3-Minute Interview: Oliver Chin

The San Francisco resident is a children’s author who annually crafts tales incorporating animals of the Chinese zodiac. His latest offering, “Year of the Rat,” tells the tale of Ralph, a baby rat seeking out mischief and adventure. “Year of the Rat” follows Chin’s previous Chinese zodiac-themed stories, “Year of the Pig” (2007) and “Year of the Dog” (2006). Since publishing his latest book in December, Chin has held readings of “Year of the Rat” at local community centers, bookstores and schools.

Most of your earlier writing samples dealt with grown-up themes. What incurred the transition into creating children’s tales? Having my two children [Lucas, 5, and Eli, 2] changed everything. I wanted them to hear a children’s tale that touched upon Chinese culture, but I also wanted the story to have some very universal themes. I felt like too many stories about Chinese traditions were the same; I wanted to mix it up a little.

Do the main characters in your stories take on themes of their particular zodiac sign? I really try to incorporate some of the traditional characteristics of each year’s zodiac into the stories, to give them a sense of uniqueness.

How have you been able to grab the attention of children when you’re reading to them? It’s always tough, but when I’m reading, I have a projector posting big displays of the pictures from my books. The visuals usually work wonders in keeping their attention on me. By and large, I try to talk to them on their level, because I know it can be difficult to sit down and listen to a book when you’re an 8-year-old.

The Year of the Ox is coming up next. How are plans coming along for that book? That’s what I’m working on right now. It’s always a race against the clock to have the next book ready for next year.

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