Wednesday, September 12, 2012

CAGI Entry #87

Genre: MG Fantasy Adventure
Word Count: 51,000


Maddie has a woolly spider monkey that no one else can see. After losing all her friends and getting assigned a therapist, she’s stopped trying to convince people it’s real.

In the summer before sixth grade, Maddie meets worrywart Liam and his smart-aleck friend Hayden, who have recently discovered ‘invisible’ animals of their own. The three kids are recruited into a top-secret wildlife rescue organization, where Maddie is relieved to learn that her monkey is not a hallucination at all. It’s actually a Spirit Animal, the essence of its endangered species. Unfortunately, Maddie’s relief is soon soured by the awful realization that her Spirit Animal is sick. Its sudden illness can mean only one thing: wild woolly spider monkeys are in serious trouble.

Banding together with Liam and Hayden, Maddie must get from California to Brazil to discover what is threatening the monkeys and put a stop to it. Faced with slash and burn deforestation, a corrupt police detective, and desperate poachers, it seems impossible that three kids and one sickly Spirit Animal could have any chance of succeeding in their mission. When it comes to saving her beloved monkeys, though, Maddie knows failure isn't an option.

I work as an education associate for the Museum of Science in Boston and have studied primatology at the graduate level. In 2011, I wrote a picture book (A BRIDGE FOR THE IN-BETWEEN STREAM) for the Museum of Science, which is used in their educational outreach programs. I am also an active member of SCBWI.

First 250:

“Just stay still for me, won't you?” Maddie asked, lowering the baby monkey into her backpack. “I know you’re excited. I’m excited to be back at the zoo again, too. But if you get out – ”

“Who’s she talking to, Grandma?” a little voice asked.

Maddie immediately stopped what she was doing. People can see you. Got to act normal, she told herself, though it was impossible to keep her hands from bobbing weirdly as Brazilly scampered out of the bag and over them. Brazilly, no! Get back here! She bit down on her lower lip to stop herself from actually shouting after him.

Farther down the spider monkey viewing area, an old lady gave her a sideways glance. A tiny girl in a blue rain jacket blinked curiously at Maddie from the lady’s side.

Maddie grimaced. Brazilly, taking advantage of the situation, had managed to climb halfway up her arm already. Please stop, she silently willed the monkey. Don’t make me grab you in front of them. He just looked at her, cocking his fuzzy head to one side.

“Why’s she holding her arm like that?” the girl in the blue jacket asked next.

Brazilly kept climbing. The monkeys in the enclosure hooted, almost like they were egging him on. Fine, have it your way! Maddie thought as Brazilly made the leap towards the top of her head. I’ll just make an idiot of myself, then! She reached up, snatched the baby monkey out of the misty air, and wrestled him into her bag where he’d be safe.


  1. Amazing!

    Right from the start this reminded me of a book I would have enjoyed reading as a kid. Your query is informative yet easy to read and you have found the perfect balance between providing too much and too little information.

    I can see this being an engaging book and wish you the best of luck!


    1. Thank you for the encouragement! I did essentially come up with the concept by remembering the types of stories I enjoyed as a kid.

  2. Lovely work - this seems like the start of a cute story!

  3. Hi #87! This is your first-round judge comment.

    Comments on your query:

    Great first two lines. It’s especially appropriate for MG—short and sweet, and establishes the main character’s problem as well as how she’s dealing with it. You got us right away.

    In your second paragraph, I think you might find a slightly more elegant way of telling us it’s the summer before sixth grade. Maybe Maddie meets a “fellow rising sixth grader” or something. It’s not bad how it is, though. As for the rest, I blinked a little after hearing you jump right into Maddie and her friends getting recruited for a top-secret mission, but it’s not really essential that you give us a clue as to how this happens. I know queries have to keep it short. I just definitely wondered how the heck children got adults’ attention this way. The only other suggestion I have is that the second paragraph is just slightly wordy. Is there anything you can condense or cut? I think it does an above-average job setting up the problem, but takes a little longer than usual to get there.

    Really liked your third paragraph. It did an excellent job of giving us just the essentials without throwing unnecessary detail at us. We get that this is going to be a journey fraught with danger and multiple challenges, and the main character has personal motivation to succeed, with hints at enjoyable interplay between the different characters who function as her team.

    Your personal paragraph is fine. No changes necessary.

    Overall, really strong query for MG.

    Language notes on the query:

    * “who have recently discovered ‘invisible’ animals of their own”—I do not know whether this manuscript is for United States audiences, but American English uses double quotation marks, not singles, for situations like you’ve got here on “invisible.”

    * “It’s actually a Spirit Animal, the essence of its endangered species.”—This would work better with a colon instead of the comma. Otherwise you’re comma splicing.

  4. Comments on your first 250:

    I like that the piece opens with Maddie talking to her invisible animal. I don’t like the “won’t you?” It sounds sort of unnatural for a child’s dialogue.

    “I’m excited to be back at the zoo again, too.”—This line felt sort of stilted and exposition-ish to me. When people say things out loud for the purpose of the audience learning about the setting, it feels staged. Can you have her mention the zoo or otherwise indicate that they’re at the zoo in some more natural way?

    [“Why’s she holding her arm like that?” the girl in the blue jacket asked next.]—While this is a fun visual—Maddie trying desperately to prevent her invisible monkey’s escape while other people gawk—I again felt the dialogue functioning as exposition. We’ve already seen that Maddie has to be aware of what her arms are doing so she doesn’t look weird in public. Having a child blurt out “Why’s she holding her arm like that?” sounds staged. Though I could definitely see this kid pointing at her and saying, “Look at that weird girl!” Having the child narrate what we’re supposed to be seeing felt less like what a curious child would say and more like an author writing.

    “snatched the baby monkey out of the misty air”—Misty air? All I can think is maybe it’s a foggy day. I don’t know why the air is being described as misty here, so I need to know why it’s “misty” or else it seems unnecessary.

    Despite these few slight glitches—none of which are damning—I think the beginning you’ve got here is doing what it’s supposed to very well. We know we’ve got a very unusual, fantastical situation on our hands. We get to meet Maddie and Brazilly, see what their relationship is like, and sense her frustration over not being able to control him. I did wonder why he wasn’t in the bag in the first place, though—why she chose to wrestle him into the bag while actually in public. And I wondered whether other people can’t feel or interact with him either, just as they can’t see him. I’m assuming the story will fill in the particulars naturally—like whether Brazilly can interact with objects at all. (If he can’t, I wonder if his weight and physical presence only affect Maddie, and if he can, I wonder why therapists don’t believe her if he could just knock something off a shelf or sit in a lap to prove he’s there.) At this point I’d trust you as an author to have internally consistent “physics” for your fantastical situation.

    Language notes on the first 250:

    * [“Just stay still for me, won't you?” Maddie asked]—I see a mixture of smart quotes and dumb quotes. (The apostrophe in “won’t” is showing up as a dumb quote.) You need to really watch this sort of thing because it makes it clear the text has been transferred between formats and has undergone revisions in more than one program. I recommend switching all dumb quotes to smart quotes.

    * [“But if you get out – ”]—I recommend checking out a usage guide on the difference between hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes, and applying what you find globally. Here you are incorrectly using an en dash. Prematurely ended sentences should end with an em dash (no spaces before or after).

    Please feel free to reply or contact me privately if you have any questions about my feedback. I’m honest but I don’t bite. Good luck!


    This post is meant as a reply in #87! If it's not there, I apologize!


    Thank you very much, Julie! This is extremely helpful. I've actually recently completely rewritten my first several pages to the version you see here, and I knew they therefore had to be riddled with problems just from sheer "newness". Unfortunately, showing people my new beginning just prompts them to want to say "Oh, nice changes!" rather than giving real critique. Thanks to you, I finally have a solid critique and a direction to go to fix things up in these pages. You've pointed out things that have sparked my brain to make serious improvements. I know what I want to change and how, so thank you again for your honesty. It's what I've been waiting for!

    1. Heya! That's great. I'm really glad you were able to find my comments useful. (I know what you mean about "nice changes." It's helpful to have a fresh pair of eyes I guess.) I hope whatever you're retooling works out well for you.