Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 26, 2019

July Agent of the Month – First Page Results

I am delighted to share July’s four first pages that Abigail Frank, agent at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, critiqued. 

Abigail Frank (Assistant Agent – Sanford J. Greenburger Associates)

Abigail is lucky to work with brilliant writers and illustrators at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates. Abigail loves picture books, middle grade, and YA equally, but for very different reasons.

For picture books, she gravitates towards the quirky and unexpected. For middle grade, she is most excited about hilarious chapter books and older stories that tackle profound questions, new independence and identities, and/or notions of manhood and masculinity. She’ll take a swoon-worthy YA romance any day, or a story with a fresh premise. She’s always eager for a story that is contemplative, poetic, slightly magical, or set in the not-so-distant future. She cares about voice, above all, and about working with diverse and inclusive books.

She is searching for thoughtful and clever writing that never underestimates the subject or the reader, and she cares about voice, above all. She is committed to advocating for the work of marginalized authors and artists, and she’s actively looking for stories that allow young readers to recognize themselves in the books they love.

Her wishlist includes (but is not limited to):

  • big concept and/or offbeat picture books, preferably (but not exclusively) by author/illustrators
  • voice-driven chapter books!
  • middle grade that is hilarious (think Better Nate Than Ever series), poetic (think The Girl Who Drank the Moon or Other Words for Home), or profound (think Tuck Everlasting)
  • swoon-worthy YA rom-coms!!
  • stories with a drop of magic or set in the not-so-distant future
  • stories that grapple with ideas of masculinity
  • select adult titles: cultural criticism and anything that looks closely at healthcare or higher education/campus life (fiction or nonfiction)
  • contemporary commercial fiction written for and about people in their 20’s

Abigail graduated with a degree in English Literature from Swarthmore College and worked in healthcare before pursuing her passion for books. Find her mostly retweeting @abigailcrfrank 


MRS. MURPHY’S MOCCASIN by Jo Bilbo (Johanna Bilbo Staton, MG contemporary, 34,000 words

I put my key in our door, 404F, and a shudder runs through me. Happens every afternoon after school, and I hate it. Used to be I came here to visit Gram and Gramps. Now this apartment is my home. (This internal conflict comes across! No need to call it out here) When I go in, I won’t smell Gram’s fresh gingerbread. Or hear Gramps playing blues on his harmonica.

After everything went bad last spring, Mom sold our house—she said she had to. We moved in here, and I should be letting myself in. She won’t be home from work yet. Only Mrs. Pennymoney, my cat, will be there to greet me.

To the left is apartment 404E, vacant now after the Paderewskis moved out last week. Can I, should I check it out? (No need to spell this out! It is clear from the rest of the text) This isn’t much of a mission, but an apartment empty of furniture might be a better distraction than one empty of family. (Are “empty of furniture” and “empty of family” phrases that Jackson would use? Also, does he shut the door to his apartment? Or relock it? Describe more of the scene’s action here.)


Click. (That’s my air mic.)  (It will come across that this is all imaginary, and it can be more exciting for the reader if they have to figure that out for themselves.) Secret Agent Jackson Thomas, Double-Oh-Twelve, looking for clues. Hoping for neighbors with kids my age. September 24, Friday afternoon, 3:30 p.m.—oops, use military time—1530 hours. Location: Hillside Commons, fourth floor hall is clear. In luck—doorknob turns, vacated apartment 404E isn’t locked. I’m in. Still smells of Mrs. Paderewski’s sauerkraut. (Great! You establish that Jackson wants friends and pretends to be a spy, and that the Paderewskis are no longer there. Consider starting the story with this section.)

My air mic picks up elevator clang, and voice of Mr. Irving, building superintendent. I hide in empty coat closet. “I left this apartment closed,” he says. “That snoopy kid, I’ll bet. (Would he say this in front of his new tenant? Or would it be more of an apology?)

Suddenly a little pop from below says beans for lunch was not a good idea. I’m glad the apartment smells of Polish cooking, maybe saving me from discovery, interrogation, and termination time. Holding my breath, I log in silent mode.  

“Here’s the key, Mrs. Murphy,” Mr. Irving adds. “I’m sorry to hear Mr. Murphy won’t be with us for a while.”

My biggest note is that at certain points you’re giving readers more information than they need. Give them a chance to figure out what’s happening for themselves! I’ve noted examples of this throughout the text. You’ve established a ton in this first page, though, which is fantastic!



Chapter One

Secret #1: Crocodile Creek Doesn’t Have Crocodiles (This is a great title, but is there a way to bring up Crocodile Creek in this first page? And this isn’t the biggest secret in the whole wide world, is it? If it is, tell us the secret upfront, and then the story can be how she found that out and what happens next. Avoid making the Big Reveal the chapter title, of course!)

Poppy Preston had the biggest secret in the whole wide world. No one knew her secret except for her little sister Molly and their dog Pickles. They had pinky promised to keep it safe. NO ONE breaks a pinky promise.

Though it had been difficult to figure out if Pickles even had a pinky. They decided on a Sealed With Spit Oath as she licked all over their hands. Pickles gave lots of Sealed With Spit Oaths. She was a very serious pup.

Poppy sighed as she twirled her red side ponytail around her finger. Today was Saturday. Even though Poppy secretly liked school, she needed a play break from all the homework and standing in line. Her second grade teacher, Mrs. Lindy, was really nice because she said Poppy was very creative and thought Out-of-the-Box. Whatever that meant—Poppy sat on a beanbag at school, not a box. (I love the idea here, but the wording doesn’t quite make sense to me. Maybe Poppy is just confused as to what box Mrs. Lindy is talking about?)

The problem with weekends was making the most of them. (Does this really bother Poppy? Is it that she’s bored?) After all week of hurry-hurry-hurry, Poppy couldn’t decide if she wanted to be a lazy snail or a bouncy ballerina bunny. Play or watch cartoons. (Why can’t she do both? I recommend deleting this paragraph unless it will quickly be relevant in a big dramatic way.)

Molly’s blonde head and rainbow horn popped into the doorway.

[illo note: Molly always wears a unicorn headband]

(By the end of this page, we should be back to the biggest secret in the whole wide world! At least a hint at it. Does someone find out about it? Does Poppy go to great lengths to keep it a secret? Be sure to keep the momentum of the mystery going, but the voice is great!)


Sheri Murphy, THE CHICKEN THIEF, Picture Book

When Farmer Dibble broke his leg, he couldn’t take care of his chicken farm. Three

jobhunters showed up.

The first one asked, “Do chickens bite?” (Can the first one ask a more ridiculous question? Or be more terrified? There is room for a lot of humor here!)

The second one said, “Achoo, achoo…I think I’m allergic to feathers…AHHH-CHOO!” (ha!)

The third one took Dibble by surprise.

“Here’s a letter from my last boss,” said the red fox.

“Five years as a shepherd. Not an easy job. You’re hired.”

The next morning, the fox went into the henhouse to collect the eggs. “I’m Freddy. I

know what everyone says about foxes (if everyone is afraid of foxes, should Dibble be a little more hesitant to take him on? Or can he be a bit more extraordinarily *perfect* as a candidate? A bunch of references, expertise, etc.), but you don’t need to be afraid of me. Come closer, and I’ll tell you my secret.”

Hundreds of beady, amber eyes stared at him, but only one brave chicken (if this one brave chicken reappears, tell us their name here!) stepped forward. Freddy whispered to the hen who ran back to the flock and spread the news.

(Does he need to do other things but chicken chores? This might be more engaging if we stick to the chickens. What kind of chores does he do to take care of them?) Freddy built a cozy den in a horse stall and made repairs to the chicken runs. He spent hours every day hoeing and weeding the garden.

“Dibble, I picked lots of ripe vegetables today. I could make us a nice meal.”

“Sounds good! I’m getting awful tired of frozen pizza.” (can this be sillier?)

Dibble’s neighbor Ralph stopped for a visit while Freddy was busy in the kitchen.

“Something sure smells delicious!” Ralph said.

“Freddy’s making Eggplant Surprise.”

“Ha! I bet the surprise part is chicken. Everyone knows that red foxes are all chicken

thieves. He’s going to be trouble. You hear me?”

“Smelled good, tastes even better,” Dibble said at dinner. (Was it chicken?? Wouldn’t Dibble be angry??)

“I heard your friend Ralph. I don’t want to make trouble for you. I’ll leave tomorrow.”

Push this story further! Make it even more over-the-top and zany – that’s where a lot the humor will come from. Because you have to get through so much story in so little time, make sure that all the details are absolutely necessary (either because they’re hilarious or because they push the plot along). For example: do we need Ralph to visit? Is Freddy’s secret relevant (i.e. is it going to be the big twist at the end)? Does the brave chicken come back into the story? You’ve done a great job of making me curious!

TOAD GIRL: GROWING UP LITHUANIAN IN WWII by Ilona Bray – Upper-MG novel (based on true story)

Chapter 1: Allowed to Live

To catch a spider under a drinking glass, you’ve got to be quick. Sneak up on it, if you can. That’s not easy, since you’re a giant and the spider is a small knot of darkness with long, sharp legs that move faster than your eyes can see. If you hold your glass just behind the spider, though, and follow as it speeds along the floor or wall, it will eventually stop. Plunk the glass down quick, and it’s trapped. Or not. Catching spiders needs practice. By  (Consider something like “By the end of the summer,” unless this is consistent with her voice) in 1945, I’d had lots of practice.

Every morning after I woke up, I’d push open the windows of the living room where my brother and I slept—me on the sofa, him on a cot. Months earlier, this might have let in smoke from fires set by war planes bombing the nearby city of Munich. Now, the breeze rippling the curtains smelled like growing things: grasses, wildflowers, even hints of the apples fattening up in our landlady’s orchard—apples we were not allowed to pick or eat. To spiders (it’s not totally clear what you’re comparing this invitation to, so I recommend deleting “however”), our open window must have looked like an invitation. (Does she absolutely hate spiders? Is she fascinated by them? Is she terrified of them? Is this just one of many details about why their living conditions weren’t great? By this point, I want to have some emotional connection to her experience with these spiders/this apartment.)

“Arvid,” I told my little brother (one morning? We’ve now jumped to a specific day, so be sure to make that clear), “help me find a piece of paper.” My eight-legged prisoner ran in frustrated circles, looking huge under the magnifying curves of the glass.

“Where?” Arvid asked.

He had a point. The few things we owned were in suitcases, ready for our move to Munich. There we would start searching for a new home (We need more detail, but we don’t want to crowd the beginning with exposition, so just be sure to clarify later (which I’m sure you already do)! If they are near Munich now, how will moving to Munich help them find safety?)

“Ina, are you ready?” my mother called from the next room. “The landlady will be here any second, for a last look.”

And to make sure we hadn’t stolen or broken anything. I knew how our landlady’s face twisted whenever she looked at us, as if she wanted to eat her own teeth. We were war refugees…

It seems there will be a lot of rich historical background in this story. Your challenge will be imparting all of that history while keeping the story’s momentum going. Focus on the emotional arc of the characters, as this is what will hook readers. Excited to see where this continues!


Thank you Abigail for sharing your time and expertise with us. We can all learn a lot from reading your thoughts on the four first pages that won this month. See you soon in Avalon.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you for your notes, Abigail! I’ll work on keeping the mystery momentum up and I’m so glad you like the voice. She’s a fun, silly character to write. And thank you for this opportunity, Kathy!


  2. Some good catches and very helpful comments, thanks so much, Abigail and Kathy!


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