Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 22, 2018

March Special First Page Critique – Dr. Mira Reisberg

Dr. 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 survey and making 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 imprint Spork and is an award-winning children’s book illustrator and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChildrensBookAc.

HERE ARE THE THREE FIRST PAGES AND MIRA:

The Voice You Are Given – Amy Duchene – picture book

Corvus had one dream and only one: More than anything, he wanted to sing like a Song Bird.

Corvus dreamed of serenading lovers and bringing bees to their knees with his voice.

And how Corvus used that voice. He sang day and night.

But there was one problem. When Corvus sang, his voice came out a little, well…

Crrrrrroooooooaaaak! Craaaaawwwwrrrk!

“That’s the voice you were given,” said his mum.

Crrrrawwkkkk!

His friends tried to give him sound advice.

“If you want to sing, you should practice,” said Henry. Henry sang with a choir. “How about you join us?”

So, Corvus joined the chorus.

First, he sang alongside the larks, who trilled and trollied. Tra-la-la!

But the voice he was given sang TRAWWWWW!

He sang with the hummingbirds, who tweeted and twittered. Tweet-tweedle-tweet!

But the voice he was given sang TWOOOOOOOORK!

“Hmm,” said Sally. Her voice was smoooooooth like honey. “How about singing lessons?”

Corvus wasn’t so sure, but he signed up with Sally’s singing teacher.

CROOOOOOOOOOO! CAWWWOOOOOOO!

“Not much to work with,” said the teacher.

“But that’s the voice I was given.” KERRRAAAAH!

“Maybe you ought to find a new hobby.”

Corvus nearly let his dream fly away. But his friends gave one last suggestion:

HERE’S MIRA:

The Voice You Are Given by Amy Duchene

Hi Amy, I really like the sound of this although it was a bit hard to figure out from the title and the first page who or what Corvus is. I know we will see that in the illustrations but if you’re submitting this without illustrations or illustration notes it’s going to be confusing for an editor or agent. I would clarify this with either a short illustration note, which you do like this [Illustration note: Corvus is…] or something in the text. My guess is that he’s a frog and the underlying theme of your story is about self-acceptance. But I could be totally wrong.

I really liked a lot of the writing, especially the onomatopoeia and repetition. Unfortunately the phrase “more than anything” is really ove-done as at this point I’ve seen it written many, many time. So I might encourage you to see if there’s a more original way of doing this. Perhaps you could just write Corvus had one great dream – he wanted to sing like a bird. He dreamed of serenading lovers and bringing bees to their knees with his voice. (what a great line.) He dreamed of….  (a reinforcing repetition might be good here too. I also might change “lovers” to “sweethearts” for both the alliteration and also to maybe make it a little more age-appropriate.

As with any of my suggestions or recommendations, please take what you like and leave the rest. But I’m not crazy about Corvus’s name, which unless it’s an Edgar Allan Poe type story, is not a beautiful word to say out loud, although that may be your point. I’m also not sure how kid friendly the title is. I know you get it from the mom and I imagine that it is also the underlying truth that the main character has to accept, but it sounds a little didactic as a title and not alluring enough for a kid to pick it up off the shelf. If Corvus’s name wasn’t so harsh, you could simplify the title to something like, “Corbin’s Voice” – which is a little more intriguing. Please know that all opinions are subjective and that if something I’ve written doesn’t resonate with what you are trying to do, honor your own truth. Still, I hope that there is something helpful here for you in this first page critique.


 

Mr. Plunkett’s Pumpkins by Marcia Strykowski – 445 word picture book

Mr. Plunkett loved pumpkins so much he planted his own little pumpkin patch. He wasn’t used to living alone and the thought of those bright orange faces looking back at him made him feel less lonely.

Charlie lived next door. He watched Mr. Plunkett dig and hoe and sow. Plant and seed and weed.

But Mr. Plunkett’s pumpkins didn’t grow.

Until finally, Mr. Plunkett grew a wonderful pumpkin. He called Charlie over to see. One tiny green gourd rested on the ground.

“It’s plump and round and perfect!” cried Mr. Plunkett.

Each day he cared for the pumpkin. It grew bigger and bigger.

When it was time to pick, Mr. Plunkett said to the pumpkin, “This won’t hurt a bit.” He wiggled and snipped until the pumpkin broke free of its stem and rolled along the soft soil. Mr. Plunkett gently scooped up his prize and plopped it on the doorstep.

“I shall call you Peter,” he said.

Each evening, Mr. Plunkett said goodnight to Peter, and on very cold nights, he tucked the pumpkin inside on his front porch.

One mild night, Charlie and his friends strolled past Mr. Plunkett’s house. They were bored and looking for mischief.

In the morning, Mr. Plunkett peeked out, but he couldn’t see Peter. He stepped outside, but he couldn’t find Peter.

Then he spotted something out on the road.

HERE’S MIRA:

Mr. Plunkett’s Pumpkins by Marcia Strykowski

Hi Marcia, I really appreciated the way you established Mr. Plunkett’s problem straightaway upfront. He’s lonely and hopes that his pumpkins will make him less lonely. I also really like how this is written with some lovely language in there and nice escalation. The only thing I might change is the line “plant and seed and weed”, which I might turn into a complete sentence by having a pronoun such as, “Mr. Plunkett planted, seeded and weeded. But still his pumpkins didn’t grow.” I don’t think you need the word “until”, before finally. It could be something like “then one day something wonderful happened. A tiny green gourd began growing out of the vines on the ground. Mr. Plunkett called Charlie over to see.” You’d need to tweak alternating Mr. Plunkett and he from there on, but full sentences usually trump fragments whenever possible.

Marcia – you also have a great way of building tension and suspense. You make us care about Mr. Plunkett and his pumpkin Peter. When Charlie and his friend stroll by looking for mischief and Peter disappears, I became worried. And then my heart sank when Mr. Plunkett spots something out on the road. And that’s the sign of really good writing, because in that brief amount of time you’ve made me care. And then at the end you make me wonder enough to make me really want to turn the page and find out the answer to that all important question, what happens next?


 

Just Like My Dadby Jane Morris Udovic – Picture Book

Whenever my dad tucks me into my bed,

he plants a big kiss on my cheek

and wiggles his whiskers all over my face.

I giggle so hard I can’t speak.

I stare at Dad’s eyes; I want brown eyes like his

and arms that have soft, curly hair.

But, what I want most is a beard just like Dad’s –

the oh-so-best beard anywhere!

Sooooo…

I’m trying my hardest to grow a long beard.

Gee whiz, but my progress is slow!

I stand in the sun and I sprinkle my chin

and hope that the darn thing will grow.

I warm up my face with a hot, steamy towel –

massaging each inch of my chin,

then glance in the mirror… no sign of a beard.

Those whiskers hide under my skin!

Still…

I dream of the things I could do with a beard

that hangs all the way to the floor….

In winter, my bed would be roast-toasty warm

and my toes wouldn’t freeze anymore.

HERE’S MIRA:

Just Like My Dad by Jane Morris Udovic

Hi Jane, I’m one of those editors that hates working with rhyme and while I love it when it’s well done, or should I say perfectly done, it’s a horrible challenge to work with because more often than not, the story really suffers to accommodate the rhyme. These include things like archaic language (Gee whiz) forced rhyme, strange syntax, messed up meter and so on. And while your first page has few rhyming crimes, I’m concerned about the concept.

I love the idea of a little boy wanting to be just like his dad but I worry how many kids, (and editors and agents before it gets into kid’s hands) are really that interested in the process of growing a beard, especially in these mostly clean-shaven times. This might work better for boys when they’re just starting to grow a beard but it would also need a rewrite to be age-appropriate. I can tell that you’ve put a lot of work into this and much of your rhythm is really lovely. So I would encourage you to either deepen the story elements to make it more interesting to kids beyond the language or rethink the concept.

Perhaps dad’s a lumberjack and lumberjacks have great beards. Or maybe he’s a pirate called Captain Blackbeard and the protagonist is a redhead who wants to grow up and be Captain Redbeard but he worries whether he’ll ever be big enough and smart enough to be a Captain and then Dad reassures him at the end or he proves himself in some way. Maybe think of all the kinds of men who have beards and what they do, why the main character wants to be like them, and what gets in the way.

Another route that you could take, is to make it more of a Just Like Dad concept book where you have parallel pages showing a day in the life of dad and then the ways that the main character imitates his dad to try and be like him.

Now the thing is Jane, I could be completely wrong. Just like all the editors who turned down J. K. Rowling and Kate DiCamillo, Dr. Seuss and so many others. If you really believe in this beard-focused story, go for it. But I also believe a big part of being a writer is a willingness to experiment and try many different things. So I hope you might play with some of the suggestions that I’ve described above and to look at all your writing as a learning process that only helps you get better and better. Think about how does your main character change from the beginning to the end? What do they learn on their journey without being didactic? What is the underlying theme that speaks to all sorts of kids? If it’s a purely for fun story, how can you amp up the fun factor? I really hope some of this has been helpful and as always take what you like and leave the rest.


Mira has added two new editors to her online PB course to offer their priceless know-how along with their constructive critiques – all to help make your stories the best and most marketable books that they can be.

The course will not only teach you the theory, business, and practice of how to write and sell fantastic picture books, but also hold your hand throughout the process, conscientiously providing lessons and step-by-step directions with templates and worksheets in a loving and truly helpful community, while answering questions daily and providing lots of submission opportunities with editors, agents, and publishers? What if we added Live In-Person Weekly Critiquing Sessions with SIX Editors and An Agent (that are also recorded for repeated viewings)? These decision makers, along with others, will all also be looking at your work with an eye towards acquisitions – all in the comfort of your own home! 

Callie is the owner of Clear Fork Media Group located in Stamford, Texas and CEO of Clear Fork Publishing, the American Newspapers, Throckmorton Tribune, and Noteworthy Bookstore. Besides being an exquisite human being, Callie is also the Publisher of Clear Fork’s children’s imprint Spork, which has published many Children’s Book Academy students.

Julia is an Editor at Knopf/Random House. She completed her degree in Communications from the University of Massachusetts and her Masters in Publishing from NYU. Besides editing picture books, middle grade and YA novels, Julia thrives on collaborating with artists and art directors to bring picture books to life.

Both Women are on the Hunt for New and Wonderful Children’s Picture Books who are also acting judges in our Golden Ticket submissions opportunity and can’t wait to meet you!

Dive into the best, most highly interactive, time-flexible, online children’s picture book course available, with a publishing track-record to prove it – Just Click the Link Here . 

 

Picture Book Course link

 

CHECK BACK NEXT THURSDAY FOR KELLY DELANEY’S FIRST PAGE CRITIQUES.

Kelly Delaney is an Associate Editor at Random House/Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, where she acquires and edits picture books and middle grade and young adult novels. Kelly has a master’s degree in Publishing: Digital and Print Media from NYU. Books she has edited include 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop, and Duncan the Story Dragon by Amanda Driscoll. In her time at Random House she has been fortunate enough to work with many of her favorite authors, from R.J. Palacio and Markus Zusak to Anita Lobel and Norton Juster. Kelly is always on the lookout for quirky humor, bright characters, and writers that don’t underestimate their readers. You can follow her on Twitter at @kellyunderwater.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. These critiques were very interesting to me because I am working on picture books. For Mira, I’m a retired wildlife biologist and Corvus is the genus name of crows, ravens, etc. So he is a bird with a croaky voice. Would having an illustration note or mentioning what Corvus is have helped? (I’ve started a PB where the MC’s name is the bird’s species name.). Thanks for all of your insights, they are helpful!

    Like

  2. Ii recognized the crow right away. Clearly some people will mistake just what animal you’re describing. I’m sure an illustration would make it clear.

    Like


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