Distinctive in his sharp and brightly-coloured suits, Chris Lam Sam is a children's entertainer, author and musician based in Wellington.
He's also a part of our Writers in Schools programme, and last month we sent him on a tour of nine West Coast schools to talk about writing, reading and being creative.
In his lively sessions, Chris introduced his book, Inspector Brunswick: The Case of the Missing Eyebrow, published by TATE London and illustrated by Angela Keoghan, held writing workshops and talked about the life-changing magic of reading.
We had some really wonderful feedback from the schools Chris visited.
A teacher at Sacred Heart School in Reefton wrote that their students found him very funny.
"He was extremely engaging. As teachers, we loved the message he pushed of how essential reading and writing was in meeting whatever dream they had for their futures," they said.
Inspector Brunswick was hot property at Greymouth Main School after Chris' visit:
"The interest in his book was great. I left the copy on my desk and even though the students had the book read to them the week leading up to the visit they all wanted to re-read it once he had left," wrote a teacher.
At Blaketown School they felt the same way. A teacher wrote:
"Our school library is used by each class each week. We will be purchasing his book - the students approached us immediately after his talk requesting it - staff did too!"
But they also had this to share:
"Students really clicked to his presentation and realised that they need literacy for so many things. They really clicked onto the storyboard idea and the development of a story needing a lot of thinking out. (comment like - now we know why you make us plan, brainstorm etc). HOWEVER he was even more inspirational to the older students in a non-literacy way - they loved that he was individual enough to wear a purple suit. They decided that he was a role model for liking yourself enough to not conform to what others see as the norm, and be strong enough as a person to stand out."
We talked to Chris about his work and this tour, which was his first for the Book Council.
Please tell us about your work. What do you do, when you’re not visiting schools for us?
I’m a touring entertainer based in Wellington. That means when I’m not visiting schools for the Book Council, I’m generally visiting schools and performing for someone else! The role that takes me on the road the most each year is working as a musical educator for the Asthma & Respiratory Foundation of NZ. But other musical shows I perform include working with the NZSO, Chamber Music NZ, Goodtime Music Academy, and the Kids For Kids choir shows.
How did you approach planning for the West Coast school visits? How much preparation goes in to a visit?
I contacted every school by email prior to my visit and outlined everything I could potentially offer them within the half-day visit time-frame. Very few contacted me first. Some ended up ordering up the maximum of a full-school assembly talk followed by a writing workshop for fifteen experienced senior writers, while other schools just took one or the other. The most amount of preparation went into creating the main writing workshop I could use at each school, then refining that at the end of each day as the tour went on.
Please tell us about your children’s book. How much of a role did your book play in the sessions you did with the West Coast schools?
My book is called Inspector Brunswick: The Case of the Missing Eyebrow, and was published by the TATE Museum and released by Hamilton-based illustrator, Angela Keoghan and I in London in 2017. We flew over there especially to launch it, and seeing as it was our first picture book release, people always seem fascinated to hear how it all came about.
Angela and I had been working on story ideas since 2012, so it was great to retell our backstory, then read our book in every school. I think kids and teachers always seem to love hearing HOW you got published because many of them have their own secret dream of publishing a book one day too. I also used our book to show a few examples of story structure in my writing workshops.
You have three young sons of your own – how much do they influence your work? And do they enjoy reading and writing too?
My boys (10, 9 and 5) always influence my writing for children because I make sure to read it to them before I shared with other grown ups. If they laugh when I planned a laugh — perfect! If they don’t laugh when I thought they might then it’s back to the drawing board.
My wife plans regular visits to the library for them so they constantly have their noses in new borrowed books! I never mind if what they’re reading is particularly simple (comics are books!) just as long as they’re reading and getting those fluency miles in I’m happy. My experience working as a primary school teacher tells me that even that kind of reading will lead to bigger and better stories eventually.
Any book recommendations for us? (Picture books, novels, non fiction or any other kind...)
I adore picture books! One of my favourite ones to read my boys is Nibbles: The Book Monster by Emma Yarlett. They howl with laughter in that one! For more bedtime laughs I would also recommend Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. If you’re after something a bit more reflective but full of whimsy, check out The High Street or Grandma’s House by Alice Melvin, a fellow TATE author/illustrator living in Scotland.
What are your early reading memories?
I was a child of the 80’s, so lots of Asterix comics, Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings by the bucket-load, Dr. Seuss, Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men books, and an odd-but-beloved highlight for me were Annette Tison's and Talus Taylor's ‘Barbapapa’ family books. To be honest I didn’t own many books as a child. My school library afforded me access to the literature and illustration that has influenced my writing the most.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about the West Coast tour?
I had never been to the West Coast until the Book Council sent me there. It is truly an amazing place both historically and geographically, plus I found the people who live there to be extremely grateful for their Book Council visit! I loved stopping off at Punakaiki (Pancake) rocks on the way home. Definitely one of the most unique places I have ever visited. I’m looking forward to taking my family there for a holiday one day soon!
Thanks for having me, New Zealand Book Council!