I am excited to share the news that my first Robby Robin story, No More Worms For Supper, has won first place for Children’s Literature in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick annual literary competition. I love the idea of calling my Robby stories literature!! One valuable outcome of this competition is that if you come in the top five, you get some feedback. Other times when I’ve entered competitions I’ve heard nothing back; that’s clear enough in one regard – the judges didn’t like it – but not constructive for trying to improve. So I’m happy on a few fronts: I finally got some unbiased encouragement (well, to their credit, my young readers have given me pretty good encouragement) and also some useful advice.
What have I learned? Maybe first and foremost was the revealing experience of having to revisit my stories without the illustrations, because competition (and publisher) submission rules stipulate that no illustrations are allowed. In fact, if you include even one illustration you are disqualified. That exercise in itself brought me up short because I suddenly realized that my illustrations were telling part of the story, and that without them I needed to add some small but significant details to the narrative. I had never noticed that omission. Duh! I happen to be one of those people who spends as much time looking at the pictures in kid’s books as the words, talking to my young reading companions about what’s happening in the pictures. I love it when there are lots of intriguing little details, like the picture of the Run-away Bunny on the wall in the bedroom of Goodnight Moon. But, of course, the words do need to stand on their own! That was an important lesson for me to learn.
The other feedback I got was exactly what my son – the father of my primary audience – told me the very first time he read it nearly 5 years ago: “It’s great, Mom, but it could be shorter.” Spoken like a true parent who has to read the story! The review I received said the same thing: each bird food choice is worthy on its own, but the story would benefit from fewer of them. Sigh. So this is where Robby and I need your help. Which bird and favourite food – or more than one bird – should be stricken from the story? It can’t be worms, since that’s what robins eat. It can’t be seagulls and french fries, because that’s central to the story. So we are left with these choices:
1. Sarah Chickadee likes seeds. Robby thought he’d like them better than worms. But when his mother gave him some he said, “Ugh. I don’t like these seeds. They’re too hard. They slide around on my plate and fall out of my beak.”
3. Nelly Nuthatch likes bugs. Robby thought bugs had to be better than worms. But as soon as he tried one he said, “Yuck. I don’t like these bugs. They’re too creepy. They fly away while I’m trying to eat them.”
5. Wendy Woodpecker likes fat. Robby thought surely that would be the best meal. But when his mother put it on the table he said, “Waaa. I don’t like this fat. “It’s gross. It’s too smooth and it has no taste.”
So, my question to you, dear readers, is: which one or ones should be turfed?! You can give your suggested choice(s) in a comment below or by completing my survey at this Robby’s Food Survey Link. I’d love to get your input.
One of the recommendations given when you attend writing workshops – or read the excellent advice in the One Wild Word blog and other writing blogs – is to enter writing competitions regularly. I’m convinced! It turns out to be great advice, and although it’s truly gratifying to win, being provided with feedback may be the biggest prize. Another recommended way of getting feedback is to join a writers group. I haven’t got my nerve up for that yet, and I’m not sure if people writing serious prose and poetry want to hear my children’s stories, but I may give it a try. There is no doubt that reading your work out loud brings out the positives and the negatives, even if you read out loud to yourself. With me it took reading out loud knowing the illustrations weren’t there to gain clarity. Some of us are slow learners!