet, shadow!”

“She has lots of friends. She probably won’t talk to you.”

“Shadow, stop!”

“Maybe better to just watch. You might drop the ball.”

Isha stamped her foot. “Shoo, shadow. Leave me alone!”

But the blue shadow stayed.

The only one who understood about the blue shadow was Pepper. She told Pepper everything and he always listened.

Until one day there was a hole under the fence, and Pepper was gone.

She called and called but he did not come.

She drew posters. “Lost speckled dog. Please return to 43 Winter Street”.

Then it rained. (posters washed out)

The blue shadow grew to fill every corner of Isha’s room. It filled the backyard. It filled the sky.

Maybe the neighbors had seen Pepper.

“You can’t ask them,” the shadow whispered. “You don’t know them.”

Isha thought of Pepper’s waggy tail. She put her shoes on.

“Stop,” the shadow sighed. “You will bother them.”

Isha thought of Pepper’s brown eyes.

She stood up. The shadow hissed. (hands over ears)

She froze at the neighbor’s door then tapped very softly.

Here’s Stephanie’s Thoughts:


by Karen Konnerth

You have a really interesting concept here—the idea of personifying a character’s emotions in this way feels unique and intriguing. I think if you’re going to do this, though, every aspect of the metaphor needs to be consistent and carefully thought through.

Why doesn’t anyone else see Isha’s shadow? Is there really no one else in her life who recognizes her insecurities, besides her dog? By stating this fact as the first line in the story, you set it up to be of major importance.

Also, does Isha really not feed the shadow? If not, who does? How did it get into her house? Why does it stay? How does it grow or change? You seem to be setting up the shadow as something totally separate from Isha, something she has no control over. In the very beginning, Isha herself is a kind of passive victim. But I would argue that people do have some agency when it comes to their emotions; they are able to make choices to feed or wallow in or ignore the emotions they experience. I think that’s the conclusion you are probably headed toward, and if you are, I think you need to be careful that every piece of the metaphor you’re using lines up from beginning to end.

At the end of the page, we see Isha find the courage to knock on the door of the neighbor’s house—where does this courage come from? We haven’t seen the plot build to this moment—she’s just thought of her dog and suddenly decided to do it. It’s important to construct a convincing story arc that builds on itself. The stakes need to increase gradually until we reach the climactic moment. I think you could benefit from thinking more carefully about the plot’s structure and pace.

Overall, the heart of this story—the personification of Isha’s insecurities—is an interesting idea. Tighten your manuscript’s focus through metaphor and plot to make that heart really show through.


Carol Murray     Ricardo’s Surprise    Picture Book

Ricardo’s Surprise                          

Come one, Come all, to the Dinosaur Ball.

It’s a blast! And the food is Tex-Mex.

The burritos with cheese will undoubtedly please,

but beware of Ricardo T- Rex! (RSVP 1-800-DIN0)


The guests were excited, and all were delighted to come to the party at five.

With partners or single, they started to mingle and visit together and jive.

But the dark of the night held a bit of a fright for the King would be venturing out.

T- Rex, “Oh, my golly! It’s hard to be jolly when danger is lurking about.” 

He’d be ready to snatch anyone he could catch, but the Dinos invented a plan.

They would station a guard on a hill in a yard as a lookout to signal and scan.

If T- Rex should appear or be anywhere near, then the guard standing tall as a tree,

would bang on a bell, and its clanging would tell all the dinosaur guests they must flee.

So they gathered together in sunshiny weather in spite of Old Rex and his brood,

but as fun filled the air, they forgot to beware, and that rascal was up to no good!

Babette Brontosaurus, who sang in the chorus made eyes at Tom Triceratops,

who was playing trombone, in a sweet baritone, adding wiggles and jiggles and bops.

The kids all insisted on doing the twist while Pteranodon gobbled the peas,

and one little fellow grabbed Nachos and Jello and circled the floor on his knees.

The land-dwelling joggers, both tappers and cloggers, performed at a furious rate,

while the beasts of the sea scoffing, fiddle-dee-dee, chose a spot on the sundeck and ate.

Alas, they forgot! They did not give a thought to the King and his terrible plan,

but out in the valley, with no dilly-dally, he crashed and he splashed as he ran. 

The Dinos were dancing and feasting and prancing. In short, they were having a ball,

when the guard’s frantic yell split the clang of the bell, “Ricardo is charging the Hall!” 

He opened the door, and he trampled the floor, and he flaunted his choppers and claws,

and he wiggled his tail with a flippety flail. Then he stopped with a strange little pause. 

A shudder went through every guest for they knew he could swallow their bodies, un-chewed, but his eyes glittered bright as he roared with delight,Tex-Mex — that’s my favorite food!”

Then he crashed the buffet with his teeth for a plate, and he shouted, Carumba! This looks simply great.And he ate, and he ate, and he ate, and he ate:

Thirty-four tacos and mountains of beans, Chalupas with salsa, tostadas, and greens, Burritos with cheese and a large Enchilada. Was anything missing? No, No, Nada, Nada!

“Why, thank you!” he offered. There’s just one thing more.

I’ve a lovely surprise. Yes, I have it in store.

If you’ll all stand aside I’ll be needing the floor. ”

(And with that, he emitted a sly little roar.) 

Then Ricardo T-Rex did a Mexican Hat Dance, and quietly slipped out the door > > >>>.

Here’s Stephanie’s Thoughts:


by Carol Murray

This is a fun and energetic text, and you’ve left space for some wonderful illustrations.

Your rhyme is good, but not great. People say it all the time, and I’m going to repeat it here: rhyme is a very difficult thing to sell, both to agents and to editors. One reason is that rhyme forces writers to choose words or ideas that don’t necessarily fit the story.

I’m afraid you’ve done that in a few places here. For example: “T- Rex, “Oh, my golly! It’s hard to be jolly when danger is lurking about.” This line is unclear: who is the speaker? Be careful to keep your sentence structure and punctuation grammatically correct, even when you’re trying to fit your scheme. Later, you refer to “T-Rex and his brood.” Until this point, the reader is led to believe that Ricardo T-Rex is the problem, but now it sounds like he may have a whole posse?

I’d like to see you strengthen the story arc—the conflict and resolution are both a little weak. The attendees knew right from the invitation that T-Rex would be out—so where’s the danger? There’s no tension in this conflict, and the partygoers don’t take any action to solve or avoid it. It doesn’t build, or become progressively more complicated. And in the end, it was the expected solution for T-Rex to join the party.

But there are plenty of potential themes for you to develop here—for one thing, maybe T-Rex feels bad that he keeps getting left out of the fun? The invite is a little mean, specifically calling him out like that. How would you feel if you were poor T-Rex? Perhaps the partygoers would like him better, if they just gave him a chance. OR, maybe there’s something in here about fear and misunderstanding? People often lash out at others whose beliefs, practices, culture, etc they don’t understand.

I think this is a case where you can dig deeper—I hope I’ve given you some inspiration to develop your ideas further!


ALIENS IN SCHOOL By Karen L. Casale – Picture Book

An official report from the Galactic Alien Watch just came in confirming that aliens from Planet Up2NoGood have taken over this school! These aliens look just like human children, but act very differently. Your mission, if you choose to accept is to spot and capture these aliens.

Do you accept this mission? I can’t hear you. Do you accept this mission?

Raise your right foot and repeat after me. I promise to search high and low and middlish for aliens. I promise to help in the capture of misbehaving space creatures. Boop! Bleep! Blip! Tomato Head! And I promise to pat my head and scratch my belly at the same time anytime I say Tomato Head in this book. Now that you’re sworn in let’s get started.

Looks like that girl is climbing up a display in the hallway. Human or alien? No one should climb on displays, tables, or chairs. And never climb on the principal’s back.

Excellent work. Maybe the Intergalactic Alien Patrol should hire you.

Let’s check the library. There’s a kid drawing in a book. Now he’s ripped the page.

MY EYES!!!! Definitely alien.

Books should be treated like newborn babies. Do not draw on them or rip them. Hold them carefully. Hug them when carrying them up to checkout. And please don’t plop books or babies down on the checkout desk. Though I’m pretty sure you can’t borrow a baby from the library. But you can borrow a book about babies. Maybe even alien babies.

Do you know why books are way better than babies?

Books don’t drool on your shirt.

Here’s Stephanie’s Thoughts:


by Karen L. Casale

You have a good voice, and I love that you’ve chosen to tell this story in the most uncommon POV of all—2nd person! This is a tough POV to use, but you’ve made it work here. Well done!

This is a funny manuscript and I like the interactive quality. I wonder if it wouldn’t be stronger if you specified the rules or techniques for identifying aliens vs. children. That way, the reader can use the criteria you’ve specified to participate in the hunt.

Once we start spotting aliens, I worry that the tone becomes a little too preachy. Though you’ve softened it with humor, lines like “No one should climb on displays, tables, or chairs” come across as too message-driven.

Another quality that may limit the marketability of ALIENS IN SCHOOL is that it is shaping up to be more of a list (don’t climb on stuff, take care of books, x, y, z) than a story with a narrative arc. Be aware that most editors are looking for stories with a beginning, middle, and end.

You have a funny concept—I hope you’ll look at the theme and plot structure to help make your appealing voice shine!


Anisa Smile.    Big Bully.       Middle-grade

I should have left the stupid soccer ball in the woods. I should have let it stay lost in all the roots and broken branches. Why did I have to pick it up for anyway, bring it over like some dumb puppy trying to get adopted or . . . make a friend?

I stare at the blood on my hands, on my pants, the boys head on my knee. Saleh’s head . . . our soccer champ neighbor. They’ll think I did it. They’ll know I did, threw the ball in the road so the kid would go after it and get run over . . . because I’m the bully. I’m always the bully. This is the kind of stuff I do.

The truck’s gone, but the dust on the dirt road is thick and stuffy in the sun. It stings my eyes, chokes my throat. I can see the man’s bony finger still in my face, his beer-breath hot. “You tell anyone anything – I swear if you speak a word, I’ll be back. I know where you live. I’ll take you out, wring your neck till you’re not breathing no more, kill your family, you hear?”

There’s a rustle in the long grass on the side of the empty road. Sabir’s standing there, his eyes wild, staring at his brother on the ground, not coming any closer . . . just staring.

“Jerry,” he croaks slowly. “Is he . . . is Saleh . . . dead?”

I look down at the closed eyes. They’re so still. Every bit of him so limp and still.

“I think so,” I say, afraid I’m going to cry.

Sabir makes a choking sound, and then runs off toward the trees. “Have to tell my mom.”

“No . . . wait!”

He doesn’t stop. I swear and stumble to my feet, dragging Saleh out of the road.

I catch Sabir just before his foot touches the edge of the lawn, grab his skinny arm and we both go crashing to the ground. “Don’t tell them it was me,” I say, out of breath. “Don’t say anything about me or . . . or you’re dead.”

Here’s Stephanie’s Thoughts:


by Anisa Smile

You have a chilling start! I like that you’ve chosen to begin during a dramatic scene, but I wish you hadn’t started after the accident and then flashed back to the cause of it. We haven’t had enough time to get our bearings in the present before we enter the flashback. Why not just start with the scene of the accident and show it in real time?

The opening is a little confusing, I think partly because of the flashback, but also because we’re trying to quickly understand what we’re seeing. The first line is about a soccer ball, then suddenly we’re dealing with blood and death. What is the setting? Who is who? What’s happening? It takes until the end of the section you’ve given me for me to understand that we are looking at a hit and run—middle grade readers (and editors and agents) won’t give you that long. They’ll read the first few lines or paragraphs, and when they find themselves working too hard, they’ll lose interest.

Remember to show rather than telling the reader what they need to know. I only know that the speaker is a bully because of the title and because he says “I’m the bully.” I’d rather see him make choices and take actions that reveal him to be a bully.

Please be sure to proofread your work very carefully. There are quite a few typos and errors in this, which I’m afraid will give agents and editors a negative impression.

Simplify your storytelling to hook readers in and pull them through. You’ve given us a nice cliffhanger at the end, which opens the possibilities for the story to drive forward.


Talk tomorrow,



  1. Is there a link for the call for Mother’s Day poetry? It’s not working on my end. Thank you! -Pamela Ross

    Sent from my iPhone



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