Are you a teacher, librarian or educator? I am thrilled to be participating in World Read Aloud Day 2023, and am currently booking 20-minute slots.
A typical structure for my WRAD visits looks something like this:
1-2 minutes: I introduce myself and talk a little about my books (I come with props!)
3-5 minutes: I read aloud a short excerpt from a book.
5-10 minutes: I answer a few questions from students about reading/writing.
1-2 minutes: I book-talk a couple books I love (but didn’t write!) as recommendations for your students.
I’ll be reading from either Spell Sweeper, The Secret of Zoone, or The Guardians of Zoone—or maybe I’ll give you a sneak-peek of a new work! I write middle-grade fantasy books that contain high adventure, plus some meaningful messages about how we can find our place in our communities and the world at large. Ideal for grades 4-7.
Hard to believe the new school year is already here!
I had a very busy—and fun—2021-2022 season as an author, visiting schools, libraries, and learning institutes in Canada, USA, and Korea. Many were done virtually, but I also was thankful to see a return to in-person workshops (especially in Korea!). Many of my workshops were built off the release of my latest middle-grade book, Spell Sweeper—which meant a focus on magic potions, mysterious monsters, enchanted pets, and spell-binding shopping trips!
If I had an official resume, it would read like this for 2021-2022 . . .
World Read Aloud Day (virtual readings for schools across the US and Canada)
Canadian Children’s Book Week Tour (virtual workshops for schools in Alberta and Ontario)
Several in-person workshops for libraries and learning institutes in Korea
Several virtual author presentations for schools and libraries in Canada, in which I rolled out my trademark interactive brainstorming sessions
Vancouver School Board gifted learning program
Star of the Sea School, Grade 5
Kamloops School of the Arts (grades 8-12)
Hume Home Learning school (K-8)
I delivered activities for The Imagine in the Park festival in Hamilton, Ontario, and I even led events for adults, delivering presentations for CANSCAIP, The Writers’ Union of Canada, and WriteOnCon.
What magic will this school year hold? I’m prepping for my scheduled creative writing classes, writer-in-residencies, and school visits now, but you can still book me for an in-person or virtual author visit! Just visit my website.
I’ve been annoying the intraweb this past year with posts about Spell Sweeper (but don’t worry, I’ll still talk about it, because promotion is just part of a modern author’s duties). . . but let me take a break from Spell Sweeper matters and talk about a different project that I worked on, a project of EPIC proportions.
My friend Mike recently unearthed a precious artifact from the past…a script we wrote for our own epic Space Opera when were in elementary school. I introduce to you EXTROIS, taking place in the distant future (uh . . . 2000 A.D.). Yes, the future—where “everything is destroyed, and the people are destroyed” (so I’m not sure how a plot is possible with no characters or setting available, but let’s not nitpick).
It might be the best thing I’ve ever worked on. Though, as Mike pointed out, to try and release this now may result in various lawsuits from Lucasfilm and the estates of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. As I recall, one impediment to this project was that we didn’t actually own a camera to film on. This is now easily rectified, but it’s going to be hard to get the old crew together.
Our costume designs might need some reworking to fit our, uh, advanced body shapes.
Other books and stories from my childhood have survived, and I regularly show my creative writing students, to prove to them that I wasn’t born with some magical talent, but this is the first time where there is a direct comparison between my creative output and a peer’s. I mean, honestly! Mike must have been a joy to teach—his printing is neat, considered, and cleanly spaced. My sections looked like I was writing with my hands tied behind my back! (So, apologies, Mrs. Clough…I can’t believe I made you struggle through my scrawl on a daily basis!)
For all of you out there who think your writing is good enough, and you’ll never get there, then please use this as Exhibit A.
I remembered Mike and I working on this, but thought the script had been lost in time, so it was quite the gift for it to suddenly turn up.
By the way, yes, my last name is spelled differently here. It’s the name I grew up with, but when I was a young adult, I legally changed it back to its original Hungarian form (when my Grandfather immigrated, they anglicized his name, which was often the case back in those days).
At the end of June, I finished up a year-long project at an arts-based high school in Kamloops (about four hours outside of my home city of Vancouver). Over the many months, I delivered a series of world-building activities, all via Zoom, first because of the pandemic and then because the roads were cut off after our extreme flooding (and then because of covid again).
I do a lot of teaching and speaking over digital technologies, but it’s always a bit more challenging when art is involved because I simply don’t get a chance to lean over shoulders and see what everyone’s working on in the moment. Sure, people can send me photos and files, but it’s never quite the same, mostly because I find it harder to connect with the students.
Luckily, I was finally able to make the trip to Kamloops in the last week of June to deliver a keynote speech to the entire school body and to view their amazing gallery of work. The biggest surprise? The students were so engaged, asking me so many questions, and showing some genuine interest—these were things that I just didn’t pick up on during our virtual sessions. So, there was a connection, and that made the experience extremely rewarding.
As for the specifics of the project, the students were divided into teams to create five different realms: Ice, Sky, Underground, Land, and Water. The worldbuilding was applied to every course in the curriculum—not only the obvious ones such as art and writing, but also science and math.
The result was really amazing. As I wandered the gallery of their Enchanted Earth, I found sculpture, myths, recipes, maps, constellations, language systems, field guide entries for creatures, dioramas . . . pretty much every corner of these worlds was imagined and explored.
I’m showing pictures of just a fraction of the amazing pieces.
I want to extend my thank you to all the students and staff at Kamloops School of the Arts (secondary pod), in particular my partner Melanie Gilmar, who spearheaded the entire initiative. A big thank you to ArtStarts, the funding body for the project.
Hey, Spell Sweeper fans—you deserve a gift for all the love you’ve given this book. So, I’m releasing today a free e-book of “EXTRAS,” which you can download HERE.
(If you’re looking to get a copy of Spell Sweeper itself, then check out HarperCollins’ purchase page.)
Lots of goodies here! First, I’ve got some deleted scenes for you (some of those intervening moments where Cara talks about aspects of her life or Dragonsong Academy). It was a hard decision to cut these scenes; even though they are quite short, they slowed down the pacing of the main narrative or, in some cases, I felt the information was covered well enough elsewhere. But if you were dying to know what kids at Dragonsong like to dress up as for Halloween, you won’t have to wonder any longer!
Second, I have included two of the “wizard fairy tales” that are referenced in Spell Sweeper: The Tale of Eurybia the Eradicator and The Tale of Theradune the Betrayer. These tales present the origin stories of two important talismans that impact the plot of Spell Sweeper, but they’ll also give you a glimpse into Cara’s thinking. I never did intend to include these stories in the main book. I just often conceive these kinds of myths as part of my world-building process.
Third, are some Spell Sweeper inspired recipes and, finally, some of my own sketches of the characters (Maike Plenzke’s versions of these characters on the cover are much better than my own, but at least you can see how I was thinking of them).
Well, how many times have I been asked over the last few months: “Will there be a Spell Sweeper sequel?” I’m thankful so many people want one! But I did pitch this book as a stand-alone, so if I ever return to Cara’s story it won’t be quite yet. However, you can enjoy more of Cara’s voice and world RIGHT NOW!
Of course, if you haven’t read Spell Sweeper yet, these extras will provide you with a glimpse of Cara’s voice and, well, let’s just call it her swagger. Either way . . . enjoy!
Unlike Cara Moone in my latest middle-grade book, I never went to magic school as a kid—but I was in a classroom that was incredibly magical.
It started in Grade 3 when I was sent to the hall to sit at a lonely desk and fill out a piece of paper. I thought I was in trouble at first! There was a sheet of paper with rows of circles, and the instructions said to draw.
I can’t remember what I drew exactly, but it definitely wasn’t confined to within those circles. In the weeks ahead, there were a few other tests, and at least one interview with some old guy that came across as very scientific. In my imagination, he hooked me up to electrodes and tested my brain patterns (but I actually think he just asked me complicated questions).
Grade 4 . . . everything changed. I was put into a “creative learning” class with Mrs. Clough. We had a giant room with a small number of students. Some of the students came and went, but as for me, I was in that same classroom with the same teacher for three years.
During those three years, my creativity was nurtured and enflamed. I was given permission to be me. (I grew up on a farm in a small rural town and let’s just say that painting pictures or writing stories did not have many practical applications).
Being in Mrs. Clough classroom was a foundational experience in my life. That room was my haven, a place where I could write, draw, build and explore. Many stories and ideas blossomed within those walls. I became a critical thinker, a dreamer, an enactor.
Mrs. Clough’s classroom helped make me who I am today, both as a writer and arts educator.
How can you ever repay those teachers in your life? It’s impossible, but I’m doing my best today by sending Mrs. Clough signed copies of my books.
Incidentally, that classroom still exists. Eventually our school was turned into a town center and our classroom was converted to become part of the public library . . . so, yep . . . my books are sitting on shelves in the place where I learned how to embrace my creativity.
Last week, I was a guest at a book club (MGLitBC) and had a question from one of the participants about the audiobook version of Spell Sweeper (yes, there’s an audiobook!), and what that process was like.
The book is narrated by Sandy Rustin, and the excerpts I’ve listened to are amazing. When I was listening to samples of other books Sandy had narrated, I knew she could capture the voice of main character Cara perfectly.
However, full disclosure: I haven’t listened to the entire audio book of Spell Sweeper yet. This is partly because I already know the book inside out and the various (and towering) TRB stacks located throughout my house are forever calling to me. But I plan to rectify this situation soon; the audio book is cued up and ready to go!
One final note of interest . . . I didn’t actually know Spell Sweeper would get an audio book when I was writing it; otherwise, I might have changed some of those names (like Dörgés!). It wasn’t just Sandy’s job to pronounce those names; I had to record audio samples of all the character names and made-up terms in advance of audio book production. During that process, I fell into this whole trap of thinking how Cara would pronounce certain names and words. The book is first-person narration and I’m not sure how accurate she would be—she’s not exactly obsessed with the finer points of politeness. So, there’s this line between getting things right while trying to remain true and authentic to Cara’s voice. Ultimately, I pronounced everything as accurately and authentically as I could and advised that we let Cara’s voice shine.
I can’t wait to read the stories that accompany these brooms!
As for the book discussion itself, well I really work hard on my students to be honest in their appraisals of books. It’s especially hard to do when the creator is standing in front of you, so in previous years I never led lit circles on my own books for that reason. But then I decided that it’s a better idea that they read their instructor’s work, so now we tackle it as best we can. We rate our books out of ten, and I’m happy to report that my book received an average score of 8.15/10. (Actually, I’m extremely happy with that because it proves that they were indeed honest).
I will mention that Zuki, the magical fox creature (kitsune) was by far the favourite character.
I’ve been seeing a lot of posts for Spell Sweeper (thank you so much, Intraweb) and every time there are comments about how amazing the cover is—no kidding!
I feel like I won the cover lottery, with artwork done by the amazing Maike Plenzke and some incredible design and typography by Jessie Gang.
Here are a few notes pointing out details and aspects of the cover:
Early sketches of the cover showed the picture frames hanging straight, so that was one detail that was amended in the final. There was no advice offered for the portraits in those frames, but in my mind they definitely represent some of the characters from wizard history that Cara references throughout the book.
Below are some of my own sketches and the photo of the broom reference!
Over the past eighteen years, I’ve met thousands of kids at school visits, library events, writing conferences, and creativity workshops—many of them while visiting overseas.
One of the things that has come up, time and time again, is how much they love books about magical schools (hello, Harry Potter!)—but what also comes up is how they can’t see themselves as a part of the story, except maybe as a periphery character.
This was something that played heavily in my mind as I wrote Spell Sweeper. I wanted the kids in my life (including my own son) to see that the “Chosen One” in this type of story can look like them—not just in another time and place where all the characters might look like them, but in the world at large. Does that make sense?
I also liked playing with this idea that you might have the most wonderful thing in the world happen to you, like being chosen to go to wizard school . . . but then you’re NOT the “Chosen One.” How many of us had dreams come true (like being published!), but then don’t become New York Times bestselling authors, and either beat ourselves up or stew in jealousy? But even if you’re not at the top of the ladder, does that mean you should devalue the fact that you made it on the rungs in the first place?
It’s a struggle that I am witness to all the time: in myself, in my friends, in my kids. So, I guess I wanted to say…welcome to the magical world. You’re in it, no matter who you are.