Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Children's Picture eBook Review and Author Interview: Isecas the Dream Cat and the New School, Written by Preston Squire, Illustrated by Dixie Albanez

Illustrations: 5.0 Stars 
Cover: 5.0 Stars
Storyline: 5.0 Stars
Total: 5.0 Stars

My Review: Sahar is from Egypt and she's shy and new to the Canadian gradeschool. When her Aunt Lodi gives her an old stuffed "Dream Cat," Sahar discovers an inner strength that surprises her.

Illustrations: Delightful, professional illustrations.

Storyline: This story of Sahar discovering her inner strength is told with a light and easy hand. Very enjoyable to read and strengthening to the elementary reader as well. I recommend this book for all elementary age readers, but in particular to those who suffer from shyness and insecurity.

Author: Preston Squire is a writer, blogger, and actor in Toronto, ON. He has always enjoyed writing about cute and cuddly characters saving the day, the world or the universe. He is thrilled to share Isecas with you and has many more stories to come. He has three children, an amazing wife, and a house cat, named Isecas.

Illustrator: Dixie Albanez is a young artist from Edmonton, AB. She graduated from the Art Institute of Burnaby in 2008, and since then has worked as a painter, graphic designer, and most recently as an illustrator for a mobile game company in her hometown. Isecas the Dream Cat has fulfilled Dixie's own dream to become an illustrator of children's literature, and she looks forward to creating art for children's books for many more years to come.

Author Interview with Preston Squire:

Valerie Harmon: How did you come up with Isecas the Dream Cat?
Preston Squire: This is going to sound strange (to some) but honestly, I didn't. I felt super inspired to write after what I can only describe as a 'God' encounter and this book (and three others) popped out. I had zero idea I was going to write about an Egyptian Dream Cat or Sahar or what would happen in the book, it just formed itself and I was as pleasantly surprised by what come out as I wrote, it was as if I was reading someone else's work instead of my own.

VH: Why did you choose to write this particular story?
PS: I never have any preconceptions going into any of the Isecas The Dream Cat stories (there's a sequel out in April and more to come) but each story deals with different struggles children go through and Isecas always helps the children to find their own way through in a very affirming way. I'd say, on a subconscious level, stories were very important to me as a child, as I struggled with anxiety and depression and books were my escape from the world, and in part, my pathway back into it. So it's always been in my heart to play that forward and to write stories for kids that would both entertain and empower and I think that does come out in everything I do.

VH: Are you shy or outgoing?
PS: I wouldn't say I'm shy (others might...) but certainly not outgoing. More of a homebody but I do love people, and love to be reading to a classroom full of kids or on stage performing for children. (elance.com

VH: What advice do you have for children who don't have a Dream Cat?
PS: While I'm sure everyone would love a Dream Cat (adults too) all Dream Cats do is show you the good that's inside of you already - faith, hope, love - for it is these things that will get your through good times and bad. But it is nice to have a Dream Cat remind us once in a while.

VH: How did you connect with your illustrator?
PS: I was very fortunately to find Dixie (Albanez - illustrator). I posted the illustration job to a eLance, a freelance job site, and Dixie was one of the many people who bid on the job. 

I loved her work, she captures emotions so well, which is so important in the Isecas stories, so we negotiated a deal. Dixie ... felt right; her enthusiasm for the book, the fact she herself was an immigrant to Canada (Like Sahar in the story), a cat lover and that it was one of her dreams to work on a children's book. I know she's feels very happy to have been able to do Isecas The Dream Cat and the New School and the upcoming Isecas The Dream Cat and The Tides of Change.

VH: What are three favorite children's books?
PS: Anything by Dr. Seuss - he makes it all look so easy and puts most of us to shame. Writing in verse is HARD. To tell a great and highly entertaining story while doing it flawlessly? Amazing. 
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain for it's bravery in facing social issues (of the time) head-on and unapologetically.
The Zen series by Jon J. Muth because although he's teaching different philosophies, he's accomplished what I one day hope to with The Dream Cats, so I find it personally inspiring.

VH: Why do you write?
PS: Sometimes I'm not sure myself. I procrastinate - a lot - on writing. I use to love to write as a child, but as an adult, writing feels like a chore. Once I'm writing though, I'm as happy as a kid in a candy shop. 
Once I finish a story I can spend months or years editing and rewriting; never feeling my work is quite 'good enough.' 
So why do I do it? Sometimes a marvelous concept will come to me and I'll want to write it down or sometimes, I'll feel inspired to write and something marvelous will come out (like Isecas). In the end, I guess I just feel an obligation to do something with them. It seems selfish to sit on a story that could be and should be out putting a smile on someone else's face. I've been thrilled by the response I've received from the Isecas the Dream Cat books so I guess I'll keep publishing the stories I've written as long as people keep enjoying reading them.

VH: What advice do you have for authors who'd like to write children's books?
PS: Do it for the love of it not for the money. 
I've been a part of children book writing groups (CANSCAIP and SCBWI) for years and have talked to dozens of traditional published children's book writers and over the last few months getting to know a lot of fellow indie authors. None can make a living out of children's book sales (except maybe Robert Munsch and Paulette Bourgeois who I haven't met personally). They all have other jobs / income (school visits, teaching writing courses are common). 
I was just reading one indie writer's blog, he's got over 100 titles out (some Amazon 'best-sellers'), and still can't make a living off it. 
I'm not trying to dissuade people from writing. Please do! Just write because you have a beautiful story that's dying to be told in your heart, then be prepared to work at revision, revision, revision because children's books are harder to write than you'd think and then let it go off into the world. 
Every smile you put on a child's lips is reward enough. Money is a bonus. Or to put it another way, if your goal is financial gain, you'll soon be discouraged and quit, but if you do it for the love of it, and treat it like a business not a hobby, then you'll find a way to make it into a lifestyle.

VH: Do you have any funny stories of how you got to where you are?
PS: What's funny (funny - odd, not funny - haha) is that I've had these Isecas stories for a decade and am only now getting around to telling them, because I didn't have the faith and confidence in myself, even though Isecas teaches that so eloquently in these books. 

VH: What are your three favorite books?
PS: I read almost entirely non-fiction but the three that were most memorable to me (thus far):

The Lord of the Rings (trilogy), by J.R.R. Tolkien which really took world building to a whole new level for me. Tolkien had created such a rich and vibrant world full of it's own history, cultures, languages, it really captured my imagination. I hope to meet and surpass that accomplishment one day. 

Awaken the Giant Within, by Anthony Robbins because it had a huge impact on my early adult life. 

Fellowship of the Talisman, by Clifford D. Simak - which I loved as a child, and because there aren't enough stories with griffin's in them.

VH: Who influences your writing?
PS: My fellow writers in my writing group (thanks to Marsha Skrypuch for including me in hers) certainly help shape the final product but I can't say my writing is directly influenced by anyone. No doubt a little bit of a lot of authors I've read over the years work their way in though.

VH: What would you tell children who read your book?
PS: If you only knew how wonderful you really are, and how important your role is in this world (mostly when you grow up) then 99% of the things 'wrong' in your life would instantly disappear because you'd already know you can handle them, work your way through them or overcome them and make this world a better place.

For more information on Squire and his Isecas books, check out his book website.

~Reviewed by Valerie Harmon

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