. . . 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Today was probably the most hectic on my TD Children’s Book Week Tour. I began the day in the town of Tillsonburg, and drove to Norwich where I presented to a group of Grades 2-6. I guess the Grade 2s were a surprise last-minute addition, but everyone was really accommodating so that we could squeeze them into the music room. A big crowd is better, anyway, for the brainstorming session I had planned, and I just hate the idea of turning away kids armed with pencil, paper, and imaginations! In any case, we all worked together to create this strange monster:

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You have to love the name, which is a composite of three different suggestions. Of course, that creature is only the group monster. Each student all designed his or her own individual creature. I only managed to take photos of a couple of these, since I had to jump in the car and head off to the city of Hamilton.

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My event in Hamilton was at the Westdale Branch of the Public Library. When I first walked in, I had a bit of a panic attack—a group of students was already in the room, and I thought I was late. But, as it turns out, they were just early and the teacher was reading aloud from Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. I always enjoy hearing my characters’ voices read out by others! And it was also interesting hear them discuss the book as they went along. Of course, once they realized the author was in the room, their discussion pretty much turned to questions for me.

I spent one hour with them and then a second group came in from a different school. In both cases, I did the creature brainstorming again. Here are some of the photos:

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After finishing the workshops at the Hamilton Public Library, I hit the road again and made the drive to Toronto. It’s the final city on the tour! Can’t wait tomorrows gaggle of young imagineers.

Langton countryside.

I’ve been enjoying the last couple of days in the more rural communities in Southern Ontario, where I’ve been presenting for the TD Children’s Book Week tour. I may be an unabashed urbanite now, but a thousand years ago I grew up on a farm in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. The kids I’ve met this week in the communities of Glencoe, Langton, and Tillsonburg, know what it’s like to feed livestock, drive tractors, and clean chicken coops!

Of course, it was not my destiny to end up staying on the farm—even though I’m the oldest boy in the family and, by rights, it should have been. The truth is, I’m a storyteller and my natural-born talents are far better suited to creating problems for fictional characters.

During my school presentations, I often tell the story of how I explored my passion as a kid and ended up escaping the farm (flying the coop, if you will). This story has resonated with a few of the students so far on this tour. Today, a girl said to me during the Q&A portion of my presentation, “I want to be a writer, but my parents want me to take over the family business. How can I get out of it?”

Without missing a beat, I said, “Run over something.”

Perhaps not the best advice I’ve ever given to a young person! But it leapt from my lips because it refers to the famous story about my dad trying to teach me how to drive the tractor. Even though I was only ten at the time, I already knew that I had no interest in being a farmer. So instead of concentrating on driving, I drifted off into a daydream—and promptly ploughed into the old outhouse that sat in the middle of our orchard.

True story! Tractor plus outhouse plus “Mr. Wiz” equals disaster!

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Well, that’s all it took for my dad to decide I would make a terrible farmer.

By the way, below are some of the maps and characters we designed today during my presentations at Southridge and Langton schools . . .

This first one in particular made me chuckle. One of the things I always try to convey to students is that things don’t have to be done perfectly the first time. Writing, drawing—and, basically, creating anything—takes time. It’s okay if your first draft is messy because you should be prepared to redo it anyway. One of today’s participants took this to heart, and wrote “Messy Map 101″ at the top of his project!

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In an earlier post, I chronicled my epic journey to reach the first school on my TD Children’s Book Week tour in Southern Ontario.

Given the misadventures I experienced, it’s only fitting that t I decided to deliver a workshop on mapping epic quests to the Grades 4-6 at Ekcoe Public School.

I’ve long used mapping as a technique to help me write my own stories. Way back when, when I was working on the first book in my Kendra Kandlestar series, The Box of Whispers, I sketched out a map to help me sort out the time and distance it would take for the characters’ journey. Unfortunately, I never kept the original sketch . . . mostly because I decided to turn it into a final, polished illustration for inclusion in the book:

Professor Bumblebean's map of Een

Ultimately, I find mapping such an important tool in my writer’s kit. I used it not only to help with plotting, but also with general world building.

It’s also a technique I try to bring to schools. At Ekcoe School, I led the students in a discussion of plot and had each of them create their own individual story map. We also made a “group” map, which I drew based on the suggestions that came from the audience. This is what our group map turned out like:

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Mine is pretty messy . . . but of course, the whole process goes pretty quick, and part of the point of the whole exercise is to not be perfect. Brainstorming should be messy, because you don’t want to invest perfect illustration techniques in something that you will end up changing afterwards.

Here’s just a smattering of some of the maps created by the fabulous Ekcoe students!

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For the younger students, I decided to do my character brainstorming workshop. This one goes a bit quicker than the mapping, so is a better fit for a shorter workshop session. I didn’t manage to get any photos of the kids’ characters, but here’s the general group character that we brainstormed. He looks pretty grumpy. (But, hey, it was Monday morning, after all!)

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The Canadian Children’s Book Centre did a marvellous job in organizing my tour in Souther Ontario for the TD Children’s Book Week. Everything has been meticulously planned.

But there was one thing the organizers didn’t know and that’s my ability to get lost.

Do I have google maps printed out with directions to every destination? Yes.

Do I have a high-tech GPS system to guide my way? Yes.

Do I have an innate sense of direction? NO.

It all began when my plane landed. I was with fellow author Tanya Lloyd Kyi. We dutifully plugged the GPS into our rental car and proceeded to exit the airport. Which, for us, meant circling right back into the airport. Twice. I’m pretty sure if Tanya wasn’t there, I might still be at the Toronto airport.

Nonetheless, we eventually made our escape. Yesterday, I made it to my hotel near London, Ontario. I knew I had an early start today to reach my first school, so I decided to check in at the hotel, then go out and fill my car up with fuel. Did I ask for directions at the hotel desk? Of course not.

So, of course, the one petrol station I find isn’t an actual functioning station at all. My first clue might have been the old style pumps. You know the ones—they have pre-digital gauges, and little plastic balls that float around when you’re filling up. It only took me ten minutes to realize I was in an abandoned station. I’m pretty sure there were zombies living in the shadows, and they probably would have gotten to me if I had waited for sundown.

Then, today, as I was travelling towards my first school on the tour, I dutifully followed my GPS, only to suddenly find myself on a gravel dirt road. I grew up in the country so gravel roads aren’t unfamiliar to me. I’m just surprised they’re familiar to my advanced GPS system.

At first it was quite pastoral. I saw farmhouses and barns. I saw squirrels and sparrows. And then I saw strange, red-faced birds. They looked pretty big. At first I figured they were just ugly chickens. Then the ugly chickens starting flying. And circling above. I thought, Circling vultures are never a good sign. Then I saw another pair of vultures (do they work in pairs?) pecking away at a carcass on the side of the road.

At least it wasn’t MY carcass.

In any case, I arrived at the school, Ekcoe Public School, and asked about the birds. The teachers earnestly informed me that they were vultures—turkey vultures, to be exact. And it also turns out that we have turkey vultures back in British Columbia, where I grew up (as my Facebook community has been eager to point out). But I had never seen one until this trip.

For the record, this is what they look like:

Turkey Vulture.

(photo courtesy of Devra.)

You can clearly see the resemblance to a chicken, right? Especially an ugly one?

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I’m currently in Ontario, Canada, to celebrate TD Children’s Book Week. I kicked off the week by appearing at the Ontario Literary Association’s festival in Niagara Falls along with fellow creators Tanya Lloyd KyiKari-Lynn Winters, and Iskwé.

After delivering a presentation on my writing process and how I get ideas, I led a workshop for Grades 3-5 on crafting wizardly characters. Here’s some of the casts of characters my students created:

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The kids were having so much fun, I decided to design right alongside them by sketching a villainous wizard. This is a character I’ve been working on for some time. He comes in various forms, so I decided to sketch him in his most reptilian of phases:

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I also peeked in on the workshops that Tanya and Kari were delivering. Tanya did a workshop on characters who have to face survival in the wilderness. I loved her worksheet, which allowed kids to brainstorm the personality and skills of their would-be-survivor.

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Kari’s workshop was for younger kids, and one of the projects was to make a sloth puppet, based on her character from her book Jeffrey and Sloth. I couldn’t resist making my own:

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Next up in the schedule, is a day off to recharge and prepare for a full five days of school and library presentations.

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Here are some of the latest photos from the Dream Workshop I teach as part of the Creative Writing for Children (CWC) program.

My magic potions class is a great way to have the students add some conflict (or solutions!) into their stories and to help them experience the five senses. In this workshop, the students can visualize their potion, sniff it, hear it (because they always seem to fizz, crackle, and percolate), and even feel it as they stir it. The only thing I ask them to imagine is the taste (we don’t need anymore students turning into newts)!

Here are some photos of the potions during the brewing phase:

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After the brewing phase, we took a sample from each “cauldron” and distilled them into miniature bottles that the students then labeled. Here’s how they looked at the end:

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This year my creative writing program for kids took on an ambitious task: to help our students write, illustrate, and design their own picture books. This has been a real monumental challenge, given that the kids in this particular class our aged 8-12. They’ve had to stick with one story for an entire 15-week program!

I’ve been handling the illustrative side of the class, while my teaching partner Kallie George has brought all of her expertise in writing and editing picture books to help the students develop their words.

I’ve been away from the class for the last few weeks visiting schools in Korea and Thailand, so I finally returned home to take a look at their projects. When I left, they had just finished developing picture book dummies and had started on character design. Now the students are in full illustration mode.

Here are some photos of their books in progress . . .

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