An Interview with Susan Chodakiewitz and David De Candia: Master Davey and Tea.

Jul 25, 2013 by

kids-read-220-2Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) First of all, tell us about yourselves–where you come from, and your education and experience.

Susan :

I was born in Havana Cuba to a Cuban, Jewish mother and an American dad. Dad came to Cuba on a business trip, met my beautiful mother and fell in love. We left Cuba when I was 2 and I grew up in New York. It was in New York where I received my music and arts training, doing community theater, studying piano, voice, and dance and going to lots of theater. In university I studied French and Chemistry then went on to Pharmacy school. My parents did not believe in a career in the arts.

I spent three years working in pharmacy in Israel after graduation. I had an intense attraction to the young and vibrant country and I wanted to learn Hebrew. I met my husband there– he was a physician from Mexico also working in Israel. After I married we lived in North Carolina, Toronto and then Los Angeles. I began to sing again and write my own songs. , I could not seem to contain my creative spark and left pharmacy all together. Then I started writing musical theater. This had been a passion of mine all my life. One of the musicals I wrote was based on a children’s book. It was at that point I realized I wanted to write picture books. I’ve always loved picture books. They are so enchanting and sometimes their simplicity captures the humor and truth of life like no other art form. Writing picture books is a lot like writing a song. You have to tell a whole story with very few words and each word is crucially important.

David :

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York. I live in Ventura with my wife, three dogs and three children. I attended CSUN for business.

My experience has been mostly in distribution with Halliburton in the oil industry.

Since that time I Have been with Coffeebean and tea Leaf for 17 years living tea.

2) Now, how did they two of you come to collaborate?

I was at a holiday party with my husband and I met CEO of Coffee Bean, Mel Elias. We started talking about tea, coffee, writing, pencils vs pens ( I love pencils) and I mentioned that I always wanted to write a children’s book about tea. It so happened that on that very day, the Coffee Bean’s tea master David De Candia had mentioned to Mel that he wanted to write a children’s book about tea. Mel insisted that we meet and a week later we all had lunch. It was uncanny how similar our vision was. We both wanted to write an adventure book that took children into the magical world of tea. With David’s vast experience traveling the world in search of great tea, an my background writing picture books our collaboration began.

David :

Susie and I came together as a result of one man named Mel Elias the CEO of CBTL. For many years, Mel has been asking me to write a book on tea.

The various ideas for this book didn’t seem to stick, until 8 months ago when I suggested to Mel that a book about tea for children is what I wanted to do.

At a local dinner, he met Susie and the connection was made two days later over lunch. We connected and now we have a great book and tea.

3) Why tea? Why the fascination with tea?

I always had an allure to tea… probably because of its golden hues and the way its tincture captures light. Tea is very sensory. Its fragrances are delicate and its colors are beautiful. Tea quiets my spirit. I love pouring tea from a simple tea pot. Sharing a cup of tea allows me to take time from my day to experience the moment, think, relax and connect with myself or tune into the someone with whom I am sharing. Children are extremely senatorial and I felt they would connect well with the sensory and spiritual aspects of tea. And of course tea is adventure. So many vast countries and cultures that grow it. In February I traveled to Sri Lanka with tea master Davey and a crew from The Coffee Bean to learn more about tea. We visited the estates where tea is grown and picked tea in the fields. As far as the eye can see the tea fields are lush and green and far into the distance you can spot the colorful saris of the tea pickers dotting the hillside. And after this trip to Sri Lanka I feel more connected to the tea. All the hard work of all the hands that put this tea in my cup— that is humbling.

David :

Tea was and is in the company name. Seventeen years ago I started working at CBTL as a production supervisor etc. Tea took me by surprise.

I immediately took to it and wanted to expand my passion and knowledge .

4) I have been to England several times, and they seem to let the tea ” steep ” and take a good deal of time to enjoy what seems to be the national drink. Any insights regarding this?

Susan :

I think we let the tea steep to prolong the tea time… the time where you can relax, settle in and enjoy the moment of sharing.

David :

I travel around the world sourcing tea. The way people drink tea around the world always amazes me. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to drink tea as it pertains to that particular culture or spirituality.

5) Your book is marvelously illustrated by Kent Yoshimura. How did the three of you work together to arrive at such a wonderful book ?

The best part of writing a children’s book is seeing it come to life in pictures. Kent and I had worked on a previous book together called Wobegon and Mildred about two unlovable parking ticket monsters. Through that collaboration we learned never to settle until both of us are IN LOVE with the results. For Master Davey and the Magic Tea House we went through at least three different art styles until we found this one. Once we found the art style and tone for the book that Kent, David and I loved, we concentrated on characters. Hopper and Camellia came pretty quickly and as soon as we tried him with red hair we love it. But Master Davey took much longer. For inspiration we looked at portraits of mad scientists, botanists, magicians, and eccentrics… We had a least ten different Master Davey’s until we saw this one… And we ALL agreed… THIS is the ONE. Creating a beautiful picture book takes commitment and drive. You can’t settle for OK… you must keep working until you feel the WOW.

David :

I think the illustrations are a result of the three of us spending time together and Kent seeing what I do. It was very important that my actual experience be communicated in illustrations.

6) For what grade level or reading level is this book focused?

Susan : Ages 4- 8 will enjoy this book. 4-5 year old’s may like to be read to. 6 -8 will enjoy reading it on their own.

David :

The target age is 6 to 12. I personally have read to and with 3 year olds and 80 years old.

7) Now, briefly, what is this story about?

Hopper Smith has great sensory powers. Day by day he visits the Magic Tea House and learns from Master Davey how to harness this power and unlock the stories hidden in the tea. Then one day he must test these powers and see if he has what it takes to save the precious Blue Tiger Tea from being lost to the world forever.

David :

The story is about letting your passion (whatever it might be) take you to places you only dreamed of.

8) Hopper Smith seems to be the hero if you will, who encounters a number of challenges along the way. Does this reflect a deeper, more spiritual, more philosophical theme- that we are all searching for something?

The reader will ultimately determine the theme that they see in the book. The book can have many themes. For me the theme is that life can be magical if want it to. It all depends on your power of your imagination.

David :

Hopper Smith is a symbol of what most of us want to be. I think we all want to reach out and help those in need but often don’t. Then we have regrets. Hopper gives 100% of himself without asking anything in return!

9) Tell us about ” Booksicals “

Susan :

I was writing and composing musical theater for about 10 years before I started Booksicals. One of the musicals I wrote was a based on children’s picture books. Picture books are very theatrical as the words must evoke pictures— just like a scene on a stage…. so as I was writing this show, I started longing to write my own picture books. Then one day I woke up with the words Booksicals in my head… suddenly I realized I had discovered a way to take 2 of my passions and combine them into one…

So, I started writing children’s books and making them into musicals that could be sung, danced and performed —My first book that I did through Booksicals was called Too Many Visitors for One Little House. This was performed at schools, libraries and museums to the delight of students, parents and teachers. The sequel to this book- Mr. Snoozle’s Exquisite Eggs as well as Wobegon and Mildred are currently being made into a musicals too. For Master Davey and the Magic Tea House we have created a beautiful e-book with music and rhythms from around the world. Whether we turn it into a theatrical piece is still to be determined.

10 ) Where can interested readers learn more? Do you have a web page?

Learn more about Booksicals and about me at www.booksicals.com

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