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Dianne Salerni : Writer of Teen and Middle Grade Fiction | First Impressions: PRAIRIE DOG TOWN

First Impressions: PRAIRIE DOG TOWN

The second First Impressions for June is a picture book submission — our first!  Cheryl Lawton Malone is sharing the beginning of her book, PRAIRIE DOG TOWN, targeted for ages 4-8.   Since the first page of a picture book wouldn’t give us much of a sample, Cheryl is sharing her first 300+ words. Asterisks mark the page divisions.
Under a sunburnt sky, below a long sandy field, lay a town of prairie dog families. Now, the prairie dog mothers all loved their babies, and the prairie dog fathers all loved their burrows. But what the prairie dog babies loved most of all was listening to stories.
Especially, one baby named Angel. Angel loved hearing stories about the earth above.
“Tell me about the sky,” he said to his aunt.
“It’s bigger than this whole burrow,” she said, again.
Angel’s eyes opened wide, wondering how anything could be that big.
“Tell me about the trees,” Angel said to another aunt.
“They’re taller than all our burrows stacked together,” she said, again.
Angel twitched his nose, trying to imagine something so tall.
“And the plains,” he said to a third.
“Are longer than all of the tunnels in Prairie Dog Town, end to end,” they said together.
“The desert is so fun,” said a fourth. “You’ll love it!”
One day, Angel couldn’t wait any longer. When his mother wasn’t looking, he raced to the end of the tunnel and stuck out his head.
“Is that the …?” he said, staring up at the vast blue space.
An eagle swooped down and snatched Angel up in his talons.
“Oh my,” Angel said, feeling the pinch of the eagle’s claws. “The sky may be big, but it hurts.”
The eagle flew to a patch of high ground and landed in a tall pine tree.
“Is this a …?” Angel said, twisting with excitement.
The eagle loosened his talons in surprise.
Down, down, down, Angel fell.
Until THUMP, he landed in bank of snow.
“Goodness,” Angel said, shivering. “The trees may be tall, but they’re very cold.”
Angel shook his coat, and started walking. Downhill. After a while, he came to a plain filled with waving blue grass.
I love the first sentence as a way to set the scene, and I’d like to see a little more of that world building on the first page.  It seems like we ought to be telescoping inward, from the sky to the prairie to the burrow.  Perhaps a descriptive sentence about the burrow between the opening line and the next one would do it.
The introduction to our protagonist — Especially, one baby named Angel – is a fragment.  This definitely needs to be a complete sentence, and I think Angel deserves more than one sentence introducing him.  Cheryl might want to add a description that includes a distinctive physical trait (like a bent whisker or a curly tail) or maybe just a mention of his insatiable curiosity.
I like how Angel asks his aunts for stories about the world above, but I do have a hard time picturing how burrows could be stacked.  I also suggest that the phrases said to a third and said a fourth include the word aunt.
Now, when Angel gets snatched — An eagle swooped down and snatched Angel up in his talons. – I feel that there should be a more dramatic and extended description OR there ought to be no description at all and the accompanying illustration should speak for itself.
Finally, I love Angel’s reactions to his adventure  — “The sky may be big, but it hurts.” and “The trees may be tall, but they’re very cold.” Very cute, indeed! I would suggest Cheryl make it more clear why the eagle dropped him and watch out for unnecessary fragments such as Downhill.
Thanks, Cheryl, for sharing your picture book story with us!  I’m sure readers will have their own suggestions, and be sure to stop by Mainewords for Marcy Hatch’s critique of the same selection.  You can find Cheryl on Facebook.

13 Responses to First Impressions: PRAIRIE DOG TOWN

  1. Linda G. says:

    Very nice! It’s a lovely beginning to a story–I can imagine reading it to a child. I like it. I’d love to see the illustrations that go along with it.

    Dianne, your suggestions make a lot of sense.

  2. I enjoyed the story, but I wasn’t a fan of the beginning. It didn’t draw me into the story. After that, I could imagine the illustrations on the page. You don’t have to describe the setting. That’s what the illustrations are for. It might be you’ll have them in your ms, and the editor will have you remove them.

    Good luck with it. So far it sounds like the kind of PB I would have once picked up to read to my kids.

  3. SA Larsenッ says:

    I already stopped over at Marcy’s and left my thoughts. ;D Thanks for hosting Cheryl, Dianne. (Hope the end of this school year is treating you well.)

  4. I did enjoy this and really enjoyed the part where the eagle takes him away and his reactions to his surroundings. Very cute.

  5. Susan Oloier says:

    I, too, love the first sentence (as well as how Angel experiences first-hand what he’s only heard of). We live in a place where there are prairie dogs, and the first line really did capture the setting for me. Just my humble opinion.

  6. LTM says:

    How wonderful! I absolutely love picture books, and I love this little story of Angel and venturing out. You’ve given great crits here, Dianne. Best of luck to Cheryl! :o) <3

  7. I love this. I had images of reading my children “Are You My Mother.”

  8. Pk Hrezo says:

    I thought this was really cute! Good luck, Cheryl! 😀