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August Featured Editor, Julia Maguire at Knopf Books for Young Readers reviewed the four first pages. You can find the results below.
She currently edits picture books and middle grade and YA novels. She also, is working with illustrators and picture book writers during a 5 week online course at the Children’s Book Academy, starting next week. You still have time to sign up for this opportunity.
HERE ARE THE RESULTS:
Katie Stanley – Isolation – YA
I can’t endure this much longer.
Jason clicked his phone off, frowning at the persistent Date. The one that marked the three-year anniversary of…”Jason, are you still up there?”
Sighing, he paused the simulation program, locked the laptop and rose, careful of his head against the low roof. And pointedly ignoring the framed picture of his older self in ARMY fatigues. The final picture of…o
No, today’s just any other day. Any regular day. But for good measure, he pulled the rearing horse medal down as he shoved past to the door, letting it clatter to his desk. Jason halted.
He snatched the medal up, jerking the Drawer open and throwing it in, slamming it shut before the medal could hit the papers. Or wasn’t his brother’s old shirt on top…?
“Coming Mom,” he hollered, whipping the door open and tripping over the stupid meowing cat that was bent on claiming the space right outside his door. “Me-orw?”
“Move cat,” he glared at the scruffy calico creature. “And no more treats Myra or you’ll be overweight!” She merely rubbed against his jeans, gently purring. “Nice but that won’t soothe my spirits this time,” he muttered, stepping over her. And of course nearly tripping down the stairs like he was twelve again.
Jason held his breath, just don’t say it. Pretend you didn’t hear me in that vacant, disjointed life you live every June 13. And forget the time we ripped the carpet all the way down the center–
HERE IS WHAT JULIA HAD TO SAY:
This page is certainly setting up an interesting story and the mystery of the medal and what June 13th represents are intriguing, but it is difficult to parse where the focus should be as there is an excess of details delivered very quickly. It is not necessary to provide all the answers upfront, but you should be judicious with the amount that is left for the reader to piece together as they proceed throughout the story.
The frequent use of ellipses is slightly distracting and disrupts the flow, as if the reader is being interrupted. You would be better served to have each new thought on a separate line to avoid confusion of who is speaking. But there is a clear point of view and conflict driving the story forward, so it is a strong start.
Alison Ashley Formento – STAND UP KID – MG 38,000 words
Coach’s whistle blasted my ears. “Jason!” She blew it again. “THWEEEEET!”
“Hello there, Coach.”
Coach Egel stood at one end of the bleachers and waved her arms at me like she was signaling a plane to land. From where I stood, it seemed she was weight-lifting the big banner of Martin Luther King that hung on the gym wall behind her head. Her orange tracksuit matched those giant cones they use for potholes in front of school and all over most of Hoboken.
“What are you doing under the bleachers, Jason?” Coach’s voice reminded me of Mom’s when I told too many jokes before she drank her morning coffee.
“I’m practicing jokes for my stand-up act.” It was the truth. Sort of.
“This is gym class, not joke class, Jason. Everyone at MLK Elementary knows it’s off limits under there.” Coach Egel blew her whistle again and pointed straight at me. If her fingers had superpowers, this one might lift me off the ground and move me through the air.
See, Coach gives me a lot of gruff. Still, I know in my gut and all the way down to my fake toes on my fake leg that Coach Egel will love me someday when I’m famous. I’ll make comedy movies and the Coach can play a mean alien in a tracksuit roaring all over the galaxy. I’ll be the hero whose funny jokes save the universe. Not the fourth grade kid with one leg to stand on, who’s hiding from his cousin Leon under the bleachers at King Elementary.
Leon the Bull. He was the real reason I snuck under those bleachers.
HERE IS WHAT JULIA HAD TO SAY:
Alison Ashley Formento – Stand Up Kid
The setup for conflict between Jason and his cousin is definitely something to look forward to and the description of Coach and the surroundings are good, if slightly forced. It’s not necessary to provide all the information about characters upfront. Some details can unfold naturally as the story goes on. It’s important to assure that the world feels grounded and in order to do that, you want to make sure the seams aren’t showing.
Jason’s ambitions are a good set up for a funny story, so my expectations would be that this is full of lots of jokes and humor. I’m curious about the circumstances of Jason’s fake leg and would look forward to seeing how these elements come together.
Nancy Kelly Allen, ROOSTER’S TALE, Middle Grade Novel
Chapter One: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Trouble
My weather experiment was smoking (for real). The old grump who lives next door (Mom calls her Mrs. Parsnip) hung out her pants on a clothesline to dry. I was testing a candle flame to see how long it would burn in the wind. Away from the tree, the wind blew the flame out. Behind the tree it kept burning. So I moved over near the old grump’s pants. Away from the pants, the wind blew it out. Behind her pants, the wind blew the flame higher. I was watching how high the flame would go when Poof! her pants started smoking.
When I had the candle in the wind, the wind snuffed it out. So I did the smart thing, I huffed out a puff of air. But instead of putting out the flame like I thought, the flame grew bigger and whooshed right up the leg. I huffed and puffed harder to put out the fire. But the flame whooshed higher. Who knew!
I figured I’d experimented enough and turned to run home. That’s when I heard, “You Mister! Stop right there.”
I didn’t have to look back to know who was blabbering. The old grump said, “Something is going to have to be done with that boy.” (That boy would be me.) “He’s a pest and a troublemaker.” (Me, again.)
I hear that woman talking to herself a lot. And it’s always about me. I don’t think that’s normal. Something needs to be done about HER. And she yells like I’m hard of hearing. I am not.
The blabbermouth (her other name) probably said more, but I ran into the house and locked the door. The nice thing about being inside was that I couldn’t hear anything but the refrigerator. It was humming ummmmmmmm.
HERE IS WHAT JULIA HAD TO SAY:
Nancy Kelly Allen-Rooster’s Tale
The sequence of events in the first two paragraphs is hard to follow and the high stakes seem disproportionate to the character’s response. Why isn’t he more alarmed and worried that he has set his neighbors pants on fire? His neighbor, also, doesn’t seem that concerned and she attempts to stop him and then is speaking to who? If you’re going to have characters interact, we should see that on the page. Does he hear her and start running? Does he not take her calls seriously? What is the effect of his actions and how does he respond to them in an authentic way?
The parenthetical asides are funny and clearly this kid is a troublemaker, however well meaning, so there will be plenty to mine in his conflict with his neighbor so there is enough there for a reader to keep going.
Kathy Halsey-Katie and the Catfish – Picture Book
Katie hated catfish, and she refused to eat one now. It sat on her plate. It stared at her.
“Momma, I won’t eat this. It’s part cat, part fish.”
“Sorry, honey, but by the weekend you’d better like them. Dad’s taking you fishing. Your maiden voyage.”
Katie shivered. The idea of …flopping fish, glassy eyes, and worst of all… wiggly whiskers!
Early Saturday morning, Katie and Dad motored to the center of the lake.
Splash. Katie cast her line like Dad did. They waited. Tug, tug. Her line tightened. She struggled. She strained.
Flop, flop. KERPLOP! A wiggly, wriggly catfish stared up at Katie.
“YUCK,” said Katie.
“Yahoo,” said Dad. “Your first catch!” Dad high-fived Katie.
Katie crinkled her nose, “Do I have to eat it? “
“Now, Katie. It’s a Walleye family tradition. Nothing’s better than your first fish.”
Tug, tug. Flop, flop. SMACK ! ANOTHER fish? Katie threw the fish to the deck’s edge.
“Gurgle, gurgle,” said the fish.
“Ya-hoo-oo,” said Dad.
“Yuck,” said Katie.
The deck crawled with catfish and that night Katie dreamed of catfish tickling her with their whiskers, staring at her with glassy eyes.
HERE IS WHAT JULIA HAD TO SAY:
Kathy Halsey-Katie and the Catfish
With a picture book, it is important to keep in mind what needs to be in the text and what can be depicted in the artwork. This will help keep things moving along and not slow down the pace, especially when you are using a lot of dialogue.
You could get the story stared quicker if you open with Katie and her Dad on the way on the boat and Katie’s distaste with catfish coming up as they begin fishing. Then the reader is right at the center of the action from the start.
The imagery here is slightly confusing. How many fish did Katie and her father catch that day that the deck “crawled with catfish”? And why don’t we see Katie having to eat the catfish she caught the first day? If you are introducing an action, readers need to see the result. I do look forward to seeing if Katie changes her mind about catfish and what turns that tide. I would love to see increasingly silly things happen with Katie and the catfish since she has such a strong feeling about them. The story is really ripe for a funny payoff.
Thank you Julia for sharing your time and expertise with us. Keep in touch.
Here is the link to Part One of Julia’s Interview.