Wednesday, June 14, 2017

QK Round 2: Perfectly Imperfect Princess vs. Bust the Bubble Wrap

Title: Penelope Charming and the Poisoned Glass Slippers
Entry Nickname: Perfectly Imperfect Princess
Word Count: 53K
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy


Twelve-year-old Princess Penelope, daughter of Cinderella, has a “charmed life.” Closets full of ruffly dresses (itchy), classes at the prestigious Charming Academy (boring), and her very own fairy godmother (annoying). Penelope would trade them all for her mother’s signature on an adventure slip to travel outside the castle walls. Too bad Cinderella refuses to sign.

Exploring secret passages and games of capture-the-frog are fun, but when a rival princess dares Penelope to steal her mother’s glass slippers, her craving for adventure results in shattered shoes days before the annual ball. Smashed slippers are small peas to Penelope, but to a villain plotting the end to her mother’s Happily Ever After, it’s a perfectly twisted opportunity. The replacement glass slippers are poisoned, casting Cinderella into a deathly slumber. 

Determined to save her mother’s life, Penelope searches for the origin of the mysterious poison. Once upon a time, an antidote existed. Lucky for Penelope, her new friend Jack may know where to find it. With Jack’s promise to guide them, Penelope and her best friend, Red, sneak out of the castle walls to travel into the forbidden Beanstalk Forest. Penelope’s wish to explore Fablewood becomes a race to find the antidote ingredients to wake her mother before she sleeps forever after. 

First 250:

Glass slippers made terrible frog-capturing shoes. I kicked them off my feet, shoved my slingshot through my sash, and dropped to the mud to peer through the rose bush. A small frog lay stretched out on the edge of the wishing well, belly up to the sun. 

Once upon a time, a princess ventured through the wilds of Fablewood…

I squeezed under the bush, but a thorn snagged the frilly hem of my dress, tearing the fabric with a loud rip. I froze.

The frog stretched his scrawny arms, wiggled a teeny bit, and flopped his arms back onto the stones. He hadn't heard me. The frog was mine.

The brave princess had climbed tall towers, outrun villains, trudged through swamps…

Squelching stealthily through the mud, I crawled to the well and paused.

One happily ever after...two happily ever after...three happily ever after.

She was Princess Penelope, daughter of Cinderella. One slimy beastie was no match for her.

“Surrender!” I sprang to my feet. A frog-shaped blotch glistened on the stones. “Rotten peas!”

As I leaned over the well, the frog leaped from his hiding spot beside a broken stone and onto my shoulder. He poked my cheek with a twig.

“Gotcha, Princess Penelope!”

I glared into his scum-colored googley eyes. “Phib! When did you know I was coming?”

“I saw you leave the castle doors.” Phib flourished the twig like a fencing sword, bowed, and strolled down my arm to the well. The dank smell of algae mixed with jasmine tickled my nose: eau de Phib. 


Super Weenie
Entry Name: Bust the Bubble Wrap
Word Count: 48,000
Genre:  MG Contemporary; OwnVoices (Allergy/Anaphylaxis)


Eleven-year-old SAFFRON LEWIS wants to be a regular kid, but her life-threatening food allergies, medical alert bracelet and ever-present EpiPen make her feel like a weirdo.  The nickname assigned by her older brother when she was two years old isn't helping matters. She swallowed one bite of nutty Halloween candy, turned the same shade of blue as her tiny-kid superhero costume, and he's called her Super Weenie ever since.

Saffy's hyper-protective mother has managed to keep her safe since then. But to Saffy, the rules, regulations and restrictions feel like bubble wrap. And she’s ready to burst free from her restraints and that dorktastic alter ego. Saffy's starting middle school, and she's got a plan: Pretend to be Perfectly Normal.

Everything goes fine… until she eats one bite of a supposedly safe cookie during a class party and goes into anaphylactic shock. She jolts awake in an ambulance. Time for a new plan: Survive Sixth Grade.

After the latest medical scare, her mother isn't convinced Saffy can protect herself, so she demands the school enact a restrictive food policy to keep Saffy safe. Before long angry protestors are waving picket signs in front of her school in opposition to the food ban. Saffy's classmates choose sides. Her locker mate Madison is firmly against the ban, and devotes herself to making Saffy’s life totally un-fun. She calls Saffy Nut Girl, labels her defective, and tricks everyone into thinking Saffy's having another allergic reaction just to freak out Saffy's friends.

Saffy discovers the key to surviving middle school -- to surviving life as a kid with allergies -- isn't escaping her Super Weenie persona, but embracing it. She just has to figure out how to stand up to Madison, ensure the school nurse never has to unholster another one of her EpiPens, and convince her mom to pack away the bubble wrap for good. This calls for Saffy's boldest plan yet: Super Weenie Rescues Herself.

First 250:

The click-clack of Mom's high-heeled shoes stops outside my bedroom door. She holds her arms wide for a hug. I squeeze her harder than normal, trying to de-activate the army of tiny robots stampeding in my belly. It doesn't work. Still nervous.

"Have a great first day." She tugs the tip of my braid out of my mouth.

"I will."

"You've got your inhaler?"

"Yes, Mom. I showed you last night."

"Okay. Dad will deliver your EpiPen to the nurse this morning." She straightens my collar.

"Yep. I know. Since you're convinced I can't take care of myself." Now the robots are testing their rocket boosters.

"Please don't start, Saffron." Her hands flutter down to my wrists. "Where's your medical alert bracelet?"

"Just putting it on." I slide it on and tuck it under my sleeve.

"You have to wear it every day."

"Mom! Stop worrying." I bet she's wishing she could bust out a jumbo-sized roll of bubble wrap to keep me safe.

"Fine. Have fun with Britt and Jessica. I told them to watch out for you."

"You've convinced my friends to spy on me?" I administer a megawatt glare and yank on my braid. Its tip is spit-soaked.

Dad sidles up. Today's fashion disaster is a bright pink shirt, covered with flamingos wearing hats. Between regular first-day-of-school worries and my mother's nervous breakdown over my allergies, I don't have time to help Dad with his latest clothing misfire. I can't even joke with Mom over the whole thing because I'm currently busy being irritated at her.


    Love your hook and first paragraph. Nice voice. I really like the idea of perfect Cinderella also being a very imperfect, too-sheltering mom. Neat. In the second paragraph, I was confused by the “small peas” thing, as I’ve always heard the saying as “small potatoes. Must be a regional thing.

    Honestly the whole rest of your query reads wonderfully to me. It’s clear, nice stakes, just enough detail about characters to keep us interested. I’m so sorry, but I don’t have any feedback for you (and I judged a bunch of entries last round and never said ANYTHING like this).

    I’m not in love with the first line. It read a tad awkward to me, though I do love that you juxtapose the glass slippers with frog capturing. Actually, the whole 250 reads stilted to me, though this may be totally a matter of taste. I think having sentences on their own line can be really effective, particularly in dramatic moments of a story or to highlight one-liners, but to do it on almost every line, plus weave in her character thoughts (which I actually thought was a prologue), was very off-putting and confusing to me. I’d consider rewriting the opening in a more traditional paragraph-y kind of way. I’d also consider her saying the thoughts out loud, and cutting at least one of them down.

    HOWEVER, this is just a matter of a little reorganization. Your MC already bursts with voice and personality, as does the world you’ve created. I love the talking frog!


      Oh boy, very timely. I’m an antiphylaxis girl myself, and also work with children, so I’ve experienced both sides of this. It’s a rather divisive issue these days, isn’t it, which it sounds like you’ve really captured in your story.

      Nice hook. I would insert her actual nickname, “Super Weenie,” into the second sentence where you refer to it, or find a way to combine that sentence with the third. Don’t have much else to say about the query. I think it’s very clear and well-written. Nice voice. (Note: The following is my own personal opinion and won’t affect the way I judge the craftsmanship of your entry compared to the other: The query reads really well, but I have to say, personally the line about “ensuring the school nurse never has to unholster another EpiPen” makes me more than a little nervous, and this is from someone who carries one at all times. It’s not clear what the final message of your book is, but I’m not sure if anyone can ever ensure that, or should even try. I’m hoping that part of the “she saves herself” theme is that both she and her mom learn to be comfortable with the discomfort of never knowing if a safe cookie might not be safe. Not saying that her classroom shouldn’t be peanut-free, but I’m hoping that she doesn’t just realize that her mom is right and that everyone else in her world needs to share her hyper-vigilance because they care about her. Obviously Madison’s bullying is not in any way acceptable or okay, but my personal opinion with allergies (and maybe it’s because of the drastically different way society treated my allergies growing up, is that there needs to be some give and take in terms of the onus being on schools/others/societies and the individual, and also that accidents are bound to happen, as scary as they are.)

      I like your 250. The first day of school opening is a bit overused, but I like how quickly you’ve established the relationships and conflict between Saffy and her mom, and set up the plot. The mom comes across as a bit unlikeable but in a relatable way, particularly for me as a parent.

      BOTH: This is the round where things get tough, just because your entries are both SO strong. Honestly both of your queries rock and I don’t have anything helpful to add in terms of how to make them better, and I think you will both go far. In the end, then, this comes down to the 250, and while I do feel that BUST THE BUBBLE WRAP’S point of entry is a bit more cliché, I think it’s a bit easier to read, even though I personally would choose to read PERFECTLY IMPERFECT because of Reasons. But since I judge based on my opinion of craftsmanship over personal interests, I must award….


      -Molly Millions

  2. Hmm, a really interesting match-up here. I'll start with a critical analysis of both entries and finish with my vote.

    Penelope Charming:
    Voice, style, and stakes pouring off the query letter, with a solid use of the known territory of fairy tales to make secondary characters (Jack, Red) identifiable from name alone, which shows a economical trust in the reader to figure stuff out in context. Premise-wise, I can't shake the feeling that the idea of "princess encouraged to be feminine and live in security resents security and femininity and wants to have adventures instead" is a pretty established trope. I don't know if your ms actually reflects a more nuanced treatment of Penelope's desires and situation, or if she evolves into one, but MG stories that implicitly shame femininity and coach little girls to be proud of themselves if they reject that part of their identity in favor of tomboyishness seems like 1980s feminism instead of the both/and world of 21st century kids. You might think about that; I know a lot of MG-aged kids, and a trend I've noticed is being tired of gendered narratives posing a desirable life as either/or. The first page had me from go, though the "Rotten peas!" line was a bit puzzling. I assume it's a G-rated invented cuss for Penelope to use, but at first, since she's already fantasizing dramatically about what she might be doing, I wondered if she was fantasizing through being made to eat her peas, and if the frogs she mentioned were actually what she imagined the peas being? I'm not sure if there's a better way to cast that line to keep its playfulness and resolve its ambiguity, but maybe it's worth thinking about.

    Super Weenie:
    Living with highly inconvenient, dangerous allergies seems like a very . . . generous. . . interpretation of what counts as #ownvoices? Certainly the disabled community is active in that awareness movement but at what point does this kind of experience measure up as a form of representation as badly in need of support as? You seem to be taking the "every bit helps" approach to finding ways to draw attention to your query through use of this label, something I completely understand, but if I were an agent reading the hashtag and encountered this narrative with this label I'm not sure if it would actually help so much as raise questions that go beyond the scope of what you may have set out to do in your ms.

    The stakes are clear, consistent, and very personal, but I'm not sure how realistic they are. Most schools already have highly restrictive food policies because of how common dangerous food allergies are, and so the idea that the community would be up in arms against Saffy and her family surprises me. Is this story set twenty years ago, before school boards adopted common preventative measures?

    In the first page, I'm not sure why Saffy's braid has spit on it? Perhaps that needs context, or if it's connected to her dad's misguided efforts to help her get ready, maybe demonstrate that somehow? Trying to figure that out took me out of the moment entirely.

    This was a tough match, one for a strong package, and the other for a surprising premise. My vote goes to PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PRINCESS.

  3. No One Of ConsequenceJune 14, 2017 at 11:43 AM

    I love you query. You nail the voice, and it tells me what the story is about. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    In the first 250: In the third paragraph you use the word arms twice (super minor, but maybe re-word.) I didn’t get the part with the frog shaped blotch. Like I thought maybe she stepped on it. It took me a couple readings to figure out what it meant. Also, when the frog has caught her, he ‘strolls’ down her arm, which seems like a strange word to use in regards to a frog.

    With that said, the writing is strong and these points are minor. That I had to dig for such minor things is a testament to your writing. Nice work.


    Query: Before I even start reading: You’re pushing the length limit. At 323 words, you aren’t leaving yourself much room for personalization and the required elements (word count, genre, etc). I recommend you shorten down the first three paragraphs quite a bit. It’s back story, and we don’t need that much of it. We need the origin of ‘super weenie’, the fact that she’s decided to act like nothing is wrong, and the fact that something went wrong. So keep those parts and cut some out of the rest.
    Love the Super Weenie Rescues herself line.

    First 250: I like the voice. I might combine ‘the tip was spit soaked’ into the previous sentence, so that she’s just grasping the braid and noticing the spit in one fluid action, perhaps even reacting to the spit in some way that adds voice.


    Both entries are strong, and I’d feel okay going either direction. In the end, I’m going VICTORY to PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PRINCESS because it just leaps off the page a bit more for me.

  4. Perfectly Imperfect Princess

    I liked that you mentioned in your previous query that it was giant poison, but it makes no difference to the overall query. This is the first time I caught it was capture the 'frog' not the flag and it made me laugh.

    I like the changes you made to your first line, it gives a better idea of what's going on.

    Bust the Bubble Wrap

    Wow, you've done some revising. Now I understand the nickname. Good idea to put that in the beginning. i also like your ending line. Big improvement. Though I thought your previous query was pretty good too.

    Just two suggestions for your first page:

    "Mom! Stop worrying." I bet she's wishing she could bust out a jumbo-sized roll of bubble wrap to [roll me up in/smother me in.]

    I can't even joke with Mom over the whole thing because I'm (currently busy being -cut) [too] irritated at her.

    I probably shouldn't comment on other people's comments, but I just wanted to say that I totally got (the first time) why her braid had spit on. Her Mom tugged it out of her mouth.

    This is a very hard match up and I suspect you're going to have a tie.
    Good luck to you both!

  5. Perfectly Imperfect
    Cute opening. I like the juxtaposition between what her life should be like and what she really thinks. I did get “stuck” half-way through as it stated to feel muddled. If I was an agent reading queries quickly, I would have stopped at, “Shattered shoes are small peas…” partly because this phrase releases the tension and partly because what comes next starts to feel disconnected from the beginning of the query.

    The openings sentence reads clunky. I do like how the next line reveals a lot of character. I think the “Once upon a time…” line takes the reader out of the story. Could it perhaps work later in the story? I feel like this early on, you risk losing readers right away. This line, “The frog stretched his scrawny arms, wiggled a teeny bit, and flopped his arms back onto the stones. He hadn't heard me. The frog was mine” also reads clunky, especially with “arms” twice in one sentence. I like Princess Penelope but I wish I’d gotten to know her better without the interruptions of the fairy tale and having another character introduced so early on. Let us sink in deep with Penelope.

    Bust the Bubble
    Great voice and clear writing in your query. I do think you go too far into your story in the query. I’d suggest cutting out the 4th and 5th paragraphs altogether and end with a more leading last paragraph. Instead of telling us what she learns in the last paragraph, tell us what the stakes are. What does she have to lose. The query should just hook us, and only take us through the first part of your book…maybe the first 10% or so…definitely not past the halfway mark. Save that and the ending for the synopsis if you’re asked for one.

    Although I like this scene in general, I suspect you’re not starting in the right spot in your story. It feels jarring and too telling…as if the scene is being told simply to let us know she has allergies and wears a safety bracelet. It feels kind of contrived in that way. I think if we saw this scene after getting to know Saffy better, this would feel more natural.

    Super hard decision here!


    Take my money now.


    I think the query is a bit long. I wonder about the entire paragraph on Mom’s fight with the school—it’s just about Mom and there’s not much going on Saffy wise. For the last paragraph, I think you need to be clearer on the stakes and conflict. In paragraph two, her plan is to pretend to be normal. In paragraph three, it’s survive. In the last paragraph, it’s to rescue herself. These all basically say the same thing—she’s looking for a way to fit in, allergy and all. I’m looking for more on what Saffy has to do and the obstacles in her path. I feel like the query is long, yet doesn’t say much, if that makes sense.
    For the 250, the voice seems just a bit off, like maybe a bit stilted/formal? Could just be me!

    Two great MG stories! While I like SUPER WEENIE, the fact is I fell in love with PENELOPE and have no real suggestions.


  7. Vanellope von SchweetzJune 15, 2017 at 2:01 AM

    Query: I love the voice on this one. I also love the fact that you managed to pack all those details in just three paragraphs, and make sense. Won’t change a thing on this query!

    250: Again, I love your voice, but you might want to fix the first line. It’s a bit clunky.
    A frog-shaped blotch glistened on the stones. “Rotten peas!” — Is it the frog talking here? Or is it Penelope calling the frog, “rotten peas?”
    “Eau de Phib” sounds gross and I love it :)

    Query: Okay, first glance at this and my first impression is that it’s on the long side. I love the first line, but I feel the next sentences could be condensed into something shorter. We don’t need to know how old Saffron was when she got the Super Weenie nickname. We just need to know her older brother teased her with the nickname when her allergies caused her to turn as blue as her Halloween costume, and the name stuck—that’s it. Keywords like “older brother,” “allergies,” “Halloween costume,” and “turn blue” are already enough to give us a sense of how “Super Weenie” came to be. Making this back story concise will give you more room for the plot, which is what agents are looking for in a query.

    The second and third paragraphs look great—clear and concise. The fourth though… I feel like we’re getting too much details again. Personally, I wouldn’t name Madison in the query anymore so the focus is mainly on Saffron.

    Love the last paragraph! Especially when you refer back to the Super Weenie nickname. If there’s a way to incorporate the Super Weenie nickname more into the query, I feel it’s going to be so much better. That way, the Super Weenie thing will stick as we further read the query.

    250: I actually love this excerpt. Wouldn’t change a thing on this one.

    This is difficult, I really love both. Each have its own strengths and weaknesses, and I feel you’ve both done such a great job. But alas, I can only pick one. VICTORY to PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PRINCESS!

  8. Penelope- I love the query and 250. My only nitpick is that the query loses tension when you say the broken slippers are small peas to Penelope. Maybe go straight from them breaking to the villain with the poison shoes.

    Bubble wrap- I like the query, but I feel like it goes on long. maybe cut down on the backstory in the first paragraph?

    In the 250, I loved the dad's shirt and her reaction to it. That says so much about the characters and their relationship. Howevee, the conversation with the mother feels a bit unnatural, probably because it contains a lot of information we need for the premise of the story.

  9. Another Kontestant here. Just some of my thoughts as I read.



    - I think you did a nice job of giving some background information and giving us a good sense of what her life is like in the first paragraph.
    - Why does the rival princess dare her to steal her mom's shoes? Is this rival princess a large part of the story? If not, I wouldn't mention her or this dare. Maybe just say something along the lines of, "due to an unfortunate mishap, Penelope shatters her mother's treasured glass slippers days before the annual ball."
    - Where did Jack and Red come from? If they're really important to the story, I would mention them earlier in the query; otherwise, I'd leave both or at least one name out.
    - I'd like to hear a little more about what happens during her adventure to find the antidote, since I'm assuming it's probably going to be the majority of the story.

    First 250:

    - This seems very disjointed to me. And I know it's MG, so you probably don't want long, sprawling paragraphs right off the bat, but it almost seems too broken up. Maybe it's her narrating her own little fairy tale in her head that's breaking things up. That's a cute part, though, so I don't know. I'm torn.
    - I was wondering why a frog would be stretched out with his belly up toward the sun, but seeing as he's a talking frog, I guess that makes more sense
    - I agree that you might try to take out one use of the word "arms," also, the phrase "the frog was mine," reads awkwardly to me.
    - I had to reread the frog-shaped blotch part because I wasn't sure what happened. Seems like there should be another beat in there, another action before she exclaims "Rotten peas!"

    Fairy tale retellings aren't really my thing, but I know they're hot right now and this sounds like an entertaining concept. Good luck!



    - I love the concept, it's unique and deals with issues that I know a lot of kids deal with. Very real-world, and I love that.
    - For some reason, and it may be because it's late, I found myself having to go back and reread a couple of times during the first paragraph of your query. Here's what tripped me up: should it say "the nickname assigned to her by her older brother"; seems "Tiny-Kid" is supposed to be a superhero, so maybe capitalizing it or something would help, because I read that part as in the costume was tiny, which made me stop and reread.
    - Why does that turn into him calling her Super Weenie? Because of the superhero thing?
    - OK, things came together and flowed better for me after the first paragraph.
    - As a teacher, I will say there are many schools who already have restrictive food policies going, in that teachers aren't allowed to have class parties because there could be foods including allergens for the kids. Just a thought.

    First 250:

    - Tiny little thing, I'd take out the word "currently" in the last line to make it flow better. The reader can assume she's annoyed currently.
    - I liked the writing. I didn't see a lot of issues besides it's a lot of dialogue. I do agree that the first day of school thing is used a lot, you might consider starting somewhere else in the story.

    Overall, I like the premise and the writing. There are A LOT of kids out there with horrible food allergies, and I'm sure many of them could connect with this book. Good luck!

  10. Perfectly Imperfect Princess

    Um, I have no comments other than when can I buy this? I can’t wait to read it! I can tell you made positive changes from the last round.

    Super Weenie

    I still love this story idea. It’s so fun!

    I think the query is slightly long. I’d try cutting a paragraph. Also, you call your main character three different names in the query: Saffron, Super Weenie, and Saffy. I would cut out Saffron. It’s a lot for such a small space. And finally, I’m not sure what the stakes are. What does Saffy stand to lose if she doesn’t execute her plan?

    Your first 250 are great!

  11. Creature of the SeaJune 16, 2017 at 11:08 AM


    Fantastic query. You have all the elements here, and this sounds like a great adventure. My only issue is with the transition from Paragraph 1 to Paragraph 2, in that I'm not sure how they connect. At the end of Paragraph 1, we're told that Cinderella refuses to sign the adventure slip. Yet at the beginning of Paragraph 2, Penelope is exploring secret passages. My assumption is this is what she's doing while left behind when the rest of her class goes on the trip, but it would be helpful to just state that.

    The first 250 is clever and fun. I love the repurposed fairytale elements, such as how Penelope counts in happily ever afters, and I love the first line. Just two small nitpicks... One, I didn't understand the frog-shaped blotch. Second, in the first sentence of Pararaph 3, "arms" is used twice, which is awkward. Overall, great stuff.


    This query, while it definitely grabs my interest, is way too long and includes too much backstory. On the flipside, I think you did a fantastic job of capturing voice in this query, which is no easy feat.

    I think the voice is great in this 250. It feels perfectly, wonderfully MG. The dialogue is crisp, and I can feel Saffron's irritation with her mother. My only real suggestion would be to break up the dialogue a bit. While I'm guessing you want that rapidfire, worried-Mom feel to it, I think it would serve you well to ground that dialogue with more concrete, forward-motion actions. For example, rather than just standing there having Mom fuss over her, Saffron could potentially be trying to move around her room focused on accomplishing something--finding her backpack or favorite earrings or something like that. It could potentially give the scene an added element of tension.


    This is a tough one for me. These are both great. But while BUST THE BUBBLE WRAP would probably be my personal preference, I have to judge based on the query/250. So by a slim margin...Victory to PERFECTLY IMPERFECT PRINCESS.

    Query: I love the way you’ve twisted multiple fairy tales into one MG story. And your voice is spot on little girl. I don’t have suggestions, but do wish you the best with this.
    First 250: What a cute first page. I love the fun interaction with her frog friend. I imagine girls will be all over this story. My only suggestion would be to lighten the descriptors in some of your sentences, which slows your pace.

    Query: I love it! And I love that that Saffy intends to save herself. My only suggestion would be to tighten this, because it’s long for a query. Agents skim, and you want to snag them with something short and sweet.

    First 250: I think you’re trying too hard to get information into your first page. And it’s being delivered in dialogue, which has an ‘as you know, Bob’ feel to it. Consider presenting her interaction with her mother in a more natural way, perhaps at the breakfast table (when she can grumble about what she's being fed)? Then introduce more ‘backstory’ (i.e., the epi-pen and Dad’s shirt) when it’s needed, say when he’s dropping her at school and follows her inside to deliver the epi-pen to the nurse and other kids point and snicker about his shirt. Embarrassment is a great way to build sympathy for your main character.

    Now to vote. Such different but equally intriguing entries. I can see myself laughing with my daughter while reading Princess, but also getting all the feels while sharing Bubbles. But we’re supposed to vote, so I choose: