Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday Feedback: Josh Funk & The DOs and DON’Ts of Rhyming Picture Books - with a *BONUS* Announcement!

Happy Friday, all you glorious writers!!

It's time for Friday Feedback again, and we have the awesome Josh Funk returning with another stellar share on writing picture books and the "Dos and Don'ts of Rhyming." 

As if that's not enough, he has a bonus announcement, so I'll shut up and let him get going! 

Look for another giveaway of a
"lit circle set" coming soon on my
facebook author page!
***Please remember before you participate to read the RULES, and if you're not working on a picture book, that's okay, you may still participate and we will give you feedback in the comments! And if you like what we do here, please buy our books (my newest is IN SIGHT OF STARS (but you want all of them ;) ) and Josh's newest is How To Code a Sandcastle (but you want all of them!) ) and share our titles with your friends. 

If you can't buy ALL the books, ask your local library to order them in. ***

And now, without further ado, here's Josh with his picture book magic and a special announcement saved for all of us here!!!

Hey, friends! I’m psyched that Gae invited me back to Teachers Write Friday Feedback for a second year!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books -
such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series,
How to Code a Sandcastle (and the upcoming sequel 
How to Code a Rollercoaster), It's Not Jack and the BeanstalkDear DragonAlbie NewtonPirasaurs! and more!!!

You may remember that last summer I discussed the importance of considering the read aloud-ability of the picture book. I also shared a portion of a manuscript called It’s Not Hansel and Gretel (a follow-up to my 2017 book It’sNot Jack and the Beanstalk)

More on that in a bit. *wink* 

This year, I’d like to discuss Rhyming Picture Books.

In the coming months, my 8th (Lost in the Library on 8.28) and 9th (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast #3: Mission Defrostable on 9.25) picture books will be released (both available for pre-order now ...). Of those nine books, seven of them are written in rhyme.

You may have heard that rhyming picture books are frowned upon within the industry. However, as an educator, you’ve probably noticed that there are still lots of new picture books released every year that are written in rhyme. So what’s the deal?

The simple answer is that it’s hard to write in rhyme - or in other words, it’s easy to write bad rhyme. And agents and editors see lots and lots and LOTS of bad rhyme, which is what gives all rhyme the negative stigma.

But why is it so hard to write good rhyming picture books? My theory is that there are a LOT of mistakes you can make along the way - very few DOs and a plethora of DON’Ts: Here’s a short(ish) list of tips to get you thinking*:

DO remember that the most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is not the rhyme, or even the rhythm. The most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is that it has a good story.

DO know that rhythm is more difficult to master than rhyme. Any first grader can rhyme. But creating a rhythm that all readers will read correctly, regardless of accent, without having ever read or heard the words before - that is very difficult and can take years of practice.

DON’T expect your rhyming picture picture book to be translated into other languages. If it rhymes in English, it isn’t likely to rhyme in Spanish. Or Mandarin. Or Klingon.

DON’T say that your manuscript rhymes in your query letter to agents - it will only give them a reason to stop reading before they get to the actual story.

DON’T force yourself to study poetry. I love poetry, but the truth is, you don’t need to know anything about iambic septameter or how many metrical feet are in your manuscript. You just have to craft it so the reader can read (and perform) it well.

DON’T commit the following examples of Rhyme Crime:

  • Simple, Everyday, Cliche Rhyme: “My cat ate my hat, well look at that.”
  • Near Rhyme: “I see a staple, it’s right on the table.” 
  • Forced Rhyme: “I opened my giant umbrella. It’s raining, I said to that fella.”
  • Regional Rhyme/Rhythm: “In England, you see lots of rain. But I’m in the U.S. again.”
  • Seussian Rhyme: “Dr. Seuss was Dr. Seuss, and nobody else can do that shlamboose.”
  • Yoda Rhyme: “It’s raining and wet. In the car, I must get.”

DON’T give up. I believe that anyone can write in rhyme if they’re willing to put in the time and get the proper feedback.

* Of course, these are only my opinions. You’re welcome to disagree. And you’re likely to find many examples of published books that go against these DOs and DON’Ts, perhaps even examples from my own books.

And with that, this IS Friday Feedback, so for your feedback, I’d like to share a portion of an untitled future (hopefully) Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast rhyming picture book manuscript, in which, after several adventures and who knows how many days/weeks/years of sitting in a fridge, our main characters begin to start feeling their moldy old age... As Gae warned above, please READ THE RULES first if you've never participated before.

Also, since picture books have a minimum of words, sharing here for that format (vs a middle grade, YA or adult work in progress) means sharing a substantial part of your text which then puts it out in the world. . .  As such, at the end of the weekend, Gae will be redacting the comments with substantial picture books excerpts (leaving my feedback up for you to return to whenever you need).

Okay, so here we go!

[Page 8-9]

Baron Von Waffle said, “Yup. You look gruesome.
I’ve never seen such a hideous twosome.”
Inspector Croissant said, “But wait! There’s a cure!
Check out Professor Garbanzo’s brochure!”

Starting to mildew or curdle or crumble?
Don’t sit around and complain, pout, and grumble!
Try out my patented DE-spoiling ray!
Feel fresh again. Come and visit today!

[Page 10-11]

Off to Professor Garbanzo’s they strode.
Down to her lab on Falafel Ball Road.
“Greetings!” she said as she tightened a gear.
“Here for despoiling? Terrific! Sit here!”
Nervously, Pancake and Toast buckled in.
Garbanzo gave one tiny knob a quick spin.

[Page 12-13]

With whooshes and whistles, a spark and a blast
The despoiling ray shot a laser at last!
“Where did they go?” Waffle asked through the smoke.
“Right over here!” a falsetto voice spoke.
Inspector Croissant asked, “Who said that? A ghost?”

[Page 14-15]

“I’m Mini Miss Pancake.” “I’m Squire French Toast!”

I appreciate any and all feedback you’ve got.

(Regarding the pagination, I’d plan for this book to be the same length (40 pages) as the previous books in the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series with 16 full spreads. For more information on lengths of picture books, see Debbie Ohi’s post explaining how 40 page self-endedpicture books work)

Oh, and now for that *BONUS* Announcement:

In part due to all of the wonderful feedback you gave me last year (thank you very much, FF-ers!), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel is becoming a book. And here today, as part of Friday Feedback and #TeachersWrite, I’m pleased to reveal the cover:

Illustrated brilliantly once again by Edwardian Taylor, It’s Not Hansel and Gretel will be released on March 1st, 2019 - and is available for pre-order now!

Thanks again for having me and for reading! I look forward to reading your manuscript excerpts.

xox Josh -- and gae!

**For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.


  1. Dear Josh,
    My students love your books. And I appreciate your hard work to give them such depth and quality. I think rhyming to not be boring is a lot of work and you have accomplished that well. Enjoyed what you shared especially the brouchure section. Can see that applying to adults as well, ha. Great work.
    I don’t write picture books but would like to share a bit from my YA work in progress.

    Liam sits beside me.
    Earplugs in.
    We never talk to each other.
    Haven’t for the three years we’ve been in high school.
    But we sit together. Lunch. Class. Assemblies.
    Sometimes close enough to taste each other’s breath.
    But we don’t talk.

    Thanks again Josh and Gae. Have a great Friday.

  2. Josh I just wanted to thank you for writing such entertaining books! They are some of the few that I LOvE to raf with my kids every night before bed. Even on the millionth reread, I still appreciate every word, every rhyme, and the journey within. I love your advice and can’t wait to try it out myself and with my students!

    Thank you so much for spending your time with us!

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    1. Hi, Julie!

      I gotta be honest – your rhythm is spot on! I didn’t trip up once, and even doing my “Deep Rhythm Analysis” (patent pending), the only issues I can really pick at are the following (and they’re all very minor):

      “rock-it” and “locked-it” is a near rhyme (but funny enough I don’t care)
      “choreographed” has an extra syllable (unless you pronounce the “reo” as one syllable, which I don’t)

      I wonder if the first two stanzas could be combined into one. One line about Rudolph is all that’s really necessary – the reader will immediately know who Rudolph is – so the rest of the stanza doesn’t move the plot along. And unless this story is about all of the others (which I’m guessing by the title that it’s not), getting to the two mc’s in stanza #2 would be great.

      Regarding the conflict, this sample is five stanzas in, but we haven’t really gotten to it yet. The conflict is in the title (which is GREAT, btw), so maybe it’s not necessary to get to it RIGHT away, but generally I recommend getting to the conflict by end of the second spread to keep the reader engaged.

      Business-wise, I’ve heard mixed things about holiday books. Obviously (like rhyming), they keep getting published, new ones every year. But I’ve also heard that certain publishers aren’t looking for holiday books (or at least certain holidays, like Valentine’s, Groundhog, St. Patrick’s). So keep your ear to the ground to see what publishers ARE and AREN’T looking for holiday and Christmas books in particular.

      Market-wise, I did a couple quick google searches and didn’t come up with any books specifically about Dancer and Prancer, so yay!

      As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Break a leg (not while dancing)!


    2. Josh's advice last year blew me away, and so far this year: no exception.

      Btw, this?:

      "Prancer moved with grace and ease;
      And Dancer popped and locked-it."

      Greatest Christmas line of all time. LOL! Keep at it!

    3. My 9th-10th graders would die laughing at the visual of Dancer "Popping and locking." Well done.

    4. Thanks, everybody! Josh--I totally see what you're saying about getting to the conflict sooner. I also understand that not everyone is looking for a holiday book...I just can't get this crazy idea out of my head :) Thanks for taking the time to look this over and offer feedback.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Josh! I can’t wait to see another finished Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast Story! Yes, they’ve been in the fridge a long time, so it’s good that you’re addressing that. I love “de-spoiling ray,” too! Pages 8-9 are perfect — I can read aloud just beautifully! On the brochure, maybe change to “or grumble?” (Instead of and?)
    The shrink ray — ah! Poor Lady Pancake (not a lady anymore) and Sir French Toast (now a squire). I wonder how they can get back to normal!
    It’s NOT Hansel and Gretel is gorgeous! Good job, guys! (May I post the picture of our little group reading it? That was soooo much fun with friends reading aloud! Now I won’t be satisfied reading it any other way!)

  5. Josh,
    I love the humor in your books! While I teach middle school and high school, we still read picture books in my classroom.

    In your piece above, I loved how the names themselves help portray the personalities of the characters. My kids often debate waffles vs. pancakes, so I know they'd like the names. I also loved the brochure- you got the tone just right to make it sound like one of those infomercials. You had great verb choices, too. I definitely want to read more!

    Here's a snippet of something I'm working on. It's not a picture book, and it doesn't rhyme, but here it is. I'd appreciate any feedback!

    When it got dark that night, I padded outside, the deck still warm on my bare feet. I sank into my favorite chair and sipped my iced chai. The dark of the evening wrapped around me, as the cicadas serenaded one another. Nights like this made me feel like I was among the stars as the fireflies filled the air, lighting up the dark shapes of the trees. Anything seemed possible gazing at the sky above me. The whole summer stretched ahead of me, and I thought of all I was planning to do with my friends in the coming months- the annual neighborhood crab feast, swimming in Brittney's pool, the 4th of July parade, and doing whatever I could to make the most of our freedom from school. I took a sip of my chai and turned my face to a sudden gust, enjoying the feel of the wind on my skin and the scent of freshly mown grass that it carried.
    The screen door squeaked open, and the smell of Dad's usual evening cup of coffee wafted over to me. He settled into the chair next to me with his hand wrapped around his favorite mug, the one I'd given him years ago for Father's Day. In the moonlight I saw his thumb tracing the letters for dad over and over again. I sensed something different in his silence tonight. Normally, he'd settle back in the chair, only moving to take sips. Tonight, his knee was bouncing around to its own beat. I looked away from the ballet of light in the woods and studied him. He took a sip of his coffee, put it down on the table, and turned toward me.
    "Katie, I have something to tell you."

    1. Hi, Lisa, I'll jump in here because I can -- lol. This is a lovely piece, a lovely moment, and I especially love this detail right here: "In the moonlight I saw his thumb tracing the letters for dad over and over again." I can feel my grandfather's hands doing a similar sort of thing, so you transport me there with you.

      I also love the detail of the deck still warm on her feet. . . a nice way to bring us in.

      One small thing that popped me out was the sudden gust -- because that felt intense. Wonder if a breeze would do, or if there is actually a storm brewing, in which case. . . And you set such a peaceful scene that the Dad's last word's set our nerves immediately on edge. On revision, stuff to look out for: repeat words like dark (x3 in the first sentences) and passive language that might be more active, e.g. what if instead of "In the moonlight I saw his thumb tracing the letters for dad over and over again." it were "In the moonlight, his thumb traced..." as we know if she knows she is seeing it. Or even, "In the moonlight I watched..." if you need the extra words for rhythm, watched seems more active than saw? But this is definitely revision stuff. Keep going.

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    1. Hi, Nicole!

      I love pet adoption stories. They’re always filled with so much heart (I *wish* I could write with that much heart), and this story seems like it’s heading in a pretty hilarious direction (with Harry dressing up as a poodle). I love that Hazel clearly likes Harry for who he is and doesn’t want him when he changes.

      I like the mix of narration and speech bubble. It gives the story a nice visual feel without seeming too text heavy. I would warn that going back and forth between the two could make it a bit difficult for the reader (including an agent or editor), and also difficult to design.

      I wonder if this story might benefit from starting with the second “All the animals …” or even the third “Harry watched …” line. The reader immediately knows who the main character is and is brought to his perspective.

      I also wonder if it might be worth experimenting with writing this from the first person perspective (Harry’s). This might give the story more of an urgent feel to see things inside Harry’s head. We get that a little in Harry’s speech bubbles, but it’s possible more emotion might come out if the whole thing were from Harry’s perspective. (I have a story I’m working on right now where I gave myself this advice and dismissed it right away, so feel free to do the same).

      The last thing I’d mention is the title Hazel and Harry doesn’t tell you much about the story. While loads of books get published every year that have character names as titles, it might help sell it better (to agents and editors, but also to readers once it’s in print) to have a title that gives more of a flavor of the book. As so many books are published every year, bookstores and libraries often have to choose what to carry or purchase based on text in a catalog, even without a book cover. And in those cases, compelling titles really help.

      As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Break a pencil!


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    1. Hello, Kaylen!

      I love the subserviseness of the bird actually being a mouse. It’s a great comic setup and a terrific conflict. And even though I don’t yet know much about him, the mouse seems like he’s poised to be a compelling character. I expect a lot more silliness and arguments to ensue in the following pages.

      With most picture books being in the 300-700 word range, it takes a little while to get to the conflict (113 words in the first three paragraphs by MS word’s count). In a 32 page picture book, there are likely only 12 spreads, so it’s really important to get to the conflict by the second spread (or sooner).

      Therefore, I might suggest condensing the first three paragraphs into one spread’s worth of text, leaving the “everyone gasped.” for the page turn from spread 1 to spread 2 (great page turn, btw). Here are some potential places where you might be able prune the word count.

      While the day discussion is funny, it doesn’t really move the plot along forward and it doesn’t show much about any of the characters except the voice of the narrator.
      Chattering, preening, and flapping could potentially be illustrated.
      Is there a more active way to *show* that the birds were nervous and excited (rather than the passive verb ‘were’)? They’re chattering and preening, but they did that the day before when they weren’t nervous or excited.

      As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Good luck!


    2. Great feedback. Josh is da man. :) Sorry. I just aged myself 4000 years. LOL.

    3. This is so wonderful, insightful, and helpful! I don't know how you do it. What's so great about all of this advice throughout all these posts is how much can be transferred to other books, so it's not ONLY helpful to the specific person receiving the advice. It's very transferable and instructive! Thank you both again so very much for this opportunity.

    4. I agree, Kaylen. This advice is helpful for a couple stories I’m working on.

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    1. Hey, Maureen!

      I think a lot of us have anxiety, including children, so this is a very timely and needed type of story.

      I do believe keeping the rhyme scheme consistent throughout the book is a good idea, even if not all published books do this. Regarding the specific rhyme scheme, I don’t believe that the number of syllables is what matters. It’s about the ON beats and OFF beats (or STRESSED and UNSTRESSED).

      In the case of your story, I’ll go with the second section of stanzas. The rhyme scheme to me is:

      dun DUN dun dun DUN dun dun DUN dun dun DUN

      Note that it’s okay if some of the offbeats (dun) are occasionally left out. For example, in line 3.1: “i HEAR more adVICE from (dun) WISE queen grand MUM.” has a missing offbeat, but that’s okay. However, for me, I want to naturally emphasize the GRAND and not the MUM, so I trip over this line a bit.

      In line 4.1, I feel like there’s an extra syllable at the beginning of the line which makes me trip up a bit. I’m guessing the intent is to emphasize the word SINGS, but based on the rest of the lines having the second syllable be the ON beat, I assume I’m supposed to emphasize KING – but if I do that, I have to emphasize the word THE, which is really an unemphasizable word.

      One way I find to alleviate this is to try to force the reader to read the beginning of each line properly by using unemphasizable words (like ‘in’ or ‘the’ or any other word you would never emphasize so as not to be ambiguous) – or use long words that can only be pronounced one way with the emphasis of syllables fitting your rhyme scheme.

      For example, in my sample above, I start lines with words like inSPECtor and STARting which can only be pronounced one way (you wouldn’t say INspector or inspecTOR or starTING). On those lines, I pronounce the word GRANDmother, but on line 4.3, I’d have to pronounce it grandMOTHer to fit the rhyme scheme, which I don’t do, so I trip on that line a bit.

      I hope this is helpful. As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Don’t stress.


    2. Josh, I'm so moved by the amount of time and incredible advice you are sharing with all these campers.

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    1. Hey, Andrew!

      Glad to see you back! I have to admit, I do not consider myself to be an expert on poetry. In fact, I don’t believe that you need to know ANYTHING about poetry to write a quality rhyming picture book – rhyming picture books are just one tiny little portion of the vast world of poetry there’s just so much I don’t know!

      Regarding my picture book manuscripts, at this point, I do actually paginate my stories (as you can see above – and in last year’s post), but not usually until I’ve finished a complete first draft and maybe revised a few times. I’ve always thought that I don’t think particularly visually – I’ve never used picture book dummies or anything like that. But I think what helps me is that I try to ensure that there are many different visuals in my stories as possible – and dummies, or in my case pagination, it really helps.

      If two spreads in a row show basically the same image, then I really don’t need two spreads to show it. All of the text across those two spreads can really be placed on the same spread. And if that means that one spread in particular has a LOT more text than others, then maybe that’s a sign that I need to pare down the text on that particular spread.

      In the case of your story, I can certainly see a page with Walker on the basepaths with much of your text, but probably only one (maybe two) consecutive spreads of those images. It’s important that those other aspects, in your sample’s final stanza get their own spreads.

      If you’re looking for comparable books with poetic text that tell stores, I suggest looking into authors Susan Verde, Carole Boston Weathorford, and for baseball specifically, Audrey Vernick.

      I hope this is helpful. As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Break a bat!


    2. Wow, great feedback here too! Andrew, I sure love the subject matter you are working on -- and I can feel in that narrowing paragraph, the picked up speed to home plate. Given what you are working on, of course, make sure you do all your research, and pay attention to and seek advice from #ownvoices. Good stuff, keep going. <3

  11. Oh I love rhyme!Cannot say I love the Seussical kind.I work with 5-8 year olds and they love when they can begin to anticipate and understand the rhythm it unlocks so much about reading and learning. I often write poems and wonder if the rhyme makes the seriousness less so. I write adult stories but this lesson makes me wonder if the following true story would make a good picture book?

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    1. Hi, Diane,

      There is definitely a need for books about immigrants and refugees, there’s no question about that. So topic-wise, this could be great.

      One thing I might consider is to put this story in the perspective of a child, rather than an adult teacher. It could be from the refugee’s perspective or a classmate’s perspective, but if this is going to be a picture book, the intended audience is probably in the 4-10 range (even though I contend picture books are for ages 0-94).

      I’d also try to think about the fact that it will be illustrated across at least 24 pages (or 12 spreads) and that each spread should show something different, otherwise it gets visually repetitive. So as you pace the picture book, keep this in mind so that distinct visuals will be available to be illustrated.

      Lastly, picture books are generally in the 0-700 word range (I’d say the sweet spot is still 300-500), while this story clocks in at over 700. It might be worth trying to condense some of the text, pull out certain parts that will be illustrated (such as his smile revealing many large white teeth).

      If you want more tips on general picture book writing, I have a Resources for Writers page on my website that goes over lots of this info in more detail:

      I hope this is helpful. As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Good luck!


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    1. Unknown, I'll wait for Josh to give the real substantive advice, but I do LOVE the idea of Zoo Squirrel! So clever and true! Hope you pursue it!

    2. Hey, Unknown!

      I’m glad you’re taking a crack at rhyme! You’ve definitely got some good ones going with crocs/locks, text, chimpanzees! Like Gae, I think this could be a really fun story and take on a zoo picture book. There are loads of entertaining visuals and illustratable moments – which is awesome!

      Before getting to the rhyme, I’m wondering what the conflict of this story is. Through the first three stanzas, we’re mostly getting backstory on the character and a few vignettes of what Zoo Squirrel does. And while they’re all entertaining, it’s probably important to find out what the conflict is relatively early on in the story. If the story is more just a bullet list of vignettes and funny illustratable items, those are harder to sell (trust me, I know) – as editors are always looking for an emotional arc for a character.

      Regarding the rhyme – it’s great (there’s only one near rhyme – down and round). I read the rhythm scheme as:

      dun DUN dun dun DUN dun dun DUN dun dun DUN

      This scheme probably has a name in poetry, but as I mentioned earlier to Andrew, I don’t think you really need to know poetry terminology to write rhyming picture books.

      And as I said earlier to Maureen, it’s okay to leave out the occasional offbeat (dun), even if it’s the first one in the line.

      Now, I generally go through EVERY syllable of my manuscripts and do my best to make sure there are as few (hopefully zero) places where the reader can read the rhythm wrong. The first line works fine (it drops the first offbeat, but that’s cool). But I find myself stumbling over much of the others.

      One thing I try to do is force the reader to read the beginning of each line correctly, which hopefully sets the rhythm for the rest of the line. But I’m not sure which syllable to emphasize in the second line. I pronounce animals with emphasis on the first syllable (the DUN beat), making the “nimals” syllables offbeats. But the following two syllables “on dis” are also offbeats, giving four offbeats in a row (I pronounce disPLAY with the emphasis on the second syllable). And if I can’t read the opening of the line correctly, it makes it tricky to get that line right at all.

      I’d suggest having as many readers read your story out loud to you as possible and note where they mess up. Note those places and try to straighten them out.

      One last thing, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Some words can be pronounced with different numbers of syllables depending on the accent, etc. I often give examples of the word ‘family’ – the dictionary says it’s three syllables, but I pronounce it ‘FAM-LY’ with two syllables. Unfortunately, ‘Squirrel’ is another one of those words. Some people pronounce it with one syllable (as I believe you do based on your writing). Others use two syllables - SQUIR-REL (including the dictionary). Generally my suggestion is to simply not use those words in the middle of a line. That might not be possible in a story like this. Unless you felt like changing to a chipmunk.

      I hope this is helpful. As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Break a leg!


  14. Josh and Gae,

    Thank you for all your time! I teacher high school, and like to read picture books for bell work, so I will definitely be buying Lost in the Library. Everyone likes a good rhythm in a book, right? Your ideas and Do's and Don'ts are great. Gae - I want you to know that I used a quote from your book last year as a Bell Work - "Tuesday, and those planes, they've broken something. Permanently. And in the process, they've changed everything. And everyone." We talked about 9/11 and how our actions can also affect others. Love your books and feedback.

    This is a story that I have worked on for a few years. These first two paragraphs are true, but some of the rest of the story I fictionalize. I don't like the first paragraph, and I have revised it quite a few times. I want to tell the reader right away how the accident happened, but it seems choppy. I could use any feedback.
    It was the summer before my sophomore year into high school. I was finally going to Madison High and I felt grown up, but all that changed when a drunk driver hit the back of an open jeep causing my twenty year old brother, Chris, who was riding in the passenger side to be ejected, even though he was wearing his seat belt at the time. Although the doctors did all they could, he died two days later, August 2, 1977. I thought seat belts were supposed to save lives? I wasn't excited about anything anymore. Especially about starting high school.
    We didn't always get along, but my last conversation with Chris was pretty positive. He had taken a spill on his motorcycle, and it was fixed and sitting in our garage. Mark, my little brother, and I were checking it out. He said to us, “Guess who’s going to be the first to go out for a spin this weekend?” I thought that this was a trick question. But he said, “You two.” “Wow,” I thought, “he really likes us.” Those were the last words that he spoke to me.

    1. Kay B, first of all, thank you for that beautiful share about THE MEMORY OF THINGS. That really touched me. As for your piece about Chris, I remember it from last summer, right? It's still brutal and painful.

      I'm giving you advice from my gut and hoping it helps and is "right" -- I think what you need to do for now is:

      1. Write forward and don't worry about the beginning. It so often changes and it's only when we get to the middle or end, or even revisions of drafts that we see where the real opening should be; and

      2. Slow all this down. Take me there with either your MC (narrator -- you?) or Chris, but let's say your MC for now, and let me get to know her. Let me see how it feels to walk into the school. Show all of this by luxuriating, breaking into chapters and trusting that the characters are interesting and we want to know them. Ask yourself Why and What questions: What is the story I'm telling. Why am I telling it. Why does it matter not only to me, but the characters? Show that. You actually have a TON here. Take your time. Break each part into the scene and take us there. The MC walking into school feeling mature, establishing herself, feeling ready to conquer the world. At home, SHOW us the scene with the brothers -- its whole own chapters. And when you're ready, write the scenes with Chris getting into the jeep, putting his seatbelt on, etc. So much powerful to mine here. Does this help.

  15. Gae,

    Yes! I have so much to learn. This has been in short story form, but I do feel like it could be what you are saying for sure. I do need to take the reader there; it would definitely make it better. Maybe sometime I could share the whole short story with you for pointers going forward. Thank you for remembering me and Chris' story from last year. You helped me with the ending. Can't wait to read your new book!

    1. Yes, sure, though I don't know much about what makes a short story objectively good. And even in that format, I think you can slow this all down -- trust the material and play in the moment. Looking forward to reading it all.

  16. Sorry- not sure why it went up as unknown instead of my "comment as" name-
    Thank you so much Josh for taking the time to do this today and to Gae for all your support!
    Krista Surprenant

    1. Yay, wonderful! Josh's feedback is awesome. it's funny how easy some of the fixes are from objective eyes: "hiding between all the mounds." can easily be "hiding between each mound." or if you need another syllable "hiding behind each white mound" type of thing. Great thoughts from him on revision!

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    1. Hey, Tim!

      After the title and first two lines I wasn’t exactly sure where this was going, but it took a lovely Shel Silversteinesque vibe when the brain really did appear on the couch. I see lots of room for humor and silliness, especially with a dog, in a light-heard macabre type of way.

      I am a little concerned about how the mc is, well, not dead without its brain (and seemingly watching everything that’s going on). Although, maybe it all works itself out in the end. As you can probably guess, I enjoy chaos-based race books, so that’s certainly appealing. Lots of different settings around the house (and further, I imagine) will make for fun illustration variations.

      As far as whether or not to rhyme it, I think you can go either way. When rhyming, you’re afforded (a little) more space to be ‘telly’ rather than ‘showy’ as the language and word choice matters. I think this story takes perfect advantage of that, especially in stanzas #2 & #3, which are more appropriate for the setup but really necessary to the plot other than explaining “my brain is now out”

      My suggestion would be that if you think it might be better in prose, than try it in prose. I feel that rhyme often brings a level of charm that prose wouldn’t have, so if you feel your prose version doesn’t lose that charm, then go with it. I’d also suggest you have several people read you the different versions out loud to you and see which YOU like better as they read it.

      As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Break a brain!


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    1. Hey, Jamie!

      Your story has incredible rhythm! Well done! I really don’t have any criticism of the way the rhythm or rhymes scan at all. I love the character names and the message is admirable.

      Thinking from a marketability perspective, if there are multiple stories about the same characters, it can be challenging to sell a series. If you’re looking to sign with an agent and you’re NOT also an illustrator, they’re likely to want to have 3-4 picture book manuscripts they feel they can sell RIGHT AWAY (which means you need to have at least 6-8 that you feel strongly about to give an agent options). And the thing is that those 3-4 manuscripts will have to be individual stories that aren’t part of a series. If the agent can’t sell one of your manuscripts, they’ll want to move on to another of the 3-4 for which they signed you. But if the others are in the same series, they won’t be able to sell #2, #3, etc. if the first one doesn’t sell.

      I’ve also run in to the fact that stories with heavy-handed moral-based plots are also tough sells. Generally, it’s a great idea to leave the ‘figuring out of the moral or lesson’ up to the reader. Sometimes readers will read deeper into books that I ever consciously intended. One thing I do to avoid this is to concentrate more on the story itself, rather than any lesson being taught.

      All of these things I’m sharing (in all of these comments) took me years to learn and figure out on many many drafts of stories that will never see the light of day (but that were 100% necessary for me to write and revise and submit so that I could learn and grow as a writer).

      As with all of my comments, take this with a grain of salt. This is YOUR story, YOU own it. All of my thoughts are just one person’s opinions and you can agree or disagree with any or all of them. Good luck on your journey – I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!


    2. Josh, I appreciate this feedback more than you could possibly know. Well, probably, you do :). Taking this time to help fellow but early-stage writers is just so awesome of you. It’s a great kick in the butt! What you said is helpful, especially the part about having a couple of unrelated stories. I was wondering about that. I have a couple more in the works, thankfully. Again, thanks so much and I hope to be in touch again! Jamie

  19. Please be reminded that I'm going to pull down all the pb excerpts down at the end of the weekend -- don't want such material/substantive portions of your work floating out here -- so make sure you save and screenshot what you want. Josh's comments will remain...

    xox to all, gae

  20. I had to comment - I was sad to miss Friday, but just took some time to read the comments! Thank you so much for all the amazing feedback, Josh and Gae! So helpful to me, even though I didn't have time to jump in with my stuff on Friday! :-)