Monday, July 06, 2009

Author Interview: Susan Chodakiewitz


Too Many Visitors for One Little House (Booksicals, 2009), written by Susan Chodakiewitz and illustrated by Veronica Walsh, is a very colorful and heartwarming children's picture book about a big family reunion in a little house. And the family's neighbors hate all of the fun going on in the reunion. In fact, they want to file a complaint at the city's complaint department! Too Many Visitors for One Little House is a very likable story about community.

Today, let us welcome the book's author, Susan Chodakiewitz. Susan is the founder of Booksicals. Booksicals not only publishes children's picture books, it brings those books to life using musical theater. There is a musical staging of Too Many Visitors for One Little House!


Susan, can you tell us a bit more about what Booksicals is and why you founded it?

I absolutely love picture books and the way they express complicated emotions and ideas in simple and whimsical ways. Years ago I decided that one day I would be a children’s book author. I put that idea on the back burner for many years as I dedicated myself to writing musical theater.

About 4 years [ago] I wrote a musical based on a picture book. This was the catalyst that started me writing my own books. Writing children’s books took over my creative activities yet I was looking for a way to combine my passion for musical theater with my love for writing picture books.

While writing Too Many Visitors for One Little House I found myself thinking up songs for the characters. This could be a musical, I thought to myself. The thought made its way to my subconscious and one morning I woke up with the word BOOKSICALS in my head. I immediately knew I had stumbled on to something very exciting.

In 2008 I launched Booksicals with the mission of encouraging a love for reading through the arts. I published Too Many Visitors for One Little House as Booksicals’ debut picture book.

In March 2009 I wrote the musical version of the book and formed the Booksicals Repertory Company which is now performing Too Many Visitors for One Little House at schools, libraries and at special literacy events.

A mom who was at the debut performance of Too Many Visitors for One Little House at the Robertson Library in Los Angeles emailed me that her 2 year old daughter begged to have Too Many Visitors read to her 4 times that night, before going to bed. This level of excitement about reading is exactly what Booksicals is setting out to accomplish.

What motivated you to write Too Many Visitors for One Little House?

Too Many Visitors for One Little House is based on the wild and crazy summer that my family moved into our new house in Beverly Hills and all these visitors came to stay.

First my sister drove in from Miami in a Bounder (the biggest camper ever made) with her husband, four kids, and housekeeper. For a surprise they brought my parents and uncle from Russia.

Then I got a call from my sister-in-law in Houston. She was getting a divorce and was moving to LA. She and the 3 kids needed a place to stay until she found a new house. She came with 3 children and a housekeeper.

My mother-in-law who had just been rehabilitated and was still in a wheel chair also moved in with us, together with her nurse that summer.

Every evening our visitors would congregate on the front lawn speaking different languages. My Russian uncle occasionally led the group in singing Russian folks songs.

Our formerly quiet little neighborhood buzzed with music, noise from children at play and the barking of a scraggly dog -- that also decided to adopt our family that summer – Our not so little house began to bust at the seams. Needless to say our neighbors became concerned and summoned the police on various occasions to check out the “suspicious activity” at the house of the new family on the block!

It took 16 years for Too Many Visitors for One Little House to finally manifest itself as a children’s picture book.

What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing Too Many Visitors for One Little House?

Roald Dahl’s book Matilda was in the back of my mind a lot while writing Too Many Visitors for One Little House. I love the tone of that book. Roald Dahl’s writing is a real inspiration to me and something I aspire to.

With a background in writing musical theater, for me, writing picture books is a lot like writing a song. The sound of the words and how they roll off the tongue is critically important in both art forms. I write, re-write and keep cutting words until the words fall on all the right beats and the sentences “sing”.

What were the challenges and rewards from writing Too Many Visitors for One Little House?

Being able to fictionalize a story that is based on true characters and events was a real challenge for me. I found that once I got the story out I felt freer to get away from the actual facts and start adding, cutting, changing and creatively crafting a good story.

I also struggled with the point of view. At first I wrote the story from the family’s point of view –- which is the way I experienced it. Various drafts later, I realized that it was really the neighbors’ story. Once I discovered that -- I had a real story arc to work with.

What I found rewarding while writing this book - and that’s true in general for writing picture books - is the challenge of being able to build a character, create a setting, develop a story arc, get from point a to point b in an emotionally rewarding way -- with few words and in a short time span. Like songwriting if accomplished – the experience is magical.

What do you want young readers to take away from Too Many Visitors for One Little House?

First of all- I want them to love the book and want to read it over and over again.

I hope they will enjoy chanting the repeating chorus “Too many visitors for one little house!” and will be excited about reading.

The picture books I loved as a child made their way into my psyche and discreetly play a part in the values I now cherish as a grown up. I would hope that readers of Too Many Visitors for One Little House will always remember the book's story and the value it teaches about [the] importance [of] being included.

What were you like as a young reader? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I grew up in Flushing, New York. During the hot summer my best friends (the three sisters who lived across the street) and I went to the Flushing Library and participated in their summer children’s reading program. We spent afternoons sitting on the stoop sucking on ice cubes and reading our books.

As a child my favorite picture books were The Cat in the Hat and Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss.

In 3rd and 4th grade I absolutely loved the Danny Dunn series especially Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine by Jay Williams, the book Charlotte's Web by E.B. White and all the Beverly Cleary books. I loved reading about the big family in Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr., and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

I came of age with the help of Francie, the main character in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.

In junior high school I loved reading the earthy writing of Pearl S. Buck.

My all time favorite book which is more of a philosophy book than a children’s picture book is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. I discovered that picture book for the first time when I was a college student. I am forever remembering the scene where the Little Prince is devastated to learn that his rose wasn’t the only one in the world. Until he realizes his was “unique au monde” because he “tamed” her.

What children's books are you reading now?

I recently read Mrs. Biddlebox by Linda Smith with illustrations by Marla Frazee, probably the best children’s picture book text I’ve read in a long time.

I wish I had written The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith.

What songs are in heavy rotation on your iPod or stereo right now?

I listen mostly to classical music and don’t own an iPod. I mostly listen to the classical music station on the radio while I drive. I enjoy going to the opera with my husband and going [to] classical music concerts. My favorite concert this month was a choral performance of Mozart’s Requiem. I took my 18 year old son and two of his friends who had never heard Mozart before. They thought the Requiem was [the] coolest thing they ever heard.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a new book about a character named Dogstoyefsky. Dogstoyefsky is a dog with a flair for writing that can’t seem to find his own artistic style despite the fact that everyone keeps trying to tell him what to do.

At the advice of my readers during an author reading in Phoenix, I decided to write a sequel to Too Many Visitors for One Little House featuring the scraggly dog [from the book] as the main character. There is only one problem. The dog does not have a name!

I am inviting readers to help me name the dog by entering the Booksicals NAME THE DOG CONTEST. The winner will get a prize, be featured on the Booksicals website as well as win a free book. To enter the contest go to http://www.booksicals.com/name-the-familys-new-dog.


If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Too Many Visitors for One Little House to be award-winning, or for Too Many Visitors for One Little House to be bestselling? Why?

My goal is to turn as many kids on to reading as possible. By encouraging children to enter the world of the book through contests, arts and crafts projects and live musical performances, I hope to expand the reading experience of a child beyond the pages of the book.

Therefore, while I would be love to win an award for Too Many Visitors for One Little House (wouldn’t that be grand?) if I had to choose one or the other, I would chose to reach as many children as possible by being a best seller.

If you were to visit the Philippines, would you a) visit white sand beaches and underground caves, go sailing, go snorkeling and scuba diving, etc.; or b) check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Why?

Besides the fact that I’m a chicken when it comes to water, I am much more of an explorer than a water sports person. Therefore, I would choose to check out the natural wonders above ground, like the Taal Volcano, the Banaue Rice Terraces, and the Chocolate Hills. Experiencing the wonders of nature fill me with religious awe.

Susan, thank you so much for stopping by to take us into the world of Booksicals! I think the combination of children's picture books, music, and theater is wonderful.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm Annie from Scottsdale, AZ. I purchased and read "Too Many Visitors For One Little House" and absolutely LOVED it!!! I related to the story, as my family experienced something just like it one summer! The author, Susan Chodakiewitz is clever, creative, insightful and very entertaining! I can't wait to read the sequel to the story and see what name is chosen for the straggly dog! I am a teacher of Music and Voice and I am planning to use the musical version of this book as a performance piece for my next musical recital. Good luck to Ms Chodakiewitz! I want to see many more books produced by "Booksicals" and authored by her!! PS...the illustrations are so happy, colorful and warming as well.

Tarie said...

Hi, Annie. :o) Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts. I think it's really cool that you teach music and voice and will have your students perform Too Many Visitors for One Little House! I wish I could watch that performance, or watch the Booksicals Repertory Company perform!

susanchodak said...

Hi Annie, I'm thrilled that you will be teaching your piano students the music to Too Many Visitors for One Little House! This is a wonderful application of the Booksicals concept-encouraging a love for reading through the arts! A creative way to expand the reading experience beyond the pages of the book! Thank you for sharing this and so glad you enjoyed the book!
Best regards,
Susan Chodakiewitz
Author
Too Many Visitors for One Little House