Thursday, July 30, 2009

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

The 42 students (21 boys and 21 girls) of Third Year Class B, Shiroiwa Junior High School, in Shiroiwa Town, Kagawa Prefecture, the Republic of Greater East Asia, are normal fifteen-year-olds. They worry about school, they love spending time with their friends, they enjoy sports, and they are crazy about their crushes. But their fascist government is not "normal." In fact, it is cruel - very, very cruel. Every year, the government of the Republic of Greater East Asia randomly selects fifty third-year junior high school classes and forces them to participate in a battle simulation program. The students of Third Year Class B in Shiroiwa Junior High School think that they are on a study trip, but they have actually been selected to take part in the program. The class is drugged and brought to an abandoned island where they are forced to play a game. The game really only has one rule: Kill each other until only one survivor is left.

Each player in the game is provided with a limited supply of food and water, a map of the island, a compass, a watch, and a weapon that has been randomly assigned. The weapons include different kinds of guns and different kinds of knives. But some of the "weapons" turn out to be things like darts complete with a dart board, a banjo, and... a fork. If the players refuse to fight each other, or if they try to escape the island, the metal collars that have been placed around their necks will explode and instantly kill them. They must kill or be killed.

The prize for the "winner" of the game: He or she can go home and live. Also, he or she gets a lifetime pension and an autographed card from the Great Dictator. The official reason for the game: Research purposes / it is the country's special conscription system.

Is this a violent story? Yes, it is. Here is an excerpt:

The slashing sound Megumi heard sounded like a lemon being cut.

It was a nice sound. The knife must have been really sharp and the lemon fresh, the way they are on television cooking shows, as in, "Today, we'll be cooking lemon salmon."

It took her a few seconds to realize what had occurred.

Megumi saw Mitsuko's right hand. On the left side under her chin. Her hand held a gently curved, banana-shaped blade that reflected dully against the flashlight beam. It was a sickle - the kind used to harvest rice. And now its tip was stuck in Megumi's throat....

Her left hand clutching the back of Megumi's head, Mitsuko dug the sickle in further. It made another crunching noise.

Ladies and gentlemen, that is Battle Royale. When I started reading it, I was in a daze. Like the students, I couldn't believe what was happening. As the students' uncertainty, fear, and suspicions grew, so did mine. I was horrified. And I realized with even more horror that I couldn't stop reading. Even though at first I thought I wouldn't be able to stomach what I was reading, I read on because of hope for a happy ending and for the survivor, interest in the lives of each student (there are plenty of flashback scenes), and morbid curiosity about how each student would die. Then together the characters and I slowly realized with dismay that we were getting desensitized to all the violence.

The beginning and ending of Battle Royale are action-packed because so many students are dying in those parts. In contrast, the middle of the novel seems a bit boring because the students are hiding from each other and those who have teamed up are just talking. But always, always there is an ominous tension.

There is an important character who gets into unrealistic situations. A couple of parts in the story are predictable. And there are several typos in the book (bad proofreading!). But this is good stuff. Battle Royale is about trust and paranoia. It is about how life and death situations bring out the brightest parts of human nature as well as the darkest parts. It is about a totalitarian government and fighting that government. But above all, Battle Royale is about entertaining readers.

[Battle Royale was originally published in Japanese in 1999. My copy of the book is a borrowed copy from a friend. (Thank you, April!) It was published by Gollancz (an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group) in the UK in 2007. The English translation is by Yuji Oniki.]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dear Bloomsbury Children's USA

My letter to Bloomsbury Children's USA:

I am writing to express my shock, disappointment, and outrage over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's latest novel, Liar.

I think you made a huge mistake choosing a White cover model to represent a character who is Black. Liar is marketed to young readers. What kind of message are you trying to send to them with this cover? That there is something wrong with the fact that many of them do not have white skin? That those of them who are not White do not matter? That there is something wrong with being Black? Shame on you.

What made this entire matter worse was the lame excuse offered by your editor Melanie Cecka. Yes, the main character of the book is a compulsive liar, but Ms. Larbalestier has made it clear that the character was not lying about her race. And even if she had been lying about her race, why automatically assume that she is White? She could have been Latina. She could have been Asian. She could have been Native American. She could have been so many other things. Why choose a White girl for the cover?

Ah, yes. Because you think that books with people of color on the cover don't sell. If this is true, why aren't you doing something to change it by offering beautiful and irresistible book covers with people of color?

I will not buy any books from Bloomsbury Children's USA until this mistake has been rectified. Change the cover of Liar. Apologize to the public instead of giving lame excuses.

I am so disgusted.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Horrid Henry Books by Francesca Simon

The Horrid Henry books written by Francesca Simon and illustrated by Tony Ross (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2009) are great bedtime stories. Each book holds four short stories, each story being the perfect length to read to your child before bedtime. That is, of course, unless your child begs for more. Which I can definitely imagine happening. :o)

The stories are about the pranks of Henry, a boy so mischievous and so troublesome that his parents call him "horrid" and even pretend sometimes that he is not theirs. Every morning, Henry wakes up his little brother by pouring water on his head. Henry stinkbombs girls. Henry ruins his classmates' school projects. The list goes on and on. These stories are not laugh-out-loud funny to me, but they are definitely funny, and I bet they are laugh-out-loud funny to children. It's the illustrations that are laugh-out-loud funny to me. I love the illustrations in these early chapter books.

There are many, many Horrid Henry books, but the ones I have read are Horrid Henry, Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy, Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine, and Horrid Henry's Stinkbomb. My favorite out of the four is Horrid Henry Tricks the Tooth Fairy. In it Henry tries his darnedest to lose a tooth and get money from the tooth fairy, sabotages his cousin's wedding, gets rid of a house guest called Moody Margaret, and sends a new teacher screaming out the classroom before lunch break is over. These stories stood out for me because Henry's shenanigans in them are especially clever and entertaining.

There are times Henry's plans are foiled. But many times he gets his way, and as a reader I find those times the most satisfying. You see, I was a good little girl. (Whaaat? Don't look at me that way. I was! I was practically an angel! *flaps her wings*) The Horrid Henry books allow me to be naughty vicariously. I have a feeling other good little boys and girls will feel the same way. Also, you can't help but root for Henry. At first he shocks with his behavior. Then you realize that Henry isn't really that horrid. He's just a normal boy and he becomes endearing.

[My copies of the Horrid Henry books are from the publisher.]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Author/Illustrator Interview: Peter Brown

Woohoo! I am excited about our guest today, Peter Brown, the author and illustrator of The Curious Garden (Little, Brown Young Readers, April 2009). Check out that picture of Peter up a tree. Isn't it amazing? I love that picture.

The Curious Garden is the inspiring story of a curious boy named Liam who discovers a few scraggly plants on an abandoned railway. Liam lives in a city devoid of nature and color, so he decides to nurture the plants. Soon the plants grow into a very pretty garden. The garden is curious like Liam, so it decides to spread and explore the rest of the railway. The garden's curiosity doesn't stop there. With the help of Liam and more "gardeners," the garden spreads throughout and explores the rest of the city, turning the city into a truly wondrous place. The plants end up covering almost everything!

I love how The Curious Garden celebrates beauty in nature and how it encourages both big and small readers to try to make a difference - to try to make the world a better place. But what really impresses me about the book are the illustrations. There are bright spring colors and really interesting shapes and details. The illustrations of the garden lovingly taking over the cityscape are stirring. My favorite illustration in the book is of Liam all grown up and with his own family. The first tree Liam tended on the railway has grown along with Liam and Liam is tending it while his family is tending the rest of the original garden patch.

Peter has kindly answered my questions and shared pictures of himself and sketches for and final illustrations from The Curious Garden. For more illustrations from the book, please check out this post from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Peter's website. And you really must check out the book itself. It's lovely and charming.

I think this is the most number of questions I've ever asked an author or illustrator for a blog interview. Thank you so much, Peter! I just couldn't help myself. I was... curious. :o)

I hope you all enjoy my interview of Peter! Here it is:

What was your path to publication as an author/illustrator for children?

I've been drawing and dreaming up stories since I learned how to hold a pencil. For a while I thought I wanted to work in animation, which would also involve storytelling and making art. But when I was in art school at Art Center College of Design, I realized that I'd have more creative freedom making children's books. And so I've been focused on kids books ever since.

When I moved to New York City in 2002 I began working on my idea for a picture book about flightless birds finding a way to fly. And around that time I was fortunate enough to meet a great children's book editor named Alvina Ling. Alvina loved my idea, helped me get Flight of the Dodo published at Little, Brown and Co., and has been my editor ever since.

What is your creative process when writing and illustrating a children's book? And what are your chosen mediums?

Every book I make comes about in a unique way. But usually I start with a little nugget of an idea, a few words, or a quick sketch. If I can't stop thinking about that idea, and if I find myself adding to it more and more, I know that I've got something. I'll usually go back and forth between planning the overarching theme of the story, and writing down specific details, and designing characters or scenes. The words will inform my sketches, the sketches will inform my words, and slowly but surely the words and pictures will start to look like a picture book. Once I feel good about it, I'll share it with my editor who will help me polish it off. When we've agreed on the words and sketches for each illustration, I'll use Photoshop to create color studies for each illustration. Eventually I'll sit down to paint the final illustrations and I'll have the sketches and color studies to use as reference. I usually paint the final art with acrylic paint, but I'm starting to use pencil drawings and Photoshop on some new projects.

{sketch for meadow illustration in The Curious Garden}

{final sketch for meadow illustration}

{color study for meadow illustration}

{final meadow illustration in The Curious Garden}

What motivates, inspires, and influences you as an author/illustrator for children?

Motivation is a funny thing...there are times when I'm motivated 24 hours a day, and then there will be whole months when I just don't feel like creating much of anything. But overall, I'm motivated by the idea that one of my books could be part of a child's journey to falling in love with reading. The world needs more voracious readers! Inspiration is also unpredictable, but I always find inspiration at art museums, or beautiful natural settings, or places with lots of fascinating history. I sometimes find inspiration in things as simple as scraggly wildflowers growing from the cracks in a sidewalk, or memories from my childhood, or a particularly quirky personality. Lately I've been inspired by kids themselves.

My writing and ideas are most influenced by unique and wondrous and humorous stories, like those of Hayao Miyazaki or Roald Dahl or James Marshall. My art is very much influenced by folk art, illustration from the 1950's and '60's, and 3D animation.

Why did you write The Curious Garden? What's "the story behind the story"?

The Curious Garden was very much inspired by a place in New York City called the High Line. The High Line is an old abandoned, elevated railway that has become completely overgrown by wildflowers and plants and trees. They've just turned it into a spectacular park, but I first fell in love with it when it was untouched and wild. I began discovering other places similar to the High Line in cities all over the United States and Europe. I loved the idea that nature could spontaneously grow in unexpected places, like in the middle of a "concrete jungle." And imagined what a young city boy would do if he discovered wildflowers and plants growing in the middle of his grey, dreary city.

What do you want young readers to take away from The Curious Garden?

More than anything, I want kids to feel a sense of wonder and amazement with nature. I want them to imagine a world where people and nature lived more harmoniously, and to realize that such a world is possible.

How do you handle any criticism about your work? How do you handle praise for your work?

It can sometimes be frustrating hearing criticism of my work, but that's usually because the critic hasn't put much thought into their comments. A thoughtful criticism is a valuable thing, even if it's negative. But a thoughtless criticism doesn't help anybody. On the other hand, hearing someone say "I love your book" is always nice, but I'd rather have a thoughtful explanation as to why that person loves my work. I think most artists (even silly ones like me) just want their work to be taken seriously, regardless of what people think of it.

What is your favorite response to The Curious Garden from a critic? What is your favorite response to The Curious Garden from a young reader?

Well, the New York Times called it "quietly marvelous," which was incredible. The most important critics, of course, are the kids who read my books. I've received a lot of wonderful responses from kids, but I guess one that sticks out in my head was from a boy in Seattle who said "Now I see Curious Gardens everywhere!"

The Curious Garden is available in bookstores in Asia! How do you feel about the book being read in different parts of the world? Was having international readers one of your dreams when you started writing and illustrating for children?

I LOVE the idea that my books are available in other countries and in other languages. I hope that my books are universal enough to appeal to kids in a wide variety of cultures. I could have easily designed The Curious Garden to be an "American" or "New York City" book, but I thought people outside of the US might also enjoy it. So I made sure the story took place in an unspecific place and time.

Do you have your own garden? What plants do you have in it?

I have a very small "garden" on my windowsills in my Brooklyn apartment. I have a basil plant (I love cooking with basil) and a jade plant, and some kind of palm tree, and several other mysterious plants. It's not much, but it helps add life and color to my apartment. I look forward to someday having a yard where I can design my very own garden.

What is your strongest memory from when you were Liam's age?

I grew up near Princeton, New Jersey, in a lovely rural area. I spent a lot of time playing in the fields and woods. Deep in the woods, my friends and I discovered a stream, with little waterfalls and frogs and fish and crustaceans. We felt like it was OUR stream! We went there every chance we could. Sometimes we'd race through the woods to the stream, and once we got there we'd just sit quietly on the big log that stretched across the water. I wish every child had the chance to find comfort and peace and adventure in a natural setting like that forest stream.

What children's books would you like your own books to match or surpass (in terms of writing, illustrations, impact/influence, popularity/sales, or awards)?

I actually don't think I'd want to surpass my favorite books, but it'd be an honor to have my work compared to them. As an adult, some of my favorite children's books are: Where the Wild Things Are, The Stinky Cheese Man, the George and Martha books, the Toot and Puddle books...I could name many favorites.

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

As a young reader I liked adventure and fantasy and mystery and humor. Some of my favorite children's books were: Where the Wild Things Are, Green Eggs and Ham, the Frog and Toad books, James Marshall's books, Richard Scarry's books and Golden Books.

Do you have new favorite children's books/authors as an adult?

I now love the books of Emily Gravett, Brian Floca, a French children's book called Big Rabbit's Bad Day, and the books of Oliver Jeffers.

What children's books are you reading now?

I'm about to finally read the last book in the Harry Potter series. Then I'll read The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. I'm always looking at new picture books in stores and libraries, too many to name.

What were you like as a young artist?

My grandfather was an amateur painter. So at a young age I would see him hunched over his desk painting abstract landscapes, and I realized that making art was a fine use of one's time. I loved inventing characters. I would take a big sheet of paper and divide it up into six boxes. In each box I would draw a different monster, alien or other bizarre creature. And below each creature I'd list their name, favorite food, hometown, personal motto, etc. I had a lot of fun imagining all the details of those characters and the worlds they lived in, and now I do the same thing for my career.

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

John Burningham's variety of techniques and materials work together seamlessly. Holly Hobbie makes her gorgeous watercolors look effortless. W. W. Denslow's quirky designs and drawing style are an inspiration. I love Anthony Browne's compositions, drawing style and use of pattern. Lisbeth Zwerger is a master of composition and design. Alice and Martin Provensen's flat painting style is comforting and beautiful. Mary Blair's sense of color is uncanny.

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?

I would want to do ALL of those things! But since I get bad sunburns, I would probably prefer to stay away from the beach and instead explore volcanoes, rice terraces and hills. I do love mountains and forests.

Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Be Curious!!!

Thank you again, Peter! I learned so much from your answers and the photos and art you shared. You are awesome.

Yes folks, I'm a fangirl. :o)


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Author Interview: Kim Wayans and Kevin Knotts

Today's interview is a real kick for me. I grew up watching the comedy TV show In Living Color, starring the Wayans family. That show was HILARIOUS. And I am still a really big fan of the Wayans family. I don't think any other performers make me laugh as hard!

When I found out through Twitter that Kim Wayans and her husband Kevin Knotts had written a children's book series called Amy Hodgepodge, about the life of a fourth grader, I was immediately intrigued. When I found out that the main character of the series, Amy Hodges, was Japanese, Korean, African American, and Caucasian, I nearly fell off my chair. How exciting!

I've asked Kim and Kevin some questions about Amy Hodgepodge and they were very kind to answer. Below is our interview via email. I hope you all get a kick out of it too!

When did you decide to write the Amy Hodgepodge books? Where did you get the idea for the books? And is there a particular reason you made the main character, Amy Hodges, Japanese, African American, Korean, and Caucasian?

We first decided to write the Amy Hodgepodge books about 2 years ago. It took us about a year to get a book deal, and get to writing. The first book in the series, "All Mixed Up" came out last May, and four more titles have followed. We're blessed to be the Aunt and Uncle to thirty-eight nieces and nephews, many of whom are multiracial children; they were our inspiration. It was important to us that Amy's racial background reflect as much diversity as possible, so that all children could see themselves in her. That's why we chose to make her African-American, Caucasian, Japanese and Korean. The other characters in the series reflect a wide range of races and ethnicities, as well.

What was your creative process for the books? How exactly did you divide the writing?

Kevin and I have written together for many years now, starting with a stint on the ABC sitcom "My Wife and Kids." We pretty much have our writing process down to a science: After we come up with the idea for the book, we do a detailed outline, then proceed to talk out loud our story. I'm the transcriber, so I hand write everything longhand before we input it in the computer. I also enjoy acting out the story as we go...It sometimes drives my husband crazy, but that's my process; I'm a performer first!

What influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) did you draw from while writing the books?

A huge source of inspiration are stories lifted from the lives of my nieces and nephews, and also from our own childhoods.

You are both also actors. How did your acting affect your writing for children and/or vice versa?

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I enjoy acting out the story as we write. That includes doing distinct character and voices for each of Amy's friends. It makes it easier to determine if what we're writing is working when I create the visual for us to see during the process.

What were the challenges and rewards from writing the Amy Hodgepodge books?

Amy has six core friends in this series. It's often a challenge to ensure each character has something to do in each storyline. Often, we give the boy characters their own b story, which makes this a little easier to achieve. The biggest reward by far, is visiting schools and libraries and hearing the overwhelmingly positive feedback from children about the Amy Hodgepodge series. Just knowing that we've provided these wonderful role-models is so uplifting.

What do you want young readers to take away from the books?

The Amy series promotes tolerance in a fun and entertaining way. We want children to celebrate diversity in themselves and in others. It's cool to be different!

What are some of your favorite experiences from signings, interviews, and other promotional activities for Amy Hodgepodge?

A lot of times at readings and signings children will identify directly with the character that looks most like them. Often kids excitedly exclaim, "I'm Amy. Amy looks like me!" or "Rusty looks just like me!" It's so important for all children to see positive images of themselves in children's literature because it helps to foster self-esteem. If you don't see yourself reflected back at you, you get the message you don't count, or you're invisible. Those are not healthy messages to send to children.

What children's books would you like your own work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact, popularity, or awards)?

We're really not into comparing our series to other existing ones. We just hope our Amy Hodgepodge audience continues to grow, thereby allowing us to expand the property into a cartoon and perhaps a line of dolls or toys. Who knows. The sky's the limit!

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Amy Hodgepodge to be award-winning, or for Amy Hodgepodge to be bestselling? Why?

We'd rather Amy Hodgepodge be a bestseller. Awards are great, but they are usually given by a very small committee. A bestseller would mean that more than a few choice folks decided our book series was worthy, and that the beautiful message of the series was reaching a very broad audience.

What kind of young readers were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

We were both voracious readers. I'd get lost in dreamland reading books for hours at time. Both of us were profoundly affected by E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web." And I was a huge fan of the "Pippi Longstocking" series. I do, however, remember wishing she had a friend that looked like me. Another fav for both of us was "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

What are your strongest or favorite memories from when you were Amy Hodges' age?

Kevin grew up on a ranch in Oklahoma. Some of his fondest memories are of fishing at the lake, camping in the great outdoors, and going to see the Oklahoma Sooners' football games. When I was Amy's age, I was writing my first collection of children stories, which my teacher, Mrs. Clark, would have me read to the lower grades. Around that time, I also started honing my performing skills, appearing in school plays and dance recitals whenever possible.

Do you have a message for your readers in Asia?

Yes! Thank you so much for reading Amy Hodgepodge. Please spread the word to family, friends, teachers and librarians!

Thank you so much, Kim and Kevin!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Author/Illustrator Interview: Anne Sibley O'Brien

We're in for a real special treat today! Today, I have the honor and great pleasure of interviewing Anne Sibley O'Brien, an American author/illustrator who creates multicultural children's books.

Anne Sibley O'Brien was raised bilingual and bicultural in South Korea (as the daughter of medical missionaries). She has received the National Education Association’s Author-Illustrator Human and Civil Rights Award for her work with Margy Burns Knight, TALKING WALLS and other books; the Africana Award for AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY by Margy Burns Knight and Mark Melnicove; and the Aesop Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and the Global Korea Award for THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG: THE ROBIN HOOD OF KOREA, a graphic novel she wrote and illustrated. Her latest book is AFTER GANDHI: 100 YEARS OF NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE, which she illustrated and co-wrote with her son, Perry. (Click here for a complete list of Anne's work.)

Anne is involved in diversity education and leadership training. She is also a performer and has created a one-woman show entitled “White Lies: one woman’s quest for release from the enchantment of whiteness” ( She lives with her husband in Maine, and is the mother of two grown children.

Welcome, Anne!

What was it like growing up an American in Korea? Do you remember the culture shock you experienced when you first moved to Korea? Did you experience culture shock again when you moved back to the U.S.?

Memories of my earlier years are fuzzy, but from the time I turned seven and we left New Hampshire to move to Korea, it's as if someone turned on a video camera - I have a continuous set of images of this most definitive event in my life. I'm sure that there was considerable adjustment for me as a young child, losing one world and encountering a completely new culture and country, but children take their cues from their parents, and mine framed the whole thing as a grand adventure. In moving to Korea to serve as medical missionaries, they were both fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Our family - my parents, my two brothers, my baby sister and I - arrived in Seoul in 1960, seven years after the end of the Korean War and the partitioning of the peninsula into North and South Korea. It was a difficult time as people struggled to recover from the devastation and figure out how to survive in its aftermath. We often saw young children dressed in rags, begging on the streets. Over the twenty years that it was home, we witnessed the miracle of South Korea's development and modernization to become one of the world's most industrialized nations, which instead of increasing the gap between rich and poor, actually benefited all of the country's citizens. So the Korea I knew as a child was dramatically different from the country I lived in as a young adult, and the country I visit today - the changes are just so fantastic.

Growing up as an American in 1960's Korea was kind of like being a princess. South Koreans were deeply grateful to the U.S. for its role in the war; at the time it was probably the most pro-American country in the world. There were few foreigners and we were extraordinarily privileged and visible. When I went to the market or anywhere in public, I attracted a crowd of children and adults who were fascinated by how different I looked: my light brown hair (like "gold!"), my large round eyes, my big nose, my height. But the attention was so friendly, so full of awe and wonder, that it became the catalyst for my own passion for human difference and connection.

In their dream, my parents had envisioned working side-by-side with Koreans as colleagues, so they were dismayed to discover that missionaries in 1960 were housed in turn-of-the-century three-storey brick houses up on hills, on compounds surrounded by barbed wire. The second significant thing that happened, after moving to Korea, was my parents' choice to live in a Korean house, which they managed by the time I was nine. That changed everything about our relationships with Koreans, some of whom became dear friends and extended family. I also had a number of experiences of total immersion in Korean life and language, including a year at a Korean university, so I became - and remain - bilingual and bicultural.

Growing up in Korea meant belonging to a place I did not belong, being of a place I was not from, being welcomed and loved by people who were not "my" people. Somehow, culture shock and the sense of dislocation always felt more intense when I returned to the U.S., to the place I supposedly belonged, to the place I was from, to "my" people.

(Seoul, July 1960 - Anne's 8th birthday with friends)

What are some of your strongest memories from when you were living in Korea?

- Falling in love with Korea's culture and traditions: the graciousness and generosity with which guests are welcomed; the brilliantly-colored designs on the underside of palace or Buddhist temple roofs; the charming and cunning cast of animals animating folk stories and folk art - dragons, rabbits, tigers, goblins, magpies; the bold colors and graceful sweep of the traditional hanbok, with its long skirt and half-moon-sleeved top; the love of children and reverence for elders.

- Sleeping on a thick padded quilt on the floor, heated in winter, with another heavy quilt over me, my body toasty, cool air on my face. Eating meals - Korean rice and side dishes, American stew or spaghetti, or a mix - seated on cushions around a low table.

- Family vacations with Korean friends spent enjoying the country's natural beauty: tall twisted pines along a rocky seacoast, terraced rice fields climbing a hill, mist enveloping the base of craggy peaks. Eating picnics of kim-bap - rice, egg and vegetables wrapped in seaweed - and cucumber sandwiches, seated on the large flat boulders beside a mountain stream, in between wading or swimming in the deep pools of icy water.

- Navigating between worlds: riding through Korean streets in the LandRover that took us to school where we studied an American curriculum in English (at an international school founded by missionaries in Seoul, and a military dependent school on an Army base in Taegu); or walking up the alley steps past makeshift shacks and an open sewer, then through the compound gates to play with missionary friends in the ease and beauty of their lawns and gardens.

(Anne in Taegu, 1963)

- My favorite after-school activity in 5th and 6th grade: playing with the babies in the children's wing of the hospital where my father worked, where they'd been sent for medical care from area orphanages. The short-staffed caretakers were happy to have extra hands. When I'd walk into the room where a dozen or so older babies and toddlers lay in metal cribs, every one would stand up and hold up their arms to me. (I tried to get my mother to adopt some or all of them, but had to wait twenty-five years to fulfill that dream, when my husband and I brought our adopted daughter home.)

(Revisiting Korea, June 2009 - Anne with her daughter Yunhee)

- The summer before my senior year of high school, our family moved with Korean colleagues to a rural southern island to set up an experimental project in the delivery of medical care directed by my father, the Kojedo Community Health Project. The island was an unspoiled gem of hilly peninsulas jutting out into waterways and bays, with no electricity or paved roads in the northern end where we set up camp. My friends were the village girls who trained as nurses' aides. I worked there for two and a half of the eight years the project ran. (I just returned there last month for the first time in thirty-two years, and the island now has highways, high-rise apartments, and two of the world's largest shipyards! But many of my friends were still there.)

(June 2009 - Kojedo homecoming with Jum-soon and Kum-ja, former nurses' aides)

Those are truly wonderful memories, Anne. :o)

What kind of young reader were you? What were your favorite books? Who were your favorite authors?

I loved books. Probably my three favorite things were people, drawing and reading.

I have a vivid memory from when I was eight, living in Seoul, and my mother, brothers and I caught a lingering virus that kept us bed-ridden for weeks. A woman who called herself the Story Lady came to visit with a pillowcase of books over her shoulder. Magical.

Once or twice a year, we got to order used books from a church warehouse in the States. We checked them off on a master list, mailed off the order, then waited months for the package to be delivered by sea mail to discover whether or not we'd gotten the ones we'd wanted. Books were precious.

My mother read to us a lot, classics like WIND IN THE WILLOWS, WINNIE THE POOH, the NARNIA books and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. We had an extensive library of marvelous picture books like BLUEBERRIES FOR SAL, Taro Yashima's UMBRELLA, and the delightful Little Golden books illustrated by Eloise Wilkins.

I was a romantic child, and I loved books about babies, princesses and fairies - an antique book I got from the order service called JIJI LOU, about a doll who makes a home for abandoned baby dolls; BABY ISLAND; FLOWER FAIRIES; THE GOLDEN BOOK OF FAIRY TALES illustrated by Adrienne Segur. In junior high, my favorite book was a fairy tale, TATSINDA by Elizabeth Enright, with pictures by Irene Haas, who became one of my favorite illustrators. As a teenager, I loved the novels of Madeleine L'Engle (especially the Austin books) and Katherine Paterson's novels set in Asia.

How has growing up in Korea molded you as a person?

Aside from being born into my family of origin, growing up in Korea was the single most formative event of my life. I was seven years old, that time in development when a child is moving from sensing oneself as the center of the universe to having a look around at the rest of the world, so it had a huge impact.

The greatest gift is the certainty that we are all connected, that all human beings belong to each other as members of one family. I think I sensed this as a young child, but it was confirmed by the direct experience of being embraced by people who were different from me, yet claimed me as their own. My early experiences were the inspiration for my desire to explore the glory of human difference, to portray racial and cultural particularity in such a way that we can all see the beauty of other ways of being.

Having the reference points of two often contrasting languages and cultures is wonderfully mind- and heart-expanding.

I've also exercised my mind and heart working at the puzzles of race, economic class, and privilege. All the attention I got as a child for my visible difference made me intensely aware of my own race, which is an unusual perspective for a white American. When I came back to the States for college, my culture shock propelled me into an exploration of racism and whiteness that has became a lifelong passion.

What was your path to publication as an author/illustrator for children?

I started off as an illustrator. By the time I finished my studio art major at Mount Holyoke College and moved back to Korea, I was leaning towards children's book illustration as my chosen art form. In 1978, just married and living in the States, I set up a course, "Writing & Illustrating Children's Books," taught by Eric Carle, for the teacher-community center in western Massachusetts where I worked. During that wonderful series of classes, I decided that this was exactly what I wanted to do, even if it took ten years to break in (I would have been astonished to know that it would take seven).

I put together an illustration portfolio and over the next seven years, took it around to art directors and editors at New York and Boston publishers, attended conferences, and used what I learned to keep improving my work. Finally, in 1985, I was in the right place at the right time, when an editor told me he wanted to publish a series of board books on toddler conflicts. As the mother of a two-year-old son, I was primed and ready to respond. Holt Rinehart published the first set of four, which I wrote and illustrated, in 1985, the second set a year later (all long out of print, but still sometimes found in libraries).

In between, I illustrated my first picture book, JAMAICA'S FIND, by Juanita Havill. Nine books in eighteen months!! Then three long years went by before my next contract, another JAMAICA book. During that fallow time, I started to take my writing much more seriously, first in order to develop manuscripts that I could illustrate, then for its own sake.

(Anne's daughter Yunhee was the model for Brianna)

What inspires and motivates you to write and illustrate for children?

By the time I was seven, I was announcing to the world that I was going to be an artist when I grew up. I drew constantly - filling sketchbooks, doodling all over my math papers, trading sketches of babies for American candy from my Army kid classmates. Those early picture books were an inspiration - I loved illustrations of people's faces, which was also my favorite thing to draw.

In fourth grade, I used to write stories for fun after school, making up the kind of families I wished I lived in - with lots and lots of children, not just four.

At Mount Holyoke, where the art department was exclusively fine arts, it became clear that I was more drawn to applied arts, and my advisor gave me a piece of wisdom: "The task is to find work that sustains you, that you can sustain."

To this day, most of the ideas I have for creative projects come in a form that works for young people, though they cover the spectrum from board books to young adult novels. "I get paid to write stories and make pictures," I tell groups of schoolchildren. "Isn't that a cool job?" I'm blessed to say that, so far, my work sustains me, and I can sustain it.

What is your creative process when you are writing and/or illustrating a book?

I always hold this intention for my creative process: "I will listen, receive impulse, and follow it through response into form." My working principle is that everything has more substance and power when it comes through me rather than is directed by me. I hope to let images and ideas rise up from the unconscious rather than being consciously produced.

In concrete terms, when I'm illustrating a book I start with very rough thumbnails, then move to storyboard and dummy, often cycling through this process several times before reaching final illustrations. If I'm also writing the picture book, it may move from text to images back to text, in any order. Each book seems to have its own unique journey, its own needs.

When I'm writing longer manuscripts, I never move through the story in a line from beginning through middle to ending. Instead, I write whatever scene feels lively, wherever the energy is moving. I can juggle many projects at a time when I'm working on them informally, but not once I'm on a schedule, limited by a deadline. I always think that when I'm doing final illustrations, I could also be working on revising a novel on the side, but it never seems to work out that way. Apparently, I can only work intensively in one medium at a time.

How has growing up in Korea influenced your writing and illustrating for children?

In addition to all the ways I've mentioned, it's provided source material for a number of my books - THE PRINCESS AND THE BEGGAR (Scholastic 1993, out of print) and THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG: THE ROBIN HOOD OF KOREA, plus a forthcoming book I illustrated, WHAT WILL YOU BE, SARA MEE? (Charlesbridge 2010) by Kate Aver Avraham, about a Korean-American first birthday, and four of my current projects.

THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG, a hero tale in graphic novel form, is my most decorated book, receiving the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award, the Aesop Award, and the Global Korea Award, and named to Booklist's "Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth 2007."

(The Smithsonian, May 2007 - Readers' theater presentation of THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG, photo by James DiLoreto)

(ALA, June 2007 - Anne signing books after the ceremony for the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature)

What are the challenges and rewards of being an author/illustrator for children?

The biggest challenge for me is the sustaining part - economically, that is. I often say that the finances are as creative as the work. I put together a living (and I'm incredibly lucky to actually be able to do this) from advances, royalties, school visits, other writing and illustrating gigs like emergent readers, and other bits and pieces of income. Of course there are creative challenges with the work itself, each book seeming to present its own new set, but that's what makes it worth doing: it's not easy.

The rewards include: doing work I love; having the freedom of a totally varied and flexible work schedule which I am in charge of; going to work in my pajamas; getting paid to dream and imagine and play as well as write, draw and paint; being part of a creative team with editors, art directors, marketing people; interacting with audiences of young people and adults, some of whom have read my books(!); connecting with other children's book creators; royalties, still coming, even on one book published twenty-four years ago; and having a really cool response when people ask, "What do you do?"

Can you tell us a bit about your book tours, school visits, or workshops?

I'm an extrovert and a performer, so the presentation part of book marketing is fun for me. I've done hundreds of school visits across the U.S. over the last twenty-five years. I do between fifteen and thirty days per year, I'd guess, mostly K-5, but sometimes middle school and occasionally high school classes.

Programs include joint author-illustrator presentations with Margy Burns Knight for TALKING WALLS and our other books, and solo visits as the illustrator of the JAMAICA books (author Juanita Havill lives in Arizona, but we did manage one week of joint school visits this year) or talking about creating THE LEGEND OF HONG KIL DONG: THE ROBIN HOOD OF KOREA. I also do specific content workshops such as "Composing Comics: The Power of the Frame," "Visual Literacy," and "From the Heart: Illustrating Across Cultures."

I appear at conferences, writers' workshops, and events such as the Kennedy Center Multicultural Book Festival; spend a week each summer as the Creative Writing teacher at a Korean cultural camp in New Jersey; and have twice presented at my high school, Seoul Foreign School in Korea. I'd love to do more international schools.

There's lots more information about appearances, including some of the programs I offer and a complete list of the schools I've visited over the last three years, at my website,

What are some of your favorite experiences from your book tours, school visits, or workshops?

Just a few:

- Looking out at a roomful of children - all those beautiful faces!

- Who knew you could fascinate entire classrooms of American fourth and fifth graders with 15th century Korean history, including the invention of the Korean alphabet?

- Hearing students say as a program is ending that all they want to do is go write or draw.

- Connecting with Korean-American students - I start speaking in Korean and they nearly fall out of their chairs.

More thoughts about school visits and programs at my blog, "Coloring Between the Lines," (

Readers, check out Anne's blog! On it, Anne looks at issues of race and culture in relation to creating and using children's literature. :o)

What are you working on now?

I have about twelve of my own projects at various stages of development: two teenage novels (one set in Seoul, the other in North Korea), two graphic novels (both with Korean content), two long-term memoir projects, four picture books, and a couple of others at the concept stage.

This fall I'll be illustrating a picture book, THE MOON WATCHERS (Tilbury 2010), written by an Iranian-American friend, about a family celebrating Ramadan in the U.S. And I'll be promoting two new books: AFTER GANDHI: 100 YEARS OF NONVIOLENT RESISTANCE (Charlesbridge 2009), which I co-wrote with my son, and the seventh in the JAMAICA series, JAMAICA IS THANKFUL (HMH 2009) by Juanita Havill.

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?

Beautiful landscapes feed the eyes and the soul, so I'd certainly look for a dose of natural wonders (a and b), but my first choice would be meeting Filipinos, interacting with them and seeing how they live. Then I'd want to see and do whatever they recommended to introduce me to their country. And I'd want to spend time in markets selling handcrafts.

What is your message for your readers in Asia?

Wow, I have readers in Asia?! I'd love to be invited to your school, library or conference. I've been to India, Nepal and Hong Kong in the 1960's, otherwise only to Korea and Japan. I'm eager to experience other Asian countries. And 안녕하세요 to anyone from Korea!

Anne, thank you so much for sharing your experiences, work, and insights with us!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Author/Illustrator Interview: Keith Patterson

I want to go to Homer, Alaska. Why? Because of Maybelle, Bunny of the North (Bees Knees Books, 2009). It's a very cute and engaging children's picture book that celebrates nature and play. I don't think I will ever get tired of it. From Maybelle I have learned that in Homer, I can play in the snow in the winter, go to Beluga Lake and watch the float planes take off in the spring, go to Bishops Beach and pick up rocks and sea stars in the summer, and watch the geese fly south in the fall.

Keith Patterson, the author and illustrator of Maybelle, Bunny of the North, is visiting today to answer some of my questions. (Below are also images from the book.) Welcome, Keith!

What were you like as a young reader and writer?

I grew up in a house full of books, so there was always something to read.

What were you like as a young artist?

Art was always my favorite subject in school. I drew cartoons in all my notebooks.

What motivated you to create Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

Everyone who has been to Homer, Alaska has a similar story about their first view of the mountains. You drive down the Sterling Highway, and you come around a bend in the road, and you are at the top of a cliff overlooking Kachemak Bay, with the mountains in the background. It is very inspiring. I started doing some watercolors of scenes around Homer, and the children’s book was a natural progression.

What was your chosen medium? What was your creative process?

My chosen medium was pen & ink and watercolor. My daughter was about eight months old at the time, and we often went for walks around town. I started drawing the things we saw on our walks, and that evolved into the book.

What influences (literary and artistic) did you draw from while working on Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

I wasn’t consciously thinking about anyone else’s work, but Maurice Sendak and Richard Scarry have always been favorites.

What were the challenges and rewards from working on the book?

I rearranged the book several times over a period of about four years, so the biggest challenge was keeping the bunny the same age in all the pictures. The reward was finally seeing it as a finished book.

What was the path to publication for Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

First, I made one or two copies at Kinko’s. The thought of sending it out to publishers was daunting, so I thought I would do another book in all woodcuts, and print it myself on hand cranked letterpresses. I created all the woodcuts, and took a class on letterpress printing, and finally created two finished copies of Maybelle Counts to Ten. Letterpress is another world. There are all kinds of possibilities there, but it takes so much time, that I decided to self publish online at At that point, Nancy Arruda, of Bees Knees Books, saw the book on Lulu and emailed me to say that she wanted to publish it.

What is it like working with Bees Knees Books?

It has been really great. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to have a real book published and in book stores.

{"Soon it will be winter again. It will be cold outside..."}

What do you want young readers to take away from Maybelle, Bunny of the North?

I guess the basic message is that it’s fun to get out and explore your environment.

Who are your favorite children’s book authors? Why are they your favorites?

Maurice Sendak is the children’s book author/illustrator that really made an impression on me when I was growing up. Richard Scarry is another one that I could sit and look at for hours. Virginia Lee Burton is an author/illustrator that I have recently rediscovered. Her graphic design is original and playful and inspiring. I like William Steig because his drawings are simple, but he captures expressions perfectly, and he paints beautiful landscapes, and his stories are suspenseful.

{image from Maybelle's Dress-up Party}

Who are your favorite children's book illustrators? Why are they your favorites?

Most of my favorites are author/illustrators. Barbara Cooney is another great pen & ink artist. Beatrix Potter did the most realistic animals I can think of.

If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for Maybelle, Bunny of the North to be award-winning, or for it to be bestselling? Why?

I think it’s counterproductive to worry about how your work will be received.

{image from Maybelle's Dress-up Party}

What are you working on now?

I’m working on several things right now. The main one is Maybelle’s Dress-up Party, a book about playing dress-up, sharing, and what to do if a bear tries on your play dress and rips it. I’m also working on some different ideas for new books, and making mock ups.

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?

I’d like to learn about rice farming, so I’d say the rice terraces.

Thank you so much, Keith! I can't wait to read Maybelle's Dress-up Party!


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-Exupéry. 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

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.