Posted by: Kathy Temean | June 30, 2017

June Featured Editor: Allison Wortche – First Page Results

Many of you will remember Allison Wortche, since she attended many of the NJSCBWI events during my 10 years as Regional Advisor. Allison is a very good editor and a very nice person. When Allison contacted me about her new company Allison Wortche Editorial Services, I asked her to be our guest editor this month and critique four of our first pages. I was happy to introduce her to everyone – especially since many of you ask for my advice on finding someone to help you polish your manuscript for publication.


Allison Wortche is a freelance editor with over twelve years of experience in children’s publishing. As a senior editor at Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House, Allison acquired and edited picture books and middle-grade and YA novels. She worked with bestselling and award-winning authors including Jennifer Niven, Cath Crowley, Amy Timberlake, Deborah Hopkinson, Jean Reagan, Barb Rosenstock, Jen Bryant, and Il Sung Na. The books Allison edited in her years at Knopf garnered over 50 starred reviews and included New York Times bestsellers, a Caldecott Honor Book, a Newbery Honor Book, Edgar Award winners, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book, ALA Notables, and YALSA BFYAs.

Allison is also the author of Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine, illustrated by Patrice Barton. She graduated summa cum laude from the College of William and Mary with a BA in English and Psychology. She lives in New York with her husband, three-year-old, and new baby.

Allison has recently launched Allison Wortche Editorial Services. With her knowledge of the children’s marketplace and publishing process, she offers editorial and creative guidance to authors of picture books through YA. She loves words, characters, and stories—and she loves working with writers to help strengthen their manuscripts. For more information, please contact her at


DRAGON WINGS by Robin Currie – PB

No sign of them at all!

Victoria Dragon twisted to look over her left shoulder. She turned to look under her right arm. Victoria Dragon wanted to fly, but her wings had not grown yet. She was already three years and three months and three days old. Where were her wings?

“Maybe there is a magic to growing wings. I’ll ask the Great High Wizard of Winged Things!”

Victoria Dragon did a Happy Dragon Dance and sang.

“To the Wizard’s Woods I go!

Wings need magic so they’ll grow!”

She approached his throne and said, “Great High Wizard of Winged Things, I am three years and three months and three days old, and I want to fly. Please give me magic to make my wings grow.”

The Great High Wizard of Winged Things said, “Time is the only magic.”

But when he saw her sad face, he added, “I lost a feather from my wizard cape. Bring me a Fuchsia Feather from the Bola Bird. Your wings will grow.”

Victoria Dragon did a Jumba Rumpus dance and sang.

“Up the Bola Tree I go!

Wings need magic so they’ll grow!”

She clambered to the nest of the Bola Bird and said, “Pretty Bola Bird! Please give me a Fuchsia Feather. I’ll take it to the Great High Wizard of Winged Things. I want magic to grow wings.”



There are a lot of lovely things here. The refrain (“To the Wizard’s Woods I go!/Wings need magic so they’ll grow!”) is fun to read aloud—I can imagine kids joining right in. The voice also feels child-friendly and playful, with nice alliteration and repetition.

My main question is: Why does Victoria Dragon want her wings so badly? You might set this up a little more clearly—to drive the story and also help the reader connect with Victoria. Do her fellow dragons have their wings already, and she feels left out? Is there somewhere she wants to fly? Has she always wanted wings, like her parents/older sibling/etc.?

I’m also curious: Is it true that “time is the only magic,” or can the wizard really help Victoria if she brings the feather? This might be addressed later in the manuscript, but that moment where the wizard changes his mind felt a little off (and abrupt) to me. Maybe a different reason for Victoria visiting the Bola Bird?


PLAYING SOLO by Shari Schwarz – Middle Grade, mystery

Last summer, I raced out this door and swore I’d never come back again.

Now I lean forward to enter the lodge, but my feet won’t move. My French horn, heavy in my hand, pulls me down to the wooden porch and glues me to this spot even more. Above me, a banner snaps in the wind:

Welcome to Music Camp of the Rockies
75th Anniversary

My lungs burn. The familiar note of F-sharp rings in my ear, reminding me to breathe.

I don’t know if I can do this. What if I fail again?

My therapist’s voice comes to me like an echo in the mountains.

First things, first: Reset your breathing. Suck in a deep breath, hold it for ten seconds and let it out. Repeat three times.
I take a breath and count to ten.

Second things, second: Find Mom. Convince her to take me home.

There, that helps, even if it’s not what my therapist would say.

I turn to look for Mom when cool, slender fingers grasp my free hand. “Ready, Tori?” Liza asks.

I gulp my worries down and follow her inside where the stone fireplace fights off the mountain breeze.
Liza bounds toward a group of girls. “Hi, I’m Liza! This is…”

But I’m out of there. I recognize a couple of them from last summer so I steer clear. Who knows what they think of me. I can’t deal with looks of sympathy or weird questions.


This opening page tells us a lot about Tori: she’s a musician—just arriving at music camp, she attended last year when something (humiliating?) happened, her mother is with her, she’s nervous/dealing with anxiety, she sees a therapist, she has a friend named Liza….

I think the reader will be pulled in, especially with the hints about the previous summer. My main thought, though, is that there might be too much packed into this first page—it feels a little choppy, and a little rushed. I’d suggest taking more time, slowing down the pace—we may not need to hear about the therapist, mom, Liza, and the other girls in these first few paragraphs. Give us a chance to meet Tori first. You might also make room for more of the setting—just a few more details to make the opening feel richer (I like “the stone fireplace fights off the mountain breeze”). And maybe one more clue about last summer to really hook the reader: “What if I fail again? What if ___________?” I think it’s an inviting start!


Flash Drive Diary: Millennial Challenge by Frankie Wallace – YA

“What’s this?” Brandon’s mom was holding a small flash drive. When he looked up from his cereal in order to see what she was talking about, he was forced to hide his fear and surprise.

“Oh, that. It has a PowerPoint thing I’m working on for school.”

“It’s not your usual drive. Is this new?” Brandon’s mom kept track of every small detail in the house; he was mortified that she found the object. He thought he had it buried well enough in his backpack but apparently in her search for this month’s school calendar she found it. He would have to hide it better next time, or find a different place.

“It belongs to the school. It’s a group project so we take turns bringing it home. My regular drive is on the computer desk.” He tried to sound convincing, lying to his mother was new behavior for Brandon.

“Oh, okay. What’s the project?”

Brandon made up another lie by telling her it was a government class project about the making of the constitution. It was the first thing that came to mind and somewhat truthful; they were currently covering the origins of the sacred document in his history class. “Jacob, Adam, Spencer and I are all working on it together.”

“Great, you’ll have to show it to me when you’re finished. I promise I won’t make any changes. Better hurry up, you’ll be late if you don’t leave in a couple of minutes.”

“I’m done now.” Brandon rinsed out his bowl, placed it in the dishwasher and gave his mom a short peck on the cheek before he left the house. “See you later mom.”

“Goodbye honey, I’ll see you this afternoon. Remember, there’s youth group tonight.”

His heart was racing as he stepped out into the autumn air, and his head was a chaotic mess of emotions and thoughts. “Oh god that was close.” Brandon had almost never disobeyed his parents, nor did he really have any kind of rebellion in his soul, which is why the deception over


You’ve given the reader a good sense of the relationship between Brandon and his mother in just a few paragraphs. And you’ve created immediate tension with the flash drive, which will help pull readers in.

The main thing I’d suggest working on is the voice—see if you can make it feel more natural and teen-authentic, and look for places to tighten up the writing. For example, sentences like “When he looked up from his cereal in order to see what she was talking about, he was forced to hide his fear and surprise.” Another example is the paragraph beginning “His heart was racing…” I like the idea that Brandon is pretending to be someone he’s not—that line feels important, but I think we could get to it sooner. And here are a few phrases that felt un-teen-like to me: “they were currently covering the origins of the sacred document” “nor did he really have any kind of rebellion in his soul” “he was certain she would see through his ruse.”

You might also think about how you want the narrative and the diary entries to work together to enhance the story and reading experience. If there’s too much overlap, it’ll start to feel repetitive and we’ll lose the momentum, so that’s something to consider as you move forward.


ON THE ROCKS by Traci Grigg – YA

The universe had not tossed Logan Parker into Inner Harmony, Sedona’s Finest Crystal Shop. Her parents had. It was that simple. And that complicated.

After Logan agreed to start the next day – she had been unable to think of a plausible excuse to put it off – Jasmine launched into a detailed and lengthy explanation of how crystals healed mind, body, and spirit.

Logan stared at her. Did people really believe this?

Crystals in pinks, greens, blues, purples, indigo and black spilled out of plastic bins and glass bowls like a discordant color wheel of shimmering rocks. The heavy scent of incense filled the air.

How could her dad have lined up a summer job for her here? There must be a decent clothing store or jewelry place somewhere. Logan should’ve been back in Connecticut teaching sailing to eight year olds, being a counselor-in-training with Jack.

“Don’t worry about the cash register. I’ll walk you through your first few sales.” Jasmine smiled at Logan. “You’ll catch on in no time.”

The chimes rang and a woman in her thirties walked into the store breathless. “I’m so glad you’re still open. My niece graduates next week and I want to give her something mystical she can carry with her in college. She’s going all the way to Maine.”

Logan perked up. Just hearing the name of a New England state made her feel more alive.

Jasmine smiled. “I have the perfect crystal.” She lifted a prism shaped iridescent stone out of an ebony bowl and held it up to the light. “Crystal quartz, a pure and powerful energy source to guide her, stimulate her brain, and bring harmony to her soul.”


This is a strong start. The opening paragraph is great, and the page feels nicely balanced—a bit of humor, some descriptive language, some dialogue (I like the way you’ve slipped the dialogue into the narrative without tags), and some small hints about Logan’s past and how she feels about her present. Overall, I’m intrigued and would keep reading.

Just a few nitpicky things:
* I might suggest rephrasing the questions; they feel a little forced. (“Did people really believe this? How could her dad have lined up a summer job for her here?”)

* This sentence feels wordy to me—take another look? “After Logan agreed to start the next day—she had been unable to think of a plausible excuse to put it off—Jasmine launched into a detailed and lengthy explanation of how crystals healed mind, body, and spirit.”

* Something to keep an eye on as you continue—I noticed three paragraphs beginning with similar sentences: “Logan stared at her. Logan perked up. Jasmine smiled.” Just be sure you don’t fall into this pattern too often throughout.


Thank you Allison for taking time out of your busy schedule to share you knowledge with us. Wishing you the best with your new editorial service. Keep in touch.

Talk tomorrow,




  1. Thank you, Kathy, for this opportunity! And thank you, Allison, for your feedback that rings true to me! I’m so grateful…now to hit the pages and dig in.

    -Shari Schwarz


  2. I learned a lot from these critiques (one is actually a mistake I’ve made in a WIP)! Thank you, Allison and Kathy.


  3. I am grateful for the critiques, I always learn from them, and am pleasantly surprised to see my first page included. Much appreciation to the both Kathy and Allison of you for all you do to encourage and inspire us authors!


  4. These professional comments are always so enlightening 🙂


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