Thursday, April 28, 2016

Are You Hooked? Middle Grade #38

TITLE: Walking in Webbed Feet
GENRE: MG - Fantasy and Science

Magically transformed into penguins, eight-year old Clara and her brother are attacked by skuas. Clyde the Penguin asks: when do skuas really pose a danger. To get home, the kids must find the answer…. This series wraps fantasy in science, pleasing fans of Bill Nye and the Magic Tree House.

"I saw him!" said Henry. He pointed to the bushes.

"Sure you did," said Charlotte. The leaves glowed in the afternoon sun. They looked as green as her lunchbox. Her empty lunchbox.

"But I did see him!" said Henry.

The school bus drove away. Their kitchen seemed far.

Henry grabbed her arm. "Look!"

Charlotte looked. Like she had a choice.

She saw oak trees. She saw the twisty creek.

"I don't see any penguins," said Charlotte.

Charlotte marched toward their home. She didn't want to play with Henry. She wanted a snack.

"You wouldn't see penguins," said Henry. He sounded cross. But he followed her down their long driveway. "It's one penguin."

Henry loved to imagine animals. Yesterday they had seen a Komodo dragon. An imaginary Komodo dragon. Today was a penguin. An imaginary penguin.

But Charlotte was almost nine years old. She was too old for Henry's games. At least sometimes. Like now.

"Henry," she said. "Penguins don't live in forests. They don't live in Illinois. They only live in the Antarctic."

"Du-uh," said Henry. He didn't sound cross anymore. He just sounded annoying. "That's why we need to look for him. He's lost!"

Her little brother never gave up. "I think he's just fine where he is," said Charlotte.

"What if he's hurt?" asked Henry. "We have to help him."

"It's hard for a pretend penguin to get hurt," said Charlotte.

"No, it's not," said Henry. "Maybe a leopard seal got him."


  1. I think the voice sounds right for young-MG or even "old" chapter book readers (7-8 yrs old). Imaginary animals are a fun hook, especially when they can get into trouble, as Henry thinks this penguin has. One quibble with word choice would be the word "cross", which has a very British feel. I think most kids in the states would say mad/angry/annoyed.

  2. This seems more like a chapter book, than MG. Not only is the voice very young, but the sentences are very simple, more suited for chapter book. But as a chapter book, I think it's great! ;)

  3. This premise seems like so much fun!

    The opening few lines don't really set the scene or provide much characterization though. They seem a little like a random set of actions that don't provide much reason to care about what's going on. But from the "I don't see any penguins" line and on, the writing showed a lot more character that hooked me. I would look at rethinking the opening lines to provide more hook or character, but beyond that, I would read on.

  4. This sounds like a fun plot for kids, but I think the voice is a bit too young for middle grade. The sentence length and voice sounds more like a chapter book.

    Also I'd be cautious of starting with dialogue. it makes it difficult to connect to the voice right off the bat because we don't really know the character who is speaking yet.

    Best of luck as you pursue this :)

    Jamie - entry #35

  5. I don't know what a skuas is? The voice is young. I would say this is a chapter book. The sentences are choppy at times. The word cross doesn't fit your target age group and you use it twice.

  6. Skuas are birds with long beaks - hooks on the end - that prey on baby penguins and (I think) their eggs.

    Your dialogue does a good job of developing the relationship between Charlotte and Henry. It is realistic and believable. My favorite lines are the last two - very funny! Love the little brother outsmarting his big sister. They 'show' the little brother never giving up. Getting their ages up front wouldn't hurt.

    The sentences are short and choppy. Short sentence structure instantly drops the reading level but they still need to flow.

    A few details would go a long way to develop this scene. "Their kitchen seemed far." I assume 'far away.' Kids don't usually think in terms of 'kitchens' but specifically what's waiting for them. Cold lemonade in the fridge? Ding Dongs on the counter? Whatever - say it. The choices in food gives the reader useful information about the characters.

    Charlotte sounds stressed -a test at school? A conflict with a friend during lunch? Again, this tells you something about the character. She needs to be fleshed out a bit more with a few deft strokes.

    Your logline: The story you've described doesn't feel rich enough to support the length of a novel. Bill Nye and the Magic Tree House series rightly belong in a query or cover letter but waste precious words in a logline.

    I like Charlotte and Henry - the way they bump against each other promises a good relationship for a story. Keep working on it! You've got a good beginning.