You may or may not have heard of Charles Huang, but I’m sure you know what Guitar Hero is (only one of the most successful video game franchises in history). Charles, and his brother, co-founded RedOctane, which developed Guitar Hero, which was eventually acquired by Activision. I met Charles many years ago at a local candidate’s political fundraiser in Mountain View and have kept in touch.
But more interesting, to me at least, was that Charles had recently self-published, along with a friend, a children’s book entitled, Jade Stars – The Great Race – How the Chinese Zodiac Came to Be, available as an e-book, but recently published as a physical book (printed in Chicago, USA!) – which especially for kids, I think is still relevant – that tangible book that you can hold, read with your son(s) or daughter(s), and turn the pages. The physical book unfortunately can only currently be purchased online here, but Charles said he is working on a distribution deal with one of the big book distributors, so future retail distribution will be available some time in the future.
I had a chance recently to sit down and chat with Charles at his officeÂ in the San Francisco Bay Area to learn about he came about publishing this children’s book.
Now Charles may be perceived as a Silicon Valley mogul and video gaming founder superstar, but his background and interests are a bit more academic. At Berkeley, he was actually a Chinese history major and his goal was to become a history professor. Funny how one’s life direction can change due to different circumstances!
When I dropped by to visit Charles, he explained how he had heard about the story of a Chinese fable from his mother, explaining how the order of the Chinese zodiac was decided – through a great race. This wasn’t necessarily a fable that was widely published, but more like something that was told from mother-t0-child, over generations. I told Charles this reminded me of the many stories I had heard and learned about when I went to Chinese school as a kid, through booklets published I believe from the Taiwanese (R.O.C. government) for learning traditional Chinese characters for reading and writing.
Charles had brought up the Chinese zodiac story with a work colleague/friend, Stacey Hirata – then the two decided that it would be great to make a children’s book out of the story. Through friends, Charles and Stacey were referred to Jerome Lu to illustrate the story.
Charles thought that this children’s book could possibly reach a wider audience beyond the Chinese American community since Chinese New Year is increasingly becoming more mainstream or at least more widely aware amongst the American public (if only due to the rise of China economically). I had mentioned to Charles that I recall as a kid eating at Chinese restaurants in Western Massachusetts, and a lot of the paper placemats had the Chinese zodiac to educate Americans about it. In Jennifer 8. Lee’s book, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, she states that there are more Chinese restaurants in America than McDonald’s, Burger King’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s – combined (over 40,000 Chinese restaurants) – so I wouldn’t be surprised if most Americans learned about the zodiac from these sort of placemats.
The Great Race, a colorful 9″ x 9″ book, starts the fable off:
“The Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven and Earth, wished to have a big birthday celebration. He invited his favorite animals from throughout the land. To add to the festivities, he decided to organize a great race. The racers would swim across the river to reach the finish line in front of his palace for a heavenly reward.”
and goes on to tell the story of each animal finishing the race, first with the rat, then the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.
I have two nieces, the oldest one being almost 3.5 years old, and so I thought The Great Race would be a nice change from a Disney or Dora the Explorer book.
After publishing The Great Race, Charles is thinking about other fables to publish, not just focused on Chinese stories, but of all different sorts of cultures. But Charles did say that there was a plethora of Chinese fables explaining the origins of a lot of Chinese idioms and phrases (like “crossing the rubicon”) and hopes to continue publishing these sorts of stories.
So if you’re interested in reading a story book to your young child and teaching them a little bit about the Chinese zodiac, this is the book for you!