Jun 1, 2015

QK Round 1: Sand Dollar v. Change the Alphabet, Please

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 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:

(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: Change the Alphabet, Please
Title: Ben Franklin's ABDs
Word Count: 590 words
Genre: Nonfiction PB


"I before E, except after C." "The C is soft when followed by the E, I or Y." These rules wouldn't be necessary if Ben Franklin had gotten his way. Even in Colonial times, learning to spell wasn't easy. Ben had a solution: he proposed getting rid of six letters—the C, J, Q, W, X & Y—and adding six new letters to the alphabet so spelling would make sense.

First 50:

From the time Ben Franklin was a child, he devoured words. He borrowed books and bought them. He read words and wrote them. . . every chance he got. When he grew up, he printed them so more people could read words. But, as much as Ben Franklin loved words, he did NOT love the alphabet.


  1. Judges, reply here with your comments and votes.

    1. This is honestly tough for me to critique, because I haven't looked at a picture book in many years, and I don't write them. Neither of these has what I'd expect to see in a traditional query (hook, character, conflict, stakes), and I don't know if that's standard for the age group or not.

      As for the text, I like them both. The only way I can really vote is: Which one would I buy for my child?

      Sand Dollar: Love the lyrical quality. Love the idea of teaching kids about money early on. And the illustration note helps me really visualize this book. I can see it in my hands.

      Change the Alphabet: I think this is a fantastic idea, especially since I'm a total English geek. I love words (obviously). But when I think about PB, I usually think about books targeted to very young children, and I hesitate to see one giant paragraph on a page. Also wonder about words like "devoured," for little, little kids. Totally subjective? Yes. Do I have anything else to go on? Not really. If the query mentioned a target age group, I might be able to judge better, but I can only go on the information I have.



      This concept is sweet and I can see the mom and boy on the beach as he collects them. The query is spot on and the 50 is well-written. Good luck!


      I wasn't sure of the age range but this seemed too old for a picture book, maybe more like a non-fiction chapter book about Ben Franklin. The query was confusing by starting with the mix of letters. The first paragraph also seemed too old for a PB. If you age up your category, you'll have something unique in a chapter book because I had no idea Ben Franklin hated the alphabet! Good luck!

    3. Two excellent entries, each unique in their own way.


      I enjoyed your whimsical writing and could picture the waves moving in and out just from your words. Your query works very well, and I have no suggestions to improve it.


      Your query confused me a little by jumping in with the letters. I wonder if you began with Ben Franklin you'd have a better hook. For your 50: I believe your entry reads a little old for PB. From the writing, I picture this as something a first or second grader might pick up. Such an intriguing concept, however. I didn't realize Ben proposed eliminating some letters from the alphabet.

      The winner? Such a dilemma! But since I'm an ocean girl at heart:

      Victory to: SAND DOLLAR SHOPPER

    4. I have young children. I've bought a very large number of picture books.

      Sand Dollar:
      Query: A good description of the story. Obviously stakes are less of a thing (or not a thing) in a picture book, and I know what I'm getting here. This would be a great book for young children for summer time or on vacation. I'd buy it (if the artwork were good). Very cute.
      First page:
      Also cute. I love it.

      Ben Franklin:
      Query: The letters are a little confusing. I think you can get across the story without using the letters up front. I think, by the way, that this is a great concept. It might be better for middle grade, however.
      First Page:
      With the right artwork, this could be a great picture book for the slightly older crowd. Your language is good and easy to understand. Well done.


    5. Sand Dollar:

      Thank you for including the intended audience in your query. I've found that when critiquing PB, I often can't tell but I think yours matches perfectly. The query is clear and the writing is just lovely. My daughter would adore this book.

      Ben Franklin - I am confused about who the intended audience is and the concept seems better suited for kids a little bit older, who will know who Ben Franklin is and who are struggling or are past these particular spelling concepts. I like the idea but I think the overall vision needs some tweaking.


    6. Serious question: Are nonfiction picture books a thing? I suppose so, but I've only seen them in the form of biographies, which I suppose Ben Franklin would qualify as, though it really focuses on a very specific element of BF's history. Anyway.

      Query Matchup:
      The chief difference between these queries is that Sand Dollar has a plot with stakes (little boy has something he loves, and is tempted to make a choice about it later) and Ben Franklin doesn't (Ben thinks spelling rules are dumb - nb., he was right -- but there's no exploration of what he sets out to do and the opposition he's going to face. Creative presentations of nonfiction can have stakes, too; the story should be interesting not just as a factoid about BF's assertive eccentricities, but as an exploration of what he tries and how it's a struggle. The struggle isn't addressed here. The author should entitle him or herself to another line or two to capture that.

      Writing Sample Matchup:
      Sand Dollar, I'm torn here, because I'm not sure that 2-6 is the best target age for this kind of lyricism. I have small children, and unless lyrical writing rhymes or is VERY plot-driven, they generally have little patience for it. That's only my personal opinion from a very small sample size, but that's the question I keep rolling around here: is it the writing that would have to charm my kids to read this book, or the pictures? I would think it would have to be the pictures.

      Ben Franklin, your writing sample leads with what the query lacked: a sense of emotional investment and intensity, the beginning of stakes. I'm not sure if I would see more of that going forward, or if it would be framed as a story effectively, though. Even in biography, kids are plot-hungry creatures.

      I really had to fight to make up my mind on this one. Although I'm not sure it's a book my kids would get into (they are mischievous enough to like the idea of BF's concept, but impatient with details and easily confused by alternative rules), Sand Dollar has the moves agents are expecting to see in a query.


    7. Sand Dollar:

      I love the idea of a child using sand dollars to buy things—although I’m not sure how the story comes full circle. I’d like to understand that better. Does his mom need the money he collects? He has fun ideas for spending the dollars he receives, but I can’t imagine any of those come to fruition. Give me more insight as to what he’s going to do with the money.

      Change the Alphabet, Please:

      The premise is great, but I think your query needs to play more into Ben and his experiences. The query feels more like a history lesson—which is a bit of info I didn’t know and makes for a great story idea!

      Did Ben tell his teachers he wanted to get rid of the letters, or did this happen when he was older? I’d like to get inside young Ben’s head and watch him get flustered in class. Does Ben finally concede and realize all the letters are important, did he interact with someone who changed his mind? I’d like to know more in the query.

      Victory goes to: SAND DOLLAR

    8. I’m very uncomfortable critiquing picture books, because it’s far outside of my wheelhouse. Thus, my feedback on these entries will be much more spartan than my usual. I apologize, but I don’t want to pretend I’m an expert on something I’m not.

      Both of these concepts are appealing-- I feel like the Sand Dollar entry is something that should have been done before, but hasn’t. While I love the premise of the book, I don’t wind the writing especially compelling. It’s fine-- but as a librarian, I’m not sure I would run to order it from that point. I’m also a bit confused by the last line of “Sand Dollar / Sand Dollar / What Will I Buy?” -- the rhythmn of which suggests that we are moving into a more rhyming or poem-ified section of the book.


      Regarding Change the Alphabet, Please -- I feel like it is also a solid concept. It’s obviously written for a higher grade level than Sand Dollar. (Also, don’t worry, as a librarian I know that NF PB is a thing!) Once again, it’s something that I think should have been done before, but I can’t find it anywhere, so good on you.

      I find the opening of this book more compelling than the 250 for Sand Dollar, so my vote is for CHANGE THE ALPHABET.


    9. Note: For round 1 since there's so many entries, I'm judging based on the query only!


      Collecting sand dollars at the beach was one of my own favorite childhood memories, so this story is definitely one I'd read to my kiddos.

      It's a fairly simple concept, and your query covers that well. My only suggestion would be that I don't think "sand dollar" is capitalized.



      Your "query" here contains some really interesting information -- I for one, didn't know that about Ben Franklin -- but I'm left with some questions about what your picture book really contains. Is it a story of the history of Ben Franklin's letters? Or does it take the format of a normal "ABC" book with Ben Franklin butting in to suggest his changes (like "Z is for Moose" by Kelly Bingham)? I want to know more about what to expect when I pick this up.

      Victory to... SAND DOLLAR!

  2. fellow kombatant 34June 1, 2015 at 7:19 AM

    Sand Dollar is so charming! I wonder how you can possibly tell the story described in just 150 more words after the same, but if you really can, it sounds like a winner.

    As for Ben Franklin's ABCs, what age are your targeting here? I'm guessing fairly young based on the word count, but the tone feels a little too mature to me. Will kids that age even know rules like "I before E but not after C." Or care? Same with who Ben Franklin is. I'd look for ways to make this not only educational but more engaging to a child.

  3. Sand Dollar is a nice concept and the first 50 are well written. The only thing that didn't resonate with me is the "singing teacher seal". I don't really know what this is and it feels a bit like you're choosing something unusual to avoid the usual list of kid-wishes. Otherwise, I could imagine enjoying this with both my 2 and 6 year old. It does sound lyrical and sweet without being sappy or corny.

    Ben Franklin's ABCs is also a great concept, but I wish the author included the target age. I'm guessing it's for kids age 5-8. This age group is just learning to read then to spell and I think they'd get a kick out of a book that criticizes real problems in our language that they might be struggling with. I don't have a problem with words like "devour". My 6 year old either knows the word, or is happy to learn it. It's good to slip in possibly unknown words; that's how kids learn. It's hard to see if this book works though without seeing the whole thing. If I were an agent, I'd definitely request to read it all.

    Best of luck to both authors. I'd check out both books for my kids.

  4. Both stories are appealing. There are so many PB about the beach, but I've never tead about Ben Franklin wanting to change the alphabet. Because American spelling can be so hard for students, I think they'd enjoy the Ben Franklin book.

    Winner: Ben Franklin's ABC's.

    1. Super Flynn (fellow QK contestant)June 1, 2015 at 3:00 PM

      I agree. That's why I'm glad I'm not a judge. Both are great.

      Sand dollar: Such a cute story. Yes, there are books about the beach, but this seems like a truly fresh take. The writing is lyrical and light as well.

      Ben Franklin: Something we haven't seen! I agree with others who have said the age range needs to be better defined, but this is a winner too. I'm finding the first 50 more compelling than the query though, which seems a little dense. Rather than a history lesson, can you tell us a bit more about the story, the stakes, the voice, etc.?

      Go PBs!

  5. Two sweet PB concepts. Both have big strengths and could find a promising spot in the marketplace.

    Sand Dollar has a pure, playful tone in its first 50 words. I'd like to see that simplicity in the query. Can you tighten it up to make it more intriguing? I'd almost like it to read like a jacket flap..keep it super concise. And can you pull us in a bit more at the beginning of the story itself? Right now it is lovely but I almost want the discovery made right away and not as much of a list of what the character sees first.

    Ben Franklin... I have to admit: I have a real soft spot for narrative nonfiction. I was immediately drawn to this topic because it is so unique and makes for such a great teaching tool. That said, I'd try to make it more narrative. Your query is solid, but maybe pimp it up a bit more to create a bigger hook? Or just separate thoughts into two paragraphs? Your first 50 words I think just need a bit more intrigue and white space. Break up your sentences and set the scene a bit more...or maybe spell a word like Ben would to pique our interest? And use those "funny" spelled words throughout to create repetition?

    Love 'em both, but my heart ( and vote for win) is with Ben Franklin.

  6. Sand Dollar,

    I agree with what Rochelle says above. I love the tone and the writing is beautiful. I do think the query could be a little tighter in the opening. I don't agree about changing the beginning of the story. I think as it's soft and poetic. It gives the same feeling as walking along a beach.

    Chang the Alphabet,

    Love your query, it's really strong. As for your 250, maybe it's just because it's paired off against Sand Dollar, but it doesn't read as smoothly. The concept is fun. The last line is brilliant. But maybe simplify the writing. Instead of "From the time Ben Franklin was a small child, he devoured words," Something more like, "Ben Franklin loved words. He read words. He wrote words. He found words in books, so he bought books." In short, simplify. I've dabbled in PB, and through my editing rounds, that's what I learned was most important: To remember that these stories are for little people with short attention spans where the pictures will be telling a great deal of the story. I'm not a PB master or anything though, so take that advice with a grain of salt.

    Good luck everyone!

  7. Sand Dollar:
    This sounds like a lovely summertime book! Your query is solid, though I might cut the quotation as it breaks up the flow. Your 50 is also lovely - lyrical, flowing, childlike. Love, love, love.

    I’d never heard of this, and it’s a fascinating idea for kid’s book. The query is a bit brusque. It feels like it’s missing the second paragraph which explains more about the intent of the book. But I really like the 50! I want to keep reading and find out more about his crazy alphabet!

  8. Sand Dollar

    This has such a lovely, lyrical quality and sand dollars are such a relatable subject for a child who’s been to the beach. I love the surfboard turtle and the singing teacher seal. What I would like to see in the query is more about the heartwarming twist. Picture Books live and die by their twist: the funny/clever/moving but always satisfying moment at the end that makes sense of everything that happened before. I feel like that’s something an agent would need to see to be sure that the end measures up to the start.

    Ben Franklin's ABDs

    I want to read this right now; I’m fascinated. It’s a great subject and should appeal to kids (and adults) struggling with how arcane English spelling can be. Written well, it could be on a shelf in every classroom. What I’d like to see more of in the query is how this story is going to be told. Is it Ben himself facing up to each letter conundrum and then presenting his own solution? Is it the letters themselves dancing around and getting involved? I have some “informational” picture books sitting on the shelf that are very static and dull, despite interesting subjects, because the storytelling is more report than story. Your fifty words definitely lean towards story, but I don’t yet get enough from that to see how your going to brings the wit of one of America’s great intellectuals to life.

  9. Thanks Katherine. Yes, my query isn't clear, which I'll obviously work on, but yes, Ben Franklin's ABDs is a story which I hope does Ben justice. My hope is to see it in every elementary school classroom someday! :-)

  10. I would like to thank everyone who commented on Sand Dollar Shopper. I appreciate the helpful feedback! I will use your advice to polish my query for the next round.

    Best wishes to my awesome and worthy opponent with her wonderful PB!

    1. Thanks Sarah. And thanks to everyone who commented! The feedback is greatly appreciated. Good luck on the next round Sarah!