My wife Marcie Nestman and I are currently in Korea teaching a creative writing camp on the theme of the Wizard’s Library, which is really just a fancy way of saying fantasy.

We’ve had a lot of fun incorporating Marcie’s voice over and acting talents with my visual approach to writing. Our camp began with giving each of the kids a “magical” quiz to break their ice and test their powers of imagination. Afterwards, I delivered a presentation on the standard archetypes founds in fantasy stories and it was time for the students to begin developing their own cast of characters.

We gave them each a wizardly kit to help them in the creation of their characters. In each kit were things such as miniature potion bottles, a dragon’s tooth, and the feather from a magical creature. Here’s some photos of their creations . . .









Last week was a busy one. In between working on my own projects, I delivered a series of creative writing workshops for the Children’s Art Festival in Richmond, BC. Kids of all ages attended the festival, while selected classes from local schools came to my workshop room to learn some of my top techniques for creating heroes, villains, and kingdoms.

Each of these workshops comes with a fun quiz to help warm up the students to the topic. I’m happy to report that three students failed the Quiz of Villainy. It’s hard to fail—and rare!

Below, are some pictures from the week, showing off some of the brainstorming done by the imaginative students. The Children’s Arts Festival will be back in 2016! Find out more here.

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Designing crests for our kingdoms

Before the students could work on their final design, I had them brainstorm multiple concepts on a worksheet. I was pleased to see the students invest some time in this important phase of the creative process.

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Heroic characters

The worksheet for this workshop isn’t so much about building a character profile, but about brainstorming different ideas for a heroic character. I really encourage the students to put aside their erasers and just create.

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Villainous Characters

Similar to the hero workshop, this class involves brainstorming, as opposed to creating a finalized character profile.

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I love maps. My own Kendra Kandlestar books certainly feature a few of them (you can check them out at There are also plenty of maps that I do in my sketchbooks just to help me plot out critical scenes or sections of my books. It’s an approach to writing that I try to bring into my author visits to schools—like today.

I spent the day at John G. Diefenbaker Elementary school as part of an outreach literacy program sponsored by the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival. While I did my monster design for the youngest group (the kindergarteners to Grade 2s) I decided to do the mapping activity for the rest of the student body.

It’s a fun activity, to be sure, but what I especially love about it is that it combines so many different aspects of writing, such as brainstorming, plotting, character development, and setting design.

It works like this . . .

I’m at the front of the class with an easel, where I design an adventure with ideas from the students in the audience. But the great part of this situation is that the students are also armed with paper and pencils so that they can design their own individual adventures, putting in their own unique ideas.

We start by drawing a stick-figure version of a main character in the bottom lefthand corner. Then, in the top righthand corner (so as far away as possible from the character), we draw an object that was stolen from that character. Then, it’s just a matter of getting the character to the object—but not without making said character deal with a whole slew of obstacles first!


I led two different sessions of this map making activity at Diefenbaker Elementary. During these two sessions, we certainly came up with some intriguing problems—and solutions. Not only did we have the ever-popular exploding volcanoes, deadly deserts, and spooky forests, but also giant sand worms, a trick trap door, and a school of chicken piranhas (don’t ask).

By the end of each sessions, the students ended up with basic plots that they could then transform into words or, as I like to call them, instant stories!

Below is a smattering of the maps that the students created. I know many of them are going to take their raw brainstorming and redraft them into more polished maps, but I love the energy of their initial output!

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kidslitquiz_logoOne of my best experiences of 2015 so far was participating in the Kids Lit Quiz.

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is an annual reading competition for children aged ten to thirteen. It’s an international competition, with students from New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Canada, the US, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia participating. The winning teams qualify for national and world finals!

The tournament I attended was for Western Canada, so the winning team went on to Toronto to compete for the national title. The Western Canada tournament was held at Little Flower Academy on a Friday afternoon on January 23rd. I was part of the author team. We weren’t allowed to win, but we competed just for fun and to help provide entertainment and support for the students who were playing for keeps.

Our author team was dubbed The Quizzards of Oz and consisted of myself, Kallie George, Tanya Lloyd Kyi, and Stacey Matson.

Here we are before the three-hour tournament:


Personally, I was pretty nervous about questions regarding vampire romances or young adult dystopian novels, but we ended up scoring a respectable 92.5 out of a 100. There were ten rounds of ten, with categories such as “Giants,” “Harry Potter,” “Book Knowledge,” “Classics”, “Comics”, and “The Last” (all about the last parts of books or series).


The Western Canada tournament, like all the tournaments in the world, was managed by quiz master Wayne Mills, who had travelled all the way from New Zealand to Vancouver the day before. Despite inevitable jetlag, he delivered the questions with charm and humor. Here he is with Stacey Matson. You have to love his hat!


The winner of the Western Canada heat, from Southbridge Elementary, won a very cool trophy. But there was plenty of swag to go round—every team came away with a stack of books.


It was such fun to see the kids competing. They took it SO seriously, and it was a joy to see them embrace literature.

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is not for profit and run entirely by volunteers. You can find out more at

In a recent post, I shared some photos of one of my favorite creative workshops, which for the sake of simplicity I just call Dragon Eggs. In this workshop, the students design, build, and paint their own magical creature egg and then imagine what creature will hatch out of it.

I tie this activity in with a discussion of the five senses. Since the students have an actual prop to work with, they can easily imagine the visuals of the egg and get to experience it with a tactile perspective. From that point on, it’s not too difficult to start imagining sights, sounds, and even tastes.

I recently delivered this workshop for a second time this year . . . here’s some of the students’ creations!

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Creative writing demands creative ideas, so in my latest workshop, I led my students in crafting some magical creature eggs. This is a great activity for getting kids to think about the five sense. As they create their eggs, they also have to complete a worksheet that asks them to consider what the egg looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like, what it feels like to carry, and even what it might feel like to eat (after all, there might be predators after the egg).

Of course, some of those things they have to imagine, but others, such as what it looks like, and what it feels like to touch, are right there for them to explore.

Here are some of the photos of my students’ creations . . .

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I’ve had a busy start to 2015, spending a lot of time writing and prepping for all the travels, touring, and teaching that’s coming up for me in the Spring.

One of my exciting projects is to teach a picture book class for kids with the fabulous author, Kallie George. Kallie really knows her stuff when it comes to writing a picture book (she’s got several in the pipeline to come out in the next few years). As for me, I’ve never written a picture book (well, at least one that I tried to publish), but I have illustrated a few, most notably I’ll Follow the Moon and The Chocolatier’s Apprentice.

Which is all to say that my role in the class will be mostly to help the students with the design and illustration part of the picture book process.

All of this has prompted me to unearth the picture books from the various corners and bookshelves, and now my studio is awash in them! Here’s a photo of some of one of my piles . . .


In the top left is my all-time favorite, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears. Another one I found (from when I was a kid) is The King with Six Friends. I read that one COUNTLESS times. 

Of a newer vintage is The Runaway Alphabet, which you can see in the top corner. It is by my friend, Kari-Lynn Winters. It features a CD with a reading of the story and both my goddaughter and I played parts. Really, my goddaughter was the main character and I was just there to support her and ended up playing one of the smaller roles. It’s my only voice-acting gig to date. I think my official credit is “Whiny Kid”.

So many books, so many memories. It’s funny how emotionally connected people are to the books they read at such a young age. When I mentioned The King with Six Friends on social media, I was surprised by some of the response. One of my closest friends said he remembered that book from when he was a kid, but couldn’t remember the title, the author, or anything about it other than the story. He said it has driven him nuts for years. It’s pretty cool that we had such a strong love for the same book.

I can’t wait to ask my students about their favorite picture books, too. I wonder . . . what was yours?

I was very blessed to be able to travel a lot in 2014, so I thought I would recap the year’s journeys by showing some of my favorite doors that I discovered.

I’ve talked a lot about each of these doors in past blog posts, so all you get this time is the photos.

Tokyo, Japan ~ February

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England, June 2014

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Scotland, June 2014

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Korea, August 2014



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Hawaii, November 2014

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And here’s one final door, from Steveston, BC, just to prove that you can sometimes find interesting doors near your own backyard . . .


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

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

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


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

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

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

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