We had the good fortune of connecting with susan tresser chodakiewitz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi susan tresser, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
My background and upbringing has SO much to do with who I am, what moves me, what motivates me and my passions in general. I was born in Havana, Cuba.. and raised in Queens, New York… so imagine, a cubana mom with a “Brooklyn- American” dad… being raised in a home speaking Spanish, English, Russian and Yiddish. Why Yiddish and Russian? Because my grandparents from Cuba who were Russian Jewish immigrants, lived with us as well. So in my house music, theater, food, family and jewish tradition were the centrifugal forces that kept us going. The music of Edie Gourmet and Los Panchos played
alot in our home, especially in summer time at family barbecues. Classical piano lessons were a requirement as well, and we studied piano from age 5 till graduating highschool. Being a New Yorker theater runs in your blood stream. We listened to cast albums at home all the time, but also broadway show tunes rang from our vocal cords as my sister and I would sing all the show tunes from records we listened to, as well as the latest Sondheim plays we had just seen on Broadway. My dad took us to see a broadway show each year for our birthdays and acting, singing and being on stage was my passion until I gave it up to go to Pharmacy School…. The creative flame re-ignited when I saw a sign on campus for auditions for Fiddler on the Roof. Suddenly the rigors of pharmacology and bio-chemistry took a back seat to theater and (delete the word again) I was BIT…by the theater bug again.
After a few years of post bac travels, working in pharmacy, marriage and the birth of a few kids, I could no longer deny that my soul was aching for creativity again. First I started singing again, then writing songs, then started writing musicals. My final plunge into the arts with no return happened when I became a student at the Academy for New Musical Theater. My kids were about 14, 12 and 10 at the time… so I felt … I could do this. Writing under deadline, working with collaborators, presenting at workshops, attending rehearsals… was very exciting and definitely put me on a pro level. However motherhood responsibilities somehow fell behind… My kids each began to flunk a subject in school… The dean of the school called me to his office one day… “Mrs. Chodakiewitz,” he asked gently…”what are you up to?” He asked what had changed in my life that my kids were suddenly showing signs of neglect…Whatever I was doing… was it worth it? For a 21st century mom- this sounds preposterous… but it is what happened… Nonetheless, I am tenacious and I warned my kids that if I have to drop out of the academy they would have a VERY UNHAPPY MOTHER and IN TURN…. their lives would be MISERABLE… so they shaped up, and I continued to write musical theater. It was then I discovered my passion for picture books. I have ALWAYS LOVED READING PICTURE BOOKS, but writing them seemed out of my talent zone…until I was creating a musical based on a picture book and developed a burning desire to write my own books. And so I started my company BOOKSICLAS in 2007 to combine my 2 creative loves: Theater and Picture Books. My family life, my multi-culural background, the languages I heard growing up, the colors, sounds, tastes holidays, traditions and colors of the diverse cultural background I grew up with as well as the ones I acquired during travels completely inform my work as a writer, the illustrators I chose to work with as well as the topics I write about.
And who am I today? I am a mother, grandmother, wife, writer, creator, entrepreneur who is tenacious and unstoppable when it comes to things I love and believe in. I love creating children’s books that inspire a sense of humor so we can laugh at ourselves, be gentle with ourselves and understand our fragility. I want to inspire children with a love of books, of stories, a desire to express themselves creatively. I want to empower children to believe in themselves and think outside of the box. I want to do projects that bring out the best in people and especially in children, to illuminate their own unique talents and encourage them to explore new ways of creativity. That is who I am and what I aspire to. What I hope to achieve with my company Booksicals.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work?
I am constantly learning and exploring ways to expand the Booksicals brand. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I write all of the Booksicals children’s books. As I write each book I immediately see them coming alive as theater. I see the back story of each character as a part of the illustration and possibly the lyrics to a song. I see the place as a set for a stage… and how it can be reproduced creatively by children. The books are of course stand alone classic children’s books but once there is music, songs, underscore, lyrics, dance for each story, it becomes what I like to describe as an ALL IMMERSIVE FULL SENSORY CREATIVE READING EXPERIENCE.
What I love the most about Booksicals is collaborating with other artists. Working with an illustrator is such an exciting part of my process. Discussing the back story — what is happening behind the words– with the illustrator helps so much to create a picture book that has depth, humor and multiple levels of interpretation. Once the story and illustrations are created, collaboration starts on music, song lyrics. Sometimes I write my own music and lyrics, sometimes I collaborate with a lyric writer or song writer. I most enjoy when I write some lyrics and then give it to a music producer and they come up with a beat, a rhythm, a melody that I did not imagine. That is always so exciting. In the last few projects I’ve worked with choreographers who choreograph a dance for the story or for some of the songs. We’ll create a dance instructional video so kids can learn the dance and perform it.
I did two recent pilot videos in a green screen studio using green screen technology. Collaborating with the filming crew on this was a totally NEW and unique experience. We were able to get the live characters to appear INSIDE the illustrations using green screen technology. We are still exploring ways to make the stories come alive in different ways.
Booksicals latest expansion was creating THEATER KITS for schools and home school parents to put on their own children’s plays and musical based on picture books. During Covid 19 lock down, I partnered with Chris Hunt Inc, my current corporate partner, to bring arts education to children for Free. Booksicals is currently in the process of creating a digital platform ONLINE for an ARTS ACTIVITIES AND ARTS ENRICHMENT. The platform is called: PICTURE BOOKS & ARTS. Chris Hunt and Booksicals hope to raise enough money to be able to make the platform FREE to children as well as be able to give away books forFREE books to elementary schools around the country. You can visit our GOFUNDME PAGE and pass the word around: https://www.gofundme.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I would take them to a few different places to have an EASY yet refreshing out of the city hike: Franklyn Canyon Park where you see turtles, frogs and ducks, The hike to the Griffith Observatory where the air smells of fragrant pine and wild flowers. I would take them to Pacific Palisades a little enclave and short hike to see the beautiful homes and view the beach from high up. I would go to Malibu pier… the colors there are brilliant blue and beautiful. Would take them to eat at the fish restaurant about 1 mile south of Malibu pier. where you sit outside in the courtyard.. not fancy, but rustically fishy… Would take them to the Beverly Hills restaurant: The IVEY to feast their eyes on floral bouquets of colorful roses and FREE champagne. Or outside to my backyard for wine and cheese on a Thursday night. I would scout the city for a good piece of theater to take them to in the evening at either the Ahmanson, or one of the small theaters around town. An afternoon at the Broad Museum, the Getty museum or Getty Villa of course.
For a relaxing morning…I would take them to Mother’s Beach to rent Kayaks in the bay. And for a bike ride along Santa Monica beach… Would have a coffee at Chaumant on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills with the best almond croissant… and then next day to Pascal bakery… for another “Best” almond croissant and coffee.
For Friday night dinner… I would invite them to my house to have an authentic shabbat dinner with candle lighting, toasting, and blessings as gratitude to our wonderful week!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to give a Shout Out to my son Karl Chodakiewitz and daughter (in-law) Gabriella Chagas Chodakiewitz who have mentored me and cheered me on and helped me focus on what I am passionate about and translate that into the work I am currently doing with Booksicals. Gabi is a product manager for impact finance and Karl a product manager for new tech companies and currently for a tele-medicine company. Both have helped me see my creative path more clearly. I’d also like to give a Shout Out to Chris Hunt, Inc who has partnered with Booksicals on the community engagement project Picture Books & Arts Digital Platform for kids, an education endeavor to bring arts and creative education to children across all economic divides. Check out our GOFUNDME campaign https://www.gofundme.
Instagram: instagram.com/booksicals/ @booksicals
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/susiechodak/ Linked in: susan tresser chodakiewitz
Twitter: @susanchodak https://twitter.com/SusanChodak/photo