Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.

Natural Born Leader Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.

Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.

Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.

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Who is Oliver Phommavanh’s The Other Christy?

olivercomic1Oliver Phommavanh’s new novel for children, The Other Christy has just been published by Penguin Random House.

It has a very appealing storyline and characters, voices some important issues with a light touch, and is told with the author’s trademark big heart and humour.

Thanks for speaking with Boomerang Books, Oliver.

No worries Joy.

Where are you based and how involved are you in the children’s lit world? (you often seem to be on a stage …!)

I’m based in Cabramatta, South-West Sydney. I’ve been fortunate to appear in many writers festivals and school literature festivals across Australia. I’m involved with organisations such as the CBCA Northern Sydney Sub branch and SCBWI as well. I’m also an ambassador for Room To Read, a non-profit organization that brings literacy to developing countries.

How is this related to being a stand-up comedian?

I love making people laugh, so I divide my time doing kids comedy in my books and adults comedy on the stage.

How else do you spend your time?

I’m a lifelong gamer so I try to play video games in my downtime. I also like jogging and hanging out with friends.

Tell us about The Other Christy.Other Christy

It’s a story of two girls named Christy in a class. It’s a friendship between a quiet girl with loud thoughts and a popular girl who discovers that she’s quite lonely.

Who particularly do you hope reads it?

Anyone who might feel a little strange or weird. I hear them, I want to be a voice for all those kids who feel left out.

Have you come across kids with the same name in a class or somewhere? How did people differentiate them? Was one called ‘the other Oliver’ or something similar?

I was the only Oliver in my primary and high school days, but Oliver’s a popular name now so I got lucky. I’ve taught classes with kids with the same name and we usually went with their last name, like Matthew Brown and Matthew Galway.

Is it more fun to write about the mean kids or the others?

I have fun writing about the other kids, especially the ones who blend in the background. Mainly because they usually have something unusual or strange about them.

I’ve read a memoir recently where the church was the most helpful group in helping new refugees. Someone from the church also helped Christy and her Grandpa find somewhere to live. How true to life or typical is this?

I drew from experiences from my own church, we are one of many churches out in south-west Sydney that have welcomed new arrivals and have helped them settle in the community.

Thai No MiteYou write a lot about food in this book. What’s your favourite food mentioned/not mentioned?

My favourite dessert is chocolate brownies, which is mentioned in the book. My favourite food is pizza, burgers and hot chips, which have been featured in my other books haha

What happened at the launch of The Other Christy? Was there good food?

It was a delightful afternoon with plenty of loved ones, friends and fans. You bet there was delicious food hehe. There were loads of sweet treats for our cake stall. My wife and extended family made a lot of the treats, so it was all made with love!

How is this book different from your others? Thai riffic

This is the first book with a main character that isn’t a part of me. It’s a story where I’ve had to draw from my own observations as a primary school teacher, teaching shy students like Christy.

Have you received any responses from readers about The Other Christy that particularly resonate with you?

I’ve spoken to many kids who are in a class with another person with the same name. Some become friends, others are more like friendly rivals. I’ve also had kids come up to me and can relate to Christy and her desire to find a best friend.

Which Australian authors do you admire?

My biggest influences are Morris Gletizman, Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths.

ConNerdWhat have you enjoyed reading?

I’m currently reading The Other Side of Summer by Emily Gale. I’ve finished The Enemy series by Charlie Higson with the last book, fittingly titled ‘The End.’

Thanks and all the best with The Other Christy and your other books, Oliver.

My pleasure!