Mendenhall, Colin. My Favorite Tree is Dying. Manuscript Response.


I was sent a picture book manuscript written by Colin Mendenhall. I believe this is his first attempt to write in this genre. I have responded with three suggestions for improvement. If you, too, are working on a picture book, you may find these comments helpful.

I admire the fact that you are tackling such an important and difficult topic as childhood leukemia in a picture book. Here are my three suggestions for improvement of your manuscript.

First: children’s books should be filled with details of the five senses.

I want the tree to be more real. I think the child would’ve found out what species it was. He should describe the trunk’s texture, the shapes of the branches, or the shape and designs on the leaves. We need to know why he loves it. We can’t feel the loss if we can’t visualize the tree. The same thing with the sick child. Give us something that makes him memorable other than being bald, something he had before leukemia. It could be a special way of smiling or something else. Even though the book will be illustrated, we need to feel how the narrator connects to the tree and the child. I like the connection between the tree losing its leaves and the boy losing his hair.

Where did they look for a cure? Again, this needs to be vivid. Give us details. Did they look in an anthill? Did they look under a front step? Children this age would not be wandering the neighborhood alone. Maybe they could be searching in each other’s yard or at the park with a parent. Some of this could be shown in the illustrations and not in the text.

Second: the age level is too broad.

You said the target audience was 4 to 8 years old. That’s pretty broad range in interest and reading skills. Children aged 6 to 8 would know that trees lose their leaves. The protagonist in this story seems to be about four or five years old. An eight year old probably won’t read this. The style of writing seems suited to a 4 or 5-year-old but the topic is suited for 6 to 8 years old. You’re going to have to work on merging the two.

I know you’re trying to sound like a child narrating the story but avoid sentences like this. “I went to ask the boy in my class where he found his cure at.” Parents want beautiful language in their children’s books.

Third: clarify your message

What is the message you’re trying to give children? This is a sad story about a disease that touches the lives of many. Although there are some parallels between the tree and the child with leukemia, the tree does not actually need a cure. It follows the natural cycle. I think this muddies the comparison between the two. You might want to consider giving the tree an actual disease that does get cured.

Are you trying to give children hope that a cure will be found? If so, I would make the last page little more uplifting. Children’s stories should always end on hope.

A question:

On page 20, who is the she standing in front of the hospital? Is it the teacher or the child telling the story?

This book has a lot of potential. Keep working on it and don’t rush into publication. Done well, this could be a very important book for children. Thank you for submitting it and good luck.

Bonnie Ferrante: Books For All Ages