In my ongoing celebration of the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I am profiling some of the new characters. So far, I’ve introduced Tuttleferd T. Thistle Toe and Paipo Plumpuddle.

This week I’m introducing the youngest of the new characters: Charla Charmsong.


Who she is:
Charla is a young Een girl that Kendra Kandlestar meets in the City on the Storm. The interesting thing about Charla is that she was actually born in the City on the Storm, which means she has never seen the Land of Een. Because of this, Charla serves as a symbol for a new beginning for Eens, and their possible future. She has a beautiful singing voice, and when Kendra first meets her, the young girl is singing I Dream of Clouds.

Charla also plays another important role in the book. So far, Kendra has always been the student. Now, she has someone who looks up to her, and Kendra finds herself thrust into the role of a mentor.

Where she came from:
I named this character after my goddaughter, Charlotte, who has pretty much been around since the beginning of the Kendra Kandlestar series. As a matter of fact, Charlotte has played Kendra at many of my book launches or other literacy events, as you can see by these photos . . .



Kazah Launch.

So I think Charlotte pretty much deserves to have a character named after her!

The one problem is that Charlotte is a pretty opinionated person. She certainly didn’t like the first few drawings I did of Charla. Here’s the page from my sketchbook where Charla was first born (though, as you can see from the note, I had originally named her Charlo).

Tuttleferd and Charlo


And this is the first illustration I did, based on that sketch:

Charlo Charmsong

Well, thankfully, Charlotte eventually approved my illustration of her namesake, and that’s the one at the top of this page!

In my continuing celebration of the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I am profiling some of the new characters. Last week, I introduced Tuttleferd T. Thistle Toe. This week, it’s yet another animal character: Paipo Plumpuddle.

Paipo Plumpuddle

Who she is:

Paipo Plumpuddle is a young Een rabbit who lives in the Land of Een and is a member of the underground resistance movement known as the Knights of Winter. You see, in this final installment of the Kendra Kandlestar series, all animals have been enslaved by the would-be emperor, Burdock Brown. As a member of the Knights of Winter, Paipo leads many secret missions to disrupt Burdock’s rule. Especially, she is involved in rescuing many of the Een animals who have been thrown into Burdock’s prisons.

Paipo is young and small, but known for her courage. She is also the great-niece of another famous Een animal, Luka Long-Ears.

Where she came from:
For The Search for Arazeen I did something I rarely do—and that’s specifically base characters on real people I know. I figured it would be a way to honor some of the people who have helped me with the Kendra Kandlestar series. Paipo is based on a bookseller named Paige from A Good Book Café in Sumner, Washington.

I only ever came to know Paige because of her love of the Kendra Kandlestar series. A few years ago, when I was midway through the series, Paige began corresponding with me and then I eventually appeared at the bookstore where she works. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Not Paige—she wears it on her skin. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Paige got a tattoo of her favorite character, Oki:

Oki Tattoo

Yes, that’s real! Well, I think if someone is going to get a tattoo based on your books, then you pretty much have to base a character on them.

The name for Paipo Plumpuddle also came from Paige. You see, I have this handy form on my website that I give to kids so they can make up their own Een name (you can download it here). Paige completed the form and came up with Paipo Plumpuddle. So, after hearing that, it was just a matter of trying to figure out what role a character with such a name would play in The Search for Arazeen. I decided that Paipo needed to be someone who was important! Her page time may be short, but there’s no doubt that she is a significant character . . . especially at the very (and I mean VERY) end of the book.

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen

As part of the celebration for the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I thought I would profile some of the new characters that are introduced in this final installment of the series.

Meet Tuttleferd T. Thistletoe!

Tuttleferd T. Thistletoe

Who he is:
He is one of the prominent inhabitants of the City on the Storm, a magical city that Kendra Kandlestar finds near the beginning of the book. Tuttleferd works as a close advisor and aid to the king of the city. He is friendly, very fussy, and very passionate about the culture and history of the mysterious city in the clouds.

Where he came from:
I’ve always loved fussy characters! When I was a kid, I wrote a story with a character called Thomas T. Tuttleberg. He was a quail and can be seen in this painting:


When I was first writing Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I stole this character from my earlier story, but turned him into a budgie bird. He was still fussy, as well as forgetful. His name became Tobin T. Tuttleburg. This is what he looked like:


As you can see by the hat hanging on his perch, he was also a wizard. Eventually, this character became Kendra’s Uncle Griffinskitch. So instead of a bird, he became an Een, and lost the fussy personality (anyone who knows Uncle Griffinskitch, knows he’s quite the grouch).

Well, for many years, that was the end of this character with the three-part name and fussy demeanor. Then, when I was working on The Search for Arazeen, I realized I had a chance to resurrect this character. This is when he became a mole. Here’s my original sketch of him:

Tuttleferd and Charlo

You can see that his name is listed as Tuttleferd and that he is described as a servant for the city of Feenix. That name of Feenix was eventually dropped, but the “Tuttleferd” stuck to the character. I just ended up reinstating the “T” and the last name “Thistletoe.”

By the way, on this page, you can also see a sketch of another new character, Charlo Charmsong . . . but more on her in a future post!

I received a delightful package in the post yesterday—a thank you book from a school I visited in the spring. The cover shows some photos of the workshop I did with the Grade One class at Mulgrave School. My workshop started off with a presentation on how I develop my own inspiration, specifically the Land of Een in my Kendra Kandlestar series. I then led the students in an interactive world-building activity that could set up each of the students up for a story.


And, on the inside were many wonderful stories written by the students, complete with title page. Just check out some of the interesting titles and artwork:

mulgrave2015_captain4face mulgrave2015_wasie&wolf mulgrave2015_soccergame mulgrave2015_bear&jewel mulgrave2015_mouse&queen mulgrave2015_theninja&badguys mulgrave2015_itch mulgrave2015_knightVSdragon mulgrave2015_dragonwars mulgrave2015_lion&theman mulgrave2015_magiccrystal

I don’t always get to see what the results of my inspirational activities are at a school, so it’s a real joy to receive this anthology of wonder!


Since I’ve been announcing the official release for my latest book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I thought I’d post the link to an interview I did on CBC radio earlier this year.

I’ve done many interviews before, but I think this might be the first one where I actually went into the studio. I found it a little intimidating to be surrounded by all the equipment and to have to sit in a separate booth from the interviewer. However, you’ll never get a sense of any of this when you listen to the interview. Host Sheryl MacKay does a fabulous job of making both the guest and the audience feel like they are just having a cozy morning chat!

Since I announced the official release of Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen yesterday, I thought I would post the book trailer here.

I wrote, designed, and animated (if you can call it animation) all the trailers personally, though I had some technical guidance along the way. In truth, I find writing a script for a trailer to be one of the hardest things to do. Since I’ve done a trailer for each of the five books in my Kendra series, one of the things I’ve learned to do is to do a lot, and I mean A LOT, of storyboarding before moving on to the production stage. It can save HOURS of effort!

In any case, without further ado, here’s the trailer:

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for ArazeenIt’s been a long time in the coming!

Even though I received my advance copies of the final book in my Kendra Kandlestar series back in March, it’s only this week that the book is officially available to the public.

You can buy or order it at your favorite bookstore, and I ask that you please do, especially if you have a young fantasy author in your life.

We celebrated the launch of the book at the end of May with a giant party. I suppose we weren’t just celebrating the new book, but the entire series. Here are some of my favorite photos from the event . . .

My lovely wife, Marcie, was the official greeter. She spent hours doing her “Een” hair:


But she wasn’t the only one wearing Een-style braids at the party. In fact, we had a “braiding station.” Even the boys put braids in their hair. (Because everyone—boys included—wears braids in the Land of Een to honor their founder, Leemus Longbraids.)


Also, everyone who arrived had to fill out a form to invent their own “Een” name. So, pretty much everyone had his or her own alias for the entire evening.


Here’s the entire series on display, along with the museum of Een artifacts.


What’s a launch without great food? Check out this beautiful Kendra cake, designed and baked my friend, Carrie. Gorgeous!


Plenty of Eenberry beverages were on hand, too! arazeenlaunch_eenberryjuice

It was almost a shame to have to cut the cake. We ended up removing the Kendra topping (I just couldn’t bear to damage her).arazeenlaunch_cakecutting

There were many activities at the party, including “Pin the braid on Kendra” and “solve a secret code,” but there’s no two ways about it—the most popular station was “Survive the Rumble Pit”, which was managed by friend, author James McCann. It’s a card game played with Dungeons & Dragon dice. You pick a warrior and a weapon and then battle other contestants. Nothing is more fun that to watch a mouse with an onion try to fight a giant with a pickle. (But, hey, those are all things from the Kendra Kandlestar books!)


As part of the festivities, I did a short presentation on the background for Kendra Kandlestar series. This was a lot of fun because I got to show photos of some of the real-life places that inspired the book and talk about how they connected to Kendra’s overall journey.


We had a lot of great prizes at the launch, including T-shirts, buttons, and posters. But the grand prize was an original piece of artwork from the book. Here’s a photo of my emcee, Dona, and the winner, Joseph. (He’s looking pretty pleased with himself!)


Of course, the great thing about a launch is that you get things coming the other way. This is a card made by Sarah (or, as it says on her tag, Sarla Sunstar) and her brother. (Looking at this photo now, I see that I was really rocking the Tin-Tin hair that night!)


A big thanks to EVERYONE who helped make this a huge success. I called in all my author friends to help. James McCann ran the Rumble Pit, kc dyer took photos, and Kallie George (who is also the editor of the series) managed the braiding station. And a super big thanks to my actress wife Marcie Nestman who squeezed in all that extra time during a busy week of directing and acting to help with the launch.

. . . but it doesn’t always smell very good! That’s certainly the case in my magic potions workshop, which I teach as part of my creative writing classes for kids at CWC. Because when you mix a spoonful of mummy dust, a squirt of troll snot, and a dash of envy’s curse . . . well the results can get explosive!

In truth, this class is really just my forum for teaching about the five senses and getting my young students to think about adding more detailed description into their writing. Nothing helps the imagination like experiencing! Here’s photos from my latest class.

cwcvan2015_potions01 cwcvan2015_potions02 cwcvan2015_potions03 cwcvan2015_potions04 cwcvan2015_potions05 cwcvan2015_potions06 cwcvan2015_potions08 cwcvan2015_potions12 cwcvan2015_potions11 cwcvan2015_potions10 cwcvan2015_potions07 cwcvan2015_potions09 cwcvan2015_potions13 cwcvan2015_potions14 cwcvan2015_potions15 cwcvan2015_potions16 cwcvan2015_potions17 cwcvan2015_potions18 cwcvan2015_potions19 cwcvan2015_potions20

Seven cities, six days, and hundreds of kids. The CCBC’s TD Book Week tour feels over in the blink of an eye. A GIANT eye.


The last day was a whirlwind of activity, as I navigated my way through unfamiliar streets in the downtown core of Toronto to two different schools (Holy Family Catholic School and St. Nicholas of Bari) and then, afterwards, raced to an important meeting. Yes, authors have meetings!

Some of my favourite questions from this last day (and my answers to them):

Question 1: “What are you going to write next?”
My answer: “You’ll just have to wait and see!”

Question 2: “Why don’t you write stories based on yourself?”
My answer: “Kendra IS me. Oki IS me. All my characters are me, in some way.”

Question 3: “Is Kendra real?”
My answer: “I can’t even begin to untangle the philosophical conundrums of that question.”

Here’s some photos of creations that bloomed from the minds of kids at the two Toronto schools on the last day of the tour.

hfcs_monster04 hfcs_monster03 hfcs_monster02 hfcs_monster01 stnicholas_monster04 stnicholas_monster03 stnicholas_monster02 stnicholas_monster01

By the end of it all, I felt a giant sense of elation! Not only because the tour was a success, but because I survived. It’s also kind of hard to come down at the end of it all. One minute, you’re in a library or gym full of mirthful kids in the act of creation, and the next it seems you’re in your quiet hotel room. Whenever I’m in those moments I feel torn between falling into bed and sleeping for a week, or finding a place to go dance the night away, just to keep that “high” going.

Needless to say, on this night, I opted for a quiet dinner and a restful sleep!

My heartfelt thanks to The Canadian Children’s Book Centre and all the librarians and school teachers who worked so hard to host me in Ontario for TD Book Week. I feel like I had the full gamut of experiences, from the farm kids in rural Ontario, to the urbanites in downtown Toronto. I loved working with all of the amazing kids, brainstorming creatures, plotting epic quests, and (hopefully) inspiring them to chase after their dreams no matter what obstacles (read: outhouses) that might stand in their way.

Going on a tour is a bit like surviving a war. It’s all about managing energy, pacing, and keeping yourself fresh. Thankfully, I’ve done a lot of tours, writer-in-residences, and writing camps, so I have some well-established and prove strategies. Of course, there are some things you simply just can’t control.

Like technology. And audience! Thursday was my fifth day out of the last six presenting and so far I’ve had no presentation glitches. (Yes, I’ve gotten lost a few times, but that’s to be expected.) Today at my presentation at the Toronto Public Library, I couldn’t get my computer and the projector to talk, mostly because the cord we were using had some damaged pins. I was just about to abandon my Powerpoint altogether, when the pesky pin in question popped into place and—voilà—we had presentation!

This, of course, was also the day that the organizers of the TD Children’s Book Week tour popped down to see me in action. I guess that’s Murphy’s Law. If I hadn’t been able to get the presentation running, I would have resorted to the back-up of just story telling with the kids. This would have worked well enough, but I’m pleased that the organizers got to see an example of what I normally do.

As for the kids, they started off as a quiet bunch. I always find that a little nerve-wracking because it’s hard to get a read on how they are liking my material. But they warmed up eventually, especially during our interactive brainstorming activity to design characters. During this point stories began spilling forth from their pictures. What I mean by that is that they just didn’t have drawings; in many cases, they began making notes or charts to go along with their characters. I found that really exciting!

Questions also began spilling forth. My favourite question from today was, “How did you find the courage to try and get published. My answer: “When you are afraid of not trying more than you are afraid of the possibility of failing.” Here are some of their characters the kids designed: tpldownsview_monster08 tpldownsview_monster07 tpldownsview_monster06 tpldownsview_monster05 tpldownsview_monster04 tpldownsview_monster03 tpldownsview_monster02 tpldownsview_monster01 Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. I can hardly believe it’s almost over!


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