I’m just wrapping up a creative writing camp on the theme of “GALAXY.” We’ve been writing a variety of projects, including a newspaper-style article about the discovery of alien evidence, and dramatic scenes of humans having to escape from an alien’s zoo.
Probably the biggest hit, though, was my module on robots. Our camp has all been virtual, but I was determined to incorporate some sort of prop-building activity. This meant a lot of preparation, assembling “robot kits” and sending out the packages to the students in advance. Most of the pies came from household items—paper cups, lids, plastic containers, paper clips . . . yep, a whole lot of “junk” can really add up to something fun and amazing! I augmented the junk with some craft supplies such as gears, brads, and clock hands.
The students loved receiving the kits and the project turned out better than anticipated. Below are some of the amazing models that they made. Many of the pieces move—the dials spin, the heads rotate, and the propellors swivel.
Afterward, we wrote robot instruction manuals and developed communication/language systems to go with them.
The on in the bottom right-hand corner is actually the one I built as part of demo-process. I call mine a Nerd Detector, but something didn’t turn out quite right, since it kept pointing at me. Oh, well!
See if you can find my secret word in the story below and continue the search to the other authors on my team and find their words as well!
Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!
I’m on the ORANGE team, and by participating in BOWS, you can enter to win all of these great books:
Now, onto the text where you can search for my secret word. Below is a “side-story” that I drafted as part of my writing process for my middle-grade book The Secret of Zoone. While staying in the magical multiversal hub of Zoone, it’s mentioned that my main character Ozzie has read a book of Ophidian fairytales. Well, this is one of them . . .
The Delicious Dragon A fairytale from Ophidia
Long ago, when dragons still mined for gold, there lived a princess, high in the mountains of Ophidia, in a magnificent castle lair. Her name was Merigna and she was the same as all princesses: greedy, gold-hoarding, and vile in appearance. Her eyes were pale and blue, her hair was so long that it fell in curls upon her shoulders, and her nails were long and painted a crimson red.
But these were not the worst things about her.
Each night, she awoke with the moon and, after a hasty breakfast, rushed to the royal vault to count her treasure. Every gold coin and gemstone came from the dragons who dwelled in the forests below; it was what they forfeited to the Princess. The dragons toiled day in and day out, mining treasure from the deep earth.
Yes, the dragons had natural weapons, but, like all dragons, they were timid and gentle-hearted beasts. And from her mountain-top lair, the Princess commanded the thunderclouds, so that whenever the dragons pondered revolt, she threatened to destroy them with her power.
The Princess was the master of them; the dragons were her slaves. But there soon came a time when she was not satisfied with merely counting her treasure. She wanted to swim in it, so she demanded that the dragons work even harder. Double the amount of treasure poured into her vault each week. Soon the level of treasure was so high that Merigna could slither and slip through the mounds of gold. She let the coins spill through her fingers and rejoiced in the tickle of the gemstones as they massaged her skin.
For a time, the Princess was satisfied with this nightly routine. But, as she grew in age, so did her indulgences. No longer was swimming in treasure forged by dragon fire enough to placate her greedy heart. She began to demand the egg of a dragon be brought to her once each week, so that she might feast upon it for her breakfast.
Her soldiers ventured into the forests to pluck the eggs from the nests in the dragon villages. The dragons quavered at the approach of the soldiers, and each day they wailed, “Do you not know how precious and rare our dragon eggs are? They are laid only to be our children, not to be the fruit for your Princess’s delight.”
The soldiers brought back the dragon pleas to Merigna, but she was a princess, and, like all princesses, her heart was cold and unyielding. She demanded the soldiers perform her bidding and so it came to pass that each and every week, under the plaintive gaze of the moon, she devoured a dragon egg for her breakfast.
It was not long before the race of dragons began to decline, their numbers becoming sparse, their species rare. Entire villages soon lay abandoned in the forests.
And, yet, Princess Merigna’s ravenous appetite only continued to grow. There came a time when she demanded not only her daily swim in dragon gold, and her weekly dragon egg breakfast, but to dine on a roasted dragon hatchling for her Full-Moon Feast.
Each month the soldiers would escort the gluttonous Princess into the remaining dragon villages, where the dragons were forced to present their young for inspection. Only the tender, most juicy dragon would do for Princess Merigna. Once she had made her choice, the sacrificial hatchling was taken away to her mountain lair and slain for her Full-Moon Feast.
The dragon numbers continued to dwindle until there was only one remaining village left and the species hovered on the knife-edge of extinction. Finally, in desperation, the village elders called for one of their most adventurous citizens. His name was Grust, and he was a handsome creature, with vivid green eyes and a long black tongue.
“Go forth into the mines of Ophidia,” the village elders told Grust, “and search for the ancient dragon-witch known as Estrella the Wise. It is said that she slumbers, sometimes a hundred years at a time, deep below the surface of the earth, deeper than memory. If anyone can save us, it will be the dragon-witch.”
Grust was eager to accept this quest, for there were only eight children left in all the village, and one of them was his own beloved son. With this weighing on his heart, he descended into the mines and began his search for the fabled dragon-witch.
For many weeks did young Grust travel, with each step delving deeper and deeper into the mines. He passed through the Cave of Fangs, where dripping stalagmites rained acid. He navigated the Poison Tunnel, where toxic gasses leached from fissures in the rock. He even crossed the Bridge of Fire, which arched over a bubbling sea of lava. At last, he arrived at a quiet and humble hole, deep within the earth. He could feel heat emanating from this dark cave and knew at once that this was the domain of Estrella the dragon-witch.
Grust was a brave dragon, but now he hesitated, lingering with uncertainty on the dragon-witch’s doorstep.
“I can hear your breathing, and it has awakened me,” rumbled a voice from the hole. “If you mean to enter my cave, then do so now! Otherwise, let me go back to sleep; for I have only slept these past 99 years, and am feeling grouchy.”
Grust swallowed, mustered his courage, and crept into the cave. Even in the darkness, he could catch a glimpse of the dragon-witch. She was thin and bony, with dull scales and ever duller teeth. Only her eyes were sharp; they glinted bright and green with cleverness.
“Tell me, why have you disturbed my slumber?” Estrella boomed.
“There is a princess who vexes our people,” Grust informed the dragon-witch. “I have been sent to ask for your help.”
“There is always a princess,” Estrella grumbled, twitching her long tail, which was crooked and kinked, and missing many of its scales. “What is this one doing?”
Grust told Estrella of the terrible Princess Merigna, and her appetite for baby dragons. Now, Estrella had lived a long time, but even she was horrified to hear such a tale. After Grust was finished talking, Estrella sighed, closed her eyes, and began to think. She thought so long that Grust wondered if she had fallen back asleep.
But, eventually, she opened her luminous green eyes and said, “I have devised a plan to save dragonkind. I will brew a potion, and you must take this back to the village. Whichever child is chosen by Merigna must smuggle this potion into her lair. Then, just before Merigna slays the hatchling, he should down this elixir.”
“What will it do?” Grust wondered.
“It will give him great power to defeat the Princess,” Estrella claimed.
Grust agreed with the plan, and Estrella set to work in her chambers, brewing and concocting her potion. For several days she worked and when at last she was done, she poured a portion of the substance into a small glass vial and thrust it into Grust’s claws.
“My work is done,” she told the dragon hero. “Now, return at once to your people—and let me go back to sleep!”
Grust thanked the dragon-witch and made all haste back to his village. By the time he returned, there were only seven hatchlings remaining—for during his absence, Merigna had come to claim one more of them. And, now, it was the night of the full moon, and the princess was coming any moment to choose her next victim. Grust had returned just in time!
All the hatchlings, including Grust’s own son, were lined up in order to be presented to the evil Princess. When she arrived, she prowled in front of them, surveying their plump bodies, and ravenously licking her lips. Since there were only seven hatchlings, it did not take her long to choose one of them; Grust’s own son.
Just before Merigna’s soldiers loaded the hatchling into her chariot, Grust rushed to his son and embraced him. During this moment, he was able to pass the potion to the hatchling and explain the plan. Grust’s son was a clever and brave dragon and, with a nod of understanding, he hid the vial in the curl of his tail, then went forth with the loathsome Princess.
Now, Merigna was a particularly bloodthirsty princess, and though there was a royal butcher and a royal cook in her employ, she preferred to conduct the deed of killing the chosen hatchlings herself. After the soldiers had deposited Grust’s son in her personal chambers, the Princess unsheathed her knife and smiled maliciously at the innocent hatchling.
The poor dragon was quaking in fear, but he remembered the potion that his father had bestowed upon him. With a quick flick of his tail he tossed the vial into his mouth, gnashed it in his teeth, then swallowed it whole. He felt the liquid drizzle down his throat and prepared for its powers to take effect.
The Princess approached, brandishing her blade. Grust’s son opened his tiny mouth, expecting to gush fire and rage upon dragonkind’s worst enemy.
But only a mere puff of smoke emerged. The potion had failed. Princess Merigna conducted her deed and the dragon hatchling was roasted. Soon the princess was sitting at her royal table to enjoy her meal.
But enjoy it, she did not.
As she took the first sweet taste of dragon, Merigna’s throat constricted. Her eyes bulged; her stomach boiled with fire. She dropped her silver fork and clutched desperately at her neck, gasping for air. She collapsed to the ground, thrashing and writhing in agony. Next, she began to scream—so loudly that her cries thundered down the mountains and into the forests of Ophidia. After a few moments, the cries ceased all together.
Princess Merigna was dead.
Deep down in the mines of Ophidia, Estrella the dragon-witch chuckled in her sleep. She had known all along that the liquid in the vial would not give the hatchling power. She had brewed a deadly poison because she knew that the only way to trick Merigna into ingesting it was by poisoning the hatchling first.
That crafty old witch! Her ruse had worked, and now the dragons were free. Grust mourned for his son, but dragons always know to put the greater good before their own selfish needs. He knew that the sacrifice was a worthy one.
Alas, there always seems to be another princess on the rise, greedy for gold and dragon suffering, but for now, what can we say? Blink of an eye, flick of a tongue, hiss no more—this tale is done!
My latest middle-grade book is called Spell Sweeper, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.
You can add Spell Sweeper to Goodreads HERE or preorder it HERE. You can also request a digital or audio advanced reading copy via NetGalley or Edelweiss.
Release feels like a long way off (the book is coming out as hardcover, ebook, and audio book in November 2021), but I wanted to provide some insights into my inspirations. Spell Sweeper is very different from anything else I’ve had published. It’s written in first-person present-tense and is set firmly in this world (as opposed to my other books, which take place in completely made-up worlds).
So here’s a little background . . .
Who in their right mind writes a book about wizard school?
What a dangerous enterprise! To the masses, the Harry Potter books are so popular and authoritative that many give J.K. Rowling credit for single-handedly inventing the concepts of wands, wizards with long white beards, owls as familiars, the Chosen One and many other fantasy tropes. (This is a testimony to the power of her characters, settings, and world building.)
Instead of trying to ignore this behemoth of a series, I tried to play upon it, giving my main character Cara Moone a slightly satirical tone as she confronts certain tropes in her adventures and, depending on her mood, is either impressed by them being fulfilled or miffed that they have been contradicted.
Of course, I wasn’t thinking only of Harry Potter, but of the long line of fantasy books, movies, and TV shows that populate this genre (though at the same time understanding that for many of my readers, their own references may go no further than Rowling’s books). I was thinking about Jane Yolen’s Wizard’s Hall, The Little Broomstick by Mary Stewart, The Worst Witch by Jilli Murphy, Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, The Chronicles of Narnia, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, Star Wars,Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly . . . the list goes on. I was thinking of how often we find these common (and cherished) tropes of a mentor, a magical talisman used to finish the quest, a prophecy of a chosen one.
Side note: I am particularly fascinated by the concept of the Chosen One. If you’re interested in exploring the roots of this archetypal character, then I suggest you check out the excellent two-part series from the IDEAS podcast:
In 2004, I met a like-minded dreamer named Joon-hyoung Park who was seeking a writing program for his daughters to take. He couldn’t find the right type of workshop, so he decided to invent one—and he wanted my help. The next thing you know, Joon and I had started a creative writing program in Vancouver for immigrant kids from Asia (our own school of magic!).
Our workshops blossomed and bloomed, and now we host many programs for kids from all walks of life. We write stories, draw pictures, brew potions, build dragon eggs—you name it!
My wife and I have enjoyed an additional privilege—the opportunity to visit Asia to teach creative writing at schools, libraries, and education centers (I’ve been to Korea over twenty times!). Reading the stories by these creative kids—and about their dreams, desires, and fears—has definitely played a role in the creation of Dragonsong Academy. (By the way, it’s no exaggeration to say that our teaching experiences led us to Japan, and our son Hiro, in 2018.)
Over the years, I’ve met a lot of Harry Potter fans, but my students, being largely from an Asian background, always had trouble finding themselves in the books. (Yes, there’s Cho Chang, but as far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t get to do any of the fun stuff.) So, one thing I wanted to do was to populate my school with characters that represent and reflect my students (and, for that matter, my son). These aren’t just side characters, but ones who are talented and powerful and often get to lead the charge.
The other common feeling I’ve observed in my students is a yearning to be popular and famous, whether it be in their families, at their schools, or on the Internet. Cara is like so many of us; she feels inadequate and is constantly pestered by those “why not me?” or “when is it my turn?” moments. The thing is that Cara has actually already “made it”, being one of the lucky few who gets to go to wizard school. The catch is that she views herself at the bottom of the pecking order. As a MOP (Magical Occurrence Purger), she’s left to clean up the magical residue left behind by “real” wizards.
This concept of how we view ourselves—our luck, our privilege, our role—is something that I really wanted to investigate in this book, and it’s my hope that Cara’s journey rings true for readers.
My fascination with brooms
Speaking of being lucky, I’ve had the good fortune to visit the castle in England where they filmed many of the scenes for the Harry Potter movies. My wife and I went to Alnwick Castle way back in 2014 and we took “broom flying” lessons.
For the record, I did poorly:
After that trip, I began seeing brooms. Everywhere. There was always one leaning against a park bench or in the corner of a temple, as if impatiently waiting for its owner to return. I wasn’t sure why exactly, but I felt there was a hint of magic happening with these brooms. Maybe they belong to a wizard who had just plonked down and darted off to fetch a tea. Or maybe they were abandoned during a scuffle with a dark adversary!
Truth is, I didn’t contemplate these broom encounters too deeply at the time. Instead, I just made sure to note them, take photographs, and make notes in my brainstorming journal, mostly because that’s what I’ve trained myself to do: pay attention to the things that spark me.
Eventually, another memory was resurrected in my mind: my grandfather used to make his own brooms! He grew the broomcorn, harvested it, and bound them to broomsticks. I never saw my grandfather build a broom (I really wish I had), but I realized I had one of his creations in the dusty corner of my closet. On a subsequent visit to my parents, I scavenged their house to find they had their own collection of my grandfather’s handmade brooms. They all have the same humble construction—and, if you ask me, their own type of magic. Clearly, these brooms have been lingering in my subconscious all these years, waiting for me to tell their story.
But one thing I knew is that I did not want to write a story in which brooms were used for flying. I kept wondering what brooms could do in a magical world if they weren’t for zipping wizards and witches from Point A to Point B.
Of course, the answer eventually became obvious . . . and Spell Sweeper was born.
Hey, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and booklovers! I want to shout from the roof tops that e-ARCS (advanced reading copies) and audio ARCS of my latest middle-grade book, SPELL SWEEPER, are now available for request on NetGalley and Edelweiss. I’m particularly excited that it’s available as an audio ARC—this is a relatively new format and technology that publishers have been rolling out, and we decided to use this format instead of providing traditional print arcs (this seemed a particularly good fit during pandemic times).
An audio arc is generated by a computer voice, though it’s stunningly human-like (the future is here, folks). Rest assured, a traditional audiobook version of Spell Sweeper will be released this fall along with the hardcover format, and that version will feature a professional voice-over actor as the narrator.
I think Spell Sweeper really matches well with an audio presentation. It’s unlike any other book I’ve written: it’s first person, present tense, and features some real-world locations such as the Whistler Train Wreck.
As for what the story is about? I often like to describe Spell Sweeper as “Ghostbusters goes to Wizard School,” but my editor, the wonderful Stephanie Stein at HarperChildrens, recently tweeted a far more compelling write-up:
“I love magical school books, and this one is hilarious, messy, inventive, and full of heart, with a protagonist who’s halfway to flunking out of wizard school and has a chip on her shoulder the size of the moon!”
The official back cover text:
There’s nothing magical about wizard school . . . at least not for Cara Moone
Most wizard kids spend their days practicing spells and wielding wands, but Cara? She’s on the fast track to becoming a MOP (a.k.a. Magical Occurrence Purger). You see, when a real wizard casts a spell, it leaves behind a residue called spell dust—which, if not disposed of properly, can cause absolute chaos in the nonmagical world. It’s a MOP’s job to clean up the mess.
And no one makes more of a mess than Harlee Wu. Believed to be the Chosen One, destined to save the magical world, Harlee makes magic look easy. Which makes her Cara’s sworn nemesis. Or she would be, if she even knew Cara existed.
Then one of Harlee’s spells leaves something downright dangerous behind it: a rift in the fabric of magic itself. And when more rifts start to appear around the school, all in places Harlee has recently used magic, Cara is pretty sure the so-called “Chosen One” isn’t going to save the world. She’s going to destroy it.
It will take more than magic to clean up a mess this big. Fortunately, messes are kind of Cara’s thing.
So, if you have an account on NetGalley or Edelweiss, head on over there now to request your advanced reading copy—I look forward to your honest reviews.
Spell Sweeper is officially released in November by HarperCollins Children’s Books. You can add it to Goodreads here, and find preorder links here. (And please do add it to Goodreads and/or pre-order it; these actions really help authors!)
Today, I received a package from Quilchena School in Vancouver where I did a (virtual) writer-in-residency on the theme of family and cultural stories.
Over the course of several weeks, the students, teacher Kelly Enns, and I explored family connections through personal memories, heirlooms, old photographs, and legends passed down through the generations. We spoke of different family situations, what makes a family, and the different cultures that have contributed to our lives. Kelly is Japanese Canadian and could speak a lot about her family’s experiences during the internment of World War II. I was able to speak about how my wife and I adopted our son internationally, and what it means to embrace and incorporate a new culture into our daily lives. And, of course, the students had many stories to share.
Along the way, we produced many different writing pieces. We wrote poems or descriptive paragraphs about an item or moment in our lives. We wrote short stories inspired by family legends, and even imagined our family homes telling a story about us.
I loved seeing all of the heirlooms and photographs that the children showed me; some of them very old and beautiful, coming from all corners of the world. Along the way, I showed some of my own family heirlooms and photos.
It’s not always easy to know what kind of impact you leave as a visiting author, but it’s even more difficult in this age when everything is online. So, I am extremely touched that the teacher prepared this book of writing and artwork! I will cherish it always.
The students drew many pictures of how they connected with me. There are a lot of drawings of the characters from my books: Kendra Kandlestar, Tug the skyger, Fidget, Ozzie . . . plus many pictures of brooms, since I talked to them a lot about my forthcoming book, Spell Sweeper, and how a large part of it was inspired by my grandfather handmaking his own brooms.
You will also notice many pictures of chickens. Students are always amused to hear the stories of me being attacked by the rooster when I was a kid! So, in short, it seems that when kids think of me it goes like this: flying tigers, chickens, and brooms. Seems about right!
I’ve had a lot of queries and questions about author visits lately, so thought I would write a little bit about how I’m currently approaching them.
First thing: I’m still doing them! I’ve delivered single “get-to-know-the-author” type of visits, and I’ve been able to do all the things I would do in a “live” situation. That means sharing the visuals of my writing process (which includes character sketches and props that I build), taking questions, and leading interactive brainstorming sessions.
The interactive brainstorming entails me helping students design a story building element, such as a character’s suitcase, a magical market, or the contents of a monster’s fridge. I am still doing these “old-school” setting up an easel in front of my camera so that the students can see what I’m working on. The students then either call out or ideas or they type them in the chat feature and the teacher calls them out to me. So far, it’s been really successful!
I’ve also been doing several writer-in-residencies, including one for the Vancouver School Board gifted program. In this series of workshops, I’ve been working with the students to create their own wizard schools. Even though I’ve been delivering the classes over a digital platform, we have still been able to do some hands-on activities, such as making potions. I assembled all the spell kits in advance, and had them delivered to the students. Then, on the designated day, I led the live prop-building activity, which then led directly into a writing project. Here are some photos that the students have been sending in—so far the props look AMAZING! (And so are the writing projects that have been inspired by these props.)
I’m also working with another class on a series of writing projects that build off the students’ personal cultural and family stories. This one has been a lot of fun, because I have been hearing all kinds of interesting and fascinating stories. One of the benefits of this theme is that all the hands-on stuff can be found right at home, because it involves the kids finding old family photos and heirlooms.
Finally, I’m leading a residency with a third school, in which I provide regular writing prompts and activities to inspire and engage the students. It’s been a great experience to do these repeat engagements, because it has allowed me to really get to know the students.
Working in the digital realm means I’ve been able to add some extra elements, such as using interactive “character choosing” wheels that provide students with a quick writing prompt and allows them to “play.”
However, the most important thing I’ve learned about this transition to teaching and presenting virtually is that you still have to be YOU. Never mind the digital platforms and all the tricks and tools that might come with them. What kids are looking for (perhaps more than ever) is someone who is engaged, present, and sincere. And, yes, many readers want to hear me talk about the books I’ve written, but they also want to explore their OWN ideas. They want to know how I create so that they can apply it to their own process—which is why I’ve still kept the interactive brainstorming as an integral part of my presentation/workshops.
I’m used to traveling to different places to do school visits and, thankfully, I can still do that virtually. I’ve been able to deliver presentations and workshops for students located across Canada and in other places around the world such as Singapore, Australia, China, and Korea. It’s not quite the same as being there in person, and the time differences can be tricky, but at least we can still connect.
If you’re a teacher or librarian looking for visits, check out my own website, or explore cwillbc.org (The Children’s Writers’ and Illustrators of BC), where you can search the database for a speaker that is perfect for your situation. (You can perform a search using various criteria—for example, you can search for creators who deliver presentations virtually). Another great organization is CANSCAIP, which also has a directory of authors and illustrators across Canada.
The paperback version of The Guardians of Zoone, my most recent middlegrade book, is out now with HarperCollins Children’s Book! To celebrate this AND I Read Canadian Day, I’m gifting three autographed copies!
Giveaway closes Feb 13, 12pm PST and is available for shipping to Canadian and US addresses. I’m going to throw in some other Zoone-related goodies, such as some stickers! PLUS, the book includes one other special treats (more on that below) . . .
I had forgotten all about this until I got my own copies of the paperback version of The Guardians of Zoone and flipped through it—there is a SNEAK PEEK of my brand-new middle grade book, SPELL SWEEPER (coming out Fall, 2021). Ah! I’m so excited for Spell Sweeper and to share it with you!
What’s even more fun is that the graphic HarperCollins used in the sneak-peek section was designed by ME. I sometimes do little logos to help keep me going during the arduous writing process—and then I put them in my manuscript submissions. My editor and team at HarperCollins liked it well enough to use it for this sneak peek, which is kind of cool!
I should say that I’ve now received the “page passes” for the final design and the typography for the title looks MUCH better than mine, but it’s still neat to see that my version was here.
Well, what are you waiting for? Head on over to my twitter page and enter my contest!
I’m so proud to be one of the “captains” for the second annual I Read Canadian Day, which is coming up on February 17, 2021, all across the country (and maybe the world)! This year, our theme is #NowMoreThanEver.
If you are a teacher, librarian, parent, or simply a lover of children’s literature, then I encourage you to join us in celebrating!
What is I Read Canadian Day?
I’m leading the BC team along with fellow author Mahtab Narsimhan, and we are supported by a fantastic team of volunteer authors, illustrators, and kidlit lovers who have been working hard to spread awareness of the event.
IRCD is a national day of celebration of Canadian books for young people. This is a day dedicated to “reading Canadian” and will empower families, schools, libraries and organizations to host local activities and events within the week.
For example, we’ve asked libraries and bookstores to set up local “I Read Canadian” displays. Many schools have created challenges to get more readers involved, to see how many readers can read Canadian.
GOAL The purpose of this event is to raise awareness of Canadian books and celebrate the richness, diversity and breadth of Canadian literature.
WHEN The official celebration day is February 17th, 2021. We are also celebrating Canadian children’s bookstores on February 13th, 2021. Last year, stores hosted authors and illustrators in-store; this year that’s obviously not possible in most Canadian cities, so we have dozens of authors and illustrators creating videos to promote their local bookstores. Stay tuned to social media and get ready to see a wave of fantastic creators share their corner of Canada!
ACTION On February 17th, we challenge the nation to “Read Canadian” for fifteen minutes and to share their experience at their library, in their school, with their families and friends, or on social media. Young people are encouraged to read, or be read to, a Canadian book of their choice.
What we’re reading in my household
We are big readers in our house and have so many great Canadian children’s books to share. My social media feeds include posts almost every day of our son Hiro’s favorite Canadian children’s books. He doesn’t know they are Canadian, of course—he’s too young to think that way, but these are his favorite books that just so happen to be Canadian. You can see these posts on my twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts.
What I’m teaching
As a co-founder of The Creative Writing Children for Society (CWC), I lead many book discussions with the students in my classes. We’re reading Canadian for the entire month of February! Here are this year’s Canadian picks, which I’ve divided into YA and middle-grade, since I teach both age groups. If you’re looking for recommendation in these age groups, try these out!
YA books: The Candle and the Flame, by Nafiza Azad Caster, by Elsie Chapman Hungry Hearts, edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond Are You Seeing Me, by Darren Groth All We Left Behind, by Danielle R. Graham Crimson, by Arthur Slade This Dark Endeavor, by Kenneth Oppel
MG Books: The Very, Very Far North, by Dan Bar-el Music for Tigers, by Michelle Kadarusman Embrace the Chicken, by Mahtab Narsimhan Krista Kim-bap, by Angela Ahn Sweep, by Jonathan Auxier Bloom, by Kenneth Oppel This is Your Brain on Stereotypes, by Tanya Lloyd Kyi Finding Cooper, by Stacey Matson The Secret of Zoone, by Lee Edward Födi
What I’m writing
You’ll notice that last book is by me—because I not only read and teach Canadian, I also write it. As a fantasy writer, I’m best known for creating books that take place in other worlds, but I don’t think setting is what makes a book Canadian. (Though, I feel the need to point out here that my latest book—it’s called SPELL SWEEPER and is coming out this fall—is the first one that I’ve actually set it in a real place. The main location is a magical school called Dragonsong Academy, situated in Canada. Another important location is the Whistler Train Wreck.)
Obviously, what really makes a book a Canadian is the author and, honestly, that comes with our unique and distinctive perspective. Yes, we are a country that is very diverse. We have multiple major political parties. We have vast and varied geography, from deserts to tundra. We have one of the biggest cities in North America, and we have some of the tiniest towns you’ll ever find. We have people from many different cultural backgrounds and experiences. But, at the same time, we are a small country, with under 40 million people, and I think that provides us with a common identity. In my own kidlit community, everyone seems to know everyone—if not personally, second-hand. And I think that’s Canada in a nutshell: we are a small close-knit community.
So, please come join and celebrate our community on February 17th!
You can sign up for I Read Canadian day HERE—and, hey, feel free to check out my entire personal book list at my website.
I’m so pleased to finally announce that I have a new middlegrade book coming out in the fall of this year: Spell Sweeper!
I originally pitched Spell Sweeper to my agent (the wonderful Rachel Letofsky), and then my editor at HarperKids (the equally as wonderful Stephanie Stein) as Ghostbusters meets wizard school.
I gave them a few sample chapters, and it was the voice of the main character that Caradine Moone that captivated them—so I was off to the races. And it really was a race, because this book was only pitched in November 2019, which gave me less than a year to deliver a final manuscript (which includes going through three intense story edits and then a round of copy edits).
This is a very different book for me: first person, present tense, set firmly in our world (don’t worry, there are still dragons and other magical critters). My editor refers to it as a “delightfully dysfunctional adventure”—I couldn’t have worded it better myself.
It’s also my most personal book. Caradine Moone is a girl failing wizard school—I was aiming to capture the yearnings of the thousands of kids I’ve worked with over my career, the ones with all the “why not me?” or “when is it my turn?” moments. This book is for them.
I’m so pleased with this book, and ESPECIALLY THE COVER, which was illustrated by the fabulous Maike Plenzke. If you’re a kid lit fan, you might recognize her style as gracing the covers of the phenomenal Front Desk series by Kelly Yang, so to have Maike as my cover illustrator was a literal dream come true.
This past week, I wrapped up a fifteen-week creative writing program for teen writers in which they wrote their own individual novels.
This was quite the challenge! Usually our programs give 18-25 weeks for such an endeavor, but this was a special one-off term. Still, somehow, my students were able to write their books, design their covers, and create some magic along the way.
Perhaps I say this at the end of every program I teach, but I really resonated with this group. Maybe it’s because we all felt we were on the same page: shy, introverted, awkward . . . and best at expressing ourselves through writing.
As we planned for our final presentation (via Zoom, of course), there was a lot of handwringing, anxiety, and stress. (Some of it even came from the students!). I finally decided to let them off the hook, and promised that I would do all the speaking as long as they wrote the scripts to go with each of their books. But when they saw that I was going to post their biography photos on each slide along with their book covers, I was assailed by another round of stress, so I evened the playing field and made sure to start the presentation with a series of awkward photos of me as a child (I mean, that’s kind of redundant—every photo of me as a child is awkward), as well as the covers of the books I wrote when I was their age.
Their book covers look SO much better than the ones I did as a kid, that’s for sure:
Ah, I will miss them, this clever crew of creatives!