Monday, June 15, 2015

QK Round 2: Sand Dollar vs. Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries

Entry nickname: Sand Dollar
Title: Sand Dollar Shopper
Word count: 200
Genre: Picture Book (humorous, lyrical)


A young boy’s imagination soars as he and his mother collect Sand Dollars at the beach. “Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, what will I buy?” With his “dollars,” he imagines buying a surfboard-turtle, a singing teacher seal, or a treasure boat to hoist up sunken jewels. When the boy discovers he can trade his Sand Dollars for real dollars at the beachside store, he makes a surprising and heartwarming choice that helps his unexpectedly hatless mom and brings the story full circle. Sand Dollar Shopper is a humorous and lyrical 200-word picture book that would appeal to children ages 2-6.

First 50 words:

(Art: Beach, breezy. Mom presses hat to head)

The wind blows.
The waves push to the shore,
And pull out again.
Seashells sparkle on the sand.
I pick them up, one by one.
White shells, brown shells,
Scallops and snails.
My favorite is the Sand Dollar!

Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, what will I buy?


Entry Nickname:
Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!
Title: The Curious Curse of the Lonely Library
Word Count:
Genre: Upper Middle Grade Low Fantasy


The Pickettsville library has moldered in silence for two hundred years, but Theodore Plumford can sense that it’s special. Not just any library was founded by a madman.

Determined to spend the summer reading, twelve-year-old Theodore coaxes his reluctant siblings to explore the unusually grand library with him. Though the rest of Pickettsville refuses to darken its doors, the majestic building and its lively librarians soon enthrall the children. But when they discover that characters from the books are haunting the halls, an investigation into the library’s secrets leads them deep into one family’s peculiar history and one man’s troubled life.

As the Plumfords and librarians unravel the past, the library’s future seems brighter. But Theodore’s impetuous brother Hugo would rather have an adventure than follow orders, even if it throws the library into chaos. With the town clamoring to demolish the building, the characters fighting for their freedom, and Hugo playing by his own rules, Theodore’s mettle will be tested. The bookworm who has always lived through others’ stories must learn how to be his own hero if he’s going to save the library.

First 250:

Theodore Plumford’s neck prickled when they drove past the building on their way into town. The rest of Main Street was a collection of shabby stores, but this place stood apart like a wild beast among tabby cats.

Six white columns guarded a wide double door, and cold, silent windows rose between the pillars. On top of the building, rosy light streamed through the panes of a glass dome. It looked like a ball of fire upon a mammoth block of ice.

“Mom, what’s that?”

Mrs. Plumford twisted in her seat to follow Theodore’s pointing finger. She squinted into the sun. “We’ve never been there. You’ll have to ask your aunt.”

Theodore’s younger sister Lucy squirmed around to look at the building before it disappeared from view. “It looks scary,” she whispered.

“It looks boring,” said Hugo Plumford, elbowing Lucy in the center seat to make more room for himself. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” said Mr. Plumford. He turned the car into a neighborhood of prim houses in tidy rows, each so alike they might have been pressed from the same mold.

Hugo squashed his nose against the glass and groaned. “Can’t I go with you?”

“No,” said Mr. Plumford. “I’d prefer you weren’t eaten by a crocodile.”

“But I wouldn’t!”

“Hugo, you’d be trying to measure its teeth the minute I turned my back.”

Theodore stifled a sigh and hunkered over his book, determined to ignore the hundredth round of this debate.


  1. Judges, please reply to this comment.

    1. It's hard to judge two very different and very good entries, but I will try.

      Sand Dollars: I thought the query was spot on but I think the first sentence could do more for you as "imagination soars," is pretty vague and you have all this great imagery a few sentences down. I think if you trim a bit and get there sooner, it will be even stronger. I love the story idea.

      The sample starts off a little gentle, almost like a lullaby. Maybe that was your intent, but as a reader (and a parent), I think it's important to capture young readers from the first page.

      Librarians: This really intrigued me. I think a few of the phrases are vague like "test his mettle" and I wonder how the library's future is looking brighter. I think if you really focus on specifics it will be even better. The voice and the writing seem perfectly suited for MG. In the 250 I wondered why he was just commenting on the library now. If it's in his town, wouldn't the MC be used to seeing it. I also didn't get the crocodile teeth reference. Why would there be a crocodile in the library?

      Great job on both entries, but I had to pick the one that I'd most want to read to a child.


    2. As I mentioned in the earlier picture book entry, I’m not very familiar with querying picture books or the current trends or overdone concepts—so keep that in mind as you read my suggestions.

      Sand Dollar:
      Query: This sounds cute, and I can almost smell the sea and sand from reading this. I’m not crazy about the way this opens—it feels like an unnecessary one line summary. I’d just get right into the story. (Example: As he collects Sand Dollars at the beach, a young boy imagines trading in his Dollars for a surfboard-turtle, a singing teacher seal, and a treasure boat…) The line about the unexpectedly hatless mom seems to come out of nowhere. Is there a way to lead into this a little more? (I’m assuming he buys her a new hat?) Is there a reason you’re capitalizing sand dollar? If so, I’m not sure it’s coming across in the query.
      First 50: Again, very cute. A great portrait of the beach. I don’t have any real suggestions here. Nice job.

      Query: My thoughts as I was reading this went something like “Oh! A creepy library? A madman? Characters haunting the halls? YES.” So obviously I’m invested in the concept. The first two paragraphs are clear and interesting, but the third paragraph left me a little confused. I don’t understand what the primary conflict/stakes of the story are. At first I thought it was something about the family’s peculiar history and man’s troubled life, but then we get a whole other paragraph of a seemingly different conflict. For purposes of the query, I’d pick the most important one and delete the other. All of the stakes felt a little vague—not horribly so, but I think you can spice this up a bit more if you’re more specific. Why do people want to demolish the library? What is Hugo doing? Is there a way to give us something specific to invest in without being overly wordy?
      First 250: Some fun similes here. Loved a beast among tabby cats. My main issue is that I think you’re trying to do too much in the first page—we’re introduced to five different characters and a new city in the span of 250 words. I’d like to see you slow this down a little and give me more time with the MC so I can get to know him and feel invested in his story. I’m assuming they’re driving into the town where is aunt lives? Is there a way to give us this so we can get grounded a little sooner. Just with a word or two? The mother’s line of dialogue doesn’t feel natural to me. It feels very formal and a little like you’re rehashing backstory with it. Maybe simplify? “I’m not sure. You’ll have to ask your aunt.” I don’t understand the conversation about the crocodiles. It felt like being dropped into the middle of a conversation with no context, and I’d like a hint of background or else I don’t feel invested in what’s happening.

      I’ve gone back and forth on this no fewer than three times. This one boils down to the premise for me. Victory to Librarians.


      Query: I love the creative imagery you use in your query. I wonder if it would be even stronger if it was written closer in the boy’s voice. Just something to consider. It’s certainly fine as it is.

      First 50 words: I enjoyed your lilting, poetic style of writing. Sand Dollar would make a great bedtime story for a small child. I don’t have anything to suggest to make it better.


      Query: I love your first paragraph, because it sets a delightfully creepy tone. However, I’m a little confused about why a library would employ librarians when no one is willing to darken its doors. Maybe: “Though the rest of Pickettsville fears darkening its doors . . .” would work better.

      I think your stakes could be stronger. Exactly what does Theodore have to do to save the library?

      First 250: I love the idea of a haunted library. I don’t think there’s enough creepy MG out there for young readers (well, and older readers, too).

      Consider reading your dialogue out loud so you can tweak it to sound more natural. Mrs. Plumford’s response comes across a little like she’s feeding the reader information.

      Both of these entries have so much to offer young readers. I could easily see myself reading either to a child of mine. Sigh. It makes me sad I have to choose, but, VICTORY TO SAND DOLLAR.

    4. This is the one Kombat I can’t vote in since one of the Kombatants is my CP and dear friend. SO I will just leave feedback.

      Sand Dollar

      Query: I love the ocean and I can picture your MC on the beach and the board walk as I read your query!

      The query is beautiful and conveys the lovely imagery and soft, heartwarming moment of the book. It’s a picture book to needs to be on store shelves for sure. The subtle lessons of kindness, thinking of others, letting your imagination soar, and even the money aspect is sure to be a winner with parents. The only thing I see that could use a tweak is to change the word or to and as he imagines buying these things. Other than that well done!

      First 50:

      The first 50 is soft and gentle and sets the tone of a beautifully written picture book. I hope to add this to my collection one day soon.



      A haunted library! Very cool. My one comment would be, Can you elaborate more on testing his mettles. How far will they be tested? How will they be tested?

      First 250:

      Your first 250 is wonderful. Your voice is great and I would definitely buy this book.

      I’m not allowed to vote but I am sending my best wishes to you both!

    5. Sand Dollar
      Query: Oh. My. Gosh. This is perfect. I’m out of my element here with picture books and can only contribute as someone in early education—but this sounds like a wonderful book for young kids in a preschool setting. Love it. If “Sand dollar, sand dollar, what will I buy?” is the repetitive phrase throughout the story, then I would perhaps switch around the first two sentences. As you mention “he imagines” all the things he’ll buy, I don’t think you need to mention that a little boy’s imagination soars as it becomes repetitive.

      First 50:

      I really love the verb use of “push” and “pull” as they are age-appropriate. The use of colors, as well as naming objects is fantastic as well. I’m wondering instead of “one by one” if you could count them out to have some number usage in the story as well, but if the first 50 is indicative of the flow and structure of the rest of the story, then it might not fit.

      Great job!

      Libraries, Curses and Mysteries—Oh My!
      Query: LOVE this query! What a wonderful story. It’s well-organized and pulls the reader in. While it sounds like Theodore’s siblings play a large role in the story, they aren’t described or mentioned outside of impetuous Hugo, so a mention of them (how many? If not more than two, what are their names? How old?) might not hurt. What’s the madman’s name and is he tied into the “one family” mentioned? A little more detail about why the library hasn’t seen customers (are they scared? bored? too busy on Facebook? :) ) or what exactly Hugo has planned that will throw all this off would be great. There’s a couple of small plot holes to resolve within the query, however overall, this is very clean and easy to follow! Great work.

      First 250:

      So nicely written. I really love the imagery of wild beasts among tabby cats, and a ball of fire on a block of ice. The personalities of each child comes through as well. Though it sounds like Mom and Dad will be leaving on some type of expedition and the kids will be left with family, a little clarity couldn’t hurt. You might have to reflect that in your query as well, as I got the impression that Theodore was in his own town and wanted to spend the summer reading, not that he wanted to read because he was stuck at a family member’s home.

      After staring at both of these for what feels like the length of Queen Elizabeth’s reign…
      Victory (completely subjectively) goes to LIBRARIES, CURSES.

  2. Both intriguing, but Librarians feels a little too similar to the Night at the Museum premise to me. My vote would go to Sand Dollar. Good luck to both authors!

  3. Sand Dollar:

    Query: I don’t love the repeating of the line from the text (Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, what will I buy?”) in the query. And it could benefit from some paragraphs to make it easier to read.

    50: Great visuals, but it surprised me to see that it was in 1st person—the first three lines don’t really seem like a little kid’s voice.


    Query: I’d mention Theo’s age in the first line of the query. It’s kind of an older sounding name and that threw me. Otherwise, like it.

    250: I wouldn’t mention Theo’s last name in the first line. And it could benefit from more setting and less dialogue.

  4. I read these both before and still love them both for diff reasons:

    Sand Dollar has lots of potential to be a unique, heartfelt story, but I almost want some conflict or surprise right away. Maybe as he tries to catch his mom's hat he spots the sand dollar? The hat is lost at sea but he's left with this new sad dollar treasure??

    Library is still one of my faves because of subject and way the characters and conflict are portrayed in such a small sampling. I agree that you can pull away from as much setting and infuse more dialogue or other elements to get at the heart of the story faster. Best of luck to both!

  5. Sand Dollar: this feels lovely and heartwarming even in the query. I agree with the other posters who wanted some conflict. Could it be his mother's upset because she's lost her hat? The first 50 are very sweet, but I don't quite get the first line. Is that set-up for us?

    Query: How can you not love an MC, especially a boy, who wants to spend his summer reading? This sounds very fun, I like the way you've tightened up the query, and would like to read more! I don't think you need the first line in the third paragraph at all. There's enough going on without it.

    First 250: LOVE your description of the library, I can see it in my mind's eyes. Excellent wordcraft!
    Tiny nitpick: You call your MC Theodore Plumford and his brother Hugo Plumford but little sister is just Lucy. Since that last name is so fab, I'd repeat it as often as possible, including little sis.
    I'm intrigued by the mention of the crocodile. This is fun right off the bat. Great job!


    I really like this query. I know just what the story is about, and I know the tone…it’s going to be a beautifully calm, quiet story that will convey a lot of emotion with just a few words. My suggestions are few here—perhaps take the word “teacher” out of the line about the seal, and also, “that helps his unexpectedly hatless mom and brings the story full circle.”( I think it piques interest even more if this is left out…)
    Very nice query, though!
    First 50:
    A true test for me, when reading the opening words of a picture book, is imagining myself reading them to my pre-K class of four and five year olds. If I can picture their faces, hanging on each word, waiting for the page turns, craning their necks to get a better look at the illustrations…I know it’s a keeper.
    This is a keeper.
    I can envision every page spread, and practically taste the salt water in the air. The text is beautiful and would no-doubt be accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. The refrain is perfect…”Sand Dollar, Sand Dollar, what will I buy?”…kids will be turning it over and over in their mind as they anxiously await the answer--which we know, from this query, is going to be unexpected and heartwarming, and hit all the right notes for a young picture book crowd—as well as the parents and teachers who love to read to them! I want this for my classroom!

    Query: I think this query would benefit from being more straightforward. I'm definitely interested in what's going on, but I don't have a clear idea of the stakes. I'm left with a lot of questions. If Theodore is a total bookworm, why is he just now visiting the library? Does he have a special connection to this particular library or the madman that founded it that would up the stakes and explain why it's so important to him to save it?

    First 250:
    I really like the description of the building. And right away I get the idea that Theodore is very non-confrontational and retreats into his books.
    I'm curious what dad is doing that involves a crocodile in a neighborhood of cookie-cutter homes? And why the whole family would be with him to handle whatever it is that he does with said crocodile(s).
    I'm wondering, also, why the family doesn't know what the building is. Maybe that becomes clear in the next 250. I would keep reading to find out!

  7. Sand Dollar: I love the idea of a surfboard turtle! I wasn't as sure about buying the teacher seal - it felt a little weird that he would want to buy a teacher. Also, I don't think sand dollar needs to be capitalized throughout. I love the concept of this book, though, and I love that the boy gets to trade his sand dollars for real dollars at the end.

    Librarians: I can definitely see this being a hit with middle grade kids! If you could tell us what the brother Hugo does without spoiling the whole plot, I think it could add a little more tension to the stakes in the query. I love the last line of the query, though, and I thought the writing and concept were terrific.

  8. Sand Dollar/ Sand Dollar Shopper

    I really like your query letter, it sets the story nicely and has a great voice. The first 50 is fun and engaging, you provide some good visuals. I see they have you matched up with an MG, that's going to be a tough decision.

    Good job with this entry and good luck!

    Librarians, Curses, and Mysteries – Oh My!/ The Curious Curse of the Lonely Library

    I love the idea of this story! Your query was very good. You displayed the characters and their unique obstacles, but the stakes for Theodore seemed vague to me. Why is Theodore so vested in saving this library? Is it just the coolest place he's ever been, or is it an escape for him from some difficulty in his life?

    Your 250 was very entertaining, I would definitely read more. By the end of the sample, I was left a little confused with the crocodile argument. I'm guessing they are going someplace where there is a live crocodile, if so you might want to add a little more detail to that in this sample.

    Otherwise, great job and good luck in this round!