Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 28, 2017

July Featured Editor – First Page Results

Dr Mira Reisberg editor at Clear Fork Publishing’s children’s imprint Spork has agreed to be our featured editor for the month of July and critique four first pages. Besides being an editor, she is a multi-published, award-winning children’s book illustrator and author whose books have sold over 600,000 copies. She also runs and continues to help children’s book writers and illustrators get published with the courses she conducts at the Children’s Book Academy. In a former life not too long ago, Mira was a literary agent and a children’s literature professor. She has a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on kid lit.

Here are the four first pages critiques:

Maria Marshall            MINA MUMMERINA          Picture Book

Mina knew she’d be a ballerina. She wore her tutu and pink slippers everywhere – in the snow, in the sand box, even to the pool.

Her parents weren’t so sure. After all, Mina tripped on her feet, stumbled up the stairs, and crashed into walls.

But Mina loved to leap, to twirl, and to chasse. Sometimes her friends wished she wouldn’t.

Finally, Mina joined a ballet class. But in class, Mina wobbled and toppled into others. Mina winced, her teacher sighed. Then she stumbled into the barre, instead of leaping across the floor. Mina shrugged, her teacher frowned. When she smashed into the piano, the teacher suggested Mina might try a different activity.

Mina pouted and plotted all the way home. She’d show them. She’d practice by herself.

The next day, Mina looked for a place to practice. An odd music floated on a breeze. Mina tripped through the trees. In a clearing, she saw ….

a mummy ballet class!

The students wobbled, stumbled, and crashed through their lesson. Their teacher applauded.

They dance just like me, Mina thought. She sprinted home and grabbed supplies. Then she raced back toward the woods and wrapped herself up. With her disguise complete, Mina approached the teacher. She tripped and slipped.

“Bravo,” said Miss Elina, “a talented new student.”

Mina grinned and joined the other mummies in line.

HERE IS MIRA’S CRITIQUE:

Maria Marshall – Mina Mummerina

Hi Maria, how lovely to get to see this. It sounds really fun and what a great mashup of ballerinas and mummies. Love it! Here are my comments and suggestions. Usually you want to avoid cutesy alliterative names and titles but in this case it works really well and is just the right amount of cute, especially in regards to what the story is about. I think you could cut down on your word count and tighten your language by using illustration notes rather than including the descriptions in the text. I’d also amp up the drama just a smidge in the first line by using the word, always. For example, Mina always knew she’d be a ballerina. Then I would delete the rest of that section and put it in square brackets like this [illustration suggestion: show Mina wearing her tutu and ballet slippers in the snow, in the sand box, and at the pool.] then “Her parents weren’t so sure.” [illustration suggestion: show Mina tripping on her feet stumbling up the stairs and crashing into walls] And so forth.

Doing this will also help the reader get to the really fun stuff about the mummy dance group much faster, which really seems to be the heart of your story.

My only other comment is that a lot of people are not going to know what “chasse” is – myself included. When you introduce a word that is unfamiliar it takes us out of the story and the flow, so if you are going to do this, you need to either gives really good contextual cues/clues, an explanation, or better yet use something that is familiar, unless you’re goal is educating about ballet, in which case you’d need the explanation.

Finally I want to really encourage you to take out every description and example that can be shown in pictures rather than words and see how that reads. I think you’ll find that your text gets a lot snappier and more fun.


My Father’s Chopsticks by Cecile Mazzucco-Than  Picture Book

“Jamie, save my oyster shucker!” Mom yells to me.

Dad shakes his head. “A pair of chopsticks is all a good cook needs.”

Mom disagrees. “A good cook needs lots of tools! I can’t donate any of my fryers, flippers, or flakers to the rummage sale!”

I referee. “Dad, Mom, meet at the stove ready to cook on one, two, THREE!”

“Faai gi. Chopsticks!” Dad yells.

Whisks fly. Graters tumble. Spoons jangle.

“Passatutto!” Mom cries. “Food mill!”

“What’s that?” I whisper.

“Only a million gadgets in one,” she replies.

“Chao!” Dad’s chopsticks skate around a hot wok pushing sizzling veggies and meat. “One pan. One tool.”

“Stir fry? Fajitas and guacamole coming up.” Mom smashes avocado in the food mill and paddles veggies and steak strips through hissing oil with a wooden spoon, then scoops them out with a slotted spoon.

“One pan, three tools,” Dad grumbles.

“A good cook needs lots of tools,” Mom insists.

I crunch a snow pea from Dad’s dish and a pepper slice from Mom’s.

“Flying chopsticks vs. gourmet gadgets. Round One, Tie!” I announce. “Round Two. Give me the best you’ve got!”

Dad’s chopsticks twirl and toss. He boils and sautes, steams and deep fries. Plates of mai fan, siu mai, wonton, and chao fan make our kitchen table more mouthwatering than a Dim Sum cart.

HERE IS MIRA’S CRITIQUE:

My Father’s Chopsticks by Cecile Mazzucco

Hi Cecile, I’m delighted to see you here. Because I know you, I know that brevity is not one of your superpowers, so that’s one of the things that I want to focus on. But before I do, I want to say that I really like the multicultural aspects of this, that it’s about food, and that it has a lot of potential. From what I can tell of the title, it sounds like it is a competition between the mom and the dad. So a title like “The Great Chopstick Battle” or “The Mom and Dad Food Wars” might be more fun – just a suggestion to take or leave.

I’m also a little concerned about the main focus being on the mom and dad. As you know, with fiction, you want to have mostly kid characters, so I might switch this to twin brothers or a brother and a sister who are battling it out and maybe one is representing Team Mom and the other is representing Team Dad. I am a huge fan of Master Chef Junior, which I think is on Hulu. I really encourage you to watch it as you can get inspired by language and all sorts of things from it, plus it’s a lot of fun. However having said this, there are always exceptions to the avoiding adult character prohibition, such as A Rainy Day for Amos McGee and other books that feature adult characters. What I’m doing here is just throwing out things for you to consider.

In terms of editing for brevity, I feel like there’s too much explanation/expository type text using dialogue to get the “message/information” across in the beginning. And although it’s fun language, it doesn’t seem to move the story forward for me. The beginning of the story is really critical in hooking the reader in. I think you could easily start with, “Chao!” Dad’s Chopsticks skate around a hot wok. “One pan. One tool,” he says.

Am so happy to reconnect with you here. Kid’s cooking is big on TV although the ages are more middle grade. I imagine it could be in a kid’s book as well, especially if either the parents are around as secondary characters or you use animal characters. Hmm lots to think about. I hope that some of it is helpful.


Michelle Kogan TRUDY’S GHOST Picture Book

Truuuuudyyy It’s almost time,” a mysterious voice said.

Hmmm, who’s that? thought Trudy.

“Oh–time to go trick-or-treating, but I have to CLEAN MY ROOM!”             Trudy trudged through her piles of books, wishing they would grow wings and fly to their shelves.

“Uuugh, there’s too much to do,” she said.  And so she curled up in a corner and started reading.

“Truuuuudyyy,” a mysterious voice said again. “Huh?” she asked, fumbling over her books.

“Find your costume…  NOW!” said the voice.

“It’s getting kinda creepy in here. I don’t believe in ghosts, I…” CREEEAK!                “I do!” said Trudy.  “My costume, hmmm . . . My tights, my wings, my-huh where’s my mask?”

Trudy couldn’t find her mask anywhere. She looked in her costume box, no mask. She looked in her bookshelf, no mask. She tried looking in her closet, but she could barely open the door.

“Where’s my MAAAASK?” moaned Trudy. “If I don’t tidy up I won’t ever find my mask, and if I don’t tidy up I can’t go trick-or-“

Truuuuudyyy,” said a mysterious voice a third time. “Last call to tidy uuuuhhhhuup!”

“It’s definitely creepy in here. Yup! I better tidy up…”

HERE IS MIRA’S CRITIQUE:

Michelle Kogan – Trudy’s ghost

Hi Michelle, I think you have a potentially terrific story here but I had some concerns that I’d like to share in case they are helpful for you. I got a little confused about who was speaking when it went from the ghost speaking to… “It’s getting kind of creepy in here…” Creak, and then “I do!”… I’m kind of lifted out of the narrative because I’m trying to figure it out. While I really like your voice, I felt that there was so much description of Trudy meeting the ghost and procrastinating about cleaning up her room and looking for the mask that it was taking too long to get into the meat of your actual story, which I imagine is the relationship between Trudy and her ghost as they have some kind of Halloween adventure.

I think you could summarize this page and streamline it into one paragraph by seeing what can be shown in iIllustration notes and asking yourself what is really essential to move the story forward? You have exquisite lines like, “Trudy trudged through her piles of books, wishing they would grow wings and fly to their shelves.” This is just gorgeous. But then you have four lines of Trudy trying to find her mask, which isn’t that interesting and could easily be summarized or shown in illustrations.

I hope that this is helpful for you and that I haven’t been too direct or blunt. Picture books are so constrained by word counts and the need to really cut to the chase, so it’s essential that you only include what’s really needed to tell a terrific story and let go of the rest even though it can be painful to do so. Best of luck to you with what sounds like a story could be tons of fun.


The Tricky Challenge          Eleanor Sedlak       Picture Book

It was the day of the King’s Challenge and Olivia knew there was a mountain of apples she had to peel in the kitchen, but when she heard Princess Arabella reading a story, she couldn’t resist listening. She LOVED stories.  She wished she could understand the funny squiggles so she could read and write like Arabella.

“Today’s Challenge will be my chance!” she told herself, as she hurried back to the kitchen.

“It’s about to start,” squealed Katie peeking out the window at the huge crowd in the courtyard.

“This year,” the King announced, “the Challenge is against Fortis, the strongest man in the land. Whoever finds something Fortis cannot hold for five minutes, will win one wish.”

Olivia’s heart sank. “I have to win, but how can I compete against the strongest man in the land?”

“You’ll think of something,” Katie tried to reassure her. Olivia felt so nervous. She knew all her friends were counting on her.

Olivia thought desperately as she peeled apples and watched people challenge Fortis. “He can hold heavy weights, huge tree trunks and enormous boulders. What could possibly be too heavy?”

Katie took the last pot off the fire and threw sand on the flames to put it out. “Foolish Duke Oro!” she cried, as a dazzling figure flashed past the door. They crept outside to get a closer look.

“You won’t be able to hold all my treasure!” Duke Oro boasted to Fortis. “My wish will be for everything I touch to turn to gold.”

Fortis took a deep breath, bent his knees, and lifted the treasure chest.

“1!” everyone counted.

“2!”

HERE IS MIRA’S CRITIQUE:

Eleanor Sedlak – The Tricky Challenge

Hi Eleanor, thank you for submitting this – it has some lovely elements to it with lots of potential. But I wanted to give you a heads up that even though I’m personally a sucker for a story with princesses and challenges, there doesn’t seem to be a big market for them these days unless there’s something ironic or something that turns the traditional fairytale type story on its head in some way, such as gender reversals, having the characters be diverse in some way, or making them animals or aliens. In other words, how can you make this different from the stories most of us grew up with and add contemporary relevance or fun? Still, don’t let this put you off as there are always exceptions, and just because traditional sounding stories aren’t getting published a whole lot, it doesn’t mean this won’t be, especially if you make it really magical, with elements of surprise, and gripping page turns using beautiful language.

Your first page brought up some questions that I thought needed to be answered. Why does Olivia have to win? Why were her friends counting on her and for what? And then who is Katie and what is her relationship to Olivia? Whenever you raise questions in your reader’s mind (unless the questions are intentional of course) it takes the reader out of the story and totally interrupts the flow, which you want to avoid. I might also mention Katie and Olivia names where you write, “they crept outside to get a closer look.” So that it reads, Katie and Olivia crept outside… so the reader doesn’t have to wonder who “they” are.

I hope that this is helpful for you in some way, and do remember that however many people look at your first pages or stories, that’s how many opinions you’ll get. Think of all the people who thought Dr. Seuss, or J. K. Rowling, or Yuyi Morales or Kate diCamillo’s, or so many other author’s stories wouldn’t get published, and then they did.


Bio: Mira Reisberg has helped MANY authors and illustrators get published. She has worn just about every hat in the industry including illustrator, author, and literary agent. Mira holds a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on children’s literature. She has taught children’s literature courses at Washington State University, Northern Illinois University, San Francisco City College Extension, and US Berkeley Extension. Mira also works as an editor and art director at Clear Fork Publishing’s children’s book imprint Spork. Plus an award-winning children’s book illustrator and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChildrensBookAc

Thank you Mira for sharing your expertise and time to help improve our writing. We all appreciate it.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Thanks Mira, I appreciate your reviewing my first page and all your succinct ideas! I’ll share my changes with my writing group when we meet next month. And thanks Kathy for sharing Mira, and her keen comments with us.

    Like

  2. Kathy, thanks for doing the First Pages. It is such a treat to be able to read all the comments and suggestions for improving a story, from so many agents and editors. I’ve learned a lot by reading many great PB, MG & YA pages and their critiques. Thank you Mira for your suggestions and insights. I truly appreciate your time. Hope you have fun at Clear Fork!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Mira! First page critiques are invaluable! 😀

    Like

  4. Mira, thank you very much for your helpful comments. I really appreciate your suggestions.
    Kathy, I’ve only recently found your website, but it’s great, thank you!

    Like

  5. Thank you, Kathy and Mira! I was reading all of it very carefully. There is so much to learn from this critiques which are professional and constructive.

    Like


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