Oliver Phommavanh is a children’s book author with a difference—he has a Thai background and likes to include children from different backgrounds in his writing.
He has already written a number of different and very funny books such as Thai-riffic, Punchlines, Thai-no-mite and Con-nerd with his latest being The Other Christy. Oliver’s stories are about things most kids can relate to—problems with friends at school, feeling embarrassed, trying to fit in etc.
And if you were wondering how it is that Oliver knows kids so well and how he can find the funny side in awkward situations—well, he’s also a teacher and comedian!
Kidzone had a chat with Oliver about his latest book, writing and what inspires him. Read on!
What is the main message you want kids to get out of your latest book, The Other Christy? I wanted to show kids that the best way to make friends is to be yourself and to show kindness to others, no matter how they treat you back.
What was the inspiration behind this story and its characters? I was inspired through being a teacher in a class with two girls with the same name. It got me thinking about whether they would be friends or rivals? Christy Ung is inspired from another shy, quiet girl in my class. Christie Owens is based on a loud and proud girl that I taught as well.
What are the benefits in making Australians from different cultural backgrounds the main character in your books? Growing up, I couldn’t relate to many characters because they didn’t have an Asian background. So it’s nice when kids come up to me and say that they can see themselves in my books. I think when readers can identify themselves with character’s family backgrounds, they will start writing about themselves in their own stories.
What started your love of writing?
A love of reading! I used to read books and imagine what it’d be like to make stuff up for a living. How cool would it be? I also had help from my wild imagination too.
What is your favourite book character ever? Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I still get goosebumps reading about how he found that golden ticket and how lucky he was to be allowed into Willy Wonka’s world.
What book did you keep going back to again and again when you were young? There was an A to Z dinosaur book that I kept reading over and over again. I wanted to be a dinosaur expert so I memorised all these dinosaur facts and could write about them for pages and pages.
What is your involvement with the ‘not-for-profit’ Room to Read? I am an author ambassador, spreading the word about Room to Read, who aim to bring literacy and girls education in developing countries. So far, they’ve touched over 10 million children’s lives through building libraries, publishing original children’s books in more than 25 local languages, constructing child-friendly classrooms and supporting teachers with training.
You mentioned in an interview that if you could read only one book for the rest of your life it would be the Bible…what inspiration do you get from the Bible—in life and as a writer? As a Christian, the Bible is part of my daily devotion time with God. It has inspired me to live my life for him. As a writer, the Bible shapes the way I view the world and guides me with how I connect with people around me. I want my stories to reflect the best in people and give readers hope through life’s challenges.
Like Oliver, the writers of the Bible and Jesus’ disciples knew, too, how important it was to keep God’s teachings at the centre of everything they did. His words guided them and gave them the power to be amazing! If you want to know how God wants you to live your life, a good place to start is by checking out the stories of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus once said, ‘I am the light of the world—always ready to guide you and show you how to live God’s way!’ (John 8:12). Reading, understanding and learning from the stories in the Bible can help us, like it helps Oliver, to live a good life, have a caring and kind heart, guide us in making wise choices, encourage us, give us strength and help us be the best person we can be. Grab a copy today and get reading—it’s a book for all!
Taken from the 20 August 2016 Kidzone edition