I’ll be co-teaching a class with children’s author Kallie George about picture books and illustrated books in the new year, which has led me to doing a lot of drawing and sketching recently.

In past years I’ve been terrible at keeping a lot of my foundational character design work, so I decided to have some fun by refining the visuals of a new character, one that has no connection to my previous illustrated books like Kendra Kandlestar or I’ll Follow the Moon.

For now, let’s just call this character “the boy with the inside out shirt.” He’ll be one of the examples I show my students in the new year!


boyinsideoutshirt-labels  boywithinsideoutshirt

Today is our annual Yoda Yulefest party, an event we host for our gang of local geeks and nerds. More on that in a future post, but it just so happens that our party this year coincided with the last day of my creative writing workshops for the term. In each class we did a reading workshop of an Origami Yoda book by the one and only Tom Angleberger.

I love teaching these books because they include instructions for making the origami Star Wars character. This builds perfectly on one of my core philosophies as a teacher, which is connecting students to literature (both reading and writing) through a variety of artful activities.

Here are some of my kids’ origami creations . . .

cwc_nv_oy09 cwc_nv_oy08 cwc_nv_oy07 cwc_nv_oy06 cwc_nv_oy05 cwc_nv_oy04 cwc_nv_oy03 cwc_nv_oy02 cwc_nv_oy01 cwc_lv_oy06 cwc_lv_oy05 cwc_lv_oy04 cwc_lv_oy03 cwc_lv_oy02 cwc_lv_oy01

As I mentioned in some earlier posts, I was surprised to discover so much story inspiration on my recent trip to the big island of Hawaii. I’m not much of  a beach person, but I did figure I’d spend a lot of time swimming, snorkeling, and unwinding.

As it turned out, my brain never did turn off and I came up with some crucial world building details for a project I’m working on. Thankfully, I had made sure to bring my brainstorming journal with me and I was able to scribble down a few pages of furious notes and doodles . . .

qq_brainstorminghawaii_01 qq_brainstorminghawaii_02 qq_brainstorminghawaii_03 qq_brainstorminghawaii_04

Messy, as usual! But these types of pages always turn out to be a lifeline during the writing process.

Every term, as part of my workshops at CWC, my students and I read and discuss a selection of middle-grade books.

This particular list is actually from the Spring term of 2014. I never ended up posting my students’ ranking of the titles, but I figured now would be a good time, in case anyone is looking for some suggestions for holiday gifts.

I picked the books, so I personally recommend all of them—but the ranking below (from least preferred to favorite) comes from my students, aged 8-13. There were fourteen books in total, one for each week of our class.


14. The Borrowers
By Mary Norton
Average rating: 6.64

This was one of my favorite books as a child, but my students found it too old-fashioned and slow-moving. Still, if you have a student that likes a classical book, then this is a good one!


13. The End of the Beginning
By Avi
Average rating: 6.65

This is a sweet book, probably best for younger kids. It reminds me of Winnie-the-Pooh.


12. Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Average rating: 6.75

I absolutely LOVE this book, a novel written in poetic format. I wish my students would have appreciated it as much as me. There are a few scenes in this book that will tease the tears from your eyes. It’s a sequel to Love That Dog.


11. A Dog Called Homeless
By Sara Lean
Average rating: 7.59

Usually books about dog run away with the ratings! Not that 7.59 isn’t anywhere remotely near bad, as I always encourage my students to be critical in their reviews. Still, I was surprised this one didn’t inch up towards 9!


10. The Sandman and the Turtles
By Michael Morpurgo
Average rating: 7.75

Michael Morpurgo is one of my favorite authors and I always try to teach one of his books. I’ve taught so many of his titles, that I had to dig a little deeper into his catalogue to do this one, which is a short and sweet fairytale story. It rated higher than I expected, as this actually isn’t my favorite of Morpurgo’s titles. (I highly recommend checking out The Butterfly Lion, Running Wild, and Kaspar, Prince of Cats).


9. A Nest for Celeste
By Henry Cole
Average rating: 8.02

This is a beautifully illustrated book (by the author) that follows the adventures of a little mouse who observes the famous naturalist John James Audubon. This is a perfect book for animal lovers.


8. Fake Mustache
By Tom Angleberger
Average rating: 8.43

Mr. Angleberger is better known for his Origami Yoda series, but this is a humorous book. One of my students thanked me profusely for putting this (in his words) beautiful book on our reading list.


7. The Sixty-Eight Rooms
By Marianne Malone
Average rating: 8.49/10

My goddaughter recommended this book to me, and I loved it so much, I decided to teach it. It draws inspiration from the miniature rooms that actually exist in the Chicago Art Institute.


6. The Castle in the Attic
By Elizabeth Winthrop
Average rating: 8.74

This is another classic book, but the students loved it more than The Borrowers. This is a great book for fans of books like The Indian in the Cupboard.


5. The Bad Beginning
By Lemony Snicket
Average rating: 8.87

What can you say about this one? It’s the first book in my goddaughter’s all time favorite series. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Lemony Snickett a few times at different book presentations. He just oozes funny.


4. Flora & Ulysses
By Kate DiCamillo
Average rating: 9.19

This book recently won the Newberry award (though I had put it on my list before that happened). My students absolutely loved this book, especially the comic page inserts.


3. The Familiars
By Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Average rating: 9.25

I guess I should be happy that this book rated so high, as it is sometimes compared to my own Kendra Kandlestar book (I guess it’s all the animals and magic). This has become a popular series, but if you haven’t heard of it yet, then it’s a great book for those who love animals and magic.


2. Keepers of the School: We the Children
By Andrew Clements
Average rating: 9.26

This one barely edges out The Familiars. It has some great illustrations done with classic spot color. My biggest disappointment is that is has no resolution for the main problem introduced; you have to read the sequel for that one. (Many of my students did).


1. Tuesdays at the Castle
By Jessica Day George
Average rating: 9.69

This book has a great premise: a magical castle that has moving rooms. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have any illustrations. But fans of fantasy will love this book.

* * *

There you have it! Please check out the titles from your favorite local bookstore or etailer.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I discovered a lot of inspiration when my wife and I visited the big island of Hawaii in November. In addition to the varied (and often fantastical) landscape, the petroglyphs, and the totems, we encountered a lot of wildlife—much to my surprise.

Kids often ask me how I get inspiration for some of the monsters in my Kendra Kandlestar books. The visual appearance of my characters come from all sorts of sources, but there’s no doubt that the emotion that Kendra feels when running into the Ungers, Krakes, skarm, and countless other creatures is derived from my own personal experiences. I’ve seen giant water lizards in Bangkok, found myself standing between a mama moose and her calf in Canada, and crossed paths with a jaguarundi in the Guatemalan jungle near the ancient temple of Tikal.

Some of those experiences were a bit dangerous. I didn’t have quite the same excitement in Hawaii, but I did get plenty of animal-related inspiration for a world (well, actually two worlds) that I’m developing as part of a new book.

Here’s some of the critters we encountered . . .


Geckos are everywhere in Hawaii. You’d be hard pressed not to find these colorful characters. They would scurry past my feet in the morning when I would go out on the lanai each morning to drink my coffee. Yes, they’re pretty skittish, but at one of the cafes we went to, we saw an amusing sight. The staff puts out little pots of jelly to attract the geckos. Despite the nearby patrons, the geckos sneak down for a tasty treat. The way they slurped down the jelly reminded me of my cat at its dish.


Below is a leaf bug that I saw perched outside of a park bathroom. I’ve never seen one in real life before. I did a double-take when I saw this one.


Of course, one of the things Hawaii is known for is sea turtles. I once illustrated an entire book about them (I’ll Follow the Moon). I kind of wished I had been to Hawaii first and experienced these turtles before doing that book! We saw the turtles in many places, but one day we hiked out to a remote beach where we found many of them out on a low-lying spit of land. It was shallow enough to walk right across and get a better look at the turtles—though we also obeyed the signs and made sure to keep our distance, so as not to disturb them from their rest.



The turtle below came right up alongside me while I was perched on the rocks. It came so close that I could have almost touched it! I affectionately called it “Big Red.”


We saw many sorts of crabs, but my favorite ones were these big black ones that were perfectly camouflaged against the black lava rock. These scuttling critters, along with the sea turtles, really helped me formulate a clear idea for a very specific aspect of the worlds I’m currently building in my new book.


The picture below is of a dolphin in a pool at a hotel nearby where we were staying. My wife adores dolphins and we were lucky enough to also see them in their natural habitat when we were snorkeling. We couldn’t get a picture of those ones, even though we swam out to try and interact with them. Alas, it was too far out, and we had to turn back.


By far, my favorite creature experience of the trip was seeing a family of chameleons. They lived on an avocado tree on a coffee plantation that we visited. We would have missed this experience all together, except Marcie asked why there was a “Chameleon Crossing” sign next to the gift shop. The tour guide took us over and showed us the chameleons by lifting two of them out of the tree.

I had never seen chameleons up so close and was completely fascinated by them. We even got to hold the baby one.

hawaii_chameleon-adult hawaii_chameleon-baby-lef hawaii_chameleon-baby

Of course, there were plenty of other creatures that I don’t have pictures of. I never could snap off a picture of one of the mongooses that were darting about our residence. Maybe next time . . .

My recent trip to the big island of Hawaii was meant as an escape from the dreary weather that plagues Vancouver in November. Little did I know that I would find so much inspiration there!

I love the things left behind by ancient and early civilizations, so was excited to find instances of these during my time in Hawaii. In an earlier post, I talked about my visit to Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau, the royal grounds. On another day trip, my family and I explored the petroglyphs of Puakō.

Our day began with a short hike (maybe half an hour) through the woods. Marcie felt like she was a princess traipsing through a fairytale wood:


As for me, I fancied myself as entering Jurassic Park!


Along this walk, we saw our first petroglyphs, which were carved on individual rocks. These, as far as I could ascertain, were “modern” petroglyphs.


This one in particular, caught my attention, since the figure rocks essentially the same hairstyle as me:


This one of the sea turtle was quite cute.


Eventually, we arrived at the main park, where there were countless petroglyphs carved into the vast bed of red rock.



According to the information sign, the ancient Hawaiians had to cross the long plain of hardened black lava flow to reach this area. That must have been quite a long and exhausting trek. Most of the figures are oriented towards the mountain.

As we circled the site, we came upon many other petroglyphs carved into various rocks or fragments of rocks.


I love getting a glimpse at an older world. I’ve seen petroglyphs on Gabriola Island in Canada and hieroglyphics in Egypt, plus many other ancient sites in Europe and Asia. It’s the foundational history of our societies, the same type of foundational history that I try to invest in my own imagined worlds.

In Kendra Kandlestar and the Door to Unger, for example, there are old carvings in the Elder Stone that play an important role in the story. The old sorceress, Winter Woodsong, introduces Kendra to the carvings at the beginning of the book, but by the time Kendra’s adventure is completed, she has come to view them in a different way. The carvings not only offer a glimpse of the history of Kendra’s people, the Eens, but serve as a symbol of her own personal growth.


I’m currently working on a new project, and the trip to Hawaii helped me in some unexpected ways. I’ll be talking more about that in future posts!




I’m currently vacationing on the big island of Hawaii and have had a lot of fun exploring the local flora and fauna. Yesterday, however, I had fun of a different sort by exploring Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau—the royal grounds. This area rests on the black lava flats of the southern Kona coast and shows some of the aspects of traditional Hawaiian life.

I’m particularly interested in threshold guardians and totems, and have collected quite a few photos of them in my travels. This is my first time in Polynesia, so was excited to see these totems (called Ki’i) up close:


Here are some more of the Ki’i. These ones are situated just outside or within the rebuilt temple. The temple itself once held the bones of the noble chiefs (the ali’i).


puuhonua_o_honaunau_totemcluster puuhonua_o_honaunau_totemgrowling puuhonua_o_honaunau_totemcloseup


These are smaller wood carvings I found in one of the thatched structures where you could also see some traditional fishing gear.



This is a traditional Hawaiian game called Kōnane, set up near the shore.


You can see lava beds throughout the site. These fascinating formations have really inspired me for some of my world-building activities. I’ve been taking many detailed pictures of rock patterns and lava shapes.


Below you can see the great wall, with the palm trees growing up around it. This wall is ten feet high and up to seventeen feet thick. It was built in 1550 to separate the royal compound from the common folk. The rocks are packed so tightly that no mortar was required.


Here’s another, better, view of the wall, stretching towards the sea.


This is the Keōya Stone. Mark Twain, on a visit to Hawaii, said this is where the high chief of Kona would sit. I was actually quite fascinated by the rope, made of natural grasses.


Beyond the great wall, the lava bed stretches out into the crashing waves. The sounds and sights were breathtaking. My wife took this photo as I stood out at the edge, taunting the water to catch me.


We have more adventures planned in the coming days . . . which, of course, means more inspirations.


Here’s the final part of my virtual studio tour, in which I’m showing the items that I have collected or built over the years, and which serve to offer me daily inspiration.

We start off in a corner of artwork and photographs . . .

Brunelleschi Print

My wife bought this print of a Brunelleschi blueprint for me when we were in Florence, Italy. As a student of art history, it had long been a dream of mine to visit Florence. This is a fitting memento.


* * *

The Young Astronomer

This is a print of one of my favorite paintings: The Young Astronomer, by Oliver Van Deuren. I bought it at the National Gallery in London a few years ago. I just love the pensive look on the figure. I think this scene reminds me of how I feel during a moment of study and discovery.


* * *

Zōjōji in Shiba

This is a print of a painting done in 1925 by Hasui Kawase. I loved this scene the moment I saw it. I bought the print in the Asakusa outdoor market when I visited Tokyo in the winter of 2014.


* * *

Travel Photos

These are three of my favorite photos from my travels: ceremonial weapons on the Great Wall of China, the stone head of a buddha statue cradled in the roots of a bodhi tree at Ayatthaya, Thailand, and a spiraling staircase at St. Stephens’ Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.


* * *


I hung these keys in the far corner of the orange section. First, because there was a space to fill and, second, well, you can never have enough keys to inspire you.


* * *

These next pieces are all from the opposite wall of my studio, what I call the “white corner.”

Mickey Mouse Sketch

This is a print of a sketch from the famous “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” scene in Fantasia. That scene has long been one of my favorite pieces of animation.


* * *

Clair de Lune

This is a print of a painting by the Czech art deco artist, Alfonso Mucha. I picked it up on a visit to an art gallery in Prague. I’ve always been a huge fan of art deco art and illustration.


* * *


This frame combines a picture I took at Luxor in Egypt with the famous poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley called Ozymandias. It has always been one of my favorite poems, and when I saw this truncated statue, I was reminded of it.


* * *

We now move into another Star Wars corner of my studio. (Yes, I have two Star Wars corners!)


In this frame are a pair of postcards signed by the actors who played Chewbacca and Boba Fett (I met both in person).


* * *

Star Wars Trilogy Postcards

This frame features the poster series of the re-release of the original trilogy. I can’t remember how I came into possession of this.


* * *


My fully-functioning voice-controlled R2D2 droid stands on guard in the white corner of my studio. He actually has a security alarm as part of his features, so intruders beware!


* * *

Rancor and Ticket

On the shelf near the white corner of my studio is a ticket I was sent from Lucasfilm for the re-release of Star Wars in 1997, standing proudly next to my Rancor action figure.


* * *


Well, he’s more or less a permanent fixture in my studio, so it seems apt to conclude the tour with a photo of him in his usual position!



After months of working on a project to revitalize my writing studio, I’m now posting some photos of the finished space. Because there’s a lot of little details, I decided to break the tour into parts . . . so here’s Part 2!

Kendra Kandlestar Display

One of three custom-made box shelves displays my Kendra Kandlestar books. This is the main thing that students see in the background when I do Skype visits. There is also a miniature peg figure; that’s not a character from Kendra Kandlestar. That’s a miniature version of me, which my wife made to help celebrate the “miniature worlds” writing camp I taught earlier this year. (I’m not sure why the miniature version of me looks so stunned.)


* * *

Dol Hareubang

This little figure sits on the top of my Kendra Kandlestar box shelf. It is a miniature version of a dol hareubang (“stone grandfather”), which I picked up during a stay on Jeju Island, Korea. You can see many large versions of these delightful figures on the island. They are meant to ward of malevolent spirits. The regular-sized ones come to about my chest; I would have loved to bring one of those home, but had to settle for this miniature version, which has been fashioned from the island’s abundance of lava rock.


* * *

Map Case

This is an old leather map case from World War II. I picked it up for just a few dollars in Budapest, Hungary, during a visit to the underground hospital museum there. The map case has many neat pouches and compartments and reminds me of something Indiana Jones might wear. It sits on the shelf next to my dol hareubang.


* * *

Green Man

This is a reproduction of a “green man” relief, which I bought on a visit to Yorkminster in England. The green man is a common symbol in Celtic mythology and can be found throughout Northern European architecture. I’ve always thought of the green man as a sort of gargoyle—but a friendly one.


* * *

Dragon Door Knocker

I bought this dragon door knocker in Edinburgh, Scotland, then mounted it on a piece of wood. I’m obsessed with doors (and all the parts that go with them), and have a lot of them in my children’s books. I have a few keys decorating my studio and so really wanted at least one door knocker. I had trouble deciding how to display or mount it, and finally decided to place it on this panel.


* * *

Shelf of Magical Items

I take a lot of these items to the creative writing workshops I teach at schools and conferences, and have always thought it was a shame that they spent most of their time in a box, waiting to be shown. Now, I can keep my favorite items on permanent display. These are the kinds of things you might find in the Wizard Griffinskitch’s library in my Kendra Kandlestar books. An added bonus is that the goblin eyes match the color of the background wall.


More to come in Part 3!


For months I’ve been working on an ambitious project to “revitalize” my studio space. I’ve been showing glimpses of the work along the way, but now the project is complete, and I can post photos of the finished space.

So, if you are so inclined . . . take this first part of the tour. (More to come in the days ahead).

Star Wars Corner

I actually have TWO Star Wars corners, but this is the first one, in the orange section of the studio. It features the 10th anniversary poster of The Empire Strikes Back (my favorite Star Wars film), plus some cool mini-posters of the original trilogy films featuring designs by artist Olly Moss.


* * *

Diorama of the Treasure Chambers in the Elder Stone

This box shelf displays a small diorama I built of the treasure chamber in the Elder Stone, from Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. You can see the Box of Whispers, as well as the dragon egg that eventually hatched and caused the poor Eens so many problems.


* * *

Replica Helmet

This is a helmet that I bought at a prop sale after a local theatre company closed its door. The helmet is very well constructed and, I believe, was used in a production of Macbeth. When it’s not on my shelf, it’s on my head (for Halloween or other inspirational purposes).


* * *

Mysterious Key

This is a very large and heavy key that I plucked from my editor’s treasure trove. I’m obsessed with old keys, so it’s best not to leave them in my presence unattended.


* * *


This is an interesting piece of wood—look closely, and you will glimpse the stones naturally embedded within its twisted shape. My brother found this piece of driftwood on a riverbank in the BC wilderness and passed it on to me, telling me that it looked like something magical, something you could find in “one of my wizard books.” He wasn’t wrong; this piece has served as inspiration for Eenwood, the magical staffs used in my Kendra Kandlestar series.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of the tour!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 192 other followers