Oliver Phommavanh – “nerds are cool”

Some of you may have seen Oliver scootering around the Reading Matters conference recently.  Here he is to give you a bit of an insight into the writing of Con-nerd.


Nerds are cool. Now stay with me here, I think nerds have come a long way since those scary movies like Revenge of the Nerds (I was scared because I thought it was a glimpse into my future).

Con-nerd is a celebration of all things nerdy. You might have a kid like Connor in your class, that quiet achiever who excels at schoolwork, doesn’t have too many friends. The glasses are optional but with all those books that the kid’s burrowing into, it won’t be long before they’ll have four eyes. Connor feels like he’s had glasses since he was born.

Connor doesn’t have too many friends, his neighbour Mandy almost doesn’t count. He shields himself from other kids with his secret obsession, drawing comics. It’s only when he meets a new cute girl, Tori, that he crawls out of his shell. Before you know it, his classmates are in on the action, giving Connor a cool makeover and an opportunity to show the world his cartooning talents.

Of course Mum has Connor on track to be a doctor, with countless textbooks and tutoring classes. I think back to when I was a kid. My parents went through a phase where I had to be number one in my school. I went to Saturday and Sunday classes in a shed out the back of someone’s house. Yeah, tutoring classes used to be more underground back then. My mum wanted me to get into a selective school and it really turned me off schoolwork. I hated the studying overload.

You see, I might look like a nerd but as Millhouse from the Simpsons says, ‘Nerds are smart’. While I was good at writing and reading, I was happy being average. As a teacher, I see so many kids who are pushed one way, while their heart’s keen on something else. Not that every high achieving kid thinks extra tuition is torture, some kids love it. But when they don’t enjoy what they’re doing, kids like Connor have to speak up, take a risk and go for their dreams.

Con-nerd is inspired by those kids who love cartooning and comic books. Everybody can doddle, give anyone a blank page and pencil, stick them into a boring lecture or phone conversation and I bet there will be spiral patterns or pictures on the paper. I visualise my stories with my own stick figure comics and I help students plan their plots with pictures. I get kids to think of their own stories as little flip books.

It’s no fluke that Diary of a Wimpy Kid has gone gangbusters, the mix of pictures and words engages readers. Graphic novels and comic books have started to make an impact in the classroom. Makes me wish I could go back in time!

A part of Con-nerd comes from my experience of being tagged as a nerd. It didn’t really affect me, I was proud to be one. I didn’t particularly fit into the stereotype. I mean pants worn up to their belly buttons should be banned completely. But kids around me quickly realise that I was no four eyes, I had a knack for writing and telling funny jokes. Just like Connor, kids see past the glasses and discover a kid who is gifted in different way.

Oh and YES, Tori is based on a Korean girl that I had a huge crush on. I thought I had to be cool to woo her but it turns out that all I had to do was be myself. Beauty and the Geek? Sure, but hey we can all dream right?

Nerds have crept into pop culture, with shows like Glee who have nerds with musical talents. When people read Con-nerd, I hope they realise that there’s a nerd in all of us. We all have our secret obsessions and passions. Go out and tell the world about them! Be proud of who you are.

Visit Oliver’s website

This entry was posted in Asia, Australian Curriculum, Family, Special Guest, Themes. Bookmark the permalink.

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