Interview with Larry Michalove
The Four Little Children: A Likely Story
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to be joined by Larry Michalove, who is here to talk about his new book, “The Four Little Children—A Likely Story.” I am also joined today by Matthew Feliciano, our eight-year old book reviewer, who is here to ask Larry Michalove some questions about the book he just read.
Larry Michalove served in the Vietnam War as a navigator flying combat missions on AC-130 gunships over the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. During his combat tour, Michalove was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and nine Air Medals. He is the father of four children. He and his wife, Sybil, have been married for forty-eight years. “The Four Little Children - A Likely Story” is his first book, but as he is here to tell us today, it was many years in the making.
Tyler: Welcome, Larry. I’m glad you could join me today, and thank you, Matthew for also joining me again.
Larry, to begin, I understand you wrote this book to your children back home while you were in Vietnam. What gave you the idea to write this story?
Larry: I was always in the habit of either reading or telling stories to my four little children before they went to bed at night. I wanted somehow to continue this tradition in order to stay connected with them while I was away at war. Hence the idea for the storybook came about.
Tyler: Do you think you were a born storyteller, or did you read and tell your children stories as a result of your parents doing the same when you were a child?
Larry: I would categorize myself as a born storyteller. I also enjoy telling jokes and would say that I was born with a joke “gene.”
Tyler: How did the story get written? Did you write each story individually and send it home, and did your wife save the stories for you?
Larry: The very first story I wrote to my children was in the Philippine Islands while I was waiting to enter jungle survival school prior to going to the war zone in November 1970. I wrote a letter to my wife, Sybil, and at the end of the letter I added a story that she could read to our children before they went to bed at night. That started a long series of adventurous tales for our children that I would periodically include in my letters to Sybil. Over the 14 months that I was away, I wrote more than three hundred letters home and among them were thirty-seven individual stories for my children. I had no copying machine so I had to remember the previous tale so that I could somehow make them link together. I tried to end them such that the children would look forward to receiving the next installment. Sybil saved all my letters home in boxes in our garage and in 1986 we decided that the time was right to consolidate the stories into a booklet as a keepsake for each child. Fortunately, Sybil found all 37 letters containing the bedtime stories and they were placed in a green folder for each child to keep.
Matthew: How did you think of each amazing adventure?
Larry: I would sometimes think of things that I would like to have done when I was a child and then make up stories around these different events e.g. what it’s like to be a dog or small like the ants. I would also make up stories around events from personal experience, e.g. I lived in Labrador near an Eskimo village for a year hence stories about the North Country; we also lived in Hawaii for three years, so I made up stories that included adventures in Hawaii.
Tyler: Was it difficult to write these stories when you were in the middle of the Vietnam War, or did they provide escapism for you?
Larry: I did not find it difficult at all to write the stories home to my children while waiting to fly the next combat mission. I rather looked forward to it. I had pictures of the children on my desk and would visualize in my mind the children taking these magical adventures with their friend Ramor. Writing these stories certainly did help me escape from the war zone. I mentally transported myself to home and family.
Tyler: Why did you decide to publish this book now so many years after you wrote it?
Larry: Three years ago, one of my granddaughters who lives in Atlanta wanted her mother to read the stories to her kindergarten class. Over a period of time all of the stories were read to the children except the final two chapters. I was invited in by the kindergarten teacher to read the last two chapters to the children. The kindergarten teacher was so thrilled with the stories that she said that I had to get them published so that other children could enjoy and learn from them. A reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was present in the classroom and an article subsequently appeared in the newspaper about my reading the stories to the children. Thus began my quest to get the stories published.
Tyler: What about the stories do you think makes them particularly good as read aloud stories?
Larry: Each story is relatively short and can stand on its own or be linked to the next chapter in the storybook. The stories were written specifically in mind with a parent reading or telling a story to his/her children. The stories are non-violent yet action filled which holds a child’s attention.
Tyler: Has the story evolved and changed since you first wrote it?
Larry: The stories have essentially not changed from the original letters. They have been edited to make them more compatible with current standards of print literature.
Tyler: Are the children in the story, Lisa, David, Stacy, and Karen Michalove, all your children? Did you change anything about them when you depicted them as characters?
Larry: All four children definitely belong to Sybil and me! I did not change their character in the storybook although I did make them mature enough to understand the difference between right and wrong. Through the stories, I tried to teach them the values of love, respect and responsibility.
Matthew: What did your children think of being the characters in a book?
Larry: My children loved being the primary characters in the storybook and taking all of these wonderful adventures to far away places. They loved hearing their names read when performing some unusual feat.
Tyler: Do the children have any individual characteristics that distinguish them?
Larry: As the older children, I had Lisa and David always sharing responsibility for their younger sisters. They were all very good and sweet children. I think that they had the characteristics of just what could be expected of normal children their age.
Tyler: Would you give us an example of how one of the adventures becomes a learning experience for the children?
Larry: In the story, “Ants Can Be Friends,” they learn that disputes can be resolved without violence or fighting. They learn that even if people look different they can live side by side and help one another. The children experienced the importance of having good communications between the disputing parties.
Tyler: I understand Ramor, an imaginary friend, initiates the children’s adventures. Will you tell us more about this character?
Larry: Ramor was a magical, kind, little elf. He was a very small man and looked very much like a small Santa Claus. His mission was to take the children on wonderful adventures while at the same time keeping them from any harm. He was there to look after the children while their father was away.
Matthew: How did you get the idea to call the little person Ramor?
Larry: In one of the early chapters the children discover a box buried under a rock with a mysterious X on it. When they opened the box, an old piece of paper fluttered to the ground with unintelligible words on it. After some doing, the children deciphered the paper and read the following phrase:
I needed a name to rhyme in this poem and conjured up the name “Ramor.” The name came out of thin air.
Tyler: Will you tell us a little about the kinds of magical powers that Ramor has?
Larry: Ramor had all sorts of magical powers. He could almost make time stand still since in most instances, after an exciting adventure in a far off place, the children were always home in time for dinner. Of course, he traveled everywhere by magic carpet (no gasoline costs). He protected the children from harm and was able to let them breathe under the sea; fly into outer space without the benefit of space suits; bounce on the moon; make them small like ants; do wondrous feats in a circus; and turn them into dogs. He also gave them the power to communicate with animals on the farm as well as the bees in a bee hive. Ramor’s magical powers were always used for good things.
Tyler: Would you tell us briefly some of the exciting adventures the children have in the book?
Larry: Many children love the story where the children turn into dogs and save their school from burning down. Others have fun with the story about the children solving the conflict between the red ants and the black ants. The children become very small and visit the inside of an ant hill. Another popular adventure is about a mysterious haunted house. We also discover the green moon people and fly with them while they are pursued by Martians. Added to that is a visit to the North Pole; a farm with talking animals; flying with a hive of bees to gather nectar; and many other exciting adventures.
Tyler: Larry, what stories did you enjoy as a child, and do you think they influenced you in writing down these stories?
Larry: As a child, I was influenced by the stories of “Buck Rogers.” I dreamed of flying through space by means of a jet propelled back pack. I wondered what it would be like to be a dog or small like an ant. I would lie in a field looking up at the clouds and imagine taking all sorts of exciting adventures. These thoughts from my childhood definitely influenced my storytelling.
Matthew: Did writing the book do what you wanted and help you connect with your kids?
Larry: This book certainly helped me connect with my kids as according to my wife, Sybil, the children looked forward to each and every story. In my mind, I was connecting with them from thousands of miles away!
Matthew: What adventures have you been on?
Larry: I lived for a year in Labrador near an Eskimo village. I was also a master navigator flying interesting missions from Hawaii all over the Pacific Ocean in which our aircraft caught intelligence capsules ejected from satellites orbiting the earth. During the Vietnam conflict, I lived in a small village in Thailand near the Mekong River flying combat missions over the Ho Chi Minh trail in Laos. I later lived for a while in Saigon, Vietnam. These were all very exciting adventures for me.
Tyler: Larry, do you have plans to write any more books?
Larry: Others have asked this question and I tell them that if this storybook becomes highly successful, I would consider writing another storybook. Many of my young readers wonder when the movie is coming out!
Tyler: What do you think children like most about “The Four Little Children—A Likely Story”?
Larry: I think children enjoy most their ability to use their imagination in taking the exciting adventures experienced by the four little children. They like the idea of going to these unusual and far off places under Ramor’s care where no harm can come to them and always return to the safety of home and a wonderful mother.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Larry. Before we go, will you tell our readers where they may go online to find out more information about “The Four Little Children—A Likely Story”?
Larry: They may go online at the following websites:
Tyler: Thank you, Larry. I hope you have more stories in you.