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Sunday, October 3, 2010

And the winner is...

In the matter of the 9/3/10 Friday Challenge, "Read Me a Story," the judges have, after due consideration (and then some!), issued the following findings.

Ellen, "Daddy's Worst Supper"

Kersley: Is this based on a true story? I could see a publisher wanting to change some things (dad uses a fire extinguisher instead of carrying flaming taco shells to the sink), and the descriptions of the illustrations should probably be more static—you can’t show dad turning and heading up the stairs in a single picture. But I think it could be reworked into a classic!

Henry: Knowing the family as I do, I had no trouble picturing this story. I'm sure I put it in the wrong house, but I could still picture it. It's cute and fun and a very good, true-to-life childrens' story. I believe it's a story that could be published.

Bruce: I'll admit to having had some personal experiences that bias me towards liking the story—except that in our case it was a frozen water pipe in the wall of the upstairs bathroom that burst and flooded the kitchen, causing the whole blasted ceiling to cave in, and when the dish in the oven caught fire we threw it out the back door and into a snowbank—but that aside, this would be a great story to read aloud. With the right illustrator, this one could be wonderfully successful.

Ellen, "The Treasure in the Creek"

Kersley: The very first sentence needs to be reworked. (And, actually, I’m finding this problem in the kids’ novel I wrote, now that I’m going back over it three years later.) “The very picture of unjust suffering” is too much of a nod to the parents who are reading the book. There are a few more phrases like that: “thought disparagingly,” “martyred expression.” She wouldn’t be thinking “martyr” in the snarky way we think of it these days. Get deeper into Beth’s POV, and more settled into the “voice” of a 10-yo.

As for the story…I don’t know. Not a lot actually happened, and I didn’t get any clear idea of what was on the immediate horizon. Kids in books find dragons and ride brooms and save the world. Beth could use a little more action in her life!

Henry: I liked the general idea here, but I think the story may be too gentle. Based on my experience, I think kids would prefer for the treasure in the creek to be something that could be used to defend against an alien invasion or at least an alien scouting party. That said, I think there is potential in here for the story as you wrote it. It could definitely use some careful editing, but children's magazine editors would probably find greater appeal to this gentle story than to one of alien invasions.

Bruce: This one just comes up lacking. It's quite well written, aside from a subtle shift-of-view in the first paragraph as it goes from observing Beth from the outside to monitoring her interior monologue, and a few places after that where the vocabulary suddenly jars by exceeding a common ten-year-old's range. The larger problem is that Beth is too passive. It's as if we have the start of a cool and strange story here, in the first three pages—

And then it runs out of gas. She's found this strange artifact; it's done something to her. And then—nothing happens. She doesn't see the world any differently. She doesn't feel any different. She can't suddenly read minds, or talk to ducks, or do any of the cool things that kids in stories always can do after they've found and rubbed the magic lamp.

I like the ending. I like the way it takes a lifetime before she gets her answer. But it feels like there's a substantial middle that's missing from this story.

Van, the Quish, "A Bedtime Story: of Chivalry and Snails"

Kersley: Are you serious?! It sounds exactly like a sit-on-the-side-of-the-bed-come-up-with-something story. Where can I get a Ringo and Guatemala t-shirt?

Henry: I love the title and the story was pleasantly offbeat as well. There's no particular reason given why one lizard brought down the snails while two others defended her, but kids won't mind. After all, there's no particular reason the black knight is the bad guy and the white knight is the good guy. Kids accept these things. I can readily see this as a family favorite tale, made up on the spot then polished each time the tale is told again.

Bruce: Yes, this one definitely has the made-up-on-the-spot feeling going for it, and brings back pleasant memories of bedtime stories I made up out of pure improv using whatever dolls or toys happened to be handy to illustrate the action. A thoroughly delightful piece of nonsense, and just the right length for a five-year-old's bedtime story. Nice work.

the bandit, "The Boxes"

Kersley: I have a bit of a problem with this one because, while I firmly stand behind the sentiment, I never bought into this particular, popular metaphor. Still, I bet there’s a place out there that would be very welcoming for this story. (Ugh! And now I have Fireflight’s song stuck in my head again! Thanks for that!)

Henry: Four siblings, the older three of whom fail while the youngest sibling succeeds. That's a staple of folk tales around the world and it works well here, too. I liked how each child had their own way of trying to figure out what was in the box, from simply ripping it open to twisting the box until an opening appeared to simply shaking and shaking the box. Nicely done, including the eventual contents of the box the youngest sibling gives to the one he loves more than any other.

Bruce: Ditto what Henry said. Good story, well told. Too much raw sex.

(Just kidding on that last one. I do get to kid, once in a while.)

Miko, "The Doors of Wickham's Hall"

Kersley: Excellent first sentence!

This story reminds me of a conflict friends of different religious backgrounds had recently, that (by situation and necessity) we were in the middle of. Some say it’s difficult to communicate when you don’t have a common vocabulary. I think it may be more difficult when you have the same vocabulary, but you don’t understand the other’s definitions. All that to say, you seriously got me wondering what your world-view is.

Story-wise, I thought it was great. Creative, pretty good writing (a few hiccoughs, here and there). You just got that really heavy-handed message-based thing going on that feels a bit like proselytizing; I just can’t figure out who or what you’re proselytizing for.

So, for heavy-handed message-based literature, it had a great story. For the particular message(s) I got out of it, it could have had a simpler, deeper story without so much intensely-presented philosophy. (Does that make sense?) But, having read more of your stuff, I think this probably accomplished what you set out for it to do.

Henry: Miko, you've written some fine stories for the Friday Challenge in the past, but this one is on an entirely different level. Go find a publisher to buy this story. Go now.

Bruce: Technically, this one was really well done, aside from a few minor glitches here and there. Personally, though, I have a lot of trouble with stories that club me over the head with allegory. There is a market for this one; I just don't know what or where it is. Can you accept that I was really impressed by your technical accomplishment with this story at the same time as I didn't actually enjoy it very much?

Al, "Quinn in Trashland"

Kersley: That is so cute! I want to see the illustrations. I think the story is great as-is. The writing may need some work, but I don’t know what the children’s market standards are. Should Quinn be more active, less observatory? Could the language be more colorful without getting into Captain Underpants-territory?

Henry: What a fun story! This is, as Kersley suggests, one I could see being made into a digital movie. You'd need some more danger, some more Trashland critters, and probably a chase scene, but this could be the next big Pixar movie! Or you could stick with it as a neat adventure story for children. It definitely screams for colorful illustrations. Look into picture book publishers and good luck!

Bruce: Thank you, thank you, thank you. When I first saw the title I was afraid this was going to be some heavy-handed paean to recycling and being "green," a la The Magic Schoolbus, but you instead produced a delightfully imaginative little madcap adventure. Hiding in the bin to find out where the garbage goes is exactly the sort of thing a five-year-old boy would do. Kersley and Henry saw this one as being an animated movie. I found myself wishing Humongous Entertainment was still around, because this one begs to be made into an interactive adventure like Pajama Sam.

Carmine Vrill & Arvid Macenion, "My Dead Uncle Rob"

Kersley: That’s the sweetest little zombie story I’ve ever read. Should there be more of a resolution? How did the narrator’s life change?

Henry: Together again for the first time, Vrill and Macenion bring us a neat story about getting to know someone after it should be too late. Looking at the formatting of the story, I was wondering if we were getting an epic poem, but it read like a normal story. I'd work on the formatting, first of all, just to make the story easier to read. Beyond that, I liked how it was obvious that uncle Rob wouldn't be able to stay and play forever, that he had a very limited time before he had to move on. Yet from that brief time with uncle Rob, Elliot learns how he can begin connecting with his father rather than waiting for his father to begin connecting with him. A good story with a good message.

Bruce: In all honesty I was prepared to hate this one, because death and dying are not good topics for me right now. To my pleasant surprise you've written a really good story with a really good message about life, and I think that with the right illustrator—say, someone like Mark Tatulli—this could be a hugely successful book in the "helping kids cope with death" category. Good work. You two should work together more often.

M, "Once Upon a Thyme-Sprig" (drop.io)

Kersley: Too adorable.

Henry: Admit it, you just recorded an evening when you were putting your daughter to bed and transcribed it! I've seen the story-within-a-story idea once before in a children's book given to the Boy when he was much younger. Your story reminded me a lot of that book; one which both the Boy and I enjoyed. The dialogue is true to life, allowing you to introduce big words while also explaining what those words mean within the story. It's also a neat little example of how families can create stories together. Definitely something worth publishing somewhere, either as is in a magazine or as a picture book.

Bruce: After raising three Disney Princesses, what can I say? This one is just spot-on perfect, with not a false note or clumsy step from beginning to end. If I still had a little one in the house I would love to read this story to her, again and again.

Which with small children is exactly how you do read a favorite story: over and over, again and again. So that's one of the tests of a good children's story. Can you envision yourself reading it repeatedly without suffering permanent brain damage? Or will "No deserts ever unless puppies never dig holes under this fence again!" become seared—seared—in your memory?

And the winner is...

Kersley: Van’s presentation was delightful. Al’s is going to make a great movie, ala Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. But M’s got the story and the writing down and kept me smiling through the whole reading.

My vote’s for M.

Henry: All of the stories in this challenge were good and entertaining. As a whole, this might be the strongest collection of entries in a long, long time. I want everyone to understand that before I cast my vote. I think all of these stories could find their way into publication, give reworking and time spent submitting the stories. That said, I think the strongest two stories are from M and Miko. I find it hard to choose between them, as they are for totally different audiences. Miko's appeals to the adult in me, as it has a deeper subject. That's only to be expected from a story aimed at teens. M's appeals to the storyteller in me, because it's exactly how I came up with several stories I used to tell the Boy before bedtime. In the end, I'm going to wimp out and vote for both M and Miko.

Bruce: I'm going to make it unanimous, and vote for M. But really, these were some of the best entries we've seen in a long time, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to read them. Good work, everyone.

Now we've got to get Guy Stewart in here, to start teaching us all how to sell to the children's market.
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