Monday, June 1, 2015

QK Round 1: The Impressionistic Cow v. Lila’s Smiling Quest

Entry Nickname: The Impressionistic Cow
Word count: 471
Genre: Picture Book


If you enjoy picture books with an interesting twist, I’d like you to meet a talented cow with a unique painting style…

CLYDE MOONET is a 471-word picture book based on the life of Claude Monet. Clyde is tired of painting inside like other artists in his herd, yet no one understands his impressionistic style. But that all changes when he creates a special series for his brother Biff. I’ve infused nonfiction elements into the story, such as actual quotes from Claude Monet and back material highlighting aspects of Monet’s life that parallel this story.

First 50 Words:

Clyde Moonet was supposed to paint with his class. But while others painted
vanilla ice cream,
and milk jugs,

Clyde painted the pasture’s color and light.

“You call this ice cream?” Monsieur Milkypants asked.

“Nature is the source of my inspiration,”
Clyde replied.

He knew there was more to painting than painting inside.


Entry Nickname:
Lila's Smiling Quest
Word count: 300
Genre: Picture Book Rhyme

Lila's Mommy has been sad since her Daddy went to heaven and Lila doesn’t know what to do to make her happy again. She thinks her Mommy’s smile will only come out if she does something amazing. So she tries jokes and magic tricks; saying her alphabets and singing songs. But in the end, Lila learns that sometimes the simplest words and actions are the ones that help the most.

SMILE, MOMMY is a picture book rhyme complete at 300 words and written for children ages 4-8 with a message about comforting others.

First 50 words:
Mommy’s heart hurts and I know why.
Why she doesn’t smile and only cries.

Daddy’s not here. He went up above.
But Mommy says he looks down on us; eyes filled with love.

So we should give our biggest smiles so he will see.
But the only one smiling between us is me.


  1. Judges - hit 'reply' to this comment to cast your votes. Thank you!

    1. Cow - I love this concept, I think the humor is just right, and I like the overarching theme of doing your own thing. The query needs to lose the first sentence--just jump in--but otherwise I really don't have any further notes. I think there's potential for some pretty amazing artwork here as well.

      Smile - this one breaks my heart just thinking about it. I would no doubt cry reading this to my child. I think that grief books are extremely important, but you may gain a wider audience by having Mommy sad about losing her own parent or a sibling. It's more realistic for your intended audience's life. The language in the 50 is very clever and though I don't always love rhyming books, this is well done.

      A hard choice but VICTORY TO COW

    2. COW: As the judge before me suggested, I'd recommend losing the first sentence of your query. It's not necessary. Otherwise, great pitch! This is a unique and fun concept, and I can see an illustrator having a blast bringing your text to life. Nicely done!

      LILA: I got choked up just reading this in my head! I do feel like your main character, Lila, would also be very grief-stricken if she'd lost her father, so what if her mom had lost a parent or sibling instead? This is a difficult topic, and I really admire you for tackling it in a thoughtful and sensitive way, and for trying to make books like this available to kids who might be going through a tough time. Your prose is beautiful, too! I just think the concept needs some tweaking.


    3. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      I'll admit: I love cows. And I love the concept of a cow being a misunderstood painter.

      My only recommendation (since I'm not familiar with the structure of picture book queries) is to make a paragraph break between "a special series for his brother Biff" and "I've infused nonfiction elements," since the former is still part of the summary and the latter is additional information from you as the author.



      This story sounds absolutely precious. My only comment is that you might want to check the punctuation in the third sentence where you have the list of things Lila tries; I'm not sure a semicolon is what you want there.

      Victory to... IMPRESSIONISTIC COW!

    4. Cow

      I like this because I think there's not enough creativity and art in the world. However, I would get rid of the 'If you enjoy' as it seems a bit presumptuous. Let your query speak for itself.

      I love the names in this book and the premise.

      Lila's Smiling Quest

      I think you're on the right track here. Pending on how old Lila is, she might not grasp the finality of death, so I find it to be believable to a point. She'd probably still have that feeling of missing him though. The rhymes are wonderful, but I'm not sure why Lila is smiling. Even if she doesn't understand the finality of death, wouldn't she be asking when she can see her dad again? Lila may well feel the emotion, I don't know, but the first 50 don't convey that.


    5. I love PBs and these are two great concepts!

      Impressionistic Cow,

      The intro line in your query isn't necessary. I'd recommend cutting and just diving in. Also the voice in the query sounds very formal. I'd try to readjust to reflect the tone of the book. The key element here is Monet's paintings and I think this makes a really great hook for your PB.

      First 250: Love the opening and how you immediately address Clyde's difference from the others. It would definitely make me want to read on.

      Lila's Smiling Quest,

      Great query. The writing is simplistic and reflects the tone of the book. My only comment would be to cut the line about it having a "message about comforting others" because this is inferred in your previous paragraph.

      First 250: Great first line and the rhyming pattern feels natural, not forced.

      Hard to make a call on this one. Both entries are very strong. But my final vote goes to...



      QUERY: What a cute concept! I don’t think you need the first line in the query, but otherwise it sounds pretty interesting. I am admittedly not an expert on picture books at all, so I don’t have a lot of notes to give.

      FIRST 250: I like the scene you’ve painted. My question would be whether kids would understand the quotes from Monet, and why they are significant, or if it would seem odd to them that he talks like that. Then again, that may be a part of highlighting the difference between Clyde and the other cows.


      QUERY: Aww, this is heartbreaking! I work with kids, and I can immediately think of many situations where a book like this could be helpful.

      FIRST 250: This flows nicely, with a gentle tone that kids would find soothing and relatable. Very nice.

      Victory to LILA’S SMILING QUEST.

    7. Jackie Jormp-JompJune 4, 2015 at 2:46 AM


      I agree with others that the first sentence needs to go – I think getting to the story’s heart right off the bat is much more appealing. But if you cut the first sentence, make sure it’s still clear from the start that Clyde is a cow.
      I’d love to hear a smidge more about the problems Clyde might face in trying to achieve his goals. I think the historical info and educational stuff that is in the book is nice, but it won’t be enough to sell it if you don’t offer a strong hook, obstacles, and solid stakes.

      The first 50 are fun and will give an illustrator a lot to work with. Question: Why did you name him Clyde and not just Claude Moonet? I like the pun of only changing the last name, personally. ☺

      I think your query really spells out the dramatic arc of the story nicely – the situation, the attempts to fix the problem, and the conclusion. I also love that you’ve focused on the idea that the child MC is the one to solve the problem – that the adult doesn’t solve it for her. I think kids need to see themselves in the MC - very important in picture books.

      I’m not a huge fan of rhyming, unless it’s Dr. Seuss, so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the poetry. But I love that it’s in first person, and that the MC is so forthright and empathetic.

      Victory to LILA’S SMILING QUEST

    8. Hey Judge Sparrow! Thank you so SO SO much for judging 11 match-ups (11!) even though you weren't assigned this round. The query feedback will help tons. We won't be able to count your vote because of the lack of 250 consideration, but seriously, thank you thank you. The writers will appreciate it tons.

  2. The Impressionistic Cow - Great concept, and love the nonfiction elements, but I think your hook could be stronger. Don't directly address the reader ("If you like...") -- draw them in with the strength of your story. Don't talk about your writing process ("I've infused...") -- just about the resulting product. A great concept, though.

    Lila's smiling quest -- I wonder if you could rewrite this so there's a different reason why the mother is sad. Personally, as a parent, I wouldn't buy a book featuring the death of a parent -- it's just too heavy of a topic and not one I want to talk about with a 4-6 yo reader. There's a small segmant who have experienced this and might be comforted, but not big enough for a sizable audience, I don't think. I do like your writing and the quest for a smile, though.

  3. Great entries! I love PBs.

    Impressionistic Cow - I love this! What a fun way to learn about an artist. (And cows totally rock.) I do agree with kidlitcombatant that the query might be better by not using "you" in the first line. But I think your first 50 words are fabulous and a fun read, so I would definitely want to read more.

    Lila's Smiling Quest - Wow. What a touching and important subject. Your query is well written and you have a great voice in your first 50 words. I do think, however, because a grief book has a smaller market and there are probably a lot of books addressing grief, it might be a tougher sell. Also, the meter is a bit off for me, especially the 4th line. With a little bit of work, though, this will be a lovely book.

    Congrats to both of you. I can see why these entries were selected.

  4. Clyde Moonet: I like the idea of your story and your first 50 are well written. I also like how you added non-fiction elements to the story. There are two small things that don't work for me in your query. First, I don't care for the preamble (the "If you like stories with a twist" bit). I think your query would be stronger without it. Second, I think you need to elaborate on how things change when he creates a series for Biff. Why is this series special? Why does he create it for Biff? Otherwise, good work. I can see reading this with my 6 year old and I think it would be a great vehicle for awesome illustrations.

    Smile, Mommy: I think this sounds like a great book for kids dealing with a death in the family. My daughter recently lost a grandmother and we've read several books on this topic. I like your approach. Most dealing-with-death books talk about remembering loved ones or where they go or how sad we feel. I've never seen one that talks about how hard it is to deal with another family member's grief, though this is really something that happens. Kids are resilient and live in the moment. They grieve but sometimes not as openly as adults and it can be hard for a child to see the only parent they have left fall apart. Reading the query and first 50 brought tears to my eyes. Overall, I think this sounds wonderful and I'd definitely read it to my daughter.

  5. Super Flynn (QK constestant too!)June 1, 2015 at 12:32 PM

    Cow: I agree with others that there's likely a better way in to this query. Try not to address the reader when you can avoid it. The meat of the query and the story are solid. It's great how you've captured a voice relatable to a child while also starting to teach them something.

    Smile: I agree that this content, while important, may be a tough sell. Maybe it could be a grandparent or even a pet that dies instead of the main character's father? The writing itself lovely... I just worry about marketability.

  6. I love both of these entries! Man, the judges have it tough.


    I love this concept. It's smart and is a great way to introduce children to classical artists.

    Smile: I agree with the others. I know there is a market for books that deal with the death of a family member. But that is usually a pet or a grandparent etc. I do have a list of these books if you would like to see them!

    I do like the idea of pulling away from a death book towards teaching compassion. Showing kids to recognize emotions in others and how to be compassionate. When someone you always have known to be strong and smiling, it can be quite scary for kids to see them sad! Anyway, congrats on writing this unique book!

    Jenna-Lynne Duncan
    "A Pirate's Life for Me"

  7. The Impressionistic Cow - I love this concept. It's a great way to introduce children to great artists such as Monet and get them interested in art. For the query, I would remove "If you enjoy", "I'd", and "I've". Try not to make it too personal and instead focus on the book itself.
    The first 50 words are great. It's easy enough for children to read, not TOO easy where it feels dumbed down for them. I also found all of the dairy references very cute.

    Lila's Smiling Quest - I'm a little torn by this one. On one hand, the unfortunate truth is that many children do have to deal with the death of a parent. But on the other, I find it a bit odd that the focus seems to be making her mom feel better. I think your message is important - comforting others when they need it - but I'm wondering if maybe the person needs comfort for some other reason. I just feel the subject of death is too heavy for a book for such young children, unless it is somehow helping THEM cope with death.
    The first 50 words are very well written.

  8. Impressionistic Cow

    I laughed out loud – great concept and character names. What if you started the first line of the query at “meet”? Be careful with “Clyde is tired of painting inside like other artists in his herd, yet no one understands his impressionistic style.” Those ideas aren’t really in conflict with each other as the “yet” implies. Perhaps change the conjunction or rephrase?

    Your 50 has a lovely lilt…I can already imagine reading this to my children someday!

    Lila's Smiling Quest

    I think you nailed the tone for dealing with grief from a child’s POV, but I’m struggling to imagine who would be most likely to purchase this book. I agree with the suggestions to consider changing the reason for mom’s grief. But kudos to you for writing in rhyme!

  9. Clyde Moonet- such a cute concept! I do want to know what changes once he starts doing pics of Biff. Also make the wording a little stronger and take out the I've added and if you like. Keep focus on the work. The opening is cute!

    Smile- this subject is interesting and I do think it might be a hard sell but it may also be something needed. Kids are so much more aware and in touch with things these days that there may be a need or place for that. The rhyme was beautiful but seems a little heavy too and it's interesting the child is focusing on comforting the mom. its definitely new and may meet a need for some kids.

  10. Impressionistic Cow -
    I love the idea and what a great way to introduce kids to this style of art. In the query, I suggest cutting the first paragraph and inserting 'the cow' in the 2nd paragraph after 'Clyde.' I was unclear about Clyde's motivation for creating a special series for Biff and what makes this special from his previous paintings, This really looks like a fun concept.

    Lila's Smiling Quest -
    While I like the idea of a picture book which deals with the loss of a parent, I did have a fairly big concern. In this type of situation, children frequently assume responsibility beyond their years -- to their detriment -- and the idea that it rests upon a child to get their mother to smile again gave me pause. I realize I may have misunderstood the thrust of the book, but if I did, then perhaps you can clarify in the query so others don't make this mistake? That said, I liked the thematic wrap-up in the query and think this is an important topic for picture books to address.

  11. Clyde Moonet:
    This is a fantastic concept, really well executed. As far as the query, I agree with others who suggest eliminating the contractions "I'd" and "I've." You will still maintain the breezy style without getting a bit too casual. Perhaps reinforce the hilarious bovine aspect by adding "cow" in this line: "Clyde the cow is tired of painting inside like other artists in his herd..." So funny! The whole thing cracks me up. Very minor tweaks, otherwise I thought your query did a great job of balancing hilarity with serious art. The 50 is perfect. You nailed it with Monsieur Milkypants. I would buy the book right now!

    Smile, Mommy:
    This is an important concept, but I agree with others that a father's death is too close, and not as likely as one of the mom's friends or a grandparent. One line of the query could be strengthened to eliminate the semicolon and be more active, perhaps: Lila tells jokes and performs magic tricks. She recites the alphabet and sings Mom's favorite songs--but nothing works. The 50 word opening is lovely, but one near-rhyme did not scan with the other perfect rhymes, "why" and "cries." I suggest tweaking it to make the line end on "cry" instead of "cries" (why/cry, above/love, see/me). Very sweet and lovely rhythm, this would be perfect for kids trying to process grief, but maybe choose someone less scary in terms of loss. If you're trying to stick with "dad" for certain rhymes, perhaps "grand-dad" might work.

  12. My only comments are that these are both beautiful. I'm sorry not to provide an in-depth critique. I will offer some minor suggestions.

    Minor notes-

    Clyde Moonet
    Should you mention age group for this? I think your entry was highly creative, and I think my son would have cracked up at it when he was younger, but I do wonder what age you think it should be targeted towards.

    Smile, Mommy
    My only comments are regarding rhyme and they are echoed above. The subject is well handled in the query, and from your start you have the makings of a great book.

  13. I feel like I've heard advice to avoid near-rhymes, as others mentioned, but also to avoid occasional rhymes, like in the last two lines of the Impressionist Cow. Personally it throws me off if I'm reading to my daughter and I unexpectedly encounter rhyming. Feel free to ignore, but my opinion is to either rhyme consistently or not at all.

    The Impressionist Cow -
    In the query, definitely lose the first sentence up until "Meet a talented cow..." I think you should rephrase the last sentence to show rather than tell. I know this is echoing what everyone else said... Fun way to introduce kids to impressionism.

    Smile, Mommy -
    Sadly, there are kids who've lost a father who could use a picture book like this. The questions are: how many and how to reach them? To appeal to a larger audience, it would be helpful to change who died. If you really want to keep this theme, well, you might want to look at publishing options that would result in a smaller run... (you didn't hear it from me!) I had a little trouble with the meter, but overall I liked the concept and the query.

  14. Impressionistic Cow: Don't start your query off by addressing the reader. In fact, delete that whole first line. Jump right into your story. Example: Clyde is tired of painting inside like other artists in his herd and no one understands his impressionistic style. But that all changes when he creates a special series for his brother.

    Clyde's story is eerily reminiscent to that of Claude Monet's and parallels that of the great artist. Infused with non-fiction elements. . . (Add a cow pun or two here to match the title. More moos, maybe a behooves or something witty.) Then introduce the title and word count. This is such a cute idea!

    Lila's Smiling Quest: Your query is well written. However, based on the subject matter, I think it is more relevant to a small niche market which makes it less standoutish here. Based on your first 50, I couldn't help but wonder why you've chosen to write this in rhyme? As I fellow writer who also sometimes writes in rhyme, I understand that sometimes the words just come out that way. I also understand that rhyme can seriously limit your story. Based on your sample, I really feel that is the case here. I felt your words were more a slave to the rhyme than the actual story. I think you could infuse this manuscript with more heart/emotion if it were written in prose. Although all your ending words rhyme, the meter and rhythm were off. Especially in the first two stanzas.

    Good luck!

  15. Clyde Moonet:
    Query: I really liked this. It was short and snappy, and it gave off a sense of playfulness that is woven throughout your sample, too. LOVE that this is nonfiction, too.
    50: I’m not an expert on writing PBs, but I do have a young child. I think that this would be a hit in our house based off of what I see here. I think the name “Monsieur Milkypants” would bring about a few giggles, too. I’m curious how the quotes will go over, because presumably they are on the longer side like in the sample (i.e., source of my inspiration). Great work!
    Query: I think this is —to the point and complete.
    50: I love what you are trying to do here. I’m in the counseling field and books like this are SO important, to help normalize the situation and to let kids know they aren’t alone. That being said, I think the MC would be too upset over the loss to have moved on so completely. I agree with the others about switching it from father to another relative, or a friend. I also think it would be heavy for the child to be responsible for the mother’s emotions, especially when I think the mother would hopefully comfort the child instead. All this being said, great (and important) book.

  16. Impressionistic Cow: Hilarious idea, I love it. Monet is one of my favorite artists. I'd like to know more about the special series for Biff and Clyde's reason for making it.

    Lila: I think that a book about loss is very helpful for young children, but I wonder how Lila feels about her father's death. This book seems to be more about her mother's grief than hers.

  17. MOONET: I love this idea - I can absolutely see it on the page with a cow and a paintbrush. I hope Giverny makes an appearance. My main question is about the age target - "inspiration" strikes me as a word on a list, and I think that the format around learning who Monet was means this is gearing towards a slightly older children's audience. (This is similar to the word "pasture" - maybe use the word "field?") Bottom line is that I would mention the age range you are targeting in your query. Also, I hope that Clyde meets other artists in this book, like Pierre-Bear Renroar.

    LILA: First off, nice idea. I would make it clear in the query that it's Lila's father - when I read it I though the mom's father had died and she was dealing with the loss of a grandfather. (Which, based on the other comments, is a possible way to make this less heavy) Assuming you keep it as is, have you thought about gearing this specifically toward a Christian market/publisher, and agent who has experience with similar types of books? I think there is a market for this there, specifically if Lila and her mother find hope and comfort in going to church. I also am a little concerned about the title - I think Lila's Smiling Quest puts the focus back on the child trying to make her mom smile, rather than making it sound like a command. Hope this is helpful - both of these have lots of potential.

  18. CLYDE- I agree with the others that the first line in query isn't necessary. I love the name and I love this concept. The idea of a PB highlighting a famous artist isn't really done and I think it's great for kids. I like the 250, and I think the opening lines are good at showing that this cow is different!

    SMILE- I think this is a great concept as well. It's done is such a way to appeal to young readers, but also covers a topic felt by any age. The only thing that was a little off to me, and I love reading rhyming books to my kids, were the first opening lines. The first ends with why and the second starts with why. It just didn't seem to flow as well as it could. Perhaps rearrange or different word? However, I love the concept and it's completely heartfelt!

  19. CLYDE- I agree with the others that the first line in query isn't necessary. I love the name and I love this concept. The idea of a PB highlighting a famous artist isn't really done and I think it's great for kids. I like the 250, and I think the opening lines are good at showing that this cow is different!

    SMILE- I think this is a great concept as well. It's done is such a way to appeal to young readers, but also covers a topic felt by any age. The only thing that was a little off to me, and I love reading rhyming books to my kids, were the first opening lines. The first ends with why and the second starts with why. It just didn't seem to flow as well as it could. Perhaps rearrange or different word? However, I love the concept and it's completely heartfelt!