Sunday, June 14, 2015

First 5 Pages June Workshop - Simon Revision 1

Margaret Simon
Middle Grade Fiction

Chapter One: Missing Egg     

In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I usually find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop.  My best friend is a chicken named Sunshine.  And she lays the most precious light blue eggs.  Every day.

But not today.

I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast.  I cackle to her in her own language. She says, “bwack!” and fluffs up her feathers.

 “Stop that cursin’, Sunny-girl. Act like a lady. Here you go, come to me.” 

Sunshine hops up and on to my shoulders.  She paces from one shoulder to the next, tangling my hair up in her feathers.  She trills and shifts.  I cradle her like a football. Tucking her under my arm, I rub her gently hoping to settle her down. I’ve never seen her so nervous. 

When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs.  A little shiver runs up my spine.  Come to think of it, the latch was hanging, not hooked.  I’m usually careful to fully latch it at night. 

Sunshine’s a fully-feathered Americana hen, gold and white. My Uncle A.J. brought her to me when she was just a fuzzy yellow chicken.  According to Momma, chickens don’t like to be held.  She says, “Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll?”  But Sunshine is special, an affectionate chicken, not typical of her breed, but this morning she’s twitchy.

“Sunshine, did you have a visitor last night?”

I put her down outside the coop and scatter some seed.  She settles into a focused peck, peck, peck, eating her breakfast.

Lurking under a gardenia bush near the coop, I spy a small black and white kitten.  He curves his back and hisses as Sunshine pecks near, but she just ignores him. Such little white paws could not have spread the straw so wildly. 

“Where’d you come from, little one? Where’s your momma?”

I walk over to him. Hold my hand out in offering, curling my fingers back and forth.  He comes to me and rubs against my leg.  When I pick him up, he grabs my arm and sinks his little teeth in.  I drop him back to the ground. He arches his back and pounces on Sunshine’s white tail feathers.  Sunshine turns her head then continues her pecking.  Her breakfast will not be interrupted by a pesky kitten.

Momma calls from the kitchen window. “Blessen, come eat your cereal.  The bus’ll be here soon!”

“Little Tuxedo, you better hide ‘fore Momma catches you.  She’s not a cat person.  For that matter, she don’t take to animals one bit.  Not even a chicken person.  Don’t worry, I’ll sneak you some fresh milk.” I’ll have to figure out the mystery of the missing eggs later.

The yellow bus honks as I scurry, hauling my heavy backpack onto my back.  I bend over as I trot so I don’t fall over backwards.  Sixth grade books are not made for skinny wimpy kids.  They probably weigh twenty-five pounds. Momma says I need to eat more to grow some meat on my bones.  She calls me her little bird. 

I hear chuckles when I lumber into my seat, the first row right behind Miss Geraldine Lewis, our bus driver.  She’s sweet most of the time until the kids get rowdy, which happens on a regular basis.  I like to sit there, so I can see out and not smell that diesel-exhaust-smoky bus smell.  It makes me nauseous. 

As we pass my neighbor’s house, the shadow of a child moves across the screened porch.  The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard.  The Romeros moved to Youngsville.  Their house has been empty for almost a year.  I wonder who could be there.  A new friend?  An egg thief?
My thoughts are still wandering when Mandy gets on at the next stop.  She’s an eighth grader.  Mandy’s momma is white like my momma, but her daddy is Laotian, not African American like my daddy.  Flipping her black slick hair, she giggles and starts chattering without even taking a breath.  Mandy got a haircut last week and now her bangs are too short to tuck behind her ears and too long to stay out of her eyes, so she is constantly flipping her head and running her hands through her thin hair.  It shines in the sun like a new pair of black shoes. I touch my own hair, frizzing out in wild curls as usual.  I didn’t do a thing to it today. I wish I had straight black hair that flowed over my shoulders like Mandy’s.  She sits directly behind me and talks a mean streak to her friend.

“Jaden texted me last night the sweetest thing you ever heard.  He says like maybe we could get together at break and kiss in the gym under the bleachers.  I texted him back and said, ‘No way!’ That’s the way Misty Gondron got suspended, and my daddy would kill me if that happened.” 

Mandy rattles on while I look out the window at the cane fields passing by.  I think about my chicken, Blue, that I lost to a hawk last year.  Blue was my first-ever pet that I had to take total care of, and I failed.  I left the latch of the pen open.  She got out and must’ve looked too tempting for the hovering raptor.  I wonder if a hawk could’ve stolen Sunshine’s eggs.  But that doesn’t make any sense.  A hawk couldn’t get into the coop.  What coulda’ been scavenging around in Sunshine’s bed? Did I fail her, too? What kind of pet owner am I? First Blue, now Sunshine’s in a twitter.  Did I latch the coop before school?

I told my new science teacher, Ms. Jemima Fullilove, about Sunshine, and she got me all signed up to be in the 4-H club at school.  In fourth grade I was in 4-H, and I grew sugarcane in the field by my house with my grandpaw, Pawpee.  Pawpee is gone to God now, so I need a new project.   I told Ms. Fullilove I’ll join her 4-H club on the condition that no one could buy and kill my new hen.  She said there are some competitions that don’t involve killing.

Chapter Two: Egg Experiment
Next period is science with Ms. Fullilove.  She is standing in the doorway holding a light brown egg in her palm. 

“What’s the egg for?” I reach out and pet the egg as if it’s a kitten.

“This is for our lesson, today, Blessen. Go have a seat.  We’ll get started in ten minutes.  Your Monday Moaning prompt is on the board.”  Each day Ms. Fullilove makes us write in our notebooks for ten whole minutes about a prompt of the day.  She calls them Monday Moaning, Tuesday Troubles, Wednesday Woes, etc.

Monday Moaning: Questions about eggs??

Ms. Fullilove is all about the questions.  She says questions are the driving force of science.  I’m excited about this assignment because I have lots of questions about eggs.  But they probably can’t be answered by science.  Like where did Sunshine’s eggs disappear to?  And will Sunshine know someone or something is stealing her eggs?  Will she stop laying eggs if she becomes stressed out?


  1. Hi Margaret!

    I noticed you asked on the AYAP Facebook page about whether this new opening sentence was too long, etc... I waited to see what you'd do with it. Personally, I like it. There is a definite MG 'feel' to the sentence. I can see an MGer reading this and his/her imagination seeing/experience what you show them - the lack of sounds, the warmth of the sun, the visuals of the bayou and then of a school bus bumping along the road. Plus, you intro us into her world by adding in what she normally finds each morning. Using the word 'miracle' also adds a splice of intrigue. And we meet Sunshine. Then you add that tiny sentence that establishes a problem. I'm much more grounded in the beginning. I really like this.

    Cackle is soooo much better than gurgle. And by the short exchange between them, the reader can see a sweet and genuine relationship. This is really cute! So, within this brief intro, you've established your MC's current world, a surprise, a problem, and something important to your MC. This is all great.

    I feel as though you don't need the paragraph giving the description of Sunshine (you can add those details in later), and the flashback banter with her mom. You've begun to create tension and anxiety over Sunshine's roosting spot being disturbed. I'd keep amping it up. The readers will want to know what's causing this disturbance. And some of the description is repetitive. The reader can already tell (by your new opening) what sort of character Sunshine has.

    As I was reading, I thought of something: if Sunshine is 'twitchy' then wouldn't this kitten pouncing on her startle her, even though she's focused on her food? You could always avoid this wavering in her character by having the kitten just show curiosity over the chicken - or something like that.

    The paragraph where Mandy enters feels a bit too long. There are areas that could be tweaked and tightened. Reread it. There are a few similar ideas within those sentences that could be combined. As yourself: what is absolutely necessary for the reader to know about Mandy?

    You wrapped her past experience with Blue into her here and now with Sunshine. Love that! It feels very natural. One thing: a hawk couldn't have gotten into the coup. True, and if it had it would have taken Sunshine. So she's pretty sure it wasn't a hawk. That's what I was thinking when I read that paragraph. Also, I'm not sure you need that last paragraph in chapter one. I like ending it with her wondering and questioning herself, but see what others say first.

    It's apparent you've worked hard on this revision. Great job! Looking forward to reading next week.


  2. Thank you so much for your comments. They are so helpful. I tweaked the Mandy scene. The only reason I need it is to establish the Blessen is bi-racial. I'll work on tightening it up. Thanks!

  3. Margaret, I really love the easy, rolling tone of this, and the characters and descriptions you've got. I love the Monday Moanings - Ms. Fullilove sounds like quite a character.

    I'm still wondering about what the conflict is, though - I found myself scanning for potential conflicts (is it the new neighbor? the relationship with Mandy?). If the main conflict is the egg, I think you could amp it up even more than you've done. For instance, at the end of the first paragraph, you could include something about how the hen always lays an egg, every day for 6 months or a year or whatever it is. And then when Blessen notices that the latch was hanging, not hooked, linger a bit there, draw it out instead of pulling us to the description of the chicken. Maybe Blessen scans the coop, looking for other signs of disturbance, or talks to herself or calls to someone else.

    I really enjoyed reading this. Good luck with it!

  4. Hi, Margaret! What a great revision; thank you for sharing.

    I definitely like what you've done here. I'm getting a much better feel for the tension over the missing egg. Consider moving the bit about Blue closer to when she's standing at the coop wondering where the egg went. That would give readers a concrete reason to think along with Blessen that something fishy might be going on. The other thought I had about that first part was that she jumped right to the idea that something weird was going on and never thinks about the more mundane possibilities (like that one of her parents might have gathered the egg that morning). It might not be too important, I'll leave that up to you, but it might help readers if she excluded some of the boring reasons for the missing egg before jumping right to something more sinister.

    I'd agree with Sheri that the bit with Mandy runs a little long. It's a good way to introduce Blessen's bi-racial parentage (I'd question though whether she would refer to her father as African-American unless he's actually from's a sensitive area, but African American is more of a PC label that I'm not entirely sure the black community embraces or uses themselves. It's worth looking into), but if you're going to keep the conversation about kissing and such, it might be worth getting some reaction from Blessen. Is she curious about kissing? Revolted by the idea?

    I noticed that it seems Blessen leaves Sunshine out of her coop when she leaves for school. Is that a normal thing? It seems like after what happened with Blue and with the new mystery of the missing egg, she might want to make sure Sunshine was safe and secure before leaving for school. I haven't spent much time around farms, so leaving her out might be normal behavior; I just thought I should mention it.

    Other than that, I think you've really done a fantastic job. I'd echo what Sheri said about tightening up the prose in some areas to cut redundant information, but I definitely think you're on the right track here.

  5. Love the opening. You've really set the scene, character and problem. Like that Blessen is questioning herself about locking the coop.

    Don't need Para describing Sunshine -- work that information in naturally. Takes us out of the story and mystery of the missing egg.

    I too wondered about Sunshine being so nonchalant with the kitten if she is being twitchy and nervous (which you repeat twice). You could show this more with her reacting differently than she normally would.

    Nitpick - Momma calls out for Blessen to come eat cereal, but instead of doing that, she stops to talk to the kitten, and then the school bus is honking.

    Love the shadow in neighbor house. Sets up more mystery. Then we get bogged down with Mandy. I thought in the previous version Mandy was jabbering to Blessen. Also, didn't you have her talking to someone about the 4-H club before? This seems to not flow as well. Perhaps this information can be worked in more naturally later. It is detracting from the mysterious feeling.

    Also, I like the bit about Blue and the hawk, but I'm wondering if you could move that up a bit. Also, just a thought - could she be discussing the missing egg and how unusual it is with a friend (Mandy?) on the bus? And together they talk about possibilities and what happened to Blue.

    Shaun made a good point about leaving Sunshine loose, which is not abnormal per se, since the chickens go back into the coop to roost at night, but with the missing egg and thoughts of the hawk, may she would be more paranoid and lock her up. This could also add some more tension.

    This is a great revision. Can't wait to read the next revision.


  6. Hello Margaret! I really like the changes you’ve made – they certainly help build up the tension of the story, but you’ve still kept that lovely voice that really brings the story to life. Well done!

    I have some suggestions that might help with some of the points others have made. For starters, there’s the slight continuity error of Blessen’s mother calling her for cereal, and then next thing she’s headed for the school bus. A few paragraphs later, Mandy’s introduction is used to illuminate that Blessen is biracial, but as others have mentioned, it seems a little tangential. You could solve both issues by having Blessen’s mother make an actual “on-screen” appearance, and have Blessen observe the contrast between her own appearance and her mother’s (or her mother’s versus her father’s.)

    The very end of Chapter one felt a little abrupt, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until a couple reads. The last paragraph about Ms. Fullilove entering her in the 4H competition feels like an oddly businesslike change in topic from Blessen’s very personal worries about Sunshine. However, I get the feeling that the main conflict has to do with Sunshine and the 4H competition, so I’d focus on linking those two paragraphs. If something happens to Sunshine, can Blessen still compete? Does she still want to win even without her grandfather? If the 4H competition is a factor in your big conflict, let’s see Blessen’s personal investment in it.

    All in all, I think this revision is great. I’m looking forward to your next one!