Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 29, 2018

Special First Page Critique with Kelly Delaney

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.


GERTRUDE, A GOAT WITH A DREAM by Jill Nogales – Picture Book

Gertrude, Gabby and Gwen’s job was to eat weeds. All day. Every day. Nibble, chomp, chew. Gabby and Gwen loved eating weeds. They thought it was a dream job. Gertrude? Not so much. At the end of each day, she picked the weeds out of her teeth and dreamed of doing something else. Something glamorous.

“I could be a glamorous goat if I didn’t eat weeds all day,” Gertrude said. “I think I’ll go to London and be a princess. Princesses are glamorous.”

“You would be a dazzling princess,” Gabby said. “But princesses don’t have beards.”

“What if I go to Hollywood and be a movie star?” Gertrude said. “Movie stars are glamorous.”

“You would be a fabulous movie star,” Gwen said. “But movie stars don’t have tails.”

“Well, I could go to Paris and be an artist,” Gertrude said. “Artists are glamorous.”

“Absolutely!” said Gabby. “Perfect!” said Gwen.

So Gertrude waved good-bye to Gabby and Gwen and sailed to Paris to become a glamorous goat. As soon as she got off the boat, she headed for art school.

Lesson one was painting. “Glamour, here I come!” said Gertrude as she grabbed a paintbrush. The other students painted lovely portraits. Gertrude? Not so much. She nibbled the handle off her paintbrush. She chomped away nearly half the canvas. And then she chewed up the wooden easel. The result was not glamorous.

Lesson two was drawing. “I can do this,” said Gertrude as she sharpened her pencil. The other students drew lovely still life pictures of the fruit arrangement. Gertrude? She nibbled on the pears. She chomped on a pineapple. And then she chewed up two pomegranates. The result was not glamorous.



There are a lot of great hooks here. I love the focus on art and creativity, and the bigger-picture focus on following your dreams and being willing to find out who you really are. And goats are certainly having a moment right now! This story has potential.

The manuscript could be strengthened by showing us more about Gertrude, rather than telling us. What about Gertrude makes her feel that she should pursue a career as an artist? How is this connected to what makes her uninterested in eating weeds? The connection between that rejection of what is expected of her and her true passion is not clear enough right now. And once she’s in Paris, she has the same obstacle twice in a row—she should be painting, but she’s eating instead. This instinct makes it even less clear why she didn’t like eating weeds—she says it’s not glamorous, but eating art supplies seems less glamorous to me! It also seems like an obstacle she creates for herself, rather than an obstacle she reacts to as she encounters it. The manuscript doesn’t tell us why she is choosing to eat the art supplies rather than create art with them. We also don’t know how this mistake makes her feel, which is important for her emotional arc.

My advice is to do some more work at the beginning of the story to show, not tell, readers why Gertrude’s true calling is as an artist. I’m not sure we need to see her musing about being a movie star or a princess, and her siblings’ dismissal of these options. This space would be better utilized to show readers why she wants to be an artist. Once she’s in Paris, make sure the obstacles she faces there are not too repetitive, and that we understand her motivations in the way she handles them.

Title: Glenn Martin, Dare in the Air! by Agatha Rodi- Nonfiction PB Biography

In 1908, as the wind swirled and stars twinkled, Glenn Martin toiled in an abandoned church, in Santa Anna, California. Papers covered the church’s windows. Feet scuffed, on the wooden floor. Eyes peeped here and there. Voices rustled everywhere! Bam! Boom! Ding! Most people dreamed at night, but Glenn worked to make his dream come true!

Liberal, Kansas, 1892.  Glenn Martin was a dreamer since the age of six. Every morning, he sat next to the kitchen’s windowsill. The crispy air chilled his cheeks. A rumbling roar came from the sky. Wild geese! HONK!” “QUACK!” They hovered and flapped their wings.Glenn’s dream was to climb into the sky and glide with them over the Midwestern prairies.

Glenn spent the days tinkering around his father’s hardware shop. In his spare time, he built box kites for his friends. He used his mother’s worn bedsheets to make sails for his skates and his bike. Pieces of bamboo were the frame. He stretched the bedsheets, fastened them with fiddle wire, trimmed the ends with scissors and tied a string. Other times he sketched planes and engines.

On December 17, 1903, he heard the news for Brother Wright’s first flight.  He designed his own planes on paper, but wondered, “Can I fly, too?’’  Once he got them ready he tested box kites on the slopes of Kansas. Glenn knew what he wanted to do. He had to find a way to make a motored plane with wheels and fly in the air!   [Box-kites were made with diagonal crossed struts, the ribbons wrapped around the ends of the box, leaving the ends and middle of the kite open.]



There is a lot of lovely imagery here, and it’s great that you’re highlighting a lesser-known trailblazer. The primary issue is that it’s lacking context, especially for young readers. While there is a lot of intrigue in the opening scene, I’m afraid there is not enough information to ground us. Why is Glenn in a church? Why are the windows covered? Why is he working in the middle of the night? I know the illustrations will provide some information, but at this stage, don’t rely on that to keep your readers in the loop—your text needs to be able to stand on its own as much as possible. I’d suggest skipping this first scene and going straight to Glenn as a kid. Watching birds and wanting to fly is such a universal experience! It’s a great jumping-off point for Glenn’s story that puts young readers right in his shoes, and positions the story as a wonderful example of how you can make your wildest dreams into reality.

Make sure you are also providing context about this time in the world. Young readers won’t know Glenn by name (yet!), and you can help ground them in this time period by telling them more about what “flying” meant when Glenn was their age. We learn later that planes basically didn’t exist at all when he was looking up at those geese, but maybe you can let us know that earlier, by telling us just how far-fetched his dream would have been considered at that time. Had flight for humans been attempted yet? To what affect? Would it be something Glenn would know about? Did he consider flying with geese something that was 100% fantasy, or something that maybe, someday, he could achieve? Make sure that this story communicates historical details as part of its world building methods, so that action, character development, and historical accuracy all go hand in hand.


For Camila and Esteban, life is dancing.

Every morning while other lizards are doing push-ups, Esteban practices the shimmy-shake. Olé!

While unicorns splash through waterfalls and rainbows, Camila cha-chas and strikes a pose.

One day a shiny poster appears in the town square. [Partner’s DANCE FESTIVAL]

“I’m a soloist,” worries Camila.

“I dance alone,” Esteban frets.

“Esteban, you love dancing more than basking in the sun! You must find a dancing partner!” said Miguel, Esteban’s best friend.

“Camila, you have as much rhythm as magic in your horn. Find a match, this is your chance!” encouraged Camila’s pals.

Camila mamboed with Pablo, but his tempo didn’t match her flow.

She tangoed with Jose, but their feet got tangled up in a jumble.

“I’m sorry Pablo and Jose, it seems we are not a graceful fit,” said Camila, rubbing her hooves.

Esteban foxtroted with Valentina, but accidentally got kicked out of the room.

Luciana’s samba sent Esteban into a spinning frenzy.

“Valentina and Luciana, you are lovely señoritas, but we don’t move to the same beat,” Esteban uttered from the floor.


JUST DANCE! by Cynthia Harmony

This is a fun concept and I like that the concepts of working together and cooperation can extend for situations beyond just dancing. Right now, it feels a little rushed. The problem is introduced almost immediately, before we really get to know either Camila or Esteban. Can you tell us more about them, so we understand why they’ve always danced alone? Without understanding why that part of their dance practice is so important, readers can’t feel totally invested in their quest to find a partner and why that’s so difficult for them. You can also use this space to show readers what Camila and Esteban have in common. More importantly, you can show how they’re different—I’m worried that the setup is so predictable right now that there is no tension. Showing how they are different will add a layer and give them something more to overcome. Not only do they need to find each other, but they need to learn to dance together and to take each other’s feelings into account.

I’m also a little curious about why you chose a lizard and a unicorn as your two characters. Including a unicorn instantly calls the world into question—it’s not the world humans know, since there are both real and fantasy creatures there. Will this be addressed? And perhaps more importantly, there are some pretty big logistical obstacles to take into account for a lizard to dance with a unicorn, given their relative sizes. Of course, that could be one of the obstacles that Camila and Esteban have to overcome, in which case you might already be thinking about this! If that’s not the case, just keep their size in mind—introducing the fantasy element of a unicorn is one thing, but introducing a tiny unicorn (or a giant lizard) is a step further, and I don’t know if explaining that part of their world is the best use of your space here.

You can work with Kelly Delaney in April at the Children’s Book Academy in their Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books – a highly-interactive, time-flexible e-course. Here’s the link:

Talk tomorrow,


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