Back in a previous work life I was a teacher and one of my posts was at Taronga Zoo in Sydney as Education Officer with the specific task of implementing and operating Australia’s first travelling zoo—the Zoomobile. It was a magnificent time. I met amazing people who knew way too much about their specific animal charges (human as well as the non-human sort) but were always willing to share their knowledge with me.
While there it was suggested that I write a book about animals for Scholastic and one book became two books and two books became more books. There were squillions of other animal books around but mine I knew were accurate. Why? Because I had the resources to make sure they were correct. Zoo staff checked my every word. They knew the facts, but I knew the way to write those facts … and so it became a fantastic time of writing.
One book I am especially proud of that was created at this time evolved after a lesson with a class of 16-year-old students, who decided that one child couldn’t make a difference to the world. We discussed this exhaustively and eventually agreed that maybe they could. How? Well that became the genesis for my award winning picture book One child.
I have continued to burn a spark for non-fiction so, when the opportunity came to write about pythons I jumped at it—all fingers twitching. I love pythons … they are close to being one of my favourite animals. Their beautiful silky and luminescent body covering, their ease of movement (you just try slithering around a tree branch or dangle from the forest limbs and say it’s easy!), their wonderfully developed senses, and the glorious way they massage as they wrap their bodies around their soon to be prey—or to just to hold on! People have the totally wrong idea about pythons! Just watch a child reach out to touch the python as the supervising adult pulls them away. Sure pythons bite—but so do cats and dogs and people if you do the wrong thing. Sure pythons move in a way that is not perambulatory but so do fish. Sure pythons are very, very quiet. But these are all great characteristics. So crafting the book Python was a joy. As was discovering Mark Jackson’ illustrations, exquisite—and accurate!
Do I set out trying to preach? Never. Am I trying to tell a great story—I sure hope so! After all it’s all about the story drawing the reader in to find out more, and more, and more! Then hopefully my readers will love the natural environment as much as I do!
Christopher Cheng is the author of more than 40 children’s books, from picture books to non-fiction to Chinese-themed historical fiction. He wrote the libretto for a children’s musical, is co-chair of the Advisory Board for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and a recipient of the Lady Cutler Award for Children’s Literature. Python was recently released in paperback from Candlewick Press. Learn more at www.chrischeng.com.