Monday, June 4, 2012

first impressions - Praire Dog Town



Our second submission of the month comes from Cheryl. Here are the first 300 words of her "Peter Rabbit type adventure story." The age of the intended audience is 4 – 8 year olds and the setting is the American Southwest. The main character is, obviously, a prairie dog! My comments are in purple and to see what Dianne Salerni had to say, check out her blog, In High Spirits.





Prairie Dog Town

Under a sunburnt sky, below a long sandy field, lay a town of prairie dog families. Now, the prairie dog mothers all loved their babies, and the prairie dog fathers all loved their burrows. But what the prairie dog babies loved most of all was listening to stories. I like this beginning. It has a certain cadence to it I imagine might be appealing to children.
***
Especially, one baby named Angel. Angel loved hearing stories about the earth above. I'd like a more imaginative name but that's just me...
***
“Tell me about the sky,” he said to his aunt.
“It’s bigger than this whole burrow,” she said, again.
Angel’s eyes opened wide, wondering how anything could be that big.
***
“Tell me about the trees,” Angel said to another aunt.
“They’re taller than all our burrows stacked together,” she said, again.
Angel twitched his nose, trying to imagine something so tall.
***
“And the plains,” he said to a third.
“Are longer than all of the tunnels in Prairie Dog Town, end to end,” they said together.
“The desert is so fun,” said a fourth. “You’ll love it!”
***
One day, Angel couldn’t wait any longer. When his mother wasn’t looking, he raced to the end of the tunnel and stuck out his head.
***
“Is that the …?” he said, staring up at the vast blue space.
SCREEECH!
***
An eagle swooped down and snatched Angel up in his talons.
***
“Oh my,” Angel said, feeling the pinch of the eagle’s claws. “The sky may be big, but it hurts.”
***
The eagle flew to a patch of high ground and landed in a tall pine tree.
***
“Is this a …?” Angel said, twisting with excitement.
The eagle loosened his talons in surprise.
***
Down, down, down, Angel fell.
Until THUMP, he landed in bank of snow.
***
“Goodness,” Angel said, shivering. “The trees may be tall, but they’re very cold.” If Angel is a baby he should talk a little more like a baby, imo. How about this: Angel shivered, eyes big. "The trees may be tall, but they're very cold."
***
Angel shook his coat, and started walking. Downhill. After a while, he came to a plain filled with waving blue grass.
***
“Look here,” he said to two sets of straight legs. “Is this …?”
“MOOOOOOOOOO,” said a bison.
Angel stepped back, and back,
Until BASH, BUMP, CRASH,
***
he stumbled over a pile of rocks.
I would love to see the illustrations that might go along with this story. That said, I have to profess my ignorance when it comes to picture books. It has been a long time since I bought them on a regular basis and my tastes run to the old fashioned like Mike Mulligan and Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. I do think this sounds like a fun story about a naughty baby praire dog who is going to learn a lesson. I also hope my friend Sheri will stop by because she knows lots more than me about PBs! 

Thank you Cheryl for sharing this and I hope my readers will chime in on this one.

6 comments:

  1. Okay, so this is intended to be a PB. From your comments at the beginning, Marcy, I was thinking it might be a small chapter book. You mentioned the first 300 words. How long is it?

    Picture books are so difficult to edit without the illustrations, not to mention to write...

    Establishing action, setting, and character voice are the most important. An illustrator will develop most of the description. Saying that, I still like the opening line. I don't think Cheryl has crossed into the illustrator's territory.

    The line 'Especially...Angel loved hearing...', I don't think is necessary. Cheryl can move right into the ACTION of Angel asking questions. Angel could ask the question as if his aunt was in the middle of telling a story. This will draw a young child deeper into the PB and more quickly.

    The only other thing I noticed, which Marcy pointed out, is the voice. It feels older. Somehow you need to make it more innocent. An idea might be with that first line of dialog. Something like, "Wow, Auntie Whatever. Tell me again!" Just an idea... ;D Hope this helps.

    Nice job, Cheryl.

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    1. Thank you, Sheri! I feel bad I couldn't give a better crit but I'm afraid PBs aren't my area of expertise so I appreciate you coming by :)

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  2. sounds like a great idea for a picture book

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  3. I tried to read this and imagined the illustrations as I went along. The first paragraph, I must admit, is my favorite part. Something about it just makes me want to settle into a recliner and enjoy the pages to come.

    The one thing that concerns me has been pointed out. With a PB in mind, I'm looking for babies to sound like babies. With the age group being more for a 4-8 age group, perhaps a different reference can be made. So instead of 'praire dog babies' you can reference 'praire dog children' then maybe give the reader something to help understand that Angel speaks as well as he does and has such curiousity because he's a little older than the praire dogs still sniffing their way blindly. So, to sum it up, with an earlier expectation set that Angel isn't quite a little baby, the voice works well for me.

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    1. Thanks, Angela, great suggestion :)

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