Friday, May 1, 2015

Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School: an interview with Richard Torrey

The phone rang. “Hello,” said Richard Torrey, whom I only knew as the author-illustrator of the incredibly clever book I had just received and enjoyed with my eight-year-old daughter. I had no notes prepared for my telephone interview, and as it turned out, this seemed to suit Mr. Torrey’s style just fine.

“My daughter and I loved Ally-saurus,” I told Torrey, “We think it is just perfect for a child who is headed for their first day of school.”

“Well,” he replied, “these are trying times…” He explained that the first day of anything, whether it was the first day of school or the first day of camp, was tough for a kid. “You can equate it to that feeling of walking the plank…it’s like entering another universe.”

Ally-saurus is the preferred moniker of a little girl who is just waking up for her first day of school. She and her surroundings are illustrated in dark grey pencil, while her stuffed dinosaurs are lightly colored in pastel, and a dinosaur’s spikes and tail are drawn onto her head and back in pink crayon. Ally-saurus starts off appearing confident, although it soon becomes apparent that she is different from the other kids. By the middle of the book, the other students can be seen wearing their imagined armor of princesses, an astronaut, a lion, a pirate, a butterfly, and a dragon. Embracing their differences, by the end of the day the children are getting along splendidly, and the next day Ally jumps out of bed, excited for her next day’s adventures. 

The idea of Ally originated with his son, who was always the tiniest in his class or sports team. When he was four years old, he stated that he was a giant dog, “and he was very serious”, said Torrey.  That imagined appearance was “like armor…it helped him to get through being the smallest”. Torrey started to experiment with ways to draw a child’s imagination without using words. The character of Ally started as a penciled doodle in Torrey’s “idea book”, with a dinosaur’s tail drawn in crayon to demonstrate the notion that she thought she was a dinosaur. 

I asked Torrey about how he got started in his career as an author-illustrator. He describes his journey as a “series of happy accidents”.  Born in Los Angeles, he originally went to Alleghany College as a pre-med major, which he switched to psychology; he has lived on Long Island ever since he graduated. Richard’s father was the Hockey Hall-of-Famer, Bill Torrey, who managed the Islanders during the years they built the team that would win the Stanley Cup. “Those were very good times…Islander fans are special…it’s an era that is ending,” said Richard.  He is very sad to see the Islanders leaving Long Island. “Long Island kids won’t have a home team.”

Richard never took art classes, but he loved cartooning. For his fourth birthday, his great-grandparents gave him the book The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. Robert Lawson’s ink drawings of Ferdinand were the early seeds of his career.  He always loved the Peanuts cartoon strip in particular, and part of his inspiration comes from Charles M. Schultz. When he was still in grade school, Richard met Schultz at an Oakland Seals hockey game. Richard decided to show his drawing of a horse to Schultz, who then drew Snoopy on the back of the picture – Richard still has it. 

Torrey worked for the Islanders after college, while constantly drawing in his spare time. When a syndicated cartoonist saw his work, he got what some might call a “lucky break”, although for many years he had to work harder to sell his ideas because of his lack of professional experience. He was learning to be an illustrator as well as a writer while creating Hartland and PETE AND CLETE. At one point he reached a cross-roads as newspapers started to evolve, and editors could not decide whether to put his strip in the comics or sports section. He went to work for Recycled Paper Greetings, where he still does work.  He also did freelance magazine illustrations, until he was discovered by an agent who was looking for drawings for a sample book.

After illustrating other authors’ books for a few years, he decided to write his own. His first dozen or so ideas failed to sell, and his agent advised him to “write what you know”. This naturally brought him to his own world, parenting young children who played sports, and his first books were born. When asked what he would advise young writers/illustrators, Torrey said, “Somebody’s gonna do it, so why not you”…”you have to have skin like a rhinoceros”, but if you love it and believe in your talent, there is no reason to believe that you cannot do what you want to do with that gift. He quoted Richard Bach, who once said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit”.

Torrey lives on Long Island with his wife and two children. He has been teaching cartooning and manga art at the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills for over twenty years. He is always looking to try his hand at new things. His latest project was putting together his new website, which he is very proud of. At (don’t forget the e in torrey or you will come across a fashion site) you can view Richard’s illustrations, idea sketches, and information about his published books an even dozen.  His 13th book, My Dog, Bob, will be released in September 2015.

Ally-Saurus and the First Day of School
Written and illustrated by Richard Torrey
Published by Sterling Publishing
Published May 2015
Price $14.95
Ages 3-6
Hardcover/ISBN 978-1-4549-1179-1

*I have also posted this article at The Long Island Motherhood Examiner and The Divine Gift of Motherhood.

On a side-note for Catholic readers, although I didn't ask Richard about his religious views, I love Torrey's attitude toward life, family, and career. There is a terrific word for what he calls "happy accidents" - serendipitous events are blessings that come along when you are not looking for them. When we are open to embrace what life has for us, rather than meticulously planning our lives, we set ourselves up for the receipt of untold joys. Something about our conversation echoed to me the attitude of Odd Thomas, the main character in a series I am reading by the best-selling Catholic thriller writer Dean Koontz. Odd Thomas doesn't believe in over-preparing, because life throws the strangest things at him all the time. He has to trust that he will know what to do when the moment calls for it. In an interview with ETWN, Koontz says that by the end of the eighth book, Saint Odd, the character will have achieved a state of perfect humility.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Review of Little Boy

My family and I have always loved Forrest Gump (with selective editing!) When I tried to figure out why, it always came down to this story line; an innocent man teaches the cynics who surround him in his life how to believe in goodness and love wholeheartedly with amazing results. The movie “Little Boy” has the same appealing plot line; a diminutive yet courageous little boy faces down the great evil of World War II in an effort to bring his father home.

Pepper Flynt Busbee (Jakob Salvati) is the smallest kid in his small town of O’Hare on the Pacific Ocean; bullied by the boys his age, and pushed around by his big brother. But his daddy taught him courage and Pepper is determined to overcome evil through his great faith (which at first he has confused with magic powers). He is inspired when his parish priest preaches about faith the size of a mustard seed which can move mountains and, after a false start where his brother encourages him to attack the home of a Japanese man (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Hashimoto), his mother brings him to church for confession and some guidance. The gentle paternal relationship of Pepper and Father Oliver (Tom Wilkinson) is something we have not seen from Hollywood in decades. Father uses the Corporal Works of Mercy as a guide to increase Pepper’s faith and teaches him to overcome his racism against Mr. Hashimoto. Pepper’s determination to follow Father’s guidelines inspires his entire town to examine their behavior and believe in faith.

Little Boy is pure cinematic magic, there is nostalgia, wonder, laughter, and of course, tears. I heard people crying on both sides of me and minutes later they burst out in applause as the credits rolled. I attended a preview where an entire multiplex in Boston was filled to overflowing with enrapt filmgoers of all ages. The passionate acting of Jakob Salvati kept even the little boys riveted while the clever laughs kept the film from being pedantic.

This is a film for all ages, where the entire family will be talking about the various themes afterward. No offensive language though a couple of fight and battle scenes along with real war footage make this for older children and up. I dare say Forrest Gump may have met his match in “Little Boy”.
Watch the trailer here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review of the book "Joyful Witness: How to be An Extraordinary Catholic"

by Randy Hain

Americans know a lot about movie stars, musicians and athletes. Often, we know more than we want to know about their lifestyles and relationships. How this type of bad example influences us and our children is well known, yet most of us feel helpless to counteract it. It takes concentrated effort to find good examples to follow, especially if you are attempting to be a good Catholic. Good Catholics rarely make headlines these days. Here is a book which attempts to make edifying examples of holy Catholic lives easier to find. 

Some Catholics think that today’s saints-in-the-making are humorless old fogeys dressed in  grey who never step outside of church. By compiling stories of ordinary Catholics leading extraordinary lives of irresistible joy, Randy Hain, the creator of the website, The Integrated Catholic Life, has done Catholics a great service. He dispels that stereotype by relating thirteen stories about irresistibly joyful Catholic people whom he has met in his daily life, with a vibrancy that leaves the reader feeling inspired, not overwhelmed. 

I read one chapter a day in my prayer time and used the helpful series of questions at the end of each chapter as a tool to challenge myself to conform my own actions and attitudes to that person’s example. Hain makes sure to emphasize the useful advice from each of his story subjects. Advice such as “Receive the Eucharist daily," "be humble," " we must support and pray for our priests," "we must properly catechize ourselves,” are highlighted in bold print and leave no doubt as to why he chose these people as examples to help us in our own walk of faith. Each chapter is headed by a Scripture verse or a paragraph from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which epitomizes that person's life. The people whose stories grace this book range in age from pillars-of-the-Church great-grandmas to exuberant youth leaders, from humble home-schooling moms of many, to prominent successful businessmen. No one is exempt from living a life of joyful witness to Christ according to Randy Hain, and he gives you the education and inspiration to make the journey in your own life. 

Living in the highly secular Northeast, I enjoyed the example of Andy LaVallee, a successful bread distributor in Boston. After a life confession and re dedication of his life to Our Lady while on pilgrimage with Jim Caviezel, Andy began to learn and apply Catholic social teaching to his employees with amazing results. He was inspired by reading of Pope Emeritus Benedict's encyclical, Charity in Truth. Andy says, "The Holy Father was asking us to seek hybrid programs that could develop and help people and business enterprises. This encyclical provided the motivation for my company to transform our biggest department, our distribution program, into something more devout." He changed the title of the job from "driver" to "guardian" and gave the employees who dealt directly with the customers a bigger responsibility, teaching them the concept of servant leadership, encouraging to grow their routes by giving them a share in the new business they created. It lead to increased profits both for the drivers who felt more invested in their work and the company. Another time, after prayer and reflection, Andy rehired an employee whom he fired for insubordination. Andy accompanied this unprecedented action with a memo on forgiveness so that, "my entire company would understand the power of this virtue." Andy's attendance at daily Mass, weekly confession and adoration is the power behind his unique brand of leadership. He shares his story with other business leaders and also with fellow Catholics. 

Joyful Witness would make an excellent book for a study group for Catholics who want to support one another as they grow in faith or for RCIA groups who want to give practical examples to new Catholics of what living a fully Catholic life really means. Blessed Mother Teresa gave away the secret of her success when she said, "Joy is a net with which to catch souls." I give Joyful Witness an enthusiastic thumbs up!

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Premieres on CNN March 1, 9:00 P.M. ET

This CNN series focus on six artifacts from the life and time of Jesus, including the Shroud of Turin, pieces of the True Cross, bones of John the Baptist, a burial box with Jesus' name, and a papyrus 'gospel' that mentions His 'wife'.   I must include the fact that Jesus did NOT have a wife, so I wouldn't give any  credence to that 'gospel at all.  This episode focuses on  the Shroud of Turin.  

I was glad to have the opportunity for this review, because I am an affficianado of relics such as the Shroud, the Cross, etc.  One of my favorite books is 'Relics' by Joan Cruz.  And I do believe the Shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus.

I very much enjoyed the combination of re-enactment of Gospel events and documentary, parts of which are in the Holy Land.  

One point on which I differ with CNN is that I don't look at these artifacts as proving the   existence of Jesus, I believe in Him by virtue of the Gospel and His Resurrection, not because of artifacts.

Although there are points on which I differ, I found Finding Jesus well done and reverent. I look forward to the next episodes.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Movie Review: VeggieTales Noah's Ark

This is a retelling of  the story of Noah's Ark, which most of us have already heard or read. But... this version of it has a pretty cool ark :) has a little train that runs from end to end, a gym, a sauna, etc.   But despite the amenities, there a couple of veggies grumbling about being confined, especially Noah's son, Shem, who is newly married and wants to build a home.

Shem goes so far as to come up with a 'plan B', but in the end the veggies and the animals learn the most important lesson, to trust in God, and his plan.

To be honest, I enjoyed the story more than I thought I would.

This is a very entertaining story for all ages!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service - R

The Kingsman is a British secret service organization. The first part of the movie focuses on recruiting a new agent, and the six young people who are being evaluated for the position.  The two finalists are Eggsy and Roxy. (Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson).  Taron is a natural as Eggsy.  He is perfect for the role.   

The plot of Kingsman is somewhat non-sensical, but take it for what it is...just entertainment.  Valentine (Samuel Jackson) is trying to control the world, and the Kingsman must stop him.

I am not a fan of Samuel Jackson, but I have to admit I am impressed by his versatility as an actor.  The last few roles I've seen him in were quite diverse, and his role as Valentine in Kingsman is pretty unique and entertaining.

What bothered me is the frequent and gratuitous use of the F it's part of a common vocabulary. I found it disturbing and unnecessary.

In addition to language, content warnings include violence and some gore.

Overall, the action was entertaining and the gadgets are pretty cool.

The R rating is appropriate....adults may find it entertaining, but it's not for kids.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Movie Review: 23 Blast

Now on DVD

This is the story of Travis Freeman.  Travis is a promising high school football player who wakes up with a swollen eye, which turns to blindness.  His initial reaction is anger and   frustration, which seems like the same reaction most people would have, but through the support of his parents, his coach, and friends, he perseveres and resumes playing football.

I did find it inspirational, and a good example of how to face adversity, but (and here's the part where I feel foolish) I thought it unrealistic for someone who is blind to play football.  But then..... did I mention this is a TRUE story?....they showed the real Travis playing football! and I realized that we should not place limits on what others can do.  The way that Travis overcame his affliction turned out to be very motivational to me and others...particularly considering that he graduated from a theological seminary and now has more of an opportunity to inspire others.

23Blast turned out to be a blast! :)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movie Review: The Identical

This is a story of twins, one of whom is adopted as a baby.  The story focuses on Ryan Wade, the son of a preacher (Ray Liotta).   Preacher Wade wants Ryan to follow in his footsteps, but Ryan has musical ambitions, and a great Elvis-like voice.  He continues to pursue his dream, and eventually finds his identity, in more ways than one.

The main themes are being true to yourself and forgiveness.  I was also  impressed with how respectful Wade was toward his parents.  

I found the story very entertaining, and attention-grabbing....I was eager to find out how it turned out and my patience was indeed rewarded with a very fitting and appropriate ending :)

I highly  recommend The Identical!

Acting KUDO's to Ray Liotta for a  great performance, and to the make-up crew for aging him and Ashley Judd over the years.