Month: April 2019

Picture Book Review: Fall Ball

Picture Book Review: Fall Ball

FALL BALL
Author: Peter McCarty
Illustrator: Peter McCarty
ISBN: 9780805092530
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, LLC
Age Range: 4-8
Grade Level: Preschool – 3

Amazon Synopsis

In “Fall Ball” Bobby and his friends wait all day for school to end and for their chance to play outdoors in the fall weather. Flying leaves, swirling colors, and crisp air make the perfect setting for a game of football with Sparky the dog.

The kids are surprised by how quickly it gets dark, and even more surprised when it begins to snow. But there’s no need to worry―the chilly nights ahead will mean watching football on the couch with family, tucked under a cozy blanket.

My Review of Fall Ball

The Illustrations

Initially, the illustrations on the cover of Fall Ball first called me to this book, with the color scheme being the deciding factor. The dominant sepia theme sprinkled with subdued reds, blues and grayish tones create a crisp autumnesque environment. Then the kids faces took hold of me. The caricatures make for a delightful group of kids like none I’ve ever seen before. With simple facial features and hair that seems to stand as if permanently blown by the wind, these kids often made me laugh out loud. Happy, surprised, excited – the faces remain the same and yet you somehow just know what they are thinking.

The Story

As Fall Ball unfolds, young listeners and early readers experience the joys of getting out of school and going home to play with friends before it gets too dark outside.  This reminded me of a simpler time, when kids had a bit more freedom to roam around the neighborhood without worry.  I’m not sure today’s kids will “get” that part, but I enjoyed the recall. When a feisty dog steals the football and heads towards a great pile of leaves, you can imagine and almost hear the kids squeals as they chase after their coveted ball and the laughs when everyone lands in the leaves.

Overall, Fall Ball is a charming story with captivating illustrations that will create a lot of excitement for a young audience.

About the Author

PETER MCCARTY is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including Fabian Escapes, Moon Plane, and T Is for Terrible, as well as Hondo & Fabian, a Caldecott Honor Book. He lives with his family in upstate New York.

Review Copy

I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

Jumping Off the Deep End – My Writing Journey

Jumping Off the Deep End – My Writing Journey

No diving sign. Jump in to your writing journey.

The Writing Journey Begins at the Beginning

And so it begins. Up until now my writing journey has consisted of book reviews and the occasional blog article.  I am at the beginning of my journey. And, in contrast to my usual impatient, I-know-what-I-want-and-I-want-it-now attitude, I am fine with this. This is where I need to be – reading, writing, learning from those who’ve gone before me, taking courses (the most recent being Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Making Picture Book Magic”), absorbing information, and practicing. I am fine with all of it. Or rather, I was fine with it all, until a recent incident, which I share below.

Anyhow, just looking over my now 2-week old blog, I realize I have already accomplished a lot.  I put my name and my intentions “out there” for the world to see.  Just stating that I am an aspiring author is a huge step for me – I am a private person, shy until you get to know me, and this is out of my comfort zone to say the least. I didn’t even share with my husband yet – he kinda found my blog by accident (or rather, by looking over my shoulder at my iPhone), exclaiming, “Sheri Hoyte Books, what’s that?” 

Face of a woman with a secret about her writing journey holding her finger to her lips.

The Secret is Out

GROAN… I wasn’t ready to share with my family yet. The only person that knew up until now is my business partner. I wanted to start building my platform, get several hundred picture book reviews under my belt, maybe a few concrete story ideas and then announce it to my family. Why am I so shy about sharing with my family? How can I share such intimate details about my goals with total strangers yet be so wary of those closest to me?

And, now that my secret is out, I do feel a bit more pressure to perform and that hampers my plans more than anything else. But, I have to get over this (or over myself)? I’m in this for the long run. I want this journey to be fun.  I’m doing this for me (and my future grandkids, let’s be real 😊).

blurred photo of antique pocket watch and pearls - a perfect time to start your writing journey

There’s No Time Like Now

So, the timing is perfect. The circumstances are ideal. I have a job in a related field with flexible hours and access to a variety of tools.  I couldn’t ask for more. To find my voice, to act on my passions, to discover who I am – I feel like I am in for an exciting ride – I just have to get past my insecurities.  Can anyone else relate to this – I’d love to hear more about you and your experiences.  Are you new to the writing world or do you have years of experience to share? Drop me a note with a link to your blog or website so I can follow you on your writing journey.  Happy writing everyone!

Picture Book Review: Lily’s Cat Mask

Picture Book Review: Lily’s Cat Mask

Lily's Cat Mask book cover

LILY’S CAT MASK
Author: Julie Fortenberry
Illustrator: Julie Fortenberry
ISBN: 9780425287996
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Age Range: 4-6 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 1

Amazon Synopsis: Armed with a vivid imagination and her trusty cat mask, Lily can take on anything–even a new school…But when her teacher tells her no masks allowed in class, Lily worries, can she make friends without it? Anyone who has been daunted by a new experience, or struggled to put on a good face, will relate to Lily. Whimsical art brings Lily, her father, and her new classmates to life, with text that begs to be read aloud. Perfect for Father’s Day, back to school, and even Halloween–Lily and her grinning cat mask are sure to make you smile back.

My Thoughts

Lily’s Cat Mask is perfect for adults and kids alike, as just about everyone can relate to having some fear and anxiety around experiencing something new. First off, I absolutely adored the illustrations. They are colorful and simple with just the right amount of detail to appeal to young readers. The body language and facial expressions of Lily (when she’s not wearing the mask) really tell the readers how she is feeling. For instance, in the beginning it’s painfully obvious she does NOT want to go shopping.

The author doesn’t use the mask as a crutch for Lily but as a way to ease into new situations. She also uses it as a way to celebrate or demonstrate Lily’s excitement or happiness.  She uses it to both hide and stand out. How fun to have a mask on when she wants to be the center of attention.  Don’t we all at some point? On the other side of the spectrum, I can relate to and feel some of the inner turmoil Lily feels when she uses her mask as a safety blanket of sorts.

Does Lily’s Cat Mask teach kids how to overcome their anxieties? Perhaps overcome is the wrong word. I do think it helps allay some of the anxiety around the unknown, as well as new experiences, such as the first day of school and making new friends.

Overall, the story is well-written, and the pictures are delightful. 

Younger kids will like the colorful masks and costume party and will enjoy having the book read to them – but the target audience is for those just starting school. 

About the Author

Julie Fortenberry is the author and illustrator of LILY’S CAT MASK. She has illustrated several picture books, including “Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast” by Jamie Korngold and “Pirate Boy” by Eve Bunting (2012 Children’s Choice book). Julie lives in Philadelphia, PA. To see more of Julie’s work visit www.juliefortenberry.com.

Note: I obtained a copy of this book to review from my local library.

How Do You Focus When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing?

How Do You Focus When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing?

How do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing? Am I the only one hampered with distractions? While searching the internet the other day, (conducting research of course), I came across a pitch generator that uses the letters of your name to determine how you should pitch your book idea to publishers.

According to this generator, my pitch using my first name should be for a “high-voltage tragedy about an exuberant ghost’s failure.” Well, that was so much fun I tried it again with my last name. Then my brother’s name, then my third cousin’s name…you get a clear picture of my afternoon, right? A session that began with a specific plan, ended with letting distraction stand in the way of productivity. Anyone ever play “predictive text” on Twitter? That can distract for hours!

Going down the rabbit hole.

It all started with the blank page, my biggest obstacle.  All that whiteness creates overwhelming anxiety for me. While some writers see a blank page as an opportunity for total creative freedom, I just freeze.  So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

To answer this question I had to consider what actually works best for me, not what everyone says should work for me.  Realizing that trying to fit within “accepted norms” wasn’t helping, I set out to determine three things that hinder my productivity, and come up with a plan to create new habits to help my focus.  Here is what I discovered:

I am a perfectionist.

That old “do it right or don’t do it at all” philosophy somehow became my mantra, and it is quite a burden. It is challenging for me to write a first draft of anything, whether it’s a book review, an article, or an outline for a story idea, because I have this notion that everything must flow from my mind to the paper in perfect form. I’m sure you can guess how this is working out for me. To get over the fear of the blank page I started jotting down my random thoughts into files on my computer and saving each thought in a separate document.  This helps me in two areas: there isn’t a blank page to contend with, and since there is already the start of a rough draft on the page, it releases me from perfectionism.  It’s not fool-proof, but it has been helping.

My inner critic is brutal.

There is a little “mean girl” inside my head just messing with my creativity, and filling my head with doubts about my ability to write. This is tough. The key here is to set my work aside for a day or two when possible. This appeases my inner critic by accepting there may be some changes needed. I usually find that I return to the project with a clearer head and am more able to see which areas need improvement, without using any negative self-talk.

Setting goals is counterproductive for me.

This doesn’t even make sense, but as soon as I set a goal, that voice inside my head starts saying things like, “You can’t do that,” or some other such nonsense. This is not just a writing phenomenon with me either, as I discovered one day while exercising with my husband.

We typically walk around the lake close to our home a couple of times each week.  It’s really beautiful and is a nice change of pace.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to build up my endurance by setting short jogging goals.  It never fails – as soon as I say, “I’m going to run to the next tree,” the task becomes impossible to accomplish. It seems the tree actually keeps moving farther away, my body starts protesting, and it’s harder to breathe. It’s really quite a sight. Yet, if I don’t set goals, how can I push myself?  I’ve found that by setting an “intention” to do the best I can rather than a hard-fast goal, I am more successful.

The reality?

The reality is we are all a work-in-progress. Just being aware of the things that stall productivity can help.  If you find yourself in a situation that takes you away from your intentions, it’s time to take a break. Be gentle with yourself. Get a cup of tea or a snack. Go outside and do some yard work.  Or just stretch.  Whatever works for YOU.  By moving the focus away from the things that aren’t working and concentrating on developing realistic long-term habits, you are creating the best possible environment for your own success.

So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

*This post originally published on www.readerviews.com.

Book Review: “What Some Would Call Lies”

Book Review: “What Some Would Call Lies”

What Some Would Call Lies
by Rob Davidson
Five Oaks Press (2018)
ISBN 9781944355470
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19)
This article was first published on ReaderViews.Com.

“What Some Would Call Lies” by Rob Davidson is a fascinating collection of two novellas that delve into memory versus lies and how our lenses change to accommodate and mold our unconscious desires into creative, new “realities.”

Shoplifting, or How Dilectical Materialism Can Change Your Life

I knew this would be fun as soon as I read the opening paragraph of the first story. In ‘Shoplifting, or How Dialectical Materialism Can Change Your Life,’ Monica Evans, a young author and mother is shopping in the boys’ toddler section of a discount department store. Discouraged by the stereotypical choices she heads over to the girls’ section, finally settling on a floral print dress for her young son because after all, “…if you must live your life as a cliché you could at least choose lavender.” (p. 11).

Monica has issues that’s for sure – and that is the appeal of this novella. Readers experience the inner machinations of Monica’s mind as she eludes, deceives, denies, and challenges everything, from the mundane existence of a “happy homemaker” to indulging in shoplifting adventures in the name of research (for the autobiography of her dead sister, which she is writing in first person). I’m not kidding, as soon as I finished this story, I wanted to read it again to go a little deeper and make sure I hadn’t missed any delightful nuggets of wit or hidden context. 

Infidels

The second novella, “Infidels,” sets a completely different mood as a classic coming-of-age story.  As Jackie Rose reflects on growing up in Duluth, Minnesota during the 70s, readers are transported directly into his world. Jackie takes us through a strained relationship with his father, his unrealized feelings of a teacher who inspired thinking outside the norm, and the magical wonders of getting to second-base with a take-charge-kinda-girl in the sixth grade – just to name a few. 

His encounters will make you laugh, cry and everything in between as you sit there, incapable of doing anything other than reading straight through to the end. I loved this story.  Many of the characters sparked nostalgia for days seemingly lifetimes ago. Many times I wondered about some of my own childhood memories. Are they real? Imagined? A bit of both? And, how many of our perceived truths do we pass on to our children? This story really gets you thinking!

Conclusion

Both stories in this collection are extraordinary works that are a pure treat to read.  I highly recommend “What Some Would Call Lies” by Rob Davidson for a contemplative, eloquent reading experience certain to conjure up some of your own buried memories, real or imagined.

Review Copy

What Some Would Call Lies
Five Oaks Press (2018)
ISBN 9781944355470
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (2/19) 
Disclosure in Accordance with FTC Guidelines 16 CFR Part 255