TITLE: The Ups and Downs of Andrew Lane
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary
Andrew waited in the overwhelming silence, alert to any sound that would reveal an enemy attack. Quietly scaling the rope ladder he peered over the top of the fort. If the enemy was there, an attack would be swift and hard. He waited for the familiar battle cry. But it didn’t come.
Arrrrg. Why isn’t Danny home yet? He said he’d be home today. Andrew slid down the slide and plopped into the swing. Another whole day with nothing to do.
Arf, arf, arf!
“Fluffy!” If Fluffy was home, so was Danny.
Andrew climbed back up the slide and looked over the fence into Danny’s yard. Yes! Danny was tugging a duffle bag across his front lawn.
With two giant leaps across the top of the fort Andrew reached the slide that went right into Danny’s yard.
“Hi, Mr. Brown,” Andrew said as he ran past Danny’s dad.
“Hi, Andrew. How’s your dad? Is anything new?”
“No job yet, but he has some good possibilities.” Did Mom really think saying that was fooling anyone?
Andrew grabbed the strap of the bag and helped Danny lift it into the house.
“How was it?” he asked.
“It was great! Best vacation ever. Anything new here?”
A big smile crossed Andrew’s face. “Yeah, Mrs. Trenton isn’t coming back and they can’t find a new teacher. We could start third grade with a sub!”
“That’s great! Remember the sub last year? She couldn’t find the schedule or the art room or anything.”
I like the sense of adventure and possibility that this opening provides. That said, I was confused by the opening. It's a great line, but after we read on, we realize Andrew is not waiting for an enemy but for a friend. That really confused me.ReplyDelete
Once the two characters are together, I liked their interplay and the sense of adventure that they might be planning.
The contrast between the first paragraph and the rest of the excerpt is interesting. I suspect that the tone of the first paragraph foreshadows things to come -- that things will get much worse for Andrew, and that Andrew might, in fact, be dealing with enemy attacks before the end of the story (whether those attacks are of the physical sort or not).ReplyDelete
The tone shifted a little too quickly for me -- enemy attacks to a dog named Fluffy(!) within the span of a few lines. I think I want another few lines in the darkness of Andrew's imagination before shifting over to "real life."
I'd read on, though!
This excerpt seemed a little jerky to me. I loved the opening paragraph. But the whole, he-isn’t-here-oh-he-is scene was a bit much. I think it could be stronger for Andrew to hear the car pulling into the drive or hear the dog and, using his imagination, pretend the culprit was the enemy. Having had 4 boys of my own, I could totally see him jumping out of the fort pretending to attack the beast/enemy only to be ‘surprised’ that it was actually his friend/friend’s dog.ReplyDelete
I like the sense of adventure and playful spirit of the first paragraph. I also like the set-up of the fort that has slides going down into both boys' yards. Boys will love that.ReplyDelete
I liked how you didn't info-dump with the background info of his dad being out of work. Perfect way to introduce that.
The dog named Fluffy didn't work for me, especially with the tone the beginning sets. Also, some of the dialogue seems a bit clunky and slow. For example: "It was great. Best vacation ever. Anything new here?" I don't believe this is the way 10-12 year-old boys speak. Quicker paced, more natural dialogue would really help this submission.
A lot happens in this submission. Andrew is bored, his dad is out of work, his friend is finally home from vacation (and the implication is that Andrew’s family isn’t in the financial situation to afford a vacation,) and finally, the expected third grade teacher won’t be returning, so perhaps school will start with a substitute. That’s a whopper of a story for middle grade, not that it all can’t be addressed in one book, but maybe too much introduction to too many scenarios.ReplyDelete
You might consider having Andrew do something first thing up in his fort other than describe it. Kids like action right out of the gate. He could swing on the rope and then listen for a response from the enemy. I’m suggesting just a slight reversal of action from what you’ve written.
I’m not sure I believe that Mr. Brown would ask about Andrew’s dad. Being out of work is a sensitive situation for adults and they usually broach the subject with more circumspection than to ask a 7-8-year-old. This might be one aspect to leave until a bit later in the story. I’d prefer that you develop the relationship between Andrew and Danny and the anticipation of a new teacher. Is there perhaps a bit of jealousy that ensues between them?
Overall I’m just not sure what it is that Andrew wants more than anything else, and I believe that middle grade stories must establish this dilemma immediately. Young readers must have an idea of the stakes whereas older readers are a bit more patient and will allow a writer to establish mood first, at least to a degree.
One very small thing: who is it that shouts Fluffy’s name?
You have good bones here, but think about what a middle school kid wants to do and then you’ll understand what that same kid wants to read.
The title is perfect for this story, suggesting up and down a street and the emotional ups and downs of an elementary school kid.
I liked the fort scene and some, not all, of the dialogue seemed real for an eight-year-old. My biggest problem with the piece was calling it middle grade, i.e. age 10-12 when these kids are just starting third grade. None of my boys would ever call a dog fluffy. GrandkeeReplyDelete
I like the set-up between the yards. Sounds like a boys' paradise!ReplyDelete
The "arrrg" in the second paragraph was jolting, after the "tension" in the first. I thought we were in a pirate spoof. Maybe just use a kid term of frustration.
Small disconnect: Andrew's action made it sound like he slid straight from the slide into the swing.
I'd put the dog part in narrative and leave out the arfing. And I agree, Fluffy isn't a dog name a boy would likely pick.
Also agree that Dad's job isn't a topic for friend's dad to bring up. Andrew's thought made me wonder whether it was Mom trying to fool the family or Dad. Maybe have him say: “No job yet, but Mom says he has some good possibilities.”
If Danny's lugging a bag in, what's his dad doing?
Break up "It was great! Best vacation ever. Anything new here?” with a dialogue tag. I agree, though, it doesn't sound like the way a kid would talk.
Good possibilities, but wondering how the kid would know about the substitute. Around here kids don't know who their teacher will be until a couple days before school.
I like the start of this scene, with the way we're inside this little boy's imagination, and we don't realize it's make believe quite yet. I think it might be more effective, though, if you transition a little bit more gradually back into "the real world." The "Arrrg. Why wasn't Danny home yet?" was quite jarring (and didn't quite sound like a 3rd grade voice). Maybe you could let him keep living in the fantasy, waiting for his friend the enemy to attack the fort, for a while longer. He could see the dog, and we could observe Fluffy through the eyes of his imagination. Keep us in his pretend world, with just a smattering of reality creeping in, as his excitement over the best friend's return slowly trumps the determination to maintain the charade. And finally, he'd be too excited to wait for his friend to come play, and he'd break character to go slide into his best friend's yard. (I love the clash of the frou-frou dog's name here, by the way. And who's to say Mom didn't name the dog?)ReplyDelete
Sorry, the opening paragraph didn't work for me. I just ended up with a "huh" moment when we moved to the second paragraph.ReplyDelete
For me, this whole page moved too quickly and there is too much information. We jump time frames and through mini-scenes at a very rapid rate and don't get time to invest in any of it.
I'd suggest slowing down, giving the reader a better image of what is happening. Some sort of emotion, rather than a straight description of what is happening, would help too.
I like the set-up and the characters. Makes me wonder what will happen this year to Andrew. Would it make sense to hint at what has happened to him in the past? Does he usually get into a lot of trouble or just have things happen to him?ReplyDelete
I agree about labeling this middle grade with characters in third grade. It makes me wonder about the length of the manuscript; around 35k would be a typical MG.
Not sure you need the two sentences where Andrew asks "How was it?" and Danny answers. I think that Andrew would blurt out the big news about the lack of a teacher. Does their school only have one third grade class?
Also, is there something more funny that Danny can say about the previous year's sub other than the art schedule? This seemed like an excellent opportunity to score a laugh. Maybe the students convinced the sub of something completely outrageous.
I'm on the fence with this one. It starts out well, but then it seems to veer off course.ReplyDelete
Like some others, I stumbled over the segue back to real life, but I think this might be fixed just be rearranging the sentences:
"Andrew slid down the slide and plopped into the swing. Arrrrg. Why isn’t Danny home yet? He said he’d be home today. Another whole day with nothing to do."
Somehow, that reads smoother to me.
I also got tripped up with the action when Andrew rushes to meet Danny. Does the slide really go from Andrew's back yard into Danny's front yard? I'm having a hard time picturing that. Then, Andrew is talking to Danny's father while he's running, but it's long, complete sentences, not like what he'd say while running.
Actually, that's a problem with all the dialogue. I went back to check the genre because it felt like this might be historical, set in the 1950s, rather than contemporary, and I think it's because the dialogue is very formal. It doesn't sound like the way kids really speak, either to adults or to each other. Also, this line -- Did Mom really think saying that was fooling anyone? -- made me think that Mom was there and had actually said it. After re-reading, I understand that this is how he's been coached to answer the question, but it's very confusing.
I think this has a lot of potential, but it needs editing with a focus on clarity and believable dialogue.
What stood out to me was the fact that the boys were just entering 3rd grade, which makes them about 8 or 9, which would make this a chapter book, I believe. MG usually tends to have an MC about 10-12.ReplyDelete
I also didn't think the MC as an 8-9 year old would have that much insight into his Mom's motives. (Did she really believe saying that would fool anyone?) Wouldn't an 8-9 year old still basically believe whatever their parents told them? Do they have to be in 3rd grade?
TO THE AUTHOR:ReplyDelete
Greg Ferguson has sent me his critique as a word document in track changes. I don't know how to translate that into the comment box! Please email me so that I can send this to you.