Diversity in Children’s literature – Sally Heinrich and Oliver Phommavanh – Asian perspectives

Story Arts volunteer, Di Mayne, lead a Q&A session with Sally Heinrich and Oliver Phommavanh.

Sally Heinrich and Oliver

After living and travelling in Asia, Sally started writing children’s books based on her experiences. She also illustrates books, the latest being, “One step at a time” about Mosha the elephant who lost her leg by a land mine, and now wears a prosthetic limb.

Sally Heinrich's books

Oliver was encouraged to read and write by his teachers because then he was quiet for a change. Inspired by funny books and television, he always wanted to be a writer and comedian, but his parents pushed him to be a doctor or lawyer. He writes about such a character conflicting with his tiger-mum in his latest book “Con-nerd.”

Sally wrote an essay for university on the depiction of Asians in picture books, but there was very little at the time. She described the two types of books with Asian characters: the topic of the story; or when race is just incidental. The later is also important for children to see themselves reflected in everyday stories.

Oliver didn’t really feel “Australian”, when he grew up in Cabramatta in Sydney. There were virtually no stories of children with an Asian family except the occasional minor character who was the super-smart kid of the class. He accumulated funny stories from his own family and his life as a teacher and turned them into “Thai-riffic”. Since its publication in 2010 many more children’s books now reflect this background. He is pleased his books now sell in Singapore, India and Thailand. Ironically, they are used to teach English and Australian culture.

Oliver's books


Sally Heinrich has illustrated more than twenty books as well as writing and illustrating her own picture books, non-fiction information, activity books and novels. She has lived in Darwin, Sydney, Singapore and Malaysia, and is currently based in Adelaide. http://www.sallyheinrich.com/

Oliver Phommavanh is a funny children’s author, comedian and primary school teacher. Books include: Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Thai-no-mite!, Suff happens: Ethan, and Punchlines. http://www.oliverwriter.com/


One response to “Diversity in Children’s literature – Sally Heinrich and Oliver Phommavanh – Asian perspectives

  1. Life is ironic which can be incredibly satisfying. 🙂

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