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!
I’m so proud of the kids! Despite all the extra challenges this past term, everyone finished up a book in my two creative writing classes that I teach through CWC.
Like so many classes, we were forced to transition to teaching through online platforms halfway through the term due to COVID. Teaching anything creative is hard to do on screen, but we muddled through. The hardest part, though? Designing and illustrating covers for our books.
Usually, when I’m in class, I can literally lean over the student’s workspace and help them sketch or tidy up a design. I often have them work on “thumbnail” sketches first so that they can fine-tune a design before investing a lot of time on a final illustration. I still asked the students take this approach so that I could at least look at their designs—this time, though, I just couldn’t literally get in there and make amendments.
Still, many students succeeded in coming up with excellent designs and/or illustrations. Of course, I have many kids who are fabulous illustrators. For those who aren’t comfortable with their artistic abilities, they decided to draw on the stock photo libraries available through pexels.com and pixabay.com. In these cases, though, the students still had to design their cover, which including deciding upon the right placement of the photo, choosing the font, and thinking about overall impact.
So, here are some of the great covers designed by my students. We’ve got mysteries, science fiction, fantasy quests, and thrillers . . . quite the collection!
The books will go for printing this summer (we print our books perfect-bound, so that they even have proper spines) and they will arrive in our students’ hands in the next couple of months. For them, it feels like forever, I know!
The Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the creativity, confidence and writing capacity of children through well-tailored writing programs, delivered in-class and through digital platforms. In our programs, students from around the world write and illustrate their own books, which are professionally desktop published. Founded in 2004, CWC is based in Vancouver, BC.
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small stuck at home and trying to remain creative! I call this activity Thinking INSIDE the box.
I started delivering this activity to kids in my creative writing workshops after the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, one of my most popular books. In that book, a young Een goes in search of a mystical container that holds something all-too precious to her societ
There are many wonderful myths and stories of enchanted vessels. One’s that pop to mind are Pandora’s box, Urashima Tarō’s box, and Aladdin’s lamp all come to mind, and can help provide extra inspiration to the young creators in your house.
What you will need:
The handouts (below)
Any kind of wooden are cardboard box
Paint and brushes
There are a few different ways to approach this activity. For younger kids, I like to use this very simple handout, which allows them to take a pre-drawn box and simply concentrate on the design, patterns, and colors.
Here are a few examples of student projects:
For older students, I prefer this brainstorming sheet, which allows them to freeform doodles shapes and designs for boxes, and also prompts them to consider more deeply some of the story-telling aspects of their box.
Here are some examples of past boxes designed
If you have craft containers knocking about your house, wooden or even cardboard, then you can turn your box design into a three-dimensional model. The fun part of this, of course, is that you can FILL the magical container with items!
In my time as a creativity teacher, my students have made quite a few boxes . . .
And here is my model of a box . . . the Box of Whispers. It is pretty big and not only served as a great prop for when I was touring this book, but also as storage for same said books!
In terms of writing, this project provides the platform for an epic tale—I’ve had many students take this prompt and dive into the telling of a character in search of a mythical box (perhaps after it has been stolen)!
However, I always tell teachers that a good bite-sized project is to have students write the single scene in which a character first discovers the box. This avoids students having to dwell or worry about what I call “plot paralysis”—becoming so consumed with a plot that they forget to think about character development and description. By removing overall story plot as a factor to consider, students can just focus on a character in the magical moment of discovery.
(Also, I’m just a little exhausted of trying to convince my students that they don’t have to start a story with the long boring sequence of invents that involves their characters waking up in the morning to the sun shining through the window, brushing their teeth, running downstairs to eat breakfast, running to the bus, running to school, running home after school . . . and THEN they actually something important to the plot starts! If you’re a teacher, you KNOW what I’m talking about!)
Have fun with this project. Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small stuck at home and trying to remain creative! I call this activity costume makes the character! Simply print out the handout below and imagine what this little mouse does in its life. Then decorate it accordingly!
Is it a knight?
A cat keeper?
The possibilities are endless, of course, and I highly recommend printing out a few of the sheets to make as many jobs as you like! I’ve done this activity several times at schools in Canada, the US, Korea, and Thailand—no matter where I’ve been, kids love this story starter.
And it IS a story starter, because you can write a story about how this mouse achieved its dream job. Or, if you do multiple mice, you can write a story about how this mouse had to change its jobs throughout his life.
Here are some of the mice from the past occasions where I’ve led this activity at schools.
By the way, the one above is one of my all-time favorite mice: COFFEE MOUSE!
Have fun and, in the meantime, stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small sticking around the house this weekend. Around here, we are busy painting eggs for our annual dragon egg hunt (and you can, too—see my post here), but this activity is a simple one to fill in some time!
It’s pretty self-explanatory! Just download the sheet here:
Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned for more activities!