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  • The Munchkins

    by Candice Zee

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot/Idea: The pacing in Zee’s novel is slow to start, but once it picks up the storyline becomes engrossing and suspenseful. Readers will be gripped by the realization of a cliffhanger ending – one that sneaks up at the last minute and is completely unexpected.

    Prose: Zee writes crisply and sets the stage skillfully, building tension in a natural way that allows readers to deploy their imaginations. The writing style hooks readers, especially in the action moments, and creates a climactic environment that advances the narrative.

    Originality: Though the theme of youth imbued with magic is not a new one, Zee ups the ante with the sheer number of main players and the mystery surrounding the villain out to steal their powers.

    Character Development/Execution: The big boss plays the role of an essential villain, although he would be more impactful if readers were made aware of the motivating factors behind his behaviors. The youth protagonists do not share equal time in the story, but there are a few standouts when it comes to intriguing characters – specifically Allie’s vulnerability covered with bravado and Capricorn’s down-to-earth observations.

  • Plot/Idea: Though it may seem simplistic, Remus’s plot carries a deeper meaning of self-worth and learning the value of friendship and family. It follows the 10-year-old protagonist, Henry, on his quest to return magical chocolate clouds that have been stolen from his village, Choco-Locoville, where the inhabitants eat only sugary sweets. Younger readers will be fascinated by the intricate setting Remus has crafted, and adult readers will appreciate the undercurrent of soul-searching that runs throughout the story.

    Prose: Crisp and impactful writing graces the pages of this novel, and Remus excels at making tense moments believable and real. The worldbuilding is spot-on, and likely the biggest strength of the story, particularly when it is paired with the fantastical sketches scattered throughout the book.

    Originality: The Chocolate Clouds is brimming with originality, from the story’s fantasy setting—separate kingdoms existing in the fanciful land of Foodtopia—to the mythical creatures and adventures that advance the plot.

    Character Development/Execution: Remus’s story revolves around Henry, who often seems older than his age but is generally likable.  Although he interacts with other characters who are briefly introduced, readers may wish for more in-depth character development to enrich the story’s condensed plot. However, Henry’s transformation is appealing, as are his insights on healthy living and self-respect.

  • The Exasperated Clock

    by Debbie Hickman

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot: The Exasperated Clock is a fun and engaging story for children that provides a lesson on numbers and counting. Illustrations of the anthropomorphic clock and numbers are lively and dynamic.

    Prose: Hickman provides a smooth and nicely flowing story full of bickering and banter between the numbers.

    Originality: A clock with squabbling numbers is a unique concept. Readers will especially it appreciate when they all flee to find more fitting jobs out in the world.

    Character/Execution: Charming images and an engagingly chaotic sequence of events will hit the spot for very young readers. 

  • The Secret of Four Notch

    by Tracy Sabin

    Rating: 6.50

    Plot/Idea: Sabin keeps readers engaged throughout this novel with a steady pace and appealing action, although the story is lacking in compelling twists. She alternates between past and present under the guise of a time portal, offering Danny’s story in contemporary and historical settings. The finale satisfyingly brings the story together.

    Prose: The strongest element of Sabin’s prose is its authenticity for the intended audience. Dialogue flows smoothly, adding to the plot points, and vivid imagery is sprinkled throughout to provoke deeper meaning.

    Originality: The use of a time portal is typical for this genre, but Sabin successfully melds two opposing cultures together through the eyes of her engaging and relatable characters. 

    Character Development/Execution: Danny’s character is moderately developed, although readers may want more exploration of his vulnerability and a bigger emphasis on his inner life. Mr. Wolf comes across as almost too understanding, giving him a compliant air that sacrifices the true weight of his struggles. 

  • The Lost Son

    by James Ungurait

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot/Idea: The plot of The Lost Son is seemingly straightforward, but as the novel progresses the narrative becomes more diluted; in many places, readers will need to suspend belief in order to follow along. The writing trips slightly during tense scenes, particularly when the conflict is resolved too easily.

    Prose: Ungurait begins with crisp prose, but falters as the action heats up. Combined with stilted dialogue and repetitive phrasing, this results in a disconnect between readers and the storyline. When Ungurait uses a more cryptic writing style, an element of mystery permeates the novel.

    Originality: This story merges fantasy with a fundamental coming-of-age theme, invoking curiosity and novelty for readers. Despite familiar elements in much of the plot, there are some satisfying twists as the book wraps up.

    Character Development/Execution: Ungurait is careful to differentiate the voices of the main characters, and their individual conflicts are played well against the larger backdrop of the novel. Phoenix is a likable protagonist who will grow on readers as he undergoes a painful journey of self-discovery.


  • The Magic of Merla

    by Marcela Cmarkova

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot/Idea: Cmarkova brings readers along the protagonist's journey of rediscovering her authentic self and joy in life in a manner that is often moving and impactful, but that would benefit from additional detail and depth to the storyline. Readers may feel confused by the sudden insertion of a character without any background narrative.

    Prose: The prose, while often appealing and lively, is choppy at times, jumping from poetic rhyme and stanza to narrative fiction. 

    Originality: The theme of feeling like an outcast is prevalent in most YA novels. Cmarkova's story feels somewhat forced, borrowing heavily from the cliches of wanting to fit in. However, the protagonist does possess a unique element regarding the things that made her different from others.

    Character Development/Execution: Despite the story's many positive attributes, the work occasionally feels one-dimensional, with little attention paid to laying out the details of the main character and a lack of a truly substantive storyline beyond the general description of the character's problem.

  • Plot/Idea: Wright crafts a fundamental hero quest plot starring 13-year-old Toby Baxter and a host of magical friends, all of whom gladly face immense dangers to help Toby fight the evil trolls threatening to destroy his friends’ home. The worldbuilding is lacking in rich descriptors at times, but will likely serve the intended audience well, and Wright generously sprinkles the narrative with valuable lessons.

    Prose: Told in prose appropriate to the protagonist’s age, and brimming with references to contemporary comic book and fantasy culture, Wright endeavors to build an immense illusionary world for younger readers. Though some of the attempts fall flat, there are moments of magic in between.

    Originality: Wright borrows heavily from several well-known fantasy novels, although the story takes on a life of its own eventually. Getting there is slow, however, and readers may experience déjà vu in multiple places. 

    Character Development/Execution: Toby, an intriguing young boy who morphs from unlikely hero to selfless leader in the space of a few pages, is a likable protagonist and easy for younger readers to relate with. His vulnerability, and eventual transformation, easily draw parallels to the struggles many young fans may be facing.

  • The Shadow of the Rowan Tree

    by Florie Parker

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot/Idea: This light fantasy story introduces readers to the fairy kingdom of Aspirion. Parker blends quirky details with mildly scary story development.

    Prose: The writing style is age-appropriate, while the author's voice proves playful and lively.

    Originality: Despite familiar tropes, the author brings a degree of freshness to the fairy mythos.

    Character Development/Execution: Though reliance on exposition to convey behaviors and emotions, characters are clearly portrayed and effectively carry the story. Greater diversity among the cast might enhance the storytelling.

  • Keddy the Biggest Little Giggle Bee!

    by Tyhesia White

    Rating: 5.75

    Plot/Idea: White delivers a fun and inventive children's story. However, the setup for the Giggle Bees' community is somewhat confusing and deserving of greater expansion.

    Prose: Despite the occasionally awkward phrase, overall, the simplistic storytelling style is effective and engaging for the target audience. 

    Originality: Though the plot relies on a few familiar tropes, the characters, setting, and circumstances feel unique and will charm young readers.

    Character Development/Execution: Keddy and Gus both work well in their roles, but the story mentions Keddy's friends and provides illustrations of them without providing enough description within the text. There's ample opportunity here for much more worldbuilding. 

  • Brook Is in Quarantine

    by Tyjuanna Jackson

    Rating: 5.25

    Plot/Idea: This children's book guide to enduring the challenges of a pandemic is earnest and heartfelt. Very young children who have faced the same circumstances will welcome the guidance it offers.

    Prose: The writing style is approachable for young readers seeking answers about the strange realities of living through a global pandemic.

    Originality: Brook Is in Quarantine is admirable in its attempts to explain to young children why a pandemic like Covid-19 has upended so many lives.

    Character Development/Execution: The focus of this story is on explaining to children the importance of practices like washing hands and social distancing during a pandemic. Character development is secondary to the messages being delivered. 

  • Easter: McEaster Valley

    by Walter Hoge

    Rating: 3.75

    Plot/Idea: Hoge's parable-like tale follows a narrator who stumbles onto a magical valley during a hike—and proceeds to meet a peculiar mentor who enlightens him on the true meaning of life.

    Prose: The writing is lightly poetic, but it has a tendency to "tell" rather than "show," often becoming tangled in its own narration, which may keep readers from feeling immersed in the events that unfold. 

    Originality: Tales of coming across portals to other worlds or dimensions are familiar. Despite some original imagery, Hoge's story may fail to fully capture the reader's interest. 

    Character Development/Execution: The language and central character feel somewhat at odds with the intended audience. Though the story strives to impart an important lesson for young readers, the work has uncertain footing, poised between a short novel and a picture book. 

  • Samantha's Secret Hiding Place

    by Sheila V Holder

    Rating: 0.00

    Disqualified due to word count under 30,000.

  • The Christmas Socks

    by Douglas Younker

    Rating: 0.00

    No manuscript provided.