Book Review: Fall Ball By Peter McCarty

It is almost officially my favorite time of year. This past weekend marked the beginning of the American football season and the weather here in NYC was well-suited as it has finally started to feel like fall with its crispy wind and crackling leaves. It is time to fluff the light sweaters and patterned tights, open the windows, and dream of all the pumpkin and apple-flavored things we can make. And what better way to greet the coming of autumn, officially next week, than with a marvelously fall-themed book. This one is packed with fall, from its color palette to its title. Please enjoy Fall Ball by Peter McCarty, 2013.

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In the opening of the story, we are greeted by a dusky yellow-ish bus seemingly bursting onto the page in a whoosh of leaves. The stage is set perfectly for that “Hello September!” feeling of back-to-school, autumn harvest days. This page alone triggers my longing for school supplies and cable-knit tights. The characters eagerly peer from the windows, anxious to get home from school and back to playing.

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We see glimpses of the precious football carried by Bobby, the unofficial leader of the team and this book. His dog, Sparky, faithfully trails at his side. Bobby gives the command on when and where to meet. He informs his mom of the plans. He rallies almost all of the kids, one boy being much too preoccupied with raking leaves. And then they are ready. “Let’s play ball!”

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The action is quick as the warmly bundled kids jostle and dive for the football, but Sparky gets carried away and absconds the ball for himself. That pile of leaves, so oddly-eagerly raked by Jimmy serves as a perfect end-point for the kids to catch up to Sparky and the football.

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And then, my favorite scene happens. They are all, by name, called home. The background color of the pages changes to a dusk-like blue. And there is incredulity among the players at the audacity and the earliness of the sunset.

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And then it snows! Ha!

The rest of the book follows suit keeping the tone of childlike narration combined with a hint of nostalgia on the sidelines. We follow Bobby and Sparky back to the warmth of their home for pie, cozy pj’s, and of course – more football – watched on the television wedged between his parents. Americana at its finest. And there are even pumpkins on top of the TV!

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I go back and forth between loving and laughing at this book. I can never quite determine if it is meant to be seething with disdain or rollicking in humor over the football culture. There is that lurking sense of great sentimentality – pulling at even me who never played football, but misses those carefree days of playing in the chilly air after school and feeling rushed by the sunset.

How ever it is meant to be read – and more importantly – how children take it, I love how McCarty handles the illustrations. His characters are adorably elongated and round. Footballish really. The texture of his linework and cross-hatching are superb. The color palette balances between immensely warm in browns and reds, and a shock of cool blues as the time surprises them all, followed by the snow. It is well-paced and yet jarring. It is simple and endearing. I think it a marvelous introduction to the season of fall and a great bedtime read as it is brief and invites much snuggling in the end. So lift your mug of cider high and welcome fall in all its sporty, crispy, changing glory. Let’s play ball!

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