Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Agented Author #7

TITLE: The tootle-hen and the goshawk
GENRE: Picture Book

The woods on the other side of the meadow beckoned Grain to come. If only I had someone to go with me, she thought. She asked all the other tootle-hens.

"The goshawk lives there. He will eat you," her aunt said. "Do you want to die?"

"You are safer here," the rooster said. "Forget the woods."

Grain tried but her longing grew even stronger.

One morning, a bird flew over the field and perched on the gate. "Hello. I am Pipp, the chirrupit."

Grain hopped up and down and her heart beat fast. "Can you tell me about the woods?"

"Have you not been there? They are beautiful. Come along, I will show you." Pipp flew up.

Grain's legs trembled. "What about the goshawk? Aren't you afraid?"

"When he comes, we'll hide." Pipp dashed off.

"Wait for me!" Grain squeezed through the gap in the gate.

The rooster fluttered and hopped and grabbed her wing with his claws. "Where do you think you are going?"

"To the woods", Grain said.

"The goshawk will kill you before the day ends. You are crazy. "

"I'm not", Grain protested. "And you can't stop me."

"Don't blame me when you're dead." The rooster let her go.

Grain ran as fast as she could.

The woods took her breath away. She glanced around for the goshawk but only Pipp fluttered around.

He tried to catch the rays of light. "Come on. It's fun."

They danced together. After a while, they flopped onto the grass.

"We should dance with music", Pipp said.

"What a great idea." Grain lifted her beak to the canopy above. She warbled a melody and trumpeted at the same time.

Sing, sing, sing a song
Hump honk trump along

Pipp's eyes widened. "You can sing in two voices?"

"It is quite simple", Grain said. "The melody comes from my beak, the trumpeting from my hump."

They started a new song.

Sing, sing, sing a song
Tweet, twit, tweedly dee
Hump honk trump along
Tweet, twit, deedly twee.

"That sounds terrific", a deep voice boomed.

The goshawk, Grain thought and fled into a bush.

But it was only a frog. "I am Basso", it said. "Your song was so beautiful. May I sing along?"

"Of course you can", Pipp said.

Grain emerged from the bush and the frog joined their song.

Sing, sing, sing a song - quack
Tweet, twit, tweedly dee - quack
Hump honk trump along - quack
Tweet, twit, deedly twee- quack.

Soon, a rabbit lollopped closer. This time, Grain was not frightened. She knew rabbits from the farm.

"What's your name?" Pipp asked.

The rabbit jumped. "I am Tocktock. Don't stop. It's wonderful."

"Join us", Pipp said.

Tocktock sang very loud and very off key.

"Stop it", Grain shouted.

Tocktock obeyed.

"Singing is not right for you", Grain said. "Keep the beat with your paws."

Tocktock gave it his best, and Grain, Pipp and Basso sang.


  1. This read like a sweet story and I loved the animal names. For me, the hook could've been stronger, i.e., Something scary in the woods didn't have a lot of punch. What is it about this PB that'll make it stand out from the others?

    I liked the homespun feel of the voice, which makes for good read-alouds. Good luck with this!

  2. I am a little stressed about the getting eaten and the death in the beginning of this. I wouldn't read this story to my kid, because there is no way she'd fall asleep after I read those lines to her.

    That's always my main concern with PB's--will it give my child happy dreams?

    Is there some way to maybe temper that a little?

  3. Great story, but my concern is the same; there's a lot of emphasis on dying and getting eaten and torn to bits. Perhaps not the best way to soothe a child to sleep.

  4. Nice voice. I want to know what happened to Grain. Hooked.

  5. I'm not an expert on children's books, but I find the names and dialogue to be adorable. On one side I agree with reducing the emphasis on being killed, but on the other I wish for more plot.

  6. This is tough to critique, because we don't know how the story ends or what the theme is.

    I think that I might be pulled in more if I felt more of 'why' Grain wants to go to the meadow. What does it offer that she does not have? Is it lively in a way her home is not? It is the colors, the smells, the sounds? Is it the promise of food or adventure?

    From the direction of the story, it feels almost like she wants to experience companionship and a place to fit in, but there is no sense that she doesn't fit in in her home in the barnyard. If you showed that, then the allure of leaving with Pipp and the offer of friendship would come across more strongly.

    The pacing seems a bit slow when they first dance, then sing, when you compare that section to the rest of the story. But then again, it's hard to judge that only seeing part of the PB.

    The best advice I can give on this is to break it down by placing the text segments with an illos description. Make sure each illos is compelling enough to earn a spot in the picture book. This I'm sure you already know if you're agented.

    I like your characters and the desire for 'more.' I just think tho for this to stand out from all the other similar themed PBs, you need to hone in on the 'why' of wanting more, and show immediately why that need is not being filled in Grain's current life/setting/circumstance.

    Sorry, I wish I could help more on this, but I think PBs are near impossible to crit when we only see a portion of the book. I might not even have guessed the theme correctly. So take everything here with a healthy dose of salt.

    Best of luck with this!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  7. I'm going to say right off I know very little about picture books. I do know, however, that 500 words is around the size you want them to end up, so I'd expect to see this story end very soon. Within a hundred or so more words.

    As others have said, the beginning of this is pretty dark! I'd worry it was too dark for the target audience.

    That said, this got really cute toward the end of the snippet.

  8. Love your title. I'd pick up the book to look at it on that basis alone.

    The song/dance will be fun for young readers, especially with great illustrations. These same young ones will find the threat of death too scary, though, so change the goshawk's threat to something else. Something they can relate to at that young age. If the goshawk turns out to be something good (which is what I guess), make the threat the opposite. For example, if in reality the goshawk brings joy, the threat is "he'll make you sad." (The rooster would then need to say, "You are happier here.")

    Fourth sentence, "Grain tried but her longing grew even stronger"--show it instead of telling. Example, "Grain tried but her heart danced and twirled when she thought of the woods."

    Would love to see this published! Best wishes!

  9. There are exceptions to every rule, but I've heard so many industry professionals remark over the past couple years that PBs are getting shorter. This really turned on the charm when Grain sings her song and the other animals join in. Perhaps you could begin there, shorten your word count, and eliminate the scary stuff other people pointed out?

  10. Thank you all for your comments. I'll think about them.

    Actually, the original is in German (my native tongue) and somehow, publishers and parents over here don't seem to mind mentioning death.

    By the way, a goshawk is a special kind of hawk that prefers to eat chicken, so it would be a bit difficult to tone that down - but I'll definitely think about it. At the end, the goshawk shows up because it likes the music. After he promises not to eat any animals as long as they are beside the creek, Grain and her friends sing for him.