Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Feedback: Josh Funk & The Read Aloud Picture Book


Hey, all,

Just back from one of those totally inspiring few days spent in the nerdy world of #nErDcampMI, where I even hosted an impromptu session on Teachers Write! so we have a bunch of amazing new campers, and I hope they're peeking in here.

A few times over those days, I crossed paths with my friend, Josh Funk, who told me more than once how excited he is to be hosting Friday Feedback this week.

I'm excited too. Not only do I know I have many aspiring picture book writers here who like to participate, but his post is amazing and inspiring and informative! Since, I'm never the best one to give picture book advice -- hey, I'd still like to write my own one day but have no idea how! -- I'm super excited he agreed to guest host!

If you post non-picture book excerpts -- and of course feel free to! -- I will do my usual chiming in in the comments, but otherwise, I'm going to leave it all up to him! You couldn't be in better hands. (And if you're new here, and before you proceed, please take a moment to click this link to read the Friday Feedback RULES):

Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa


So, without further ado, here is the awesome Josh Funk, author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH, and wonderful forthcoming titles like IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. Be sure to check them all out and order them in to your libraries and classrooms if you don't already have them (are you crazy?!)!  












See you in the comments. Here's Josh:


Hooray! It’s Friday of Week 1! 

I’m thrilled that Gae & Co. invited me to join in #TeachersWrite - and I’m so excited to be able to share a work in progress, for your feedback.

First, I’d like to say - WOW! I don’t know how you do it. You educators work 80-100 hour weeks … AND you write! I’m not a teacher, but I’m married to one - and I can emphatically (and empathetically) say that you have the hardest job there is (hopefully it’s also an emotionally and psychologically rewarding job, too).

But (oops - sorry) you don’t want to think about school. It’s summer! Let’s write!

Gae tells me there are many of you interested and working on picture books! Great! Before we start, I want to go over a few basics by defining what a picture book actually is. At its core, there are four components, as I see it. A picture book is:

1.     A Story
2.     With Illustrations
3.     For Children
4.     Meant to Be Read Aloud

Yes, there are exceptions to all of the above (concept books and poems might not have narrative, The Book with No Pictures, parodies for adults, and early readers). But I believe that for the most part, the above applies.

What I’d like to focus on today is #4 - A picture book is meant to be read aloud - and usually read out loud by an adult to a child. We, the parents, teachers, librarians, and all adult readers have to perform picture books in front of children.

I know not everyone is a born thespian, but the best picture books (in my opinion) make it very easy for the adult reader to play act. In fact, one of the exceptions above, BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures, does a great job of forcing the reader to perform.

So I decided to write my own book that forced the reader to really get into character. If you know me, you’ll know most of my picture books are in rhyme. But my first non-rhyming picture book is coming out this September - It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk.


Yes, it’s a fractured fairy-tale, but not just a fractured fairy-tale - it’s a META-fractured-fairy-tale. Jack doesn’t want to do to what the reader says - and all the reader wants to do is tell the traditional story. So you, the adult reader, get to argue with characters in the book (and they argue back).

Here are a few samples pages to give you the picture (images courtesy of Two Lions, art by Edwardian Taylor):


Jack - Pages 14-15

Jack - Pages 20-21

The story evolved in script form, as my kids and I would read it out loud to friends and family members (the kids playing Jack and the Giant, while I played the storyteller). And while it wasn’t a motivating factor as I was writing the story, I do think it would make for a fun reader’s theater.

And. . . since it's Friday FEEDBACK, the writing sample I’m sharing today is from a follow-up manuscript called It’s Not Hansel and Gretel. The story is told by the same reader/narrator whose only goal is to tell the traditional story. I intend it to be the same format with colored speech bubbles for each of the characters. The section below starts on the third spread of the story:

Page 10-11
When the sky grew dark, Papa ran off.
Hansel: Gretel, I’m worried.
Gretel: Don’t fret, Hansel. I’m sure Papa will be right back with blankets and a bit of food. Our parents love us.
No! He’s not coming back!

Luckily, Hansel had left a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to home.
Hansel: Breadcrumbs? I didn’t bring any breadcrumbs.
Gretel: What kind of person saves breadcrumbs?
I … don’t really … know.
Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them.
Okay! Forget the breadcrumbs!
Gretel: Now I’m hungry! Why’d you have to bring up breadcrumbs?!

Page 12-13
The next morning, Hansel and Gretel were still lost and alone. They spent all day searching for a way back home, but found nothi—
Gretel: Look! There's our house!
What?
Hansel: Yay! We found it!
No! You can't find it!
Gretel: Excuse me, but we've lived on the outskirts of these woods our whole lives. I think we know our way around.

Page 14-15
[inside the house]
Hansel: Mama? Papa? Where are you?
Gretel: Maybe Papa got lost on the way home to get blankets and food? He does have a terrible sense of direction.
Hansel: But where’s Mama?
Gretel: She’s probably out searching for us.
THEY’RE NOT SEARCHING FOR YOU!
Hansel [crying]: Waaa! Waa-aa-aa!
Gretel: Look what you did! You made Hansel cry!
I - I didn’t mean to do that.
Gretel: Don’t worry, Hansel. We can find Mama and Papa ourselves!
Hansel: *sniff* Okay.
Wait! You can’t leave without ME! I’m the one telling the story!

One side note - I normally don’t paginate my stories in early drafts. In fact, until recently I didn’t do much pagination at all, that was often left to the editor and art director. Lately, I feel that I have a better understanding of how pagination might work well with my texts (what and how much could/should be illustrated on any given page). If you don’t feel comfortable (as I certainly didn’t until I had gone through the process a half dozen times with editors) - I recommend not worrying about it. If you do feel confident about paginating your story before submission, it can sometimes be helpful - but it is certainly not required or expected.

Assuming this book will be the same length (40 pages) as It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, there will be 16 full spreads. For more information on lengths of books, see Debbie Ohi’s post explaining how 40 page self-ended picture books work.

So maybe as you write your next picture book manuscript, you might keep in mind the fact that this will be read aloud to a child by an adult - and see if that changes how your story evolves. 

And, now, since it's Friday Feedback, I’d love to hear your feedback on this portion of the It’s Not Hansel and Gretel manuscript, and look forward to any writing you might share for feedback in the comments! Thanks, in advance,

Josh

p.s. Again, for those of you who don't already know them, please first read THE RULES!!



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Find out more about Josh Funk at www.joshfunkbooks.com and even more on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.

158 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Yay! Sarah, welcome!!! Because I'm on deadline and BEHIND, I'm only commenting on the first. But I adore it. I especially love this breathtaking line:

      This is just the sort of
      thing to sideline dreams.

      Wonder if it would be more powerful after that to just go to "And for a dress?" rather than include the I've seen which feels confusing. A minor tweak... and ONLY food for thought.

      I adore the police officer as Santa - such a great and unexpected description. Such a dichotomy.

      Adore this whole verse:

      Nothing moves him,
      well,
      except Simon and Garfunkel,
      except Gregorian Chant,
      except plans gone awry,
      in his garage.

      And, oh, that last line.

      So wonderful. Keep going. WOW.

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    2. Thank you, Gae. Just the sort of "love" I needed today.

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    3. Sarah, I really enjoyed reading this....some random thoughts
      I didn't know what a sportabout was/is...but then the word Suburban grounded me.
      I really like the poem Silence in Numbers. It describes so much and why this mc is lost in the chaos.
      I cannot tell if Only Dad does not have a job is a separate poem...or a continuation of the Silence in Numbers (because format isn't clear on a blog post). But, I think they should be separate. The Dad is different than the big bunch of kids, no? Also, small thing, Dad has delivered packages....what do you think about taking the word "has" out completely and going with Dad delivered packages until....
      I vote for ship as the last word over canoe. I think the reader of this text will "get it".
      I'd love to know what writing groups/blogs you keep in touch with for NIV writing. I'm always looking for tips there ;)

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    4. I love novels in verse -- I just picked up "booked" yesterday, and today I get to read this excerpt from your writing! :-)

      What works is the way it flows, in a rhythm but also a story. I want to read more, because I want to know more about this family!
      I

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    1. Hi Kathy,

      This is a cute beginning. I like all the feline phrases you included, like "life purred along". The word "bright" threw me a bit. I'm curious to know what happens now that a second cat has arrived, so I'd definitely read on!

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    2. Wow, TY, Andrea. I appreciate your feedback. The cat is bright because he figures things out, maybe call him a "smarty cat." Good that you pointed this out. Keen eyes.

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    3. Hi Kathy,

      I love the feline references. I'm intrigued to know what going to be coming. Will it be another cat? Or a dog? Another animal? i love the idea of the life of this cat being disrupted because it cozy and wonderful right now. Thanks for sharing!

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    4. Hi, Kathy,

      I'll let josh do the heavy lifting here in terms of feedback since he's the pro. . . but agree that I love your cat puns and the image of being draped like a scarf. :) Keep going!

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    5. TY Anne and Gae - I am glad you see the humor in the puns and you want to know what will happen. Hint - lots of cats...

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    6. Hey, Kathy! I love the way the language flows! You're doing a great job of showing, not telling.

      The conflict doesn't really start until the second cat arrives. As I see it, there are three images before this happens (reading, sleeping, playing). Perhaps condense these down to two images so they fit onto a single spread and we can get to the plot sooner?

      Just brainstorming here, but should it be Maggie and Melvil? Since it's likely that Maggie is actually the MC of the story (or at least the one who is affected by the conflict)? Picture books where the main character is an adult human exist, but are definitely tougher sells.

      Lastly, the name Melvil is a bit tricky. Is it pronounced Melville? Or Mel-vuhl? When words like this pop up mid-story they can cause trouble, but as it's one of the two mc's names, I'd consider making it a slightly easier read.

      Best of luck!

      Josh

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    7. Ah, already i can see how awesome Josh is going to be! SO glad you are here, Josh. I often feel so lame for our picture book writers. They are So lucky to have you! :)

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    8. Josh - TY, you have solidified what i felt about the beginning. It starts too slow - yes, too far into the 3rd spread. TY, buddy. Melvil is Melvil Dewey and this is a fictionalized or pourquoi tale of how the Dewey Decimal system came to be.

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    9. Kathy, librarians (like me) will be clamoring to buy your book :) I agree with what Josh said about making the MC Maggie.

      My favorite line is "At night Maggie slept scarf-like around Melvil’s neck, soaking up his warmth and his dreams."

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  3. I loved these excerpts Josh! The feel reminded me of one of our favorite Read-Alouds with the ultimate in unreliable narrators! Question: Do you tailor your picture book manuscripts to a particular illustrator's style, or do you tweak once an illustrator hops on? Do you ever script the Marvel style where an illustrator first roughs out pages and you do dialogue? Thanks!

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    1. Hey, Josh,

      I generally don't think particularly visually. I have a general sense of what is going on the different spreads, but not specifically HOW it will be done. Illustrators have to be given free reign to work their magic, so I try my best to put together the best opportunity for them to do so.

      For all of my books, I haven't been paired with an illustrator until after the book is in the publisher's hands. So aside from sequels, I've never even had specific illustrators in mind, let alone having worked directly with them.

      Some day, as my career progresses, perhaps I'll team with an illustrator in advance, but for now, it's all separate!

      Josh

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  4. Playfulness of a text is so important for young readers. This approach definitely makes reading fun! As a school librarian, it's a delight to connect young readers to expansive stories that leave plenty of room for the reader (even in a retelling of a classic storyline that has been around for a long time!)

    I’m wondering about the word choice “famine.” There must be another phrase to reference the great hunger people from this time would be experiencing.

    Already adding this set of titles to my elementary school wish list! Totally agree that they are great springboards for reader’s theater. Stem hers feel so many time constraints compared to when I first entered the profession many years ago. This fresh approach to the familiar storyline would make it a win-win.

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    1. My bad! "Stem hers" = teachers

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    2. Aww, thanks so much, Barb! I hope your students enjoy it! (I do like pushing the boundaries of the advanced language and often have to get reeled in ...)

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  5. Josh,
    I love the line, "Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them." I also love your advice for writing picture books about imagining the adult that might be reading the story.

    I have an idea for a picture book but no draft, so I will be sharing the beginning of my YA novel.

    Thanks, in advance, for any feedback, Josh, Gae & other TWers!


    “We should fork him,” Erin said.
    “Umm...what?”
    “Fork him!”
    I’d heard of spooning. This must be dirtier. “Well, that would be a send off,” I said, trying to sound in the know. “Slut!”
    Erin chuckled. “I meant fork him as in stick a bunch of plastic forks in his yard.”
    This seemed like a much better plan than trying to TP the one measly shrub outside of Kurt’s dad & step mom’s townhome. “I love it. Where do we get plastic forks?”
    “I think we have some left over from Ryan’s birthday party.” Erin’s brother had just turned nine a few weeks ago. “There may even be leftover Silly String,” she added, getting excited at the plan that was hatching. We’d say “Au revoir” to the guy who’d come to stay with his dad for the summer and nearly ruined our friendship while he was here. “You spend the night. We’ll sleep down in the family room and sneak out the basement window around midnight.”
    Truth be told, we didn't really need to sneak out of a window. Erin’s mom was a heavy sleeper. Neither of my parents would be home for hours or even notice I was gone if they were home. Still, sneaking out made it extra exciting.
    “It’s a plan,” I agreed

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    1. Ooh! I love their scheming! The one bit that made me stop and re=read was the "au revoir" sentence. It felt out of place, maybe had a slightly different voice? I want to know what's going to happen next!

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    2. Love how the opening entices me - teen readers (I was a hs librarian) will love the "fork"ing ice and that it's dirty. Good hook.
      W/this section of dialogue, I think you can be more casual in your approach. You said this: This seemed like a much better plan than trying to TP the one measly shrub outside of Kurt’s dad & step mom’s townhome. “I love it. Where do we get plastic forks?”
      A teen would say, "Loooove it. Hey, where do we get the forks?" Does tho steel more authentic? Like where this story is going. Good work.

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    3. Hi Shannon,

      I love this. I loved the innocence of your character pretending that she knew what "forking" was. And that she went to the extreme only to find out it was no where near her thoughts. It made me laugh. I feel like you captured the immaturity of this age very well. I feel like I can flash back to my pre-teen self and the ridiculous immature things we did, but definitely thought we were mature. Great job and thank you for sharing!

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    4. Hi, Shannon! What everyone else said about the humor and the hook of this little scheme stands for me as well.

      Food for thought: since you are opening with dialogue -- and some people love this and some do not -- I wonder if you might add in some little bits of exposition that might clue us in and ground us as to the characters as they are delivering their lines. Not each one, but maybe Erin if she's your MC. You'll see my note where Im thinking where. Let me know if that makes sense:

      “We should fork him,” Erin said.
      “Umm...what?”
      “Fork him!” (So maybe right here you'd give us a tiny bit of info how Erin feels about this. Is she being naive? Funny? Is she always the one not knowing what is going on? Is she the class clown or the oblivious one. Does she blush or proudly add in her one liner? One little bit of info in a tag might go a long way in grounding us!! You do it in the next line sort of, but there's no emotion in it - fear of being wrong or being the jokester or something that would draw us to the character and even add immediate tension):
      I’d heard of spooning. This must be dirtier. “Well, that would be a send off,” I said, trying to sound in the know. “Slut!”

      I'm talking about subtle tweaks that add emotion because this is the very start. And emotion/self introspection that the reader is clued in to can often be a strong emotional hook. I'm not being super clear this morning. Let me know if that makes sense. (Like, it could be the tiniest bit of self consciousness. She looks at her feet or blushes and that's all it might take for us to feel a bit more invested in the character and not just the action...)

      Good stuff! Keep going. I can see the movie opening with the lawn full of forks. :)

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    5. Thanks so much for the feedback, everyone. It was very helpful.

      Andrea, it's funny you mentioned that sentence because it was one I didn't like either.

      Ann Marie, I'm so glad that the passage rang true for you in terms of capturing that age!

      Kathy & Gae, your feedback about needing the dialogue to be more natural & needing to add exposition are spot on! Thanks for helping me see hone in on what I need to improve when revising.

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  6. Good morning, Josh and Gae! Josh thank you for sharing your insights on picture books. At the moment, I have an idea for a picture book, but I'm not ready to share anything, yet. Maybe in the upcoming weeks.

    I'm a huge fan of fractured fairy tales. I think they are the best way to teach students to compare and contrast stories. And children find them hysterical. I love that your fractured fairy tales are making the reader create voices and that the narrator is a bit sarcastic. In Hansel and Gretel, I love the section on the breadcrumbs on pages 10-11. You have made the characters reflect in a societal way about breadcrumbs. I think we have all thought at one point or another reading Hansel and Gretel, why didn't they eat the bread crumbs? I always questioned why an animal didn't eat their breadcrumbs, they're in the woods! I have yet to meet a squirrel or a chipmunk that wouldn't snatch those crumbs up immediately.
    You're writing makes me laugh as a reader, something I love about reading. I feel children need to love reading, these stories do just that. Thank you for sharing this with us today!

    Here is my writing share for this week. Something that I've been working on that was on a back burner, but resurfaced because of TW.

    I walked up to the bar at The Station, ordered a flight of beers and went into the back garden. No one I wanted to be with was there yet. I sat in the back corner with my flight. I enjoyed the first beer in my series of six in the flight. Relaxed. I was finally breathing and relaxing. And then I was interrupted from my solitude. FUCK.

    “Frankie.” the voice called.

    FUCK. FUCK. FUCK.

    The one voice that makes me lose my breath.

    Breathe, Frankie, breathe.

    “Frankie, are you still that indecisive that you had to order six different beers?” It was Alex, trying to be charming, trying to point out how well he knows me.

    “Alex Carter, this is not indecisiveness. It’s indulging in more than one beer.” I tried to retort with fierce sarcasm and give the tone that I didn’t want him there, something I was very bad at. Only my heart desperately wanted him there and my mind, on the other hand, was raging.

    “That’s Frankie.” Alex taunted, “I thought you would have stayed home.”

    “I needed a break. It’s been a long…” I paused, “It’s just been a long journey.”

    I couldn’t look at him. Every time I did my heart, although elated, hurt. I always left Alex with my heart fallen in pieces, smattered across pavement.

    “When are you going back?”, he inquired. Why does he care? Is this small talk or does Alex need something?

    I sipped a hard cider from my flight, “My plan is in two weeks. I want to help Mama, but I need to get back to my reality. Then I’ll come back and forth.”

    “Ah, yeah. Good plan, Frankie.” Alex paused and then stammered, “I wondered…”
    He fell silent, “Have you gone to the cliffs?”

    The cliffs. I never go to the cliffs. Seeing them from a distance took my breathe away on my walk here. They were the most beautiful place I had ever seen, shrouded in death. My dreams were washed away there. I left them behind so long ago and never returned.

    “No.” I answered him with no emotion.

    God damn it. No. My heart began to splinter. I could feel pieces of it flaking off and stabbing what was left. Shards of my heart piercing my soul.

    Alex took my hand, “Frankie, we have to go. You have to go.”

    I had no words as I desperately tried to blink away tears.

    “Frankie, please come with me.” Alex pleaded.

    “Alex” I whispered.

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    1. Anne Marie, be it wonderful or terrible ( :) ) you are the proud owner of the first Summer 2017 Super Speed Flash Edit because your piece truly lends itself to one. I love so much of what you have in here: strong emotion, strong character development, a hook about whatever has happened at the cliffs. . .

      And, most of what I'm sharing this for YOU yourself would catch or play with on revision, but part of what I do here is try to share -- especially as it could help with students and or others in their revision.

      So, what I think is not working is that you have overwritten this scene so that some of the emotion is so spelled out that it feels stilted and that you have dialogue tags (retorting, stammering, taunting, answering with no emotion...) that by simply pulling back, you will leave your real and true work to pop and shine more. It's hard to explain without doing a quick revision, so that's why I wanted to share. The point of these is NOT to take my work exactly (though you're welcome to), and definitely not to take anything that changes the voice you wanted -- your voice -- but to see where pulling back as a general concept may punch up the scene.

      Elmore Leonard has (had :( ) Ten Rules for writing and one of them is to only us he said/she said as dialogue tags. That anything other than that is distracting. I think the point of that rule is not to follow it always -- rules are meant to be broken -- but to be aware that said is a tag that clarifies and disappears, and most others will be noted and can distract or detract. Can feel as if they're trying too hard. So, the point is to be super conscious and intentional as you move on in your writing.

      So, read what I've done -- how I've played with it -- and see if you can feel any ways in which the scene may feel more authentic and alive with some small revision. Curious as to your thoughts:

      I walked up to the bar at The Station, ordered a flight of beers and went into the back garden. No one I wanted to be with was there yet. I sat in the back corner with my flight, and sipped at the first, relaxed. I was finally breathing and relaxing.

      “Frankie?”

      FUCK.

      The one voice that had always made me lose my breath.

      FUCK. FUCK. FUCK.

      Alex moved toward me [his swagger… or some physical description]. “Frankie, are you still that indecisive that you had to order six different beers?”

      He was trying to be charming, trying to point out how well he knows me.

      “This is not indecisiveness. It’s indulging in more than one beer.” I was going for fierce sarcasm, enough to dismiss him, only my heart desperately wanted him here, even if my mind, on the other hand, was raging.

      “That’s Frankie.” Alex taunted, “I thought you would have stayed home.”

      “I needed a break. It’s been a long…” I paused, “It’s just been a long journey.”

      I couldn’t look at him. He made my heart hurt. I always left Alex with my heart shattered across the pavement. (*smatter not the right word ☺)

      “When are you going back?” he asked? But it felt like small talk, insincere. Did he need something?

      I sipped a hard cider from my flight, “My plan is in two weeks. I want to help Mama, but I need to get back to my reality. Then I’ll come back and forth.”

      “Ah, yeah. Good plan, Frankie.” Alex paused and then stammered, “I wondered…”
      He fell silent, “Have you gone to the cliffs?”

      The cliffs. No. Just seeing them from a distance took my breath away. They were the most beautiful place I had ever seen, shrouded in death. My dreams were washed away there. I left them behind long ago.

      “No.” I said, flatly.

      Still, I could feel it, how my heart began to splinter, pieces flaking off and wounding what was left. Shards of my heart piercing my soul.

      Alex took my hand, “Frankie, we have to go. You have to go.”

      I tried to blink away tears.

      “Frankie, please come with me.” Alex pleaded.

      “Alex” I whispered.


      Good stuff! It's all there and I already want to know what happens with Frankie and Alex (ugh). Keep going. :)

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    2. That was supposed to say, only "use" he said/she said dialogue tags. Not us them. :\

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    3. one more oops on my part. THIS: “When are you going back?” he asked? obviously shouldn't have that second ? :)

      I told you it was super speed.

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    4. Oh my goodness, thank you. I'm not going to lie, this was terrifying. I completely understand and agree, it was too much. I mentioned last week that I completely suck at dialogue. And this is exactly what I needed this week. I knew I was over writing this section. It makes more sense as a reader with less, it allows us to imagine and feel the characters more. Thank you for awarding me a the Super Speed Flash Edit even though it was scary and my stomach flipped, I'm happy to be a recipient. I'm looking forward and revising with this in mind. Thank you so much!

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    6. YAY for surviving it. Of course understand that we have weaknesses in our first drafts, and like I said, the work I did was really the work of REVISION. But I thought it would be really illustrative for you to be able to see how well your words do read, if you peel the overwriting back and let the authentic parts shine. So I risked it. It's all there, and you shouldn't worry too much about it in the first draft. JUST WRITE FORWARD. But it will give you a sense on how to step into revision and where your tics or weaknesses may lie. Also, for the fun of it, I adore author Geoff Herbach's craft video on cracked dialogue. A fun few minutes of viewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIJMAwb-9aw

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    7. Thank you for risking it! The Geoff Herbach video is fantastic! And now I'm watching more, funny and true. Thank you, again I appreciate the help.

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    8. Ann Marie,

      My favorite line is "Still, I could feel it, how my heart began to splinter, pieces flaking off and wounding what was left."

      I'm always reading MG & YA. Your writing made me miss reading something for an adult audience & I want to read more!

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  7. Hi Josh!
    I LOVE the pages your shared with Jack and the Beanstalk. His voice is prominent and he feels like a real character as opposed to a fairytale facsimile where the plot is more important than the person. I never thought of Jack as a real person as I was so focused on the action of the story.

    For Hansel and Gretel, I like that you call out an issue from the original in regards to where they live and the practicality of using breadcrumbs as a trail marker. I've watched enough Survivorman to know that you don't use food to mark your path. The wording works for me, "Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them."

    I'm stuck on the first line you shared: "When the sky grew dark, Papa ran off." The illustrations may address this, but why is the sky dark? Time of day or storm? And in either case, Papa isn't a very protective parent to "run off." Why not bring the kids home with him? Is there something else motivating him to leave that the illustrations may show?

    I am compelled to read the whole story and to see how else the characters can challenge the original fairytale. Thank you for sharing your work!!!

    Here is one of my pet projects: My daughters and I keep a running list of books that we want to write about our comical shihtzu Charlie. Using the Paper 53 app on my ipad, I illustrated a story of Charlie going to the groomer so that he can better see his archenemies, the squirrels.

    While I like my drawings, there are limitations with text and layout in the app. I need to tweak the captions and storyline. I'd also like to add more to the story. Eventually I'll upload the file to a different platform to tweak layout and such. Do you have recommendations for programs you use when sketching/drafting your stories?

    Please click on/copy-paste the link below to view the PDF version of The Adventures of Charlie Chuckles: Charlie Gets a Haircut.

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bzca5runsZcDQXR2MF9rZy11QTQ/view?usp=sharing

    Thank you in advance for any feedback!

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    1. Hi, Kate,

      Let me first say that I adore this concept: a story of Charlie going to the groomer so that he can better see his archenemies, the squirrels.

      It's hilarious and charming. Josh would have to supply more than that, but I'm reading it! :)

      Secondly, as an FYI, I don't require myself or guest authors to click on links and go elsewhere outside this blog to give feedback. Certainly, other campers can if they choose to, but imagine if every poster asked us to go to a link and read more. So if you could, please cut and paste what you want read here. If it's a significant portion of a PB, I'll delete it at the end of the day for safety purposes. :)

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    2. Hey, Kate!

      Very cute - you've clearly and quickly established a conflict and rising tension. I'd love to see Charlie sense something going on (with the squirrels) and fail at trying to thwart them in some way. Maybe he even misinterprets what they are to some humorous result.

      Also, consider lengthening the story so that you have at least a full 12 spreads (24 pages) - that's generally the shortest length of a picture book, with some exceptions.

      Best of luck!

      Josh

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    4. Thank you, Josh!

      I like that idea of Charlie trying to unsuccessfully thwart the squirrels. It makes sense. I'll play with that some more.

      I greatly appreciate your feedback!

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    1. What a fabulous topic! I am reading with anticipation until we get to this point as you change your rhyme scheme right here: Even in 1888,
      Walker was stealing home plate. From that point on, the tone & feel of the story are different. If you love writing NF, go join the FB group NF4NF run by Pat Miller.

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    2. Hi Andrew,
      I adore this. I'm always amazed by writers who can beautifully tell a story in rhyme without it being sing-songy. I think rhyme and rhythm are important, especially with early readers, but what you have written I admire. When I was teaching second grade, I taught in six week thematic units. One unit was "The Long Journey to Freedom: Slavery to Civil Rights". While reading your poem I immediately thought of this unit and how perfectly it would fit into the readings.
      What I loved is that your words allowed me to imagine what the pictures of your book would look like. Your first line pulled me in right away.
      Your last stanza made me visualize and feel him running home.
      I think this is wonderful, thank you for sharing!

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    3. Hi, Andrew!!! So much fun to see you here with a PB!

      I'm super curious to hear Josh's feedback as I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to those. But I will say, I adore your unexpected rhyme scheme. For me, it totally works. I get in that rhythm right away. Then when it changes it makes me think. I wonder what "rules" might be in the PB world, but I love it. I also love your string of descriptives and the subject itself. Kudos, pal! Keep going! <3

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    4. Wow, Andrew! This is great! A quick amazon search doesn't turn up any pb bios (or much at all) about Moses Fleetwood Walker, so this is a ripe subject!

      You've got lots of the baseball stuff going on, but (I haven't researched him) I'd imagine that Moses dealt with many challenges. I'd love to get into those (perhaps they come into the story later). Seeing as the book could turn relatively serious, I'm not sure rhyming is the best format (even though your rhymes fun).

      Having said that, I do like the opening - show him in his element playing ball for a page or so before getting to the serious issues. I might move the 'hate' line to the end of the first spread (wherever you envision that) to be a great page turn.

      Thanks for being brave and sharing! This is definitely a subject worth pursuing.

      Josh

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    1. Now, I like the setup & I would read on. Your characters have personality even in this snippet: Duck is a braggart, Myrtle is adventurous, Pig is nervous. Just watch through the rest of the story that you don't use too much dialogue. (I love dialogue, but I go overboard w/it at times. Lots of action is needed to intersperse w/dialogue.) Good job!

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    2. This is such a great setup, Andrea! It's concise and gets to the plot immediately, and draws me in. Well done!

      I don't have too much large scale criticism because I can see you taking this in so many directions. I'm imagining Myrtle (who I assume is a turtle) successfully sneaking through the woods, perhaps befriending a bear (that she doesn't realize is a 'dangerous bear' Gruffalo-style) along the way. Maybe even rescuing Duck from some peril (Duck has never actually reached the lake because he's too scared of something, maybe bears).

      I'm a little curious as to why Myrtle has a name while Pig and Duck are called by their animal names. Not critical to change this of course, but it pulled me out a tiny tiny bit.

      I love Myrtle's certainty of "I'm going tomorrow" - that one line shows a strength of character (or maybe she's a big naïve?).

      The only other note (and I can't know for sure without seeing the whole story) would be to ask, what makes this story about woodland creatures stand out in today's market? Picture books about farms and woodland creatures have been around for a long time, so it's important that this has some hook that makes it saleable. What's that hook? Is it a story about bravery? Bullying by Duck (probably not as you mention these side characters are only at the beginning and end)? How does this stand out in a crowded picture book market?

      Best of luck with Myrtle's tale, Andrea!

      Josh

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    3. Thank you for your thoughts, Kathy! I have a problem with the balance between text and dialogue too, depending on the story.

      Josh, thank you for your comments! I think I do have a hook that makes the work standout, but it's not part of this snippet. Your point about the names is interesting. I chose this approach mainly because Myrtle (not a turtle in my mind but open to illustrator interpretation) is the main character and the others really don't appear for most of the book, except to circle back at the end. But I suppose there's no reason in particular why they have to be those specific animals (except for the Duck). Thanks for giving me something to think about!

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    4. Andrea, I agree with what Kathy said about your characters' personalities. I like Myrtle's determination. I wanted to hear more of the Duck's description of the lake.

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  10. Thank you so much for feedback! This is my first Teachers Write. The story that I am working on is based off of my daughter who we adopted at age four. She is Tongan, adopted into our white family. She has struggled with identity, rightly so. Has anyone ever read The Girl Who Fell From the Sky? Even Jane Eyre. Many themes from that book resonated with what I am trying to write. Here are the first opening paragraphs:

    The green linoleum floor is stained and pieces are torn out in many places. The midwife gestures “ssshhh,” and waves her hand. Silence is demanded. Alcohol, benadine, and a stale odor. The once white walls are yellow and peeling. A small boy with a big cut on his hand is waiting down the hall.
    The Tongan woman on the table in the delivery room is very young, just a child herself. She is beautiful, even in the pain of labor, the contractions, the sudden tearing. When Samena imagines her birth, the mother is Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, or Hawaiian, maybe Tahitian. There is blood. The midwife’s hand is pushing the woman’s stomach. There are no screams. A Tongan woman giving birth is encouraged to be silent.
    There are no painkillers, no fetal monitoring during labor. The mother’s brown skin contrasts sharply with the white-gray sheets. With cunning hands, the midwife guides the head out. With one last push, Samena slides into the midwife’s hands. The mouth is cleared, and Samena inhales deeply, and cries. The umbilical cord is cut, and another woman takes Samena to be cleaned. Her mother turns away.
    In the morning, they leave. Samena is wrapped in a thin cotton blanket that the hospital provided. Her cousin picks up her mother. He drives her to the edge of town and drops her off where the shacks are lined up. The shacks are made of ironwood poles; and the floors are covered with split coconut logs, several layers of coconut fronds, and woven mats.
    Inside the hut is another woman with a baby at her breast. They exchange a few words as her mother lies down with Samena.

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    1. I thought I was signed in as my name - oops. AP Lit Teacher is what I teach. My name is Kay Berry. Thank you for any feedback!

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    2. Kay, I adore this. Your descriptions take us right there but also make us FEEL. There are some lovely and powerful lines. I have no criticism at the moment, just the intense desire to keep reading.

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    3. I love this piece! I love the writing style and I would definitely keep reading.

      One thing I wondered is about how the baby's name was used at the moment of birth. Did she have her name already then?

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  11. Thanks for sharing, Josh. I love reading aloud as a performer to both to my class and my biological children so of course I love the concept. My kids go wild when we read The Book With No Pictures or Don't Push the Button. Anything that engages the reader and audience so directly is a win. I would echo a few other commenters in saying the bread crumb eating/ famine part was super funny. It really worked and I would relish the opportunity to explain what the word famine meant when my 3 year old asked (and she would).
    The one part that caught me from a performing standpoint was the line "I ... don't really ... know." I just wasn't sure if as an actor I would rather pause differently. Maybe "I don't ... really ... know." or "I ... don't ... really know." The way you have it now may indeed work best though. I would absolutely want to read on and will be looking forward to the opportunity to purchase both titles. Thanks again!


    Below is my submission for feedback. This would be the intro of a story told mostly in flashback:

    I look down at the army issue canvas duffel bag between my feet. It’s so full with candy, I barely got the strap around the top. Inside? You can’t even imagine the stuff in there. Normal trick-or-treat nights, you’re psyched if you get a full size Snickers or two. This bag? I personally stuffed more king size 3 Musketeers, Twix, and Hershey’s than I can count. Everybody loves getting Reese’s and there’s plenty of those in the bag. I even jammed in 13 big boxes of Milk Duds, and I did count those. There’s probably more candy in that bag than I’ve gotten in the past five Halloweens.

    And that’s not even all of it. The teal bag on the bench is so full, the seams are stretched tight. Then there’s the backpack behind me, and the two other duffels on the ground beside me. All totally full of Halloween loot.

    If you had told me 3 weeks ago I’d be sitting in Winnekenni Park at 1 a.m. on November 1st surrounded by 5 bags of stocked full of candy, I probably would have thought Sarah and I had an epic time scaring little kids and conning old people into giving us multiple big bars. I would have been way off.

    Three weeks was a long time ago. That was before I knew about becoming a runner. Before the spider arms and Dean’s predicament. Before all of it. If I’m looking for an “at least” in this situation, I guess I could say at least it wasn’t a boring night. Though, really. I would take boring over what we had just done … or what we are about to do.

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    1. Hi, Nels,

      Happy to have you posting here!

      I love the colorful flavors (see what I did there?) of this piece and see you already have a tease of a hook going. I wonder if this wouldn't be stronger if you started right here:

      If you had told me 3 weeks ago I’d be sitting in Winnekenni Park at 1 a.m. on November 1st surrounded by 5 bags of stocked full of candy, I probably would have thought Sarah and I had an epic time scaring little kids and conning old people into giving us multiple big bars. I would have been way off.

      And, then describe the duffle bag, it might not be even stronger, bring us right into the STORY. Food for thought. Stuff to play with on revision. For now, keep writing forward!

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    2. Thank you so much for your feedback and encouragement, Gae. I've got plenty of work to do on this piece and I'm grateful for the feedback. I'll give it a go starting with the story as you said and see how it takes shape from there. Thanks!

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    1. This is super cool! I can totally envision the layout of each page with all the great visuals you present! It makes a terrific poetic nonfiction book reminiscent of Water is Water by Miranda Paul or the "Water/Rocks/etc Can Be" series by Laura Purdie Salas.

      I can totally see sidebars and/or backmatter with details about all of the trees, where in the world you'd find them, and other interesting facts and tidbits.

      I think the POV is super cool as it transitions through, but I wonder about how it would work. Are the trees anthropomorphic? If so, it takes a little away from the value as a NF text. Maybe you have some idea of who is narrating the 'but you're an ... tree' part - is the narrator in the story? Or is just the adult reader of the book? Maybe it could be a child that wants to be all of these trees - a child who is in all of the spreads. Or maybe it's a group of children, each one wanting to be a different tree? There are a lot of ways to go. I certainly like the back and forth of a tree wanting to be something it's not (I wonder how you'd end this story) - but it might be worth playing with the voices coming from different places.

      And while it works in the order listed, I wonder if it might work better looking forward as opposed to back. As it is right now, the Cherry Blossom wants to be a Weeping Willow which is on the previous page. Would it work better if at the end of the Weeping Willow page, the WW wants to be a Cherry Blossom leading toward the page turn? These are just brainstorms and maybe some things to experiment with.

      Your word choice is beautiful and I can't wait to someday see this story on bookshelves!

      Josh

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    2. Thanks! I will take some time over the weekend to delve deeper and see how some of these suggestions might help with the flow.

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    3. Hi Rachel,

      I'm not sure if this is the right place for this, but I just yesterday saw an agent put out a #MSWL (manuscript wish list) for Trees. Just Trees. And I'm not even sure if you're looking for an agent, but it's such a good coincidence that I have to share the link to the agent with you in case it's something that was meant to be: http://greenburger.com/agent/wendi-gu/

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  13. Josh, thank you so much for this insight into the picture book process. I use picture books almost daily in my 5th grade class as mentor text for everything. I look forward to exploring yours. I love the fractured fairytale concept. My father used to tell us goofy stories like Jack and the Spaghetti Stalk and they would have us all in stitches. Your post brought me right back there.
    Thinking about family stories led me to my feedback submission for the day. Although it is not a picture book, I hope you can give me some feedback. Thank you so much for your time today.

    “I truly believe that some of these stories have been repeated so many times, that we have just come to believe they are true,” Nancy pointed out, reaching for another chip.

    “Lake Legends,” Laura quickly and alliteratively coined the phrase that accurately described the phenomenon. “I think they’re all bullshit. Like the one where Grampa Mertz pulled out a gun and shot a water snake while we were all swimming. No way! I think I would’ve remembered a gun at the lake. Especially if someone fired it in front of me.”

    “Grampa was Detroit PD before he retired. He slept with a pistol under his pillow up until he died. It drove my dad nuts. Dad was worried that us kids would get into it. We were forbidden to touch it, but we would sneak into his room and look at it every once in a while. So there absolutely was a gun up here,” Margy confirmed. “Text Tom and Betz, they’ll tell you.”

    Sarah leaned back in her chair at the table and let her Oberon settle to her chest. Ever since the late 1930s when her grandfather and his cousin (Margy’s grandfather) first bought land on Torch Lake, family had gathered on one porch or another to share food, drinks, and mostly stories. Most of them were, in some way, true. Some had, like a game of telephone, transformed into legend. At this point, many of the participants in stories were long dead. Only the tales remained.

    Laura typed a message into her cell phone to Betz. She would know. Sarah reached for hers and typed one out to Tommy. In the back of her mind, Sarah recalled swimming out in the lake with Tommy, Betsy, and Laura. They had done that every day of every summer for as long as they could remember, so that wasn’t news, but Sarah also vaguely remembered a snake in the water and running away from it. “I kind of remember this,” Sarah said quietly.

    “It’s bullshit. Never happened,” Laura looked down at her phone to check for a return message. Betz finally responded to Laura’s text. “Yes, there was a snake, and yes, Gramps shot it. We were all there. How can you not remember this?”

    “Ask her if the snake was on the shore or in the water when Mertz shot it,” Sarah suggested. “I think it was on the shore.”

    “She says in the water.”

    Sarah’s phone vibrated and she looked at Tom’s response. “Sigh, are we still debating this story? Look, it went like this. We were all out swimming in front of the cottages. I was on the water bike when a snake slithered off the shore and was heading straight toward me. People started screaming about a snake in the water. I abandoned the bike in front of the cottage and swam in. The snake, perhaps in response to the screaming, turned back toward our bank. Gramps had heard the commotion and had gotten his .22, so when the snake reached the bank, Gramps shot its head off.
    I remember Grampa Kay yelling at me for ditching the water bike. I think Grampa Kay was rooting for the snake. The water bike was right out front, and I was about to be attacked by a snake. What did he expect?! I also recall Gramps dragging the body out back.”

    “I really think I remember this,” Sarah shook her head and absently took another pull on her beer. Collective memories are weird, she thought.

    “It’s all bullshit,” Laura stated. “Just another Lake Legend.”

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    1. Hi, Susan,

      I'm intrigued by the concept of Lake Legends, and how they're told so often they begin to feel real. I wonder where you're going with this, and I'm starting to feel a sense of foreboding - like in a good old scary campfire telling. I wonder if you can bring some of that tension in earlier -- maybe a flash of real memory, or an object slithering caught out of the corner of one of the character's eye... the tension will keep up reading and wanting to hone in on the well described details.

      Keep going. :) Curious to see where it is taking you which is a good thing!

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    1. That was five stanzas. YIKES, Josh! I forgot to add my feedback on It's Hansel Not Gretel! I love it! This section right here:

      Gretel: What kind of person saves breadcrumbs?
      I … don’t really … know.
      Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them.
      Okay! Forget the breadcrumbs!
      Gretel: Now I’m hungry! Why’d you have to bring up breadcrumbs?!

      My kids will *howl!* I can already hear how I'd read Gretel going "Duh. It's a time of great famine. Of course I'm hoarking the breadcrumbs!" and the narrator going "ALRIGHT! Fine!" lol I have a feeling we have similar classrooms....

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    2. Hi, Crystal!

      So glad you had a good time in LA! I hope to get out there someday.

      And I think the Doubt Monster is a great idea - and you're certainly off to a good start. Yes, rhyming is a bad idea (for all the reasons I won't go into here - visit my website for more), but you've clearly got pretty solid rhythm, which some believe can't be taught.

      In an effort to show how I think about and critique picture book manuscripts, I'm gonna go through each stanza one providing my “Deep Rhythm Analysis” (patent pending). I think of the rhythm as STRESSED and unstressed beats. The rhythm of this story appears to be as follows:

      (duh)-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH
      (duh)-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH
      (duh)-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH
      (duh)-duh-DUH-duh-duh-DUH

      FIRST STANZA:
      when the DOUBT monster COMES
      in the DARK of the NIGHT
      he will WHISper to YOU
      as you HIDE out of SIGHT

      This works nearly perfectly, as you’d never emphasize the words ‘when the’ or ‘in the’ or ‘of the’ - I stumbled a bit on the third line because it’s possible to emphasize any of the first three syllables in that line. They’re all one syllable words and none of them are un-emphasizeable (like ‘when the’, etc). Having said that, it’s a very minor issue, so I’m not sure I’d stress (pun intended) over it. You could just say ‘he’ll’ instead of ‘he will’ if that works for you. After multiple reads, you could also cut the first word ‘When’.

      SECOND STANZA:
      when you’re UP on the STAGE
      As this line starts with three one syllable words, it’s possible some people emphasize the YOU’RE, which would mess up the rhythm. Some might want to say ‘when YOU’RE up on STAGE’ instead of emphasizing the UP

      you’ll forGET all your LINES
      and they’ll ALL point and LAUGH
      Not critical, but the word ‘they’ll’ is a long one syllable word to be in an unstressed position. Think about how much your mouth has to move to say ‘they’ll all’ out loud - it’s a moderate amount.

      at your CRIES and WHINES
      There’s a missing syllable before WHINES the way that I read this. It’s possible the intent was ‘at YOUR cries and WHINES’ leaving out the optional first beat - but it’s ambiguous. Also, the word ‘whines’ feels a bit forced. If I forgot my lines on stage, I’d likely be embarrassed, or ashamed, but I’m not sure I’d be crying and whining. Consider rewording, maybe?

      [Continued in Next Comment]

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    3. [I had more than 4096 characters, so I had to split my notes here]

      THIRD STANZA:
      you’ll FALL on your FACE
      in FRONT of your FRIENDS
      These two lines work well.

      they’ll ALL laugh at YOU
      ‘They’ll all laugh’ is a lot of mouth moving again for three straight words. Also, as those words are all one syllable, it’s possible some might want to say ‘THEY’ll all laugh’ or ‘they’ll all LAUGH’ - but each of those would throw the rhythm off.

      and it WILL seem the END
      This line doesn’t work for me, rhythmically, because I don’t want to naturally stress the word will. I’d stress the IT. Also, it feels like the word ‘like’ is missing. It’s important to speak in ‘kid-speak’ - a kid would say ‘it will seem like the end’ - but even then, it’s sort of a forced rhyme, meaning that while ‘the end’ is poetic, it’s not really how people talk (unless you’re really melodramatic). Lastly, friends and end are near rhymes, but one has an ‘s’ at the end.

      FOURTH STANZA:
      so STARE at the MONSter
      at the FOOT of your BED
      ‘monster’ has the extra optional syllable for the next line at the end of the first line, which causes a problem with the next line - cramming ‘at the’ into the space of a single syllable (three unstressed syllables in a row)

      GAther up your COURage
      and KICK him from your HEAD
      The rhythm of these two lines is off. I understand that there are 12 syllables - but it’s not the number of syllables that matters. The phrase ‘gather up’ will always have the GA emphasized. I don’t say ‘gather UP’ - similarly, you’d have to emphasize courage on the COUR.
      gather UP your courAGE
      and kick HIM from your HEAD
      The above feels off. I suggest rewording. Also, kick him from your head is a bit violent. And also, what will be visualized on this spread? A monster at the end of the bed? Or is it metaphorical in the mc’s head? I’m having a little trouble picturing this.

      FIFTH STANZA
      then POINT to the DOOR
      say it LOUD say it CLEAR
      The rhythm works here, but it feels a little Seussian - or not kid-speak (a kid would say ‘say it loud and clear’. Maybe something like ‘say it loud, sharp, and clear’?

      you MUST leave my ROOM
      you have NO power HERE
      This is my suggestion to cheat. Without bold/italics/caps, I’d want to emphasize the LEAVE and HAVE which screws up the rhythm. But because of WHAT the mc is saying, I would suggest you ALL CAPS ‘MUST’ and ‘NO’ for emphasis, thus forcing the reader to use the right rhythm.
      “You MUST leave my room!
      You have NO power here!”
      Like that.

      Ok - I know I gave a ton of feedback on this one - but the only reason I could do that is because this sample is in such great shape rhythmically, I could really pick it apart for the nitty gritty details - and I wanted to share how I really do think about each syllable in my rhyming stories. If this is really an early draft, I commend you on your superb rhyming abilities.

      Best of luck!

      Josh

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    4. Oh my gosh, Josh's feedback is amazing! :)

      Lucky kids!!! ;)

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    5. And, kudos, Crystal, for being so freaking brave!!!

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    6. Crystal, I don't have anything to add, but I just wanted to say thanks for being so brave and posting your work! I have recently learned more about stressed and unstressed syllables from a webinar and having Josh Funk's analysis just helped me understand it better! Thanks for letting me learn from you!!

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    7. You guys!! Josh! Gae! I'm literally doing the "John Hughes Breakfast Club Judd Nelson Fist Pump across the football field" scene! Okay, I'm hopping up and down, too. Josh!!! That was.....the best....Gaaah! That was the coolest discussion I've had to date regarding not just writing, but rhyming!! You went sooo over the top with your analysis. If I *ever* get up to Nerd Camp or see you at 18LASCBWI I'm so going to buy a drink\chocolate\coffee...whatever. You better believe I'm going to print that puppy out and go over it with a fine tooth comb. YES, I totally got what you were saying. Okay...I got 90% of what you were saying *BUT* I have ELA teacher friends who will walk me through the rest. Heh..this is my very first rhyming attempt. But your feedback? I really wish I could insert a picture of my face right now (or a Muppety flail). So...in case you didn't get my drift. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK.

      *fist pump*

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    8. PS: I also agree with your observations on lines that did not work. Especially "and it will seem the end." I'm having a really hard time with that one. This is a very, very rough draft. It's my second edit. I LOVED your cheat suggestions: I did not know I could get away with that (cause it's exactly how I heard it in my head). Laughs - I *had* "say it loud and clear" as my original text. I changed it to fit an anapestic tetrameter scheme (thanks, Eminem!). Okay...that's my initial scan. Boy, have I got some thinkin' to do!

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    9. Thoroughly enjoyed Doubt Monster & could relate to it!

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    10. Glad I went back to read this! Awesomeness all around. Great job, Crystal & Josh!

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    1. Cute concept. I love the title.

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    3. Amber, can't wait to see this come to life. It is already so full of sass.

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    4. Hi, Amber!

      This is a great idea! I love Fiona as a little human encyclopedia. You could definitely add some nonfiction elements and/or sidematter/backmatter to the story an extra dimension (and classroom use).

      I think the next step would be to figure out what the conflict of the story is. Is there one problem that Fiona just can't solve? Does another child arrive who seems to get to the answers faster than Fiona? What makes us want to turn the pages to see what happens next?

      Fiona appears to be a relatively well developed character in your mind. So here's what I suggest - figure out what's the WORST thing that could happen to Fiona - and make that happen - there's your conflict. Then, let Fiona use her skills to dig herself out of that situation - and really show off her character as she does!

      Say hi to the kiddos from me!

      Josh

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    5. Josh is the bomb. His feedback is spot on! :)

      (yes, on the picture book stuff, this is the extent of my contribution... you dont need clueless me, you have awesome him!)

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    6. Josh and Gae, Thank you so much for the feedback. I have my next steps and ready to keep working. As scary as it was to start and get it "on paper", now that's done and I can climb out of the fear zone...for now!

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  16. First of all- thank you all for this opportunity. I've been traveling and/or sick so unable to participate until today. And when it's an amazing picture book day, all I have is an opening to an anything-but-picture book. Apologies!! Here it goes:


    Losing your job at Christmas is bad. Losing your job at Christmas and facing the prospect of having to move in with your mom tops Lucifer’s greatest hits list.

    “I’d rather live on the street, Kariss. I won’t do it!! Dammit, let me over!!!!” Horns blared. “Yeah, same to you, asshole. Kariss, please. I wouldn’t take up much room and I’m still talking hypothetically. Kariss?!?”

    With an enormous howl of frustration, Jessie McGowen threw her phone down on the passenger seat and smacked the steering wheel for emphasis.

    Traffic on I-94 was a snarled mess due to the Christmas Eve traffic and a 3-car accident with an overturned tractor/trailer. Since she missed the exit she’d have to go further south and then backtrack up Howell. She didn’t want to go to her mother’s house and now life was even making it difficult to do it.

    It still felt like an awful dream. They’d all known the non-profit was on shaking financial footing, but the urban agriculture movement was gaining supporters all the time. When their COO, Dave Woodruff, had come in that afternoon and told everyone to pack up, the whole crew had been stunned in disbelief. Word was, Dave had been operating on borrowed time and was pinning his hopes on an angel investor who decided to back out at the last minute.

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    1. I think most adults can relate to having to move back in with mom and dad. I know I certainly can. After reading your short snippet, I'm left wondering who Kariss is. Best friend? Sister? I kind of wanted one short sentence that would explain their relationship. Will Jessie end up moving in with mom or with Kariss? I seriously want to know. Either situation could lead to a ton of fun conflict. I'm always drawn to romance novels, and this writing sample could easily head that way.

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    2. Hi, Susan,

      Intriguing and emotional start - set against the Christmas season. We can all feel this stress, this HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN TO ME NOW?!

      I'm with Betsy, that I'd benefit from a bit more grounding as to who these two women are: Jessie and Kariss. I feel there are places to do it right in the opening dialogue:

      Losing your job at Christmas is bad. Losing your job at Christmas and facing the prospect of having to move in with your mom tops Lucifer’s greatest hits list. [Did this happen to Jessie? Right? Can we see her grab her things and storm out and into a blizzard (or whatever) and into her car. Dial her friend's (sister? who?) number by heart. Feel a bit more of the humiliation, horror and panic through that. Then maybe the panic as Kariss doesn't pick up -- I'm not clear, is she talking to her machine? or relief of Kariss picking up on the other end of the phone? Before the frustration of a bad connection kicks in? Give us a bit of grounding so we're right there with you. If you did that, then look how strong this dialogue is:

      THEN:

      “I’d rather live on the street, Kariss. I won’t do it!! Dammit, let me over!!!!” Horns blared. “Yeah, same to you, asshole. Kariss, please. I wouldn’t take up much room and I’m still talking hypothetically. Kariss?!?”

      With an enormous howl of frustration, Jessie McGowen threw her phone down on the passenger seat and smacked the steering wheel for emphasis.

      Food for thought. Good stuff! Keep going!

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    1. Betsy, what a great concept! My favorite line is "...but he was still Little Bit, not a little bit more." I am excited to see where the story goes from here. Any ideas for where it's headed?

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    2. Thanks, Amber. Little Bit ends up having a magical day where he can do pretty much whatever he wants. But once he grows too tall, things get hectic and chaos ensues. By day's end, the magic wears off and he shrinks back down to size. Here's the ending:

      That night, Little Bit shrank and shrank and shrank some more until he shrank so much that he was only three foot four.

      “I guess Mama was right,” he sighed. “Little boys are the perfect size.”

      Mama smiled. “You’ll always be my little boy, whether you are three foot four, or six foot nine. You’ll always be mine.”

      And so they hugged and hugged and hugged some more until they hugged so much, they hugged once more.

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    3. Hi, Betsy!

      Thanks for sharing. This is certainly adorable and full of potential pun possibilities.

      One question, though. What is Little Bit? Is he a human? Some monster/creature-type thing? It might be worth putting this in an illustration note toward the beginning.

      I think in general, the text is a little telly, whereas you could try to show more - and some of what's written will also be shown in the illustrations. As picture books are shorter and shorter these days, it's important to make use of all word real estate you can - try to eliminate as many 'was' and 'to be' words as you can. Some what you're saying can even be put into illustration notes (such as the roller coaster - it could just be an image under 'little bit was a little bit small').

      I think there are lots of places where the point could get across in half as many words.

      "Oh, Little Bit," said Mama. "You're the perfect size. You can't wish yourself tall." But that night, Little Bit wished anyway.

      I cut the 'shaking her head' because the same emotion (without the motion) will be shown in the illustration. Similarly, with the star lit so bright - while it's well written beautiful prose - the illustration can show him looking at a star.

      I know what I'm suggesting is that lots of the flowing language gets cut. And I wish it weren't so. But that's how picture books are made today. It's 144 words in your sample, and we've just got to the plot. It's gonna be hard to keep that in a reasonably saleable range.

      But understand - I'm not suggesting the story should be shorter - I'm just saying that the first 2-3 spreads of the story should have fewer words in them. These are still the first 2-3 spreads - it would just be ideal to get them down in half as many words.

      Maybe someday the picture storybook will return. I certainly hope so. In any case, I certainly think this story has potential!

      Break a pencil!

      Josh

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    4. Thank you so much for your feedback, Josh. I hear what you're saying (and I agree) and will definitely work on it. Thanks again!

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  18. Maureen MorrisonJuly 14, 2017 at 9:08 AM

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    1. Ahoy, Maureen!

      I love the mixed up holidays Aunt Margie makes up. You've clearly got a creative mind! Aunt Margie sounds like a fun goofball of a character.

      I think the biggest thing for me is plot-wise. I understand the conflict is that Mason wants a cousin. But at some point the tension needs to escalate. Is there a deadline or time limit during which Mason needs this cousin? Or a time limit for Aunt Margie? Perhaps I just need to see a little bit about where this is going, but I'm not sure there's enough rising tension potential - and it might just turn into a list of funny holidays Aunt Margie brings to the table.

      Is this book about acceptance? (as in, Aunt Margie never plans to have a baby) And also, do we meet Aunt Margie? Three holidays in (at least three pages to three spreads) and we haven't actually seen her yet. Is this book gonna turn serious at some point (Aunt Margie doesn't want to have kids, and Mason needs to understand that)? While the book doesn't need a specific message, I'm wondering what the sales hook is.

      Lastly, the text TELLS me Mason wants a cousin. But as the reader, I don't know why. Is there a way to SHOW me? Is he an only child? Why a cousin and not a sibling?

      A couple little things: Regarding her name, though - I'm not sure Margie is the best name for an Aunt. While it's Marge in Harry Potter, I wonder if it's too soon to use Aunt Marg(i)e as a name.

      Also, I didn't totally get the Matrick - I'm guessing it was the 'matching' - but that might be a wee bit of a stretch.

      Hope this helps!

      Josh

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    2. Thank you for this feedback! Aunt __________ brings tank tops to the family in November for Tanksgiving and Maison thinks to himself that his aunt sort of looks like she's eaten a whole turkey. He eventually gets his cousin and sends his aunt a thank you picture. Lots to work on here for me. Thank you again.

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  19. Josh, I so loved your excerpts! I was laughing and just want to read more now! I just ordered It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk. I love having my students play with fairy tales and will be adding this to that unit. I agree with another person who was wondering about I...don't really...know. I would read that differently like that writer said. (I can't find it now to see who it was. Sorry!) I also was concerned about the word famine, but after thinking more, I think it is fine. Kids would be able to figure it out or a teacher could quickly explain it. It totally fits in the conversation.

    In my three summers participating in this, I have never posted for feedback. It is so scary! However, my new motto in life is "Be brave" so here goes. This is not for a picture book yet, but it could be. I'm not sure yet. I wrote it this summer as part of the Wyoming Writing Project. I know it's six paragraphs but they are short so I hope I am not breaking the rules too much. Please enjoy "The Diner."

    Hanging out on a Wednesday night at a diner. Yep. That’s right--a diner. “Why,” you ask. Why not? It’s not like I have anything better to do. So, I’m here, blending in, hoping no one notices me. This place is great for that! Being anonymous. Tourists appear like clockwork. Tourists pop in whenever the mood strikes. No one seems to notice anyone. But I do. I see them all.
    Sally sits at table 63 with her husband and granddaughter Rose. He isn’t always here but the girls are. Sally is raising Rose because her parents were deemed unfit. She’s a happy girl despite her circumstances. I am still trying to figure how Sally eats because she has no teeth!
    Oh look! A man just walked in. He is definitely new here. He looks lost standing with his jean shorts up to his chest and a spotless white t-shirt tucked in. He makes a to go order and then ambles around the diner in his black velcro shoes and white knee high socks taking in all the carved wooden artwork. He gets close enough that I’m sure he can see me. Thankfully Staci brings him his food and he leaves. I’m still invisible!
    Herb and Betty sit silently staring at each other in booth 11. Betty drives Herb here every Tuesday. He used to work at the diner. She hopes he will remember her if they come back to the place of their first date on the same day of the week over fifty years ago. I hope some day he will.
    What is happening? Behind me all I hear is laughter and loud voices. Are you kidding me?! Definite visitors. Regulars are never that obnoxious. I mean, c’mon! Someone said something about bananas. They don’t serve bananas here! I slowly spin around; sure enough five gals gossiping and having the time of their lives. I stare, waiting for them to hush up. They manage to quiet down when their food arrives but the noise steadily increases again as they finish their meals. Then, can you believe it?! They linger and keep chatting! Let’s go ladies! You need to leave. At the Sky, we enjoy a peaceful atmosphere.
    When the girls finally walk out the door, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s quiet again. I decide I need to head home as well. I’m exhausted. Keeping an eye on everyone sure wears me out. I need to rest on my silk pillow so I can catch more juicy bits tomorrow. I climb up my invisible web before walking along the plastic leaf as I had to my home at the bottom of the wicker basket centered on the wall in the middle of the diner.

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    1. Hi, Wendy,

      HOORAY for being brave! Congrats! This immediately reminded me of Maira Kalman's Next Stop Grand Central with its colorful descriptions and quirky characters and quirky facts: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AEBCTTA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

      (I adore Maira Kalman and am a huge fan!)

      Of course, figuring out what it is -- what you might like to do with it -- is key, but for now, it has a Grand Central vibe to it and I really enjoyed it!

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  20. Hi Gae! Hi Josh! Thanks for this introduction to Josh's work! I'm a huge fan of fractured fairytales and meta-meta- everything. Can't wait to check these books out and share them with students.

    Here's my excerpt for the week. An early stages excerpt from what I envision to be a YA sci-fi/dystopian story. The MC, Helena, is wandering in the forest -- a foreign environment for her -- looking for her little sister who has been stolen by mysterious winged creatures. Thanks in advance for any and all feedback!

    Helena tried to keep her focus on that act of one foot after the other. It was a useful exercise, trying to block the panic in her gut into a place where she could contain it. She didn't want it to rise to her chest or she was afraid she'd lose the ability to breathe -- or worse yet, to her brain. If the panic made it there, she'd surely crumble. Or explode.

    One foot after the other. Birdsong filled the air, and Helena found herself feeling cheerful in spite of everything. A rustle in the bushes startled her. She caught her breath, but it was only a squirrel -- a fat one -- skittering across the ground and up a tree.

    A pop of red caught her eye in the foliage ahead. Raspberries! She'd never seen them growing wild, of course, but she'd eaten them just last week, a special treat. Her mother had looked so proud, so conspiratorial, when she'd pulled the glass jar from her satchel and placed the bright red raspberries on the table.


    "Take one, mi amor!"

    Helena had picked up the delicate berry in her fingers, looked at her mother who nodded, a small smile on her lips, and popped the raspberry into her mouth. There had been an explosion of sweetness, with just a hint of tar. Helena's eyes had grown wide, as her mother had laughed.

    "Have another!"

    Helena's eyes widened in question. She mother nodded again.

    "I want to share with Daisy, though. We have to save some for after her nap."






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    1. *with just a hint of tart.

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    2. Eeeks! I forgot to include my FF for Josh! Sorry! Here it is:

      I absolutely love the interplay between the voices. The narrator voice, Hansel, Gretel and the other voice (the voice of reason?) I also love the layout -- the way that Hansel and Gretel communicate in speech bubbles, while the narrator and the other voice use different fonts. This, to me, is a great segueway between picture books and graphic novels, which are such an important genre, especially for middle school ELs and/or reluctant readers. Honestly, it all worked for me, and I can't wait to read more!! And to read it OUT LOUD. The best way to read most books, as I see it. And I love the idea of doing this as readers' theatre. Brilliant. Thanks for sharing this wonderful work with us today!

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    3. Jen, am loving this little excerpt. You do a wonderful job of offsetting trepidation and fear with the lovely distraction of the raspberries. I especially love this moment:

      One foot after the other. Birdsong filled the air, and Helena found herself feeling cheerful in spite of everything. A rustle in the bushes startled her. She caught her breath, but it was only a squirrel -- a fat one -- skittering across the ground and up a tree.

      It is exactly what I wrote about.

      I feel like your voice is strong and you have a nice rhythm going with your story. Good work! Keep going!

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  21. Josh, I LOVE this Hansel and Gretel version. Oh, yeah, it's NOT Hansel and Gretel! The quips between H and G and the narrator crack me up! I DO want to keep reading. I love the part where H and G are going out on their own, and the narrator will be left out. Ha! (No story to continue, then, right!) I can't wait to read the rest.

    Now for mine, which is NOT a PB. Disclaimer: I changed focus already, based on our conversation last weekend. I'd like to make some short-story excerpts work together to show how teachers learn and find meaningful experiences while teaching.
    Here it goes...


    Jennifer's heart fluttered just a bit as she looked down the aisle of the high school auditorium. There must have been 500 people in seats already, and she came an hour early! This was her first national teacher institute – educators from all over the world represented in this one cozy space. Since she registered for the conference on a whim and without the support of school funds, she didn't know what to expect. “Wow, this must be a big deal!” Jennifer thought. She had no idea just how big a deal it was...

    “Come forward! Make room! There are a lot of people who don't have seats yet, so if you would please move to the front and fill in the middle of the rows, that would be great.” Jennifer was already in the middle in order to see the speaker clearly and avoid people climbing over her when the keynote began. Two teachers scooted towards her, one on each side, and suddenly there was no air to breathe.

    “What have I done?” Jennifer panicked and tried to take a few deep breaths as she shrugged her elbows closer to her stomach and tightened her grip on her pen and composition notebook, but both people were already talking to each other around her.

    “Hi, my name is Kathy. Where are you from?”

    “Hello. I'm Sue. Kansas. You?”

    “I'm from New Jersey, but my school is in Buenos Aires. I came back just for this.”

    “Whoa! South America? You traveled a-ways!”

    Jennifer couldn't fathom the idea that an elementary school teacher would travel so far just to attend crowded meetings for 3 days in the name of professional development.

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    1. Jennifer, this is a lovely glimpse into your experience and I love the premise. I am really curious to hear you write this in first person, and feel like the emotions -- excitement, fear, admiration -- would really shine so strongly through. Is there a reason you went for third instead of first? Yay to sharing it!

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    2. Thank you, Gae! I chose 3rd person because I don't want this to be a personal narrative; rather stories about what teachers LEARN while teaching. I should have changed the name from the get-go. Could be any name: Mary, Ann, whoever. (teacher)

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  22. As for my FF for Josh, I appreciate the "fracturing" of a fairy tale that doesn't have many different versions available. I have enjoyed the narrator voice and think it adds an element of fun and frustration at the same time.
    Can't wait to see it in book form!

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    1. Hey, Julie!

      This is exactly my kind of book! It's filled with humor and funny illustratable things! I fully expect it to end with the fact that Henry walks in behind brother and sister eating dessert wondering why they weren't DOWN with him.

      I think the thing I struggled most was the setup. Mom says we can't have dessert until we play nicely with each other ... It's believable. But is it a big enough conflict? Because the tension never rises throughout the story. Is there a time limit? Could they have to do something before sunset? I'm just thinking out loud (slash-via-comment) - but 'we have to prove we can play nice' feels like it could have room for improvement.

      Also, is there a reason for both the brother and sister? As they appear to serve the same exact purpose, could they be combined into a single character? Or maybe, they could be trying to one-up each other. Maybe Mom says whoever plays nice (or something else) first gets their choice of (dessert, or something else). That would make use of having two different characters.

      Minor: on the title - it feels a little bossy. Sis and Bro are mostly pleading with him, so maybe a 'Please come down, Henry' or something like that? Not critical, but worth brainstorming.

      Lastly, I sort of feel like it would be easier if the Sis and Bro were outside in the backyard so you could actually see them doing the things that are being talked about. If they're in the bedroom the whole time, what image is on the page when they say they found bigfoot?

      I think this is pretty close. Well done!

      Josh

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    2. Hi Pepper, I like the way your ideas get more and more exaggerated. I know if I read this to a class they would want me to turn the pages so they could see the next crazy idea! The picture descriptions were really helpful. Is that something you would include if you submitted this to an agent or publisher or have you illustrated this story yourself?

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    3. Thank you so much for your feedback! Whoohoo!!

      I hear you on the set-up... I need to think about this. More tension needed!!

      Bro/sis...are they both needed? Good point. I will now ponder this as well.

      Title: Maybe-Henry, Please Come Down

      So, there is a double twist ending. My first draft had an ending similar to what you stated. Then I changed it!! 😳


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    4. Diana-Thank you for your comment! I WISH I were an illustrator. Since I'm not, I would include the descriptions if I submit it to an agent or a publisher. I know that it's sometimes ground upon, but for the more crazy ideas, I think it's needed. I also know an illustrator may have an even better idea than my suggestions, so I'm more than happy to go with the funniest idea.

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  24. Josh, I love the format of these new books. Both the Jack & the Beanstalk and Hansel & Gretel. For teaching effective argument with my middle schoolers, your books would be a great mentor text. The characters' voices ring true. There's so much to read aloud and interact with on each spread. I'll have fun reading it aloud, and kids will enjoy reading with each other. The Readers Theater angle creates excitement for using it as speaking practice as well. I do lots of that in my classroom. From novels in verse like Crossover, to poems and song lyrics, I love the idea of adding books like these for that purpose. So fun.

    This is my first time participating in Teachers Write, and my first attempt at a YA novel. This excerpt is at the end of what is currently chapter two. It's some backstory about the mom (Cassie-a main character) and the demise of her marriage. l'm nervous, but excited for any feedback you or other authors/aspiring authors or educators can give. Thanks so much.

    About a month later, during one of their weekly Saturday night conversations, Jason surprised Cassie with words that revealed more of his feelings. He said he was “waiting for the love to come back.”

    Like, what?????

    Like they just magically appear out of nowhere?

    Like he’d be walking to his car one day, and...BAM! “I love Cassie again.”

    To add insult to injury, Jason said that his love might come back next month, next year, or maybe not for a few years.

    If at all.

    Well boy, isn't that romantic.

    With her 45th birthday looming, Cassie decided she didn’t have months or years to wait for Jason to find his love for her. She was tired of sleeping on her side of the bed...never touching. Tired of sitting on opposite sides of the L-shaped couch, both on their iPads. Tired of little to no touch at all. But mostly, Cassie was tired of no real conversation. Nobody who was excited to see her at the end of the day. Nobody to share both the ins and outs of daily life, but also nobody to share future hopes and dreams.

    A few weeks after that night in April when they told their two teenagers about the impending divorce, Cassie was folding Jason’s underwear when she’d had enough. She thought, “I’m getting none of the wifely benefits, but I’m doing all the cooking, cleaning and laundry. Without being appreciated.”

    It was then that Cassie decided to move out: knowing that separating was what she had to do. For her self-worth. To start living the next part of her life. To start healing and be free.

    So to many others: people who had no idea how long Cassie had lived what she would call “half a life,” dating again may have seemed soon. But to Cassie...it was a long time coming.

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    2. Hi, Sandy! Welcome to Friday Feedback, and yay for being brave!!

      I really like this excerpt, and especially how strong your writer's voice comes through. It is this moment that really seals the deal for me:

      To add insult to injury, Jason said that his love might come back next month, next year, or maybe not for a few years.

      If at all.

      Well boy, isn't that romantic.

      I have a HUGE question for you. You say you're working on a YA and that the 45 year old mom is the main character... and I'm curious about that. Is there a reason you're choosing this for YA instead of seeing all that is unfolding through one or both of her teenagers' eyes. As a general concept YA's are going to want to read a story from a YA's perspective. Having said that, I was literally JUST chatting with a friend about a YA that would be from both the Mom and the daughter's perspective... but with the daughter the main character. Food for thought. Interested to hear more.

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    3. Hi Sandy I like the details you included here. Cassie's voice is very true to life. I am curious about how your teen character would see the situation? It would be interesting to write it from a different point of view as well.

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    4. Thanks for the feedback, Diana. I'm trying it with alternating chapters from the teenage daughter and the mom (so chapters 1 and 3 are Heidi's perspective). It's in 3rd person right now. Not sure if it would be better in 1st person. That remains to be seen.

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    5. Thanks for the feedback, Gae!
      I struggled with which excerpt to include. I'm thinking both the mom and daughter would be main characters with alternating chapters. But your comment gives me pause. I get that the teenager needs a slightly stronger or louder voice if it's YA. My teenager starts the first chapter, and will jump in to begin the next chapter.
      I had a great chat with my real teenage daughter and she's excited to offer her perspective to help make my teen character more authentic.
      I look forward to sharing an excerpt next Friday from her point of view.
      Excited to get back to writing.

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    6. And Gae, you also gave me a great idea about adding the teenage son for a different perspective. Whether the reader knows his thoughts, or whether we just know his words and actions. Not sure yet. Thanks again.

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    1. Diana, I'm really interested to know why George dislikes the Kiss and Ride so much. You've really hooked me. I also kept wondering why it's called a Kiss and Ride. I want to know why George's dad is in such a hurry, and if he's always so rushed. Does George expect that?
      Not sure about text vs dialogue. Will it depend on how long of a PB it is? How much can be told with illustrations? Some PB have lots more text than others. Hope you'll get more helpful feedback from Josh and others.

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    2. Hi, Diana!

      I'm guessing from your spelling of favourite and use of 'kiss and ride,' you are British (in my area, we'd probably just say 'pickup line' or 'pickup'). This can certainly be a stressful area for some children, so this is certainly a child-relatable story.

      I'm wondering about the tone - is this going to be a funny story? Is George's dad a goofball? Or is this a serious story - and George's dad is somewhat negligent?

      The sample you've shared is 340 words, but for the most part, it feels like it's only about 1/4 of the way through the story, which, in today's market (at least what I know of in the US) is far too wordy. I think the entire second paragraph could probably be cut. None of it really applies to George, and none of it really helps the reader understand the problem - the problem (as I see it) being 'George's dad doesn't follow the rules.'

      I also think that keeping things in George's perspective will help. It probably doesn't make sense for the reader to see what George's dad says (to himself) in the car if George isn't yet with him. We should see the world from George's perspective - the child's perspective. Show me how George feels about this. The first paragraph does a good job 'telling' me how George feels about everything else, but I'd like to be 'shown' how he feels - about his father's actions. Is he embarrassed? Is he worried? Is he scared? Even though we're 340 words into the story, all I know is 'George doesn't like the kiss and ride' - but I don't really know why - or at least I don't know how he does feel.

      I hope this feedback is helpful in developing George's story!

      Josh

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    3. Thanks for the feedback! This is really helpful! It will definitely help me focus the story.

      I am actually from Canada not Britain :)

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    4. D'oh! Canada! I love Canada! Ketchup Doritos are my favorite!

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  26. Hi Josh!
    Here is my feedback on Hansel and Gretel. Also, as a kindergarten teacher and former 4th grade teacher, I can attest to the power of fractured fairy tales. Kids of all ages eat them up. Excited to add another to my list!

    What works: I love when they find their house. I was cracking up. As many have mentioned already, the humor really works in this snippet.

    What might not be working: I don’t see anything not working. What might add to what you already have is a transition from the narrator telling the story to engaging with the characters. For example, when the narrator says, “No! He’s not coming back!” he/she jumps right back into narration. It might work to add something like, “Anyway, back to the story…” Obviously the voice and word choice would be a bit better but just an idea of what I mean.

    Am I compelled to read: Yes! I want to know if Mama is evil in this version like versions I’ve heard before. I want to know the motivation for leading Hansel and Gretel astray - is it like traditional versions?

    Now my snippet. Here's more from my MG WIP about Alice and her Grandmother. Alice and Gram have a special bond. Last week I was given feedback to add more tension, which I went back and added. Thanks! Here is another part I added this week.

    While Gram and Ali walked, they played the “Would you rather?” game.

    “Would you rather have smelly feet or bad breath?”

    “Would you rather be lost or found?”

    Today’s question was, “Would you rather sweat cheese or smell like a skunk?”

    “Mama mia!” said Gram. “That’s a doozy!” Alice giggled at the thought of cheese pouring down her face as they walked down the sidewalk.

    “Well, I think I’d rather smell like a skunk.” Gram said. She walked over to the playground across the street. Alice followed behind and Gram and Alice found two empty swings.

    “Owen smelled like a skunk AND cheese today,” was Alice’s reply. “I don’t know why he thinks he is so much better than everyone else. He’s always acting like he knows more about grown up stuff than the rest of us. He says his older cousins tell him everything. And he acts like we’re dumb just because we don’t care about that stuff. If he ever said anything to me, I’d tell him exactly what I thought of him.”

    “Well, Chickpea, that seems like a dilly of a pickle to me. Let’s smoosh his head.”

    Alice smiled a big smile. Whenever Gram was mad at anybody she would pretend to smoosh their heads. She would close one eye, squint the other and hold out her hand, thumb and first finger open and other fingers curled, as if she were measuring something. Then she would imagine she could see that person’s head in between her fingers and on the count of three, smoosh.

    After Gram and Alice pretend smooshed Owen’s head, pushed back on their swings, and laughed as they pumped to go higher.

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    1. Meg, this is just a delightful little section. I really love Alice and Gram's relationship and I'm so glad they have each other. I love their little smoosh thing they have together. I think it speaks volumes to this small bit that I will remember the smoosh trick and use it myself sometime soon. No criticism. Keep going!

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    1. Hi, Michele,

      I think a story about a duck that thinks he's a chicken sounds hilarious. I would love to see all the trouble Darius could get in with the other chickens. Does he try to peck and preen and cause chaos? What do the other chickens think of him? And why does he think he's a chicken? Was his egg misplaced in the coop at birth? These are questions I need answers to.

      If this is a story about self-acceptance, does he have something against Ducks? Do the other chickens think he's a chicken, too - and chickens don't like Ducks? Is there a prejudice against Ducks? I'm reminded of Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio - and Gaston decides he'd prefer to remain with his adopted family, even when finding his original.

      As far as some of the text goes, I think there is an opportunity to do a little less telling in some cases. For example, "Darius decided to swim" can be left out. The text SHOWS this decision in the next sentence when "he slowly dipped his ..." Similarly, "Darius loved the water" isn't necessary - the reader doesn't need to be TOLD. The next half of the sentence SHOWS that love "[Darius] splashed all over the pond (perhaps add "with excitement" or something like that)"

      Good luck with this one!

      Josh

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  28. First timer. That is me. Michele Larson. Don't know how to fix that "unknown."

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    1. Happy to see you here, Michele! And Josh gives you great feedback! Keep going!

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    1. Hi, Ona!

      I love the idea of Rose writing stories in her head - this could be an incredibly great visual juxtaposed against reality. It definitely has a cool hook to it.

      First, a bit about the illustration notes. Generally, my feeling about illustration notes are that they should only be used when something has to happen that isn't clear in the text. And even in those cases, you should only say WHAT, not HOW - never tell the illustrator HOW to do their work.

      However, in this case, I don't think what you've got are actually illustrator notes. The only parts I would put in illo notes are

      [in thought bubble] Once upon a time a girl needed directions, so she called upon ...

      If you really wanted to, you could even put that section in italics or in another font - but it certainly part of the text of the story. I wouldn't worry about how the thought bubble would be executed - whether it would be illustrated or written in a notebook with handlettering, or both, etc - just tell the story - all we as readers of the text only need to know is that this part of the story is in a thought bubble in Rose's head.

      I'm wondering what the plot of the story is. Perhaps Rose wants to make friends? Perhaps she wants to learn her way around the neighborhood? As it stands, Rose seems to be pretty chill and there isn't really any tension at all. I think it's important to add some element of conflict or worry to keep the pages turning. While one *might* go exploring for the sake of exploring, it's important to show the reader WHY this story about Rose is important. While I think her collecting stories (and I imagine some cool end scene with all of her stories together) is fun - quiet stories are tough sells.

      Having said that, they do sell, so if you feel that this story doesn't need some forced in conflict (and I really do like it as is), then keep it light and quiet.

      Happy writing!

      Josh

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    2. Hi Josh -
      Thanks so much for the feedback. It's so hard to only share part of the work! Yes, there's a conflict. It is near the end of the book though... so you have me thinking about the conflict/worry keeping the pages turning!

      Thanks also for the illustration note - notes! I like your take on them.

      Thanks again,
      Ona

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    1. I forgot to add that one of Josh's sketches inspired my story!

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    2. Hey, Sherry!

      Was that you I saw in the parking lot of Haute Coffee? Don't be shy - come say hi!

      And I absolutely love dragons and dragon books! You've got a lovely poetic style filled with marvelous vocabulary. I particularly love the imagery of a playground of dragons.

      Normally suggest cutting the telly parts since it's already very showy, so it's up to you if you want to just start on the second line (that's often a good piece of advice).

      Drake loved dragons who breathed fire,
      stomped towns,
      and swallowed knights whole.

      I wonder about 'treasuring' dreams. It's not that one can't 'treasure' a dream, but maybe he 'looked forward' to his dreams with great anticipation or something? Maybe he couldn't wait to go to sleep where his room became a fire-breather's playground.

      I can certainly sense a great adventure on the horizon with trolls, snake, and slime. Is he going to BE a dragon in his dream? Does he find one and ride away with it? Does he rescue the dragon? I can imagine so many great visuals. You certainly get to the point with the plot, so good luck to Drake surviving his dream!

      Josh

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  31. Oh my goodness Josh! Looks as though rhyming is not your only forté! Now I am really excited to read Jack's story and Hansel and Gretel's. (I always knew there was more to their story).

    What I really enjoy about this new format of yours (META) is that you nail it. Interaction with the reader is hard to pull off and you do it well. I have added you to my mentors in this style of writing. And...you get the humor that children love and use it in your writing.

    Well done Sir Josh!

    And to all of the teachers...Thank you for choosing your career. I am rooting for you as our future leaders depend on you.

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    1. Thanks, Traci! And I second your comment about thanking all the teachers. It's the hardest job there is. #TeachersAreRockStars

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  32. I'm so glad I found this. What a good and fun idea. Thank you for doing this, Gae.

    And thank you Josh Funk for being part of it. I'm a big fan. Your (good) writing aside, the way you champion KidLit by participating in things like this, promoting other writers and all you do on your website, it's just awesome.

    As for Hansel and Gretel, I really loved the "of course" humor you pulled from the original tale. Of course they wouldn't waste bread. And of course they would know the woods around their house. I also loved the characters, particularly the Narrator. It's so interesting to see a Narrator put back on his heels (I say "his" because I'm reading the Narrator as Josh). It opens the story to so many possibilities by making the Narrator a character that is at once both authoritative but also has vulnerability and is fair game to be acted on. I'm definitely intrigued and want to see where it goes and what other humor you pull from the original tale.

    I'm a little hesitant to give my notes on only an excerpt of a larger story, but I do have a note about the characterization and the dynamic between Hansel and Gretel. It feels to me like there is a perfect set up for a buddy comedy-type dynamic here. Gretel already plays the part of the straight character and Hansel, for the most part, is the "out there" character. But I say for the most part because of his line:

    Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them.

    That seems like a Gretel line. It's a thoughtful line while Hansel is more of a "feeling" character. He is scared, excited, or sad about what happens. So I feel like their lanes could be more defined there, and I feel like this straight/emotional dynamic could always open up the story to more outrageous humor for Hansel and more frustrating humor for Gretel as she tries to both contain Hansel's unpredictability and keep him in line while also arguing with the Narrator. Perhaps Hansel even listens at times to the Narrator, which would add to Gretel's frustration. And that thought was inspired by Gretel admonishing the Narrator for making Hansel cry, so I feel like there is a place for that in this story (I hope it's alright I offer these perhapses and maybes).

    I also wonder if pages 14-15 could be shortened a little, as it felt a little long, to me. I feel like the lines-

    Gretel: Maybe Papa got lost on the way home to get blankets and food? He does have a terrible sense of direction.
    Hansel: But where’s Mama?

    ... could probably be edited out, as it felt extraneous and the idea that the parents were off getting blankets and food was already mentioned on pages 10-11 (unless that's on purpose to set something up later).

    And those are my thoughts. I hope they're a little helpful. I do have one writerly question. Is it common practice or acceptable to write dialogue the way it's written here- "Hansel:..." instead of having to write "s/he said"? I haven't seen that before in manuscripts.

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    1. Hey, Marc - thanks for all the kind words! And thanks for the feedback - I agree, the characters are a bit mixed up when Hansel says the thing about the breadcrumbs! That'll change!

      As far as how to write the dialogue, if you intend it to be speech bubbles or in a graphic novel style format, this is how I personally do it. There are many ways to write GN's (I'm no expert), but script-style is pretty common.

      Best of luck with your writing!

      Josh

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    3. Marc, not sure if Josh will be back, but I happened to pop on one last time and am very entertained by your excerpt! Funny, punchy stuff. I have no idea whether it's right for picture book, but I enjoyed it. :)

      The only bit of maybe weird constructive crit I have to offer is that I am assuming (??) your MC is a boy (maybe an unfair assumption) and the name Barbelle feels female to me, partly because I had a grandma named Belle. I get the reference but wondering if that's anything you should consider. Hope Josh might pop back in to give you more valuable feedback.

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    4. Hi Gae,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my excerpt and commenting on it. And BarBelle is actually a girl. The character started off without any gender, but seeing as she gets her powers from power bars, the name BarBelle just came to me to so her not-so-secret identity had to be a girl named Belle.

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  33. Hi Josh,
    So excited that there will be more fractured/meta fairy tales from you! As I told you, the Teachers College Writing Units of Study have third grade writing fractured fairy tales and as a result LOTS of third grade teachers are looking for mentor texts. We teach the kids to have a good reason to change the story and focus on change of setting, change of character, or change of motivation, so I can see this being a great text to share! I find that third graders are right on the edge of being very literal and "getting" humor, so I think this will speak to them!

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  34. Hi Gae and Josh! Well...what I'm working on is far from a picture book! I wasn't sure if I was going to join in but I'm starting a new YA and you know how starting a new project goes...it helps to have some cheerleading. I'm already in love with these characters so much and can't wait to tell their story. Mostly, I need to hear that I should keep going but any feedback otherwise is welcome!

    *********************

    “Damn putas,” he mutters under his breath. “It’s not natural, Jazmin.”

    I lean forward and peek out the window. Outside, our across-the-street neighbors are kissing good-bye. They’re in a gentle embrace and the kiss goes on and on. En serio, if I’m really honest, it’s basically making out. But they have no idea people are creeping on them, watching from an upstairs window. I side-eye Josue, careful not to give away how much I completely disagree. The counselor said we need to keep our emotions in check so we don’t fuel his anger.

    He tosses his game controller down next to him. Even though he’s barely been out of the house since he came back, he’s always tired and drained. He rests his head on the back of his futon, staring blankly at the ceiling, and with a sigh, says, “A woman is supposed to be with a man. Not another woman.”

    My heart races as I swallow and wonder how someone I love so much could feel like such a stranger.

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    1. Oh wow, Jen. I love this little intro and the feeling and voice of what you are working on here. I was the tiniest bit confused about who was who, etc., but not enough to bother with fixes right now... as you know, write forward since so much can ultimately change. I like it! I feel it. Keep going!!!

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  35. Hi Josh and Gae,
    This is my third time typing this post on my iPad. Apparently I need some tech feedback from somewhere, because the comments keep disappearing. So sorry if late posts show up from me three times!!!

    First of all, I love the fairy tales and how the characters hijack the story from the narrator. I also love thinking of picture books as meant to be read to children by adults. My own kids are 7 and 10 and I don't read picture books to them that often any more. Time to start again. I teach HS English, and I have been reading a picture book a day for the last year. We are Dragons, so I have shared Dear Dragon with my students. I think they will also love the twist on the fairy tales. I also teach German and do a fairy tale unit. Josh, your characters bring up the same points my students always address. Why don't they eat the bread, if they are hungry? Why don't they know their way home? Any plans to translate. :).

    I also wanted to thank you and Gae for supporting teacher writers here and for coming to NerdCampMI. My head was full and my heart has definitely been inspired, but my kids' NerdCampJr experience touched me the most. They got to meet the two of you and many other authors. If they want to write, teach, or illustrate some day, they have some pretty cool role models. Thanks!

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    1. Success! One of my lost replies also mentioned that I've resolved to post to at least one FF this year. I don't have a WIP or PB idea yet, but I'm always watching my kids and admiring/wondering how they make sense of this world, so hopefully there's an idea there. Thanks to Josh for also reminding me that picture books are meant to be read to a child by an adult. I think brainstorming about that kind of "conversation" will help me.

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    2. Yay, JenH! So happy to see you here!!! Sorry for the tech issues. I've had it happen and it's FRUSTRATING.

      Excited to see what you cook up by end of the summer. :)

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  36. Thanks so much for hosting, Gae. I've been following Friday Feedback for a while now, but have never posted. I'm excited to break out of my comfort zone a bit with TW this year, and that means finally sharing some of my own writing!

    Josh, thank you for stopping by this week! My students and I are big fans of your books, and it's very cool to get a sneak peek into your writing process. We also LOVE fractured fairy tales, and are eagerly awaiting It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk.

    With respect to the sample you shared, I love the snappy humor, and the conflict between Hansel, Gretel, and the narrator. My students LOVE when the narrator is involved in the story, and even more when the narrator becomes the butt of the joke (a la The Book With No Pictures). As others have mentioned, I really liked the lines where Hansel and Gretel point out how ridiculous it would be for someone to carry breadcrumbs around. I agree with a few other posters that the pauses in the line "I ... don't really... know" are not in the most natural place for me; however, there's no way to suit every potential reader's natural delivery, so I'm not sure it's worth changing. Also, I will readily admit that when I read aloud to students, I sometimes read whatever is most natural to me, even if that exact wording is not printed on the page.

    I also love the moment on p. 12-13 where Hansel and Gretel directly contradict the narrator about finding their house. The dynamic between the characters and the narrator really amps up here, and the drama continues to build in the next exchange when the narrator makes Hansel cry. I agree with Marc above that perhaps the 4-line dialogue between Hansel and Gretel on those pages could be tightened into two lines instead. I can't wait to see where the rest of the story goes!

    Hopefully it's not too late to share a piece of my own writing as well. I used to work for an independent bookshop, and customers frequently came to visit the cat who lived there. I've been tinkering with a story about the cat and how he came to live in the bookshop for several years. It still needs quite a bit more tinkering, and I am constantly experimenting with where I imagine the page turns to be, but here is the opening as it currently stands:

    There once was a cat the color of butter, who occupied a small square of Main Street. It was a nice enough square, with patches of sunshine in the morning and slivers of moonlight at night--but it was not a real home.

    One bright Monday, the little cat set out, determined to find the perfect place to call his own. Before long he came to a clothing boutique on the corner of Main and Mechanic.

    For a moment, he sat, quietly swishing his tail and admiring the fine-looking sweaters in the window. How soft and snug those sweaters seem! he thought, and stole unseen through the open door.

    It didn’t take long for the little cat to notice that the sweaters inside were hung in tidy rows—and how could he nap on a hanging-up sweater? Luckily, he spotted a stray thread sticking out from a sleeve, and soon he found that sweater at his feet, an exquisite tangle of soft yarn.

    But his nap was not meant to be.
    (Art note: The cat is discovered and chased out by the owner.)

    On Tuesday, the little cat set off again, still determined to find his perfect place. Before long he came to a restaurant on the riverfront.

    Thanks again for all you both do to encourage and support teachers and writers! All the best.

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    1. Hi, Lauren! Hooray for being brave and finally posting. I think Josh plans to peek in again, so I'm hoping he'll chime in with the real meat of feedback. From my perspective, all I know is I like it. I love the lilting gentle, almost formal, old fashioned, sense of the voice. I instantly like this cat and am rooting for it. And I adore this bit of opening moment:

      It was a nice enough square, with patches of sunshine in the morning and slivers of moonlight at night--but it was not a real home.

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    2. Hi, Lauren,

      I love your style and imagery - that's certainly a great strength! I love the way your writing flows in poetic prose.

      I'd like to see a little more depth to the conflict. I'm not suggesting that looking for a home better than 'a nice enough square' isn't a legitimate reason for looking for a home. But why today? Did something happen? Did the little cat see another pet with a home? Was there a traumatic event?

      If the little cat doesn't have a name, I'm guessing that the little cat is given a name by the child/ren or family who takes him in at the end. If this is the case, I can see sticking with 'the little cat' as the mc's name. But if not, I might consider naming him.

      There are a lot of stories about animals looking for homes. What makes this stand out in today's crowded picture book market? Are there comp titles you have? How is this one different and better?

      I think the biggest piece of advice I have (and keep in mind, this is only my opinion based on my feelings on how I see the picture book market today) - is to make more use of your illustrator. Ironically, that strength of style and imagery might be something to cut down on in the picture format. Lines like 'the color of butter' and 'on the corner of main and mechanic' and 'hung in tiny rows' can be shown in the illustrations. Even the sunshine and moonlight in the opening WILL be shown in the illustrations, so the text doubles up a bit there.

      Thanks for being brave! Best of luck with this piece!

      Josh

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    3. Thank you for the feedback, Gae! I really like those opening lines too, though I am certain that the rest of the draft doesn't quite live up to them. I have quite a bit more tinkering and polishing to do!

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  37. Thank you Gae for getting me back to the right link!

    Josh, thank you for taking the time to give us guidance and feedback! My students and I love reading fractured fairytales together. "It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk" will be a must order for my school library.

    Here is my WIP - I hope I'm not sending too much - I just didn't want it to be confusing!

    The glob says to Samuel, “is it spring?” Samuel said, “Yes, it is a beautiful spring day.” “Who or what are you?” Samuel asked. “Umph”, Izzy said as she drags herself out of the mud. “I’m Izzy Turtle and I’ve been hibernating in this mud for seven months! I’m very dirty and quite tired of being under the water in the mud. I’m going to rinse off and go lay on that log to enjoy the sun. “Okay,” said Samuel. “We’ll see you later.”

    Izzy rinses the mud off her head, neck, legs and shell and crawls up on a long brown log. She stretches her neck and legs as far as she can and soaks up the wonderfully warm sun.
    As Izzy is warming up she hears something moving in the branches above her log and almost jumps into the water to safety until she realized it is Samuel and Cassie again. “Izzy, what are you and the other turtles doing on that log?” asked Samuel. “We are warming up in the sun. After hibernating all winter our bodies are cold and we need as much sun as possible after just waking up. “Wow”, says Samuel “that’s interesting” and he and Cassie scamper off to play tag until lunch.
    About a week later Izzy is feeling much better from all her time spent in the sun. Her body tells her it is now time to lay her eggs. Izzy knows about the pond not far from here where she will lay her eggs and she decides to begin her journey there tomorrow.
    As Izzy wakes up the next morning she is happy to see that it is another sunny day. After breakfast and saying goodbye to Samuel and Cassie she begins her journey. Walking through the grass is tough at times but she keeps on going. Soon Izzy steps off the grass and onto a hard surface. She has only taken about six steps when she feels herself being scooped up. She turns her head and sees a young girl holding her on a shovel. Izzy tries to wiggle off but the girl tilts the shovel so Izzy can’t move. The girl walks back to the pond Izzy just crawled from and sets Izzy near the edge of the water and walks off. Izzy is very frustrated.

    Just then, Samuel and Cassie come by and see Izzy. “What are you doing back?” asked Samuel. Izzy said, “I was on my way when a girl brought me back on a shovel.” “Why did she do that?” asked Cassie. “I don’t know but I’m leaving again tomorrow morning.” said Izzy.

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    1. Hi, Dayna! I hope you're not too late too. This whole Picture Book thing is really Josh's area, so I'm hoping he'll be back to chime in.

      I'm enjoying this birds eye view of a turtles life, and I have two quick thoughts on your excerpt where I might want to push you: the first is that the word glob throws me because a turtle seems hard even covered in mud, and a glob in my mind is soft. That may just be me... the other is that I'd love you to hint at whatever the problem/conflict is sooner, up front. I know our guest author in two weeks is going to talk more about that. But I'm loathe for you to take my advice, so hopefully Josh will be back and chime in!

      Glad to have you here on Friday Feedback!

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    2. Thank you Gae for your feedback! I'm so sorry to have posted so late in the evening! I had an unexpected meeting that derailed my day. I really appreciate your advice and I will work on introducing my problem/conflict earlier in the story. Thanks again!

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    3. Hi, Dayna,

      While I'm not an expert in narrative nonfiction, I certainly think this is a strong area that the school market is looking for right now. So kudos!

      Have you tried playing around with tenses? Present tense often makes the stories feel more immediate - but a story about a slow turtle might do well in past tense. It might be worth experimenting to see which you like better. Also, I noticed that the final paragraph was in past tense already, so maybe you're in the midst of doing that experimenting.

      I was surprised when the girl with a shovel arrived. I thought the story was going to be more of a nonfiction (albeit narrative) approach to the life cycle (or at least birth cycle) of a turtle. But a girl with a shovel puts this story more into the realm of straight up fiction. If the girl causing problems is indeed more of the plot of the story going forward, I agree with Gae that it's probably worth getting to the story sooner. And keeping in line with that, I'm not sure the reader needs as much of the scientific detail. Perhaps some of it could be in sidematter or backmatter, but normally I'd suggest getting to the conflict by the 2nd spread of the story, the 3rd at the latest.

      I do think a little girl getting in the way makes for a fun conflict. And while it's probably not where you were going, I could totally see a funny story that appeared to be even FURTHER in the realm of straight up nonfiction, when a little girl gets in the way, screwing up the nonfiction story - but this goes in a totally meta direction. Stop me if I'm not making sense - or run with the idea if you'd like. That thought sort of reminds me a bit of Jessica Olien's THE BLOBFISH BOOK.

      Best of luck!

      Josh

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    4. Thank you for your feedback Josh! I had intended for this book to be fiction from the beginning but weaved in some nonfiction since my primary students always ask me specific questions about animals when they appear in a story....I may have gotten too detailed.

      I like the idea of moving the conflict towards the beginning of the book and clearing out some of the scientific detail. I could also see changing it to a funny story angle as I know the students love a great twist.

      All this advice is much appreciated - I'll get back to work!

      Thanks again!

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  38. Josh,
    Thanks for all the nice comments on authors' picture books. I haven't ventured into that arena yet--though picture books are just about my favorite genre.

    I love fairy tales and fractured fairy tales, which is an assignment that I have done with students over the years, from grade 3 to 8. Students love tweaking fairy tales, but your meta-fractured fairy tales are so fun and take it a different direction. Like Dayna said, I'll definitely add your books to our pre-reading materials before we write our own.

    The premise is definitely working for me. I love what you've done so far. I don't have anything that's not working, but I'm wondering if the narrator might be more winsome if instead of "Wait! You can’t leave without ME! I’m the one telling the story!" he said, "Wait! Don't leave without ME! I’m the one telling the story!" It's so minor, but I feel like Hansel and Gretel are quite independent and can actually leave without the narrator. They are doing a fine job without him. He wants to remain part of the story, though. Just a small thing that might not make any sense at all, if the narrator gets more cocky later and really thinks they can't do it without him.

    All the best! I'll look forward to reading it when it's finished. Thank you for sharing here at Friday Feedback.

    Denise

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  39. Denise, glad to see you on FF! Thanks for the feedback. :)

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