Jun 21, 2016

QK Round 3: Jello Poems vs. Parters-in-Magic

Title: The Henchmen Company
Entry Nickname: Jello Poems
Word Count: 37K
Genre: MG Humor


Nobody would dare call Gordo Vanderhough a baboon-faced dorkisaur.

Towering over even the adults at Taft Elementary and the only 6th grader with a 5 o’clock shadow, Gordo is known for toppling kids in the lunch line like dominoes (Ga-pow!) and stealing entire trays of Jello (because he only loves two things in life: Jello and poetry). But nobody ever calls him a dorkisaur because nobody really talks to him at all.

One day a man not only talks to Gordo, but actually compliments him and invites him to join the Henchman Company. Gordo, though the youngest henchman, is a natural at all of it: giving evil glares, maniacal laughter, trash talking, throwing large kitchen appliances, and not thinking too much. He’s thrilled about his first job until he figures out that his boss is an evil mastermind trying to hook the internet up to his own brain. If successful he will be able to control a secret government robot army and a flying spaceship the size of a city. This creepoid is going to bully his way to world domination. Suddenly, Gordo questions his career path.

When the other henchmen get wind of his change of heart, Gordo finds out what it feels like to be the one being bullied. With total human annihilation on the line (and the fate of all gelatin desserts), Gordo decides to use his size and skills for good. This villain is about to get Gordoed.

First 250:

Gordo Vanderhough lumbered into the cafeteria past dozens of other hungry kids. He headed straight for the front of the line but no one called out, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” No one chided, “You can’t do that.” And nobody even thought of saying, “Get to the back of line, you baboon-faced dorkisaur or I’ll kick you in the teeth.”

They didn’t say the last line for several reasons. One reason was that no one at Taft Elementary could kick high enough to reach Gordo’s teeth. It would require an amazing jump, a ladder, or a trampoline. Maybe even all three. But the most important reason was that no one dared say anything remotely threatening to Gordo Vanderhough.

Gordo was officially the hugest kid at Taft Elementary. In fact, he was the largest person—period. Though he was a sixth grader, he towered over the teachers. He was also as wide as a buffalo—the big kind with burly shoulders and a mop of dirty fur on its head. Plus, if you looked really close, Gordo’s chin had the stubbly beginnings of a beard. His nanny told him to shave every other day, but she only spoke Polish so he couldn’t understand a word she said. To him, it sounded like she was telling him to sing songs about shampooing zebras. And that didn’t make any sense. Needless to say, Gordo didn’t shave, or sing songs, or shampoo zebras.


Title: Spellbinders
Entry Nickname: Partners-in-Magic
Word Count: 74K
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy


When twelve-year-old Sam heals a dying cat with her bare hands, her world gets turned on its head. Magic exists in boring upstate New York. Sam has magical powers. Strangest of all, she used to know all of this, before a magical accident destroyed her memory.

Unfortunately for Sam, her magical past comes complete with a snarky elf named Gabe, who reappears in Sam’s life as her powers emerge and now he won’t go away. Ever. Sam and Gabe are a pair of Spellbinders, bonded for life. She can't perform a single spell without him.

Sam is still reeling from her magical awakening when Spellbinders start disappearing. All over New York, humans and elves with magical powers are being abducted. When Sam’s guardian, Aunt Jo, goes missing too, Sam and Gabe set out to rescue her. But the path to Aunt Jo is dangerous. They don’t know whom to trust, they can’t quite control their own powers yet, and they have a pair of would-be kidnappers on their trail. And rescuing Aunt Jo becomes more important than ever when they learn who is targeting Spellbinders…and why. 

First 250:

Unlike most twelve-year-olds, Samantha Jacobson had a stalker. He was small, grey and white, and quite possibly the most irritating stray in cat history. He watched Sam every morning as she tried to tame her straggly hair into a ponytail. He watched her every evening as she kissed a photograph of her mother goodnight. No matter where she was, the stalker cat would find his way to her side and stare. She called the cat Creep.

It was week four of Creep-gate, and Sam felt like a prisoner in her own house, complete with her own furry guard. It was also the last day of 6th grade, which meant her problem was about to get a lot worse. She would soon have to endure eight more hours of disapproving cat-stares each day.

But Sam refused to give into cat terror. While her teachers talked about summer assignments, she huddled over her notebook writing a plea to Aunt Jo for help with her “Creep problem.” She planned deliver it that evening at dinner. This was a desperate move and Sam knew it. Aunt Jo loved cats and had a particular soft spot for mangy strays like Creep. All the strays in upstate New York had free rein on their property. At least six of them had colonized the sprawling vegetable gardens outside Sam’s window.

Sam fiddled with her glasses and bit her lip. Hopefully, Aunt Jo wasn’t kidding when she said she appreciated a well-reasoned argument.


  1. Judges, please leave votes and comments as a REPLY to this comment.

    1. Loved both these entries for their creativity and great voice!


      Great hook. Way to capture voice right out of the gate! I love how you've described Gordo and his unique love for jello. Once I get past the first paragraph you lose me though. First, I need a short explanation of what the Henchman Company is. I get what the word means, but it's not clear why it's perfect for Gordo. Also, I think you need to clarify that it's the mastermind trying to hook his brain up to the internet (not Gordo) which is how I originally read it. Your sinker also feels a little too neat. What is at stake for Gordo if he fights back?

      First 250:

      Middle Grade voice is so hard to capture, but again, you've done an excellent job here. From the description of how the kids react to Gordo, to the line about shampooing zebras, you had me totally laughing. Way to go!



      I love this incredibly fun idea, but your opening paragraph feels like backstory. My comment would be to try to get right to the heart of the story which is her connection to Gabe and her discovery that she is a Spellbinder. Then you can throw in the conflict about the kidnapping and their connection to Aunt Jo.

      In your sinker I'd recommend cutting your second line, "All over New York" because you've already set-up the conflict in the previous sentence. This will allow you to get right to the stakes which is the missing Spellbinders and the disappearance of the aunt. Be careful of extraneous words like "quite" "own" and "too" which slow down the pacing of the query.

      First 250:

      Great opening, but I think your hook would have much more power if it started as "Twelve-year-old Samantha Jacobson had a stalker." The reveal in the next line that it's a cat would be a great payoff for this line.

      Two very worthy opponents but...


    2. VICTORY: HENCHMEN because we need more authentic MG humor and because I love the hyperbole of Gordo Vanderhough's character. I think it would really connect with MG readers.

    3. (note: fresh judge who hasn't read earlier versions of these entries!)

      I'd have liked if the first paragraph gave more clues into the kind of story this was going to be. I was expecting something realistic/contemporary and was taken by surprise at the notion of a Henchman Company and description throwing kitchen appliances in the second paragraph.

      First 250:
      Fun! Reminds me a bit of the tone/style of Wayside Stories, which is one of my favorite MG series. No suggestions; I'd definitely read on!

      Interesting! The query's clearly written and the conflict and stakes are clear. The part about her knowing these things before and having her memory destroyed is a bit confusing (was Gabe there, too? where did he go? what made him come back?) and might be part of a subplot you could skip at the query-level.

      First 250:
      The "Unlike most twelve-year-olds" in the opening sentence seems out of place. The opening paragraph also seems to be more from the cat's point of view than Sam's, which reads awkwardly. I'm also not really understanding the point of the note to Aunt Jo.

      Victory to: JELLO POEMS

    4. Jello Poems


      Still love the voice in this one so much. I’m still thinking the stakes could be a bit clearer. What must Gordo do to stop the creepoid? I don’t know. What happens if he doesn’t? I don’t know. Once you clear that up this baby is phenomenal!

      First 250:

      The first 250 is great. It has wonderful voice, and based on this and the query, I’d probably request…but I still want to know the stakes!




      I think this starts strong, but loses substance at the end. Who’s targeting the Spellbinders? Why? What’s at stake? It’s too vague to know. Don’t keep secrets from the agent. If you’re vague, they don’t know what separates your story from all the others. Tell me who’s targeting them. Tell me why. Tell me what Sam must do to save the day and tell me what the consequences are if she doesn’t.

      First 250:

      This has a great voice. Love the stalker cat, and the fact that Sam doesn’t know what to do about it, but it needs to be more from her perspective and not the cats. Also I’d cut the line to Aunt Jo, because I’m not sure why she’s writing it. It seems out of place with the rest.

    5. Helps if I put the victor.



      JELLO POEMS reads with voicey greatness. There’s one sentence that didn’t come through for me: But the most important reason was that no one dared say anything remotely threatening to Gordo Vanderhough. <-- No one dared say anything threatening because….no one dared say anything threatening. Where’s the reason? I felt like that had zero zip. No punch. Maybe reword to something a bit more logical, like: But the most important reason was that Gordo was the size of a dump truck. And three times as strong.
      PARTNERS IN MAGIC has a missing word (to) in the first page: She planned deliver it that evening at dinner. The prose is lovely.

      QUERIES: Both are done well. 74k seems way high for MG, even for fantasy.

      Victory to JELLO POEMS

    7. JELLO:

      I really like the changes you've made to the query. I think show that Gordo is going to get a taste of his own medicine really humanizes him. The voice is perfect, but I still take issue with the line about the Polish nanny. I would cut it.


      I'm not getting much in the way of "why should I care?" here. I think the issue is the world-building, which may not be the case in the whole manuscript, but from the query it feels flimsy. The 250 also feels inconsistent when it comes to voice--I wonder if it would flow better in first person?

      Victory to JELLO.

    8. JELLO POEMS: You’ve done an admirable job of keeping the voice in the query and first page consistent. I love the humor that you use, and I also think having the protagonist be an antihero is refreshing.

      You have a very interesting idea here, and I feel like this is a book that I can sink my teeth into. But the query just isn’t holding my attention. I’d like more to happen in the first 250 words, and the word count seems a bit high.


    9. This got posted on the wrong entry:

      Captain JanewayJune 23, 2016 at 9:10 AM
      Two such great entries! JELLO is very funny, and PARTNERS is very sweet. I enjoyed them both so much, and think it's practically impossible to choose between them. They both should find great success. Congrats to you both.

      Victory to PARTNERS IN MAGIC

  2. Jello Poems:

    I've actually managed NOT to vote on a matchup with this one in it yet, I think! So, first of all, I love your concept here. The big, dumb bully is a stereotype in kids' books, cartoons, etc, going back forever... and you're turning that on it's head and making Gordo the (eventual) hero, and I love it.

    Then I get to your 250 and it's like MG Douglas Adams... this is HILARIOUS. I love it.



    Still loving this one! I think I've already said everything I can think of to say about it... but the idea of a reluctant human-elf partnership and the opening with a cat called Creep are still very much working for me!


    I'm getting a little teary-eyed having to make this decision, but...


    (Dear author of Partners-in-Magic, please know that your entry was also one of my absolute favorites from the very beginning, and I hope you get your agent and book deal yesterday... ARGH, this one was the worst to have to vote on!)

  3. Love these both! It's the first time I've seen Partners in Magic. The first line of your 250 is so perfect! It's everything a first line should be. I think the manuscript will really appeal to the readers.

    Jello poems: The voice here is just off-the-charts awesome. I still would like to see another character make it's way into the first 250 to break up the narrative.


  4. Jello Poems:
    This entry was great from the beginning, but I think it's getting funnier with every revision. The rhythm is tight, the voice feels natural, and I get a great sense of character.

    Amazing query revision. The second and third paragraphs are so much clearer, and you've found a great way to introduce both Gabe and Aunt Jo. It really flows now.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. These are both great!!! I also think they’re both really polished.

      Jello Poems: LOVE IT. Almost every line is funny/grabbed my attention. This is great.

      Partners-in-Magic: This is great! And I totally think the target audience would go bananas over it.

      This is difficult, but my vote goes to JELLO POEMS.

  5. Jello Poems: this is my first time reading this one, and wow! I feel like you've nailed it. So much voice and humor. I am a grown woman and I want to read this book because both your query and your first 250 made me laugh.

    Partners in Magic: I read this one in an earlier round and I think you've really tightened up the query! It feels very tight now. Fantastic job.

  6. Jello Poems:
    Love the voice in the query, and the POV you’re telling the story from. Has a lot of potential. In the 250, I love the way you describe Gordo.

    I love the 250, and setting up the adversarial relationship with the cat. The writing is crisp, and moves nicely. I feel like the query is good but starts out a bit rough. Three huge pieces of information being thrown out there in just a few sentences: healing cat, magic exists, used to know this, magic accident destroyed memory. Maybe rework a bit so it flows more. But it works, and I still got the gist. And it’s really a cool premise. Good job!

  7. I really don't have any suggestions for either of these. I truly love both of these entries so much; they're very different but have great concepts and voices behind them. Best of luck to both of you in the future! I'm betting I'll see both of these on the shelves sooner rather than later. :)

  8. Jello

    This story sounds like so much fun! Your query is packed is hilarious details and any kid (or adult) would devour this story. Your voice in the first 250 is awesome. And the details in each of the 3 paragraphs are great, comedic character building. The problem I’m having is that the 3 paragraphs don’t seem to flow well, and there is a lot of backstory. Maybe there’s a way for you to sneak some of this into a scene that has more action in it? Still, this premise is amazing, and I’d love to read this story! Good luck!


    I love the concept of powers they can’t control yet. It will make for some fun situations! In your first 250, I feel like I need the cat to be more annoying. I’m not convinced yet that just staring would be enough to irritate someone enough to write a plea for help. One nitpicky typo, you’re missing a “to” in the “You planned” sentence. Also, I don’t understand the reference to week four of Creep-gate. Still, your query sounds amazing, and I love the idea of being paired with a snarky elf named Gabe. Sounds like lots of fun. Congrats and good luck!

  9. Jello Poems

    I'd remove "Ga-pow!" from the query; it feels out of place, and we already have a sense of voice from imagining the kids toppling like dominoes.

    In the first 250, I'd remove the part about "nobody even thought of saying"; since this story is about Gordo, we don't actually know what the other kids are thinking. Also, you need a comma after "dorkisaur" in the first paragraph. I was also a little jarred about so much nanny info being in the same paragraph as the explanation of Gordo's size. I would have preferred a better transition there. But I do love that final line!


    I would remove "Unlike most twelve-year-olds" from the very beginning of the first sentence. I think it would be much stronger if you started with "Samantha Jacobson had a stalker." In the first paragraph, be careful about starting three sentences in a row with "he". In the third paragraph, "she planned deliver" should be "she planned to deliver".

    Great job to you both!


    QUERY: I love the character – a bad guy, turned really bad, turned good. Great arc. The mentions of the robot and the spaceship kind of threw me, just because I thought it was maybe a little too over the top, but I don’t read MG so maybe that’s exactly where it needs to be.

    250: Once again, I don’t read MG, so I’m not positive if the voice is right here. It seems like a little too much hyperbole for me, but everyone else seems to like it and they’d know better than me. So good job.


    QUERY: I got a little confused when you said that magic is real in NY, but then said that spellbinders everywhere were disappearing. It first made me think that Sam was the first magic person, then having others disappear kind of let me down. Maybe if you could clarify that her actions made magic known to muggles, that would make it less confusing.

    250: I think you need to get rid of the “Unlike most 12 year olds” It brings down the entire paragraph. Other than that, I really like this opening scene.

    Good job to both of you. And good luck in future rounds.