Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Agent's Inbox #11

Dear Mr. Cusick:

Bulldozers crouch outside Emerson Elementary, as if they long to eat the school in one gulp. It’s up to fifth grade history buff George Furst and his friends to save the not-quite historic building from demolition. George has no clue how to organize a fifth grade full of crush-obsessed, experiment-exploding hamster haters into a protest, but unless he unites their class against the powerful Board of Education, George and his friends will be THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY.

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY (18,000 WORDS) is a middle grade novel-in-verse. Its ensemble cast is as diverse as the dishes at a Fourth of July picnic, but when George and his friends stage a revolution, the entire class is part of the fireworks. I hope you will consider this manuscript for representation.

I have a BFA (Dramatic Writing) from NYU. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is drawn from my 20 years in education, including classroom visits as a longtime poet-in-the-schools. My work for children has appeared in Highlights. Poetry credits include literary journals, a first-place chapbook, and two poetry anthologies (as editor and co-editor). Currently, I am editor of the art and literary journal Little Patuxent Review. I also blog about arts education at, where I am active in the Poetry Friday kids’ lit blogging community.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


First Day
By Rachel Chieko Stein

We only have 180 days
at Emerson Elementary.
When this school year ends,
I will have spent one thousand days
in this building. I want a thousand more
so I’ll never have to say goodbye
to friends I’ve had since kindergarten.
I wish Emerson could be my school forever,
but everyone’s talking about plans
to tear the building down.
It’s going to be like we were never here.
I wish fifth grade wasn’t such a tornado,
whirling and spinning,
everyone scattered in different directions,
our school gone, an empty space
left behind.

By George Furst

My name is George Washington Furst.
Don’t laugh. My parents are History teachers.
They met at George Washington’s house.
Not while he was living there, obviously.
The house is a museum called Mount Vernon.
Vernon is also the name of our cat,
who lives with me and my mom.
My dad doesn’t live with us.
He moved out, took half the furniture,
and left the cat, so probably
we won’t visit Mount Vernon
on my birthday like usual
because nothing’s like usual.
If George Washington’s house
is still standing after 250 years
why demolish Emerson?
It’s the only place I have that never changes,
every year the same blue chairs,
beat-up desks and blackboards.
Maybe if I run for Class President,
I can explain to the teachers
that our school could last another 200 years.


Suze said...

I love the premise, and your first paragraph made me fall a little bit in love with George.

If, by chance, you run into trouble repeatedly with the unusual format, would you ever consider fleshing it out to a more typical prose format?

Author Amok said...

Hi, Suze. Someone else suggested a hybrid of traditional prose novel and poetry. It's worth thinking about. I'd also love to see this book illustrated, Origami Yoda-style.

Cindy Schrauben said...

You are, obviously, a very talented writer. Your query was wonderful and hints at the humor that, I'm sure, the book will possess. While I'm not a fan of reading long pieces in verse, I'm sure that you can make it work. Nice job.

Making Trax said...

Your query is wonderful! Fifth grade was my favorite -- wish I could go back! Perfect colorful description - especially love the 4th of July picnic & fireworks!

Author Amok said...

Thanks for the feedback, Cindy and Making Trax. The 4th of July sentence is a recent revision to my query -- I appreciate the thumbs up!

Veronica Bartles said...

I love this book!

Maybe I'm cheating with this comment, because I'm one of the lucky few who has had the opportunity to read the full manuscript, so I get to rave about the way all of the poems flow together, each character with his or her own distinct voice (which is SO hard to pull off with a cast this large). Yet even with so many different voices, the poems fit together and play off one another to tell the story.

Good luck! <3

Kristine Poptanich said...

Wow - entirely in verse. I wish, as a mom, we had more books that demonstrated the full range of literary styles, so I would buy this for my kids on style alone. Love the premise too, so hopefully this will be a winner! If not this contest, I have no doubt through the formal subbing process!

Author Amok said...

Aw, thanks Veronica!

Kristine, I appreciate it. Still trying to master the art of the query. I'm glad this one worked for you.

Anonymous said...

I really like it in verse. I love how the words are placed in each line to create more meaning.

It reminds me of Sharon Creech- Love that Dog and Hate that Cat.

I teach middle school and novels in verse are great for reluctant readers. I wish there were more of them.

Dori said...

I love this! It is easy to read and comprehend. It would be a great format for children who have trouble focusing. Good Job and good luck.

John C. said...

I love novels in verse. Interestingly, most seem to focus on pretty dire subject matter (I'm thinking of Ellen Hopkins, obviously), so it's interesting to see a project like this with a lighter touch.

One comment on your query: I'm not sure George's motivation comes across strongly enough. Why does George care about this building? I assume his interest in history influences his desire to keep the semi-historical building in tact, but the theme of historical preservation feels a bit adult, to me. Show us why a typical kid reader would care whether the building is destroyed, otherwise, the stakes feel a bit low. What does the school mean to George on a deep, emotional level? What will he suffer if its demolished? If we're to care whether the school is destroyed, we need a sense of how truly terrible it will be if George fails-- and I'm not quite getting that sense here.


Author Amok said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!