On The Cover: Biscuit Author Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Beloved children’s author Alyssa Satin Capucilli has won the hearts of millions of children (and parents) everywhere with her delightful Biscuit book series. Celebrity Parents Magazine was thrilled to sit down with the soft-spoken author and discuss Biscuit, empowering children to write their own stories, and why not following the path sometimes leads to the best surprises of all.
I wrote my whole life, but I never thought I could be a writer. I loved dance, and I danced professionally for 10 years with a modern dance company. I taught creative movement for kids. From that experience I wrote a series of books based on a duck named Katy.
And how did Biscuit come to be?
I have always been a puppy lover. When I was younger, I would go to the library and the librarian would give me books about dogs. I fell in love with Beverly Cleary’s books, especially Henry and Ribsy. I really related to Henry, who wanted the dog, couldn’t have a dog, but then found the dog. I felt that could happen to me. That was a seed planted in me.
Then one night, many years later, my then four year-old daughter decided to babysit for our neighbor’s really big dog. The dog had a sleepover, but it was so excited and would not settle down. My daughter began to think of things to calm him down. She gave him a snack, she brought him a bowl of water, and she read him a bedtime story. She even brought him a blanket and a doll.
What I was most struck by was how she was having a conversation with him. She thought he understood her. When he finally curled up and fell asleep, she looked over at him from her bed and then she fell asleep. I just loved how gentle and patient she was. The very next day, I sat down to write the first book about Biscuit. I used her voice and I made Biscuit a small yellow puppy instead of a big dog. That’s what you do. You take what’s real and then you stir in imagination and then the character is born.
What type of dog is Biscuit supposed to be?
We like to say he’s part yellow lab and part golden lab and part silly. [laughs] The little girl says, “Silly puppy” in every book.
The little girl in the stories does not have a name. Why?
I was watching my daughter Laura, but I wanted to write about any child or grownup who was puppy lover. Pat Schories, the illustrator, just happened to draw a little girl, and it happened to look a little like Laura. I know it was based on her but that character is truly everyone. Years later, Laura had the opportunity to model for the illustrator. It’s been this wonderful full circle experience.
Will Biscuit ever get older?
Biscuit will not get older. He will always be a puppy. His world will grow. It started with two characters, and then grew to include friends, family, and a neighborhood. Biscuit is about to celebrate his 15th birthday.
That’s truly amazing.
This whole experience has been totally unexpected. I pinch myself all the time. Kids would write to me and tell me that this was the first book they had read by themselves. I decided I had to make a world for these kids to read with. It’s truly been pure joy.
My daughter, Elizabeth, learned to read with your books, too.
It’s a milestone you can take for granted. I often do readings in elementary schools. Sometimes teenagers want their Biscuit books signed, too! They remember that it was the first book they read, too. These are beautiful memories.
You are becoming Beverly Cleary for a new generation.
I’m delighted children are loving to read with this character. I can go to the smallest town USA and to know people know your book, it’s humbling. To be surrounded by smiling kids woofing along as I’m reading, it’s wonderful.
Both of your children have inspired your writing. Let’s talk about that.
I always say that my son, Peter, launched my writing career, for sure. When my son was about 4, he said to me, “Mommy, I want to be as big as the sky.” It was such a poetic line. I didn’t have all of my notebooks, and I wrote it down. Iremember staying up late that night Later that night, I created a book: I Want to Be As Big As the Sky.
My son also inspired one of my most important books, Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats. It’s an alphabet book and a rhyming and counting book. The heart of the story is that whoever comes to her door, she opens her door and her heart. My son was always troubled when people were not kind. We talked about that, and talked about a world that should be. Sometimes in books you create a world that you wish could be.
In today’s curriculum, children are encouraged to become young authors in addition to becoming good readers.
I think it’s wonderful. When I was younger, going to the library was a big event. We chose our favorite books, but we never considered ourselves as authors. Even though we told stories, wrote stories and did puppet shows, those are all parts of being an author. In schools today, there is a focus on children authoring and ownership of their work. We have put it into their hands. They are unafraid and are able to express themselves. I’m curious to see what I’ll be reading in the future! It’s a very empowering process. I tell the children to think of what you’re writing as a treasure. It’s important to just get the words down.
Speaking of getting the words down, we should mention that you write all of your books longhand.
I think the very act of pen to paper allows you to think. I think you need time. There may not be that many words in a Biscuit book, but I choose them carefully. If you cross out a word, you can see it and consider it again. If you delete it, you may lose a story that way.
Writing longhand makes you slow down.
Which we all need. Deliberate thought, which I think we all need. And letting you get into the mode of a creative thought process. I love the computer when I’m in my final draft, but I’ll have gone through 25-30 drafts before I think the story is near-finished. Pen and paper is what I look for all the time.
I have to say, being here with you is a very calming experience. It’s like literally being inside a Biscuit book. You had mentioned earlier that you purposely keep it like that.
When you are writing for children, you are giving them a slice of the world. For some kids, it’s a very chaotic world. The book can be a respite. Biscuit itself is a very gentle world. There’s a little sigh factor when you get to the end. It’s a simple world.
It’s simple but it’s not.
It’s simple but it’s not. That’s exactly right. It can become philosophical: Biscuit is the child the little girl could be. What is the way to be? She does not spend a lot of her time playing video games. It’s a world where we’re concentrating on the heart of the characters, rather than the stuff that has been created to keep us busy every day. That’s how the Biscuit world has been built. There’s conflict and they resolve it. Children can identify themselves with Biscuit as well as the little girl.
How many books are there in the Biscuit series?
There are 15 books in the “I Can Read” series. They are designed with a certain vocabulary to support emerging readers. We have 40 other books where we celebrate holidays, and there are books that have lift flaps and tactile touch elements. The backbone is the “I Can Read” series. We started a phonics box for the books, too. We all learn to read a different way, by using these different methods, we are trying to support that.
People would be surprised to know that Biscuit is not your first book.
I actually have 4-5 other books that I wrote before that. I have a series with Tedd Arnold called the “Inside” series. Some of the titles are Inside A Barn In The Country, and Inside A Zoo In The City. They were really fun. One of my newest characters is Katy Duck. She is a ballerina who doesn’t necessarily fit the mold, which is a good thing. She believes that anything is possible if you imagine and believe it. I think she’s got a great personality; as much as I wrote her, she really wrote herself. She pushes me to all these different boundaries.
It becomes an entity of its own, and you are the vehicle by which it comes out.
I always say that. Sometimes you write a book and you’re not sure where it came from. And then you realize that was the conversation you had with your son, and it came out in this character.
Let’s talk about your children.
My daughter Laura is now 19, and my son is almost 25. They’re both very artistic. My husband is in the film business, so they had an artsy, unconventional upbringing.
Who’s to say what is conventional and what isn’t?
Sometimes when they were younger, I wasn’t able to put a three-course meal on the table because I had been writing. They understood. My husband learned how to cook or we just ordered a pizza. It was okay. It’s given them flexibility in their lives. You don’t always have to follow one path, if something else comes to you. You do everything from who you are. Sometimes the best things in life are those great unplanned surprises. If you had told me that I would be writing for children and living in this wonderful world of literature, I wouldn’t have believed it to be so. It’s been this amazing journey that I hope will continue for a long time.
For more info on Alyssa Satin Capucilli and the Biscuit book series, please go to www.alyssacapucilli.com.
Biscuit art copyright: Pat Schories
Katy Duck art copyright: Henry Cole