R.P. Harris is the author of Tua and the Elephant, which takes place in Chiang Mai. This story is on the Junior Book Shortlist
What’s your favourite Thai Food? I love Thai food. I love eating all Thai street food. I love the day markets and the night markets. I can’t get enough of either one of them. But if I had to pick one dish (and I can’t imagine being limited to only one), then I’d have to say…khao soi. I wrote that scene with Tua in the night market eating khao soi in homage.
Why did you choose the name Tua for your main character? Once I got the idea of my character being small and having a very large friend, I wanted a name that would emphasize that image. I asked my friends, Orn and Lek, who worked in the hotel where we were staying (Villa Duang Champa in Chiang Mai), how do you say peanut in Thai. The Duang Champa staff answered all of my cultural and language questions. They were (are) fabulous, and my wife and I visit them whenever we return (wherever they may be). All of the people from Duang Champa have become our mates.
What can children learn about Thailand from reading Tua and the Elephant? I expect your students know more about Thailand than I could ever teach them. But if I could inform the rest of the world, only a little, about how wonderful Thai people are, how special Thai culture is, how delicious Thai food is, and draw attention to the plight of the Asian elephant at the same time, then I reckon I’ve done an acceptable job.
If I have any influence on your students at all, I hope Tua will inspire them to tell their own stories. Thailand has so many stories to tell. There’s a wonderful quote by Toni Morrison that goes something like this: “If you can’t find the story you want to read, then you must write it yourself.” Every one of your students has their own story to tell, and they must write it themselves (according to Toni Morrison; and I think we should all do what Toni Morrison tells us to do, don’t you?).
Did you do any research for your story, and if so how did you go about it? My wife and I embarked on a long trip in 2007. We flew to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand. After visiting the Elephant Nature Park outside of Chiang Mai (and meeting the director Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, her staff and volunteers), I was inspired to write a story about the plight of the Asian elephant. I had never been so…intimate with so many elephants before (we fed them and bathed with them, and learned their stories). What amazing creatures elephants are. And I was inspired by the people I met who were doing so much to help them. I would hope that in my own small way, I can do a bit to help them as well.