Cheng, Christopher 1959-
Cheng, Christopher 1959-
Born May 10, 1959, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; son of Winston and Margaret Cheng; married Binin Szaczvag, 2001. Education: Kuring-Gai CAE, diploma of teaching, 1980; Macquarie University, graduate coursework in children's literature. Religion: Anglican. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting Australian children's books, listening to music, playing the piano and guitar, visiting zoos and the Australian bush, writing songs.
Educator, author, and illustrator. Taronga Zoo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, public relations assistant, 1981-84; relief/substitute teacher, 1981-84; infants/primary teacher at Bourke Public School, Bourke, Australia, 1984-86, North Sydney Demonstration School, 1987, and Dulwich Hill Public School, Sydney, 1994; education officer, Taronga Zoo Education Centre, Sydney, 1987-93; Dymocks Booksellers, Sydney, national children's development manager, 1994-98. Purdue University, author-education consultant, 1998—. Has served as author-in-residence at several public schools; has appeared on radio and television.
Australian Society of Authors, Children's Book Council of Australia, (New South Wales branch; committee member, 1996-98), Australian Geographic Society, Australian Booksellers Association (children's booksellers special interest group; committee member, 1998), Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (Australia advisor), Zoo Friends Association.
Wilderness Society Environment Award shortlist for Children's Literature, 1994, for The Eyespy Book of Rainforest Animals; Notable Book designation, Children's Book Council of Australia, Wilderness Society Environment Picture Book of the Year Award, and KOALA Award shortlist, all 1998, and Stepping Stones magazine Picture Book of the Year honor, 1999, all for One Child; Wilderness Society Book-of-the-Year shortlist, 1999, for Rainforests.
(With Libby Hathorn) Stuntumble Monday: The Resource Book, illustrated by Melissa Webb, Collins Dove, 1990.
The Eyespy Book of Night Creatures, illustrated by Michael Davis, Ashton Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1990.
The Eyespy Book of Endangered Animals, illustrated by Michael Davis, Ashton Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1991.
Bancks' Ginger Meggs and Friends Pet Care Book, illustrated by James Kemsley, Ashton Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992.
The Eyespy Book of Rainforest Animals, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, Ashton Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1994.
The Eyespy Book of Party Animals, illustrated by Debbie Coombs, Ashton Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1995.
Rainforests ("Ecosystems of Australia" series), Heinemann Library (Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
Alpine Regions ("Ecosystems of Australia" series), Heineman Library (Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
Zoo You Later!, illustrated by Kerry Millard, ABC for Kids, 2000.
New Gold Mountain: The Diary of Shu Cheong, Lambing Flat, New South Wales, 1860-1861 (novel), Scholastic (Lindfield, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.
Also contributor to educational series, including "Insight" and "Is It Alive?" Contributor of articles and reviews to journals, including Classroom and Journal of the International Association of Zoo Educators; contributor of short fiction to Coolstop, Hathorn Enterprises, 2003.
Work in Progress
The Melting Pot, a book focusing on the impact of Australia's Immigration Restriction Act in the early 1900s.
Australian children's author Christopher Cheng has shared his love of nature through both books such as One Child and Zoo You Later!, as well as by operating a Sydney-based Zoomobile that brings animals from local zoos to school groups throughout Cheng's native New South Wales. In addition to other animal-related books, such as The Eyespy Book of Party Animals and The Eyespy Book of Rainforest Animals, Cheng has also authored several volumes in the "Ecosystems of Australia" series published by Heinemann, and has produced the historical novel New Gold Mountain: The Diary of Shu Cheong, Lambing Flat, New South Wales, 1860-1861.
Winner of several awards, One Child focuses on a girl who tries to do her small part to make the world a better place. In his optimistic text Cheng illustrates how each person can make an important difference to the environment. "One Child was based on many kids I taught," Cheng told SATA, "kids who were so cheesed off at hearing that the world was in a mess, who also felt that adults were more talk than action. It was the kids who said we can make a difference (‘we’ as in the kids)—and they actually do something about it. It's a pity that it is the kids who show us the way. One Child is a celebration of our kids, of kids together, and our magical world."
Cheng describes the behind-the-scenes experiences of both animals and zookeepers in Zoo You Later!, whie life in a New South Wales goldfield in the mid-1800s is the focus of New Gold Mountain. The novel framed as the diary of a twelve-year-old Chinese immigrant who witnesses the battle between white miners and the Chinese who, as a form of cheap labor, are brought to the region to work the mines and consequently enflame racial tensions. Part of Scholastic's "My Australian Story" series, New Gold Mountain is geared for middle-grade readers and introduces children to Australia's cultural diversity as well as the country's sometimes fractious history.
Discussing his reasons for becoming a writer, Cheng explained that writing stems from his love of animals. As he once told SATA: "As a kid I … spent oodles of time watching people, talking to people, and reading books, newspapers, magazines, comics, and the occasional shop window; in fact, anything that had words written on it.… I also read the animal books, lots of them, but to me it always seemed strange that the books were often about animals from other countries. I sometimes used to think that we didn't have any animals of our own—but we certainly do, and they are fantastic, and that is why I probably like talking so much about Australian animals.
"I actually started writing books … when I was asked to put down on paper the stuff that kids would like to know about animals of the night. I had been working with animals for a few years by then, so I knew a few strange things about animals, and what better thing to do than put them down in a book. That began The Eyespy Book of Night Creatures, then The Eyespy Book of Endangered Animals, then more animal books—who knows what will come next!
"I believe I have many stories to tell. I believe that kids like the stories I tell.… And I think that I know what kids want to read—and hopefully my stories are part of that. And I love writing. I love to sit down and write to see the words flow onto the computer screen, words that were just scribbled notes in my Ideas Book that I carry with me just about everywhere.… Or maybe the words were scribbled on the back of a shopping docket, on an unfilled page in my diary on a day yet to come, on anything that would take scribbling. I've even scribbled ideas on a tablecloth—a paper tablecloth that I tore when I left the restaurant so that I could take my writings with me. And maybe those words matched with luscious pictures from a superbly talented illustrator will create a picture book—that's just magical.
"I love the kids I write for. I love their honesty, their openness and their ‘realness.’ They'll tell me if the story sucks, but they also tell me if the child in my story is them. I love sitting on the floor with a bunch of kids, listening to their stories and they in turn listening to me (and children today need and want to be listened to). Nothing is better than the adulation, the adoration, and the love that you receive from kids—for the highest of highs, that's it. I write for the children in me, for the child in you and the children all around us."
On his home page, Cheng also passed along a suggestion to budding writers: "My advice is to enjoy what you do, listen to what others have to say about your writing, and respond to it. Believe in your writing, and believe in YOU."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Magpies, March, 1998; November, 2000, review of Zoo You Later!, p. 45; September, 2005, Annette Dale Meiklejohn, review of New Gold Mountain: The Diary of Shu Cheong, Lambing Flat, New South Wales, 1860-1861, p. 33.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Kathy Piehl, review of One Child, p. 146.
Christopher Cheng Home Page,http://www.chrischeng.com (September 29, 2006).