Saturday, June 25, 2016


Title: The Windup
Entry Nickname: One-Handed Wonder
Word Count: 40,000
Genre: Upper Middle Grade, Contemporary


Kyle Whalen, a southpaw Little League pitcher, had enjoyed a typical adolescent boyhood until a car crash took his right hand, his twin brother, and his passion for life. Now, three years later, Kyle is fourteen and determined to play ball again in memory of his brother and fulfill the dream they shared: win the Brookhaven Invitational Baseball Tournament, a feat his home team has never accomplished.

Kyle practices hard with his catcher Hailey—the girl he’s crushing on and best friends with—but he struggles to pitch and bat one-handed. Those challenges mount when he discovers she likes a rival ballplayer. Things get worse when his coach and several of his teammates bail, leaving his team ineligible to compete. It’s game on, though, when Kyle convinces his estranged dad to take over as coach and his troublemaker cousin joins the team. 

As Kyle leads his ragtag club toward the championship, he grows closer to his father, the man he thought no longer cared—about anything, not since the crash. Kyle also begins competing for Hailey’s heart. When Kyle settles a score with a bully by whiffing him each at bat and bouncing his team from the tournament, he thinks the torment is over. He thought wrong. The bully pulls a nasty prank on Kyle a few hours before the big game, and Kyle must choose between keeping the dream alive and keeping his family together.

First 250 Words:

I stood atop the pitcher’s mound, baseball in hand. My only hand. Perched over the stub where my right hand used to be was my baseball glove, pocket-down.

“Last one, Kyle. Fire it in here,” Hailey said, punching her catcher’s mitt. She was my age, fourteen, and a cutie. Ponytailed blond hair. A freckled nose. Full lips. Yeah, I had a crush on her, but it was just a tiny one. Really. Okay, a big one.

The two of us had been practicing on the weed-choked Little League field for about two hours. Summer rays warmed the back of my neck. My tired pitching arm sagged at my side. I dug my cleat into the soft dirt in front of the pitching rubber, wound up, and slung a fastball. After my follow-through, I slipped my hand into my glove, fumbling a bit, and got into fielding position. Mastering the transfer of my glove was the hardest part. I had no doubt teams would test me by hitting comebackers.

“Nice pitch,” Hailey said, hopping up. “You’re ready for this.”

I shook off my glove. “I hope so.”

It was one thing to practice without a batter standing at home plate. It was another story to pitch in a tournament, which was what I planned to do in just a few days. The last time I laced up for a game was three years ago. Back when my dad was the coach. Back when I had a right hand. Back when I had a twin teammate to double high-five.


Title: The Henchmen Company
Entry Nickname: Jello Poems
Word Count: 37,500
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.


  1. Judges, please post your votes as a reply to this comment.

    1. UGH, this is impossible! How to choose between these two???? They are both such amazing entries, and I can't wait to see the success they both garner. Congrats to both of you.

      Victory to JELLO POEMS

    2. What a tough matchup! Both are very different in tone, but with such amazing voices and concepts!


    3. I'm missing the crush feeling in ONE-HANDED. I do think the first page needs to show Kyle's feelings rather than just come right out and say it. He didn't seem affected by her at all in this scene.

      I love the voice and prose and the premise of JELLO.

      Victory to JELLO POEMS.

    4. Solarpunk GoddessJune 25, 2016 at 9:38 AM

      Both entries are fantastic and I don't really have any comments for either one. Both are agent ready, in my opinion. However, I did connect emotionally a little more to one entry over the other. So, I'm voting for the one I'm most interested in reading.

      Victory to ONE-HANDED WONDER.

    5. These are both spectacular concepts, and extremely well-written. I love the diversity aspect in ONE-HANDED WONDER. But I love the complex plot, characters, and the character arc possibilities in JELLO POEMS. I think a lot of this decision might be based on the fact I'm not a fan of baseball, which isn't fair, but I have to choose one. VICTORY TO JELLO POEMS.

    6. Katherine PierceJune 25, 2016 at 2:02 PM

      This is such a tough match-up both of these entries are incredibly strong and I have no doubt you'll have an agent sooner rather than later. However, one of these entries I've been rooting for from the beginning and would read in a heartbeat.


    7. One-Handed Wonder: I like how you streamlined your query letter. It seems to hold a bit of urgency now. Love the 250! This story really holds my interests.

      Jello Poems: I really like this concept, and I can get a good sense of what drives Gordo from the query letter. I enjoyed the writing in the sample, and the voice fit great with MG.

      This is a very hard choice. I liked both entries very much, but the writing in one entry just called to me more: Victory to One-Handed Wonder

    8. Bernadine HarrisJune 25, 2016 at 4:24 PM

      Two really strong entries. Middle Grade is not my strong suit at all so take my feedback with a grain of salt.

      One-Handed Wonder
      I felt for him from the first line. It seems like such a great personal story about overcoming odds. Will definitely inspire kids. I felt like the query definitely did it's job of conveying what happens but it felt like just that to me, you were telling us what happened. I wanted some more voice here. As is, it felt too much like a synopsis.

      I liked where you started the story. We're right in there with him. This is where my lack of MG knowledge comes into play because I wasn't sure if some of the word choice (cutie?) would be how a 14 year old would talk.

      Jello Poems:

      What a cute idea. I also felt for Gordo. You did a great job of telling the story while also having a lot of voice in it. It made me want to read the pages.

      I loved the pages as well. Like with One-handed Wonder, I did wonder about some of the word choice for the audience. However, I think you also did a great job of picking a good spot to start. We immediately get a good sense of Gordo from these opening lines.

      Another tough choice but I'm going to go with the one where I felt like I got a sense of the voice in both the query and pages, so...

      Victory to Jello Poems.

    9. Strawberry ShortcakeJune 25, 2016 at 6:08 PM

      Hi everyone! Just wanted to give props to you both for putting yourselves out there like this! That’s not easy! Just so you know, I deliberately kept my nose out of previous rounds so I could come in with fresh eyes. Here we go!

      I have to admit loving this premise! I do wish the query were a bit more concise, as it just feels like there’s far too much detail for such a straightforward situation. Try paring it back to just the main character(s), the main conflict, and the biggest story question/dilemma/choice your MC faces.

      As I dove in to the first 250, I really wondered whether this story was MG or YA. I even scrolled back up to make sure I’d read correctly. There’s voice here, don’t get me wrong, but it feels older than your typical MG. His description of Hailey is also on the mature side for MG, especially the full lips part. All that said, by the time I finished the sample, I definitely felt for Kyle. Good job on hitting me in the feels!

      The query here is spot on, in my opinion. It’s clear and does a good job of conveying the voice and the MC’s world/dilemma. I was glad to find that the voice in the query was also reflected in the first 250, and this is not an easy thing to do. “This villain is about to get Gordoed.” Kudos!

      I’m also a sucker for incongruent character traits. Gigantic sixth grader Gordo, with a five o’clock shadow, plows over other children and loves Jell-O and – poetry. Wha-? I usually shy away from bully stories, but I’m intrigued by a story from the bully’s POV and the unique voice. Not to mention the fact that this story is going to have me rooting for that same bully. Interesting…

      Without further ado – VICTORY TO JELLO POEMS (Two words I never thought I’d ever write side-by-side.)

    10. Posting on behalf of Cat Wrangler.

      Both these queries are engaging -- as are the first 250. A tough match-up!

      Victory: One-Handed Wonder

    11. ONE HANDED: I think the improvements to the query really work. I am now much more clear about the prank and his family. great work!
      I still don't think that the way he should be showing how he feels about Hailey works. Telling us what she looks like does not sound authentic, and it does not draw me in. (It sounds more like an author trying to tell us what she looks like, which might be fine but not on page 1). I am also not sure about "and a cutie"(then again, I don't talk to a lot of 14 yr old boys. But like do they really call girls cuties? and also "full lips" -- I don't think even a fully grown man would use that term. I don't think guys think that way). I would rather have him physically react to how he feels about her. (when she says his name, his stomach jolts. Or his heart beat speeds up. Or his voice squeaks, which I think happens to 14 yr olds commonly)... He probably doesn't want to admit to a crush, even in his head. But we can still be convinced by his denial. That tells us multiple things (both stuff about his personality and how he feels about her).

      JELLO POEMS: This is my first time reading this and it is adorable. My only tripping point was I am not sure if everyone else at the school is totally normal or if Gordo is a stand-out in a school of different type characters. If it's all totally normal real-world stuff, maybe something to hint that would help. It just seems strange that he is SO different physically if everyone else is "normal" ... but that may just be how I read it.

      Victory to JELLO POEMS.

    12. This...pitting these two up against each other is just CRUEL! They are both great and honestly I want to read both of them. This is strictly subjective. Yes, I'd read both, but I'd have to read one before the other--so the first one on my reading list would be:


    13. So hard to choose here, but I'm going to have to go with the one with the voice that draws me in more.

      Victory to: JELLO POEMS

    14. These are both really great, but one seemed to me to have a stronger voice that pulled me in more.

      Victory to: JELLO POEMS!

    15. These are probably my 2 favorite entries in the whole contest...

      The one I'm not voting for is only because I have a worry that it might be a bit cliche even though there's so much I love about it...and about both of them.


    16. Great job to both of you! Both entries are very strong. Middle Grade is not my specialty, but I can see a lot of promise in both. VICTORY to JELLO POEMS for the really unique voice.

    17. Arg, this is the toughest one for me! I love so much about One Handed Wonder - the underdog story, baseball, family reuniting - but the voice in the query and first 250 of Jello Poems is just too strong to be denied.


    18. This is a really tough match up! Both of these entries are highly polished and both have strong concepts and hooks. For me, I found the voice in Jello Poems to be a tad more relatable and loved the blend of humor and sentiment. So victory to Jello Poems!

    19. What everyone else said: this is nearly impossible to judge!

      I liked the premise for both, and the writing in each 250 is solid, but I did feel one had a slightly stronger narrative voice. So on that basis, it's going to be victory to JELLO POEMS!

  2. These queries are great! One 250 pulled me in a bit more. I thought JELLO POEMS was a bit more telly vs showy, and it didn't give the voice to shine as much as it could have.


  3. Wow. Both of these are SO good! I want to read them right now.

    But judge, I must, so . . .

    Victory to: ONE-HANDED WONDER!

  4. SCOWLING DISCONTENTED JUDGEJune 26, 2016 at 3:45 PM

    I like One-Handed Wonder quite a lot, but JELLO POEMS is my pick to take the whole thing. And I emailed my agent about it, which I never do.

    So, Victory to JELLO POEMS