I am NOT a voice actor

But it hasn’t stopped me from getting hired as one.

Last summer, one of my closest friends, picture book author Kari-Lynn Winters, asked me to work on the audio recording that would accompany her new book, Runaway Alphabet.

My initial response was, “I am NOT a voice actor.” But, you know, when you’re wandering through the amusement park of life, you have to stop every now and then to experience the rides they offer. So I agreed to do it.

I played three very small parts, but the best thing about this project was working with the human dynamo known as Kari. I also got to work with my other friend Lori Sherrit-Fleming, who narrates the book. But the real star of the show (in my humble opinion) is my goddaughter, who played the role of the girl in the story. I was pretty proud of her (she was only eight when she played the part). Incidentally, my goddaughter has also played the role of Kendra Kandlestar at several of my events; I may be biased, but I’m going to say that she is multi-talented.

In any case, months later, Runaway Alphabet is now about to launch! Come help celebrate it—plus six other books—on Wednesday, May 5, 7 to 9 pm.

Where? No,  not in the Land of Een! The launch is at Kidsbooks, 3083 West Broadway, Vancouver. You may even see a wizard or two lingering in the crowd.


Captain Critter

When we last left the Land of Een, Raggart Rinkle was Captain of the Een Guard. He had taken over the job after Juniper Jinx was fired (just because she was, in Burdock Brown’s words, a “critter”). Well, Burdock has never liked the animals of Een, but if he knew his history better, he’d know that the very first Captain of the Guard was indeed an animal—and one with a lot more fur than Jinx!

As any reader of the Kendra Kandlestar books knows, I love to sprinkle her adventures with stories of the history of Een. Kendra Kandlestar IV will be no different—so here’s a sneak peak of Clovin Cloudfoot, the first Captain of the Een Guard, appointed to the role by the first Eldest of the Elders, Leemus Longbraids.

You can see that in the original sketch, Clovin had no cape, but I added it in the final illustration because I decided it would make him look a little more swashbuckling.

Clovin Cloudfood - pencil sketch.

Clovin Cloudfoot.

The Door to Een?

Okay, I love doors. And I pay for it with some ridicule from my friends. I’m always snapping shots of doorways—handles, hinges, frames,  you name it. The more mysterious, the better. After all, I wrote an entire book about doors (Kendra II).

Well, I found a few delightful ones at the Parliament building on my recent trip to Ottawa, but there was a row of doors in particular that really intrigued me. I never did figure out what exactly they were for — I assume it’s what the Parliamentary Gnomes use to come and go. Why not? They have Parliamentary Cats!

Or is, just maybe, a way to sneak into that land hidden between the crack of here and there . . . ?

Just One More Book

The Wild OatI had a real treat last night. I went out to “The Wild Oat,” the cafe in Ottawa where so many of the episodes of Just One More Book, that excellent podcast about children’s books, were recorded. Not only that, I got to break bread with the creators: Mark Blevis, Andrea Ross, and their two wonderful daughters, Lucy and Bayla.

I had presented that morning at Lucy and Bayla’s school and for some reason, Lucy’s class didn’t get to join in. I think Lucy was a little bummed, but luckily, I had my laptop with me, so I gave her a repeat performance right there in the cafe.  And, because she begged, begged, begged, I showed her a few sneak peaks of Kendra Kandlestar IV. Well, I owed it to Lucy—she’s been a special part of Kendra Kandlestar for a long time.

You see, Just One More Book reviewed Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers when it first came out, and have been such champions of my braided heroine. In fact, they’ve done countless interviews and reviews of the books, and there’s no doubt in my mind that part of Kendra’s success is due to them. I still cherish the beautiful comments that Lucy and Bayla sent me after reading Box of Whispers (in fact, I published them at the back of The Door to Unger).

Well, after dinner at the Wild Oat, we ended back up at the Blevis-Ross house, where we whittled away many an hour talking about all of our favourite books. What a fabulous night!

A Parliament of Cats

Readers of Kendra Kandlestar know all about the Elder Stone and the Council of Elders. Well, yesterday, I toured around Canada’s version of the Elder Stone — Parliament Hill. As enamored as I was with the architecture and history of  these beautiful grounds (more on that in future posts) what completely fascinated me were the cats.

Yes, the cats.

Or, to be more precise, the Parliamentary Cats. This is essentially a group of stray cats who live in a sanctuary next to the Parliament buildings. No one owns them—they essentially live free and wild, hanging out in a sort of cat hotel. They seem a pretty happy bunch and two thoughts occurred to me as watched them laze in the sun and soak up attention from the visitors.

One, my cat would LOVE this place.

Two, how come no one has written a children’s book about these cats yet?

Villainfest in Ottawa

Queen KrakeNo, this isn’t a political rant! I’m in the beautiful city of Ottawa all this week to visit local schools and teach my “Villains” workshop at the MASC Conference.

I’ve been teaching this villains workshop a lot lately, but I never tire of it. I’m getting a lot of questions about the villains in my own books and had an interesting one the other day. If the big bad villain in the first book was Rumor the Red Dragon, the second one the Door to Unger, and the third one was Queen Krake . . . then who will it be in the fourth Kendra Kandlestar book?

Well, I’m not sure I can reveal that yet! But I can say that this is a different sort of Kendra Kandlestar book. Perhaps it breaks the mold a bit . . . but in a way I’m sure you will love! The only thing I can tell you is that this book has its share of villains. You’ll get your dose of Burdock Brown, Captain Rinkle, Agent Lurk . . . and even that gargantuan chicken lizard, Queen Krake!

Highly Recommended

Here I am, knee deep in Kendra IV, and I received this notification of a review for Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve in CM Magazine. It’s just a little surprising, as the book came out last year, but Kendra doesn’t mind praise—no matter when it comes.

As the review says: “This book would be an excellent class novel for individual reading or as a read-aloud choice. It would be an excellent addition for personal, class, school and public libraries. Highly Recommended.”

Well, I’m not doing much writing today . . . I’m in Ottawa, the sun is shining, so I think I’m going to wander down the road to see Parliament Hill. I doubt it will be quite as magical as the Elder Stone . . . but you never know!

The name game

Kendra Kandlestar costume.Today I was visiting a school in Vancouver where we worked on crafting some dastardly characters in my “So you think you’re a villain?” workshop. I’ve visited this school before and they are great supporters of Kendra Kandlestar—as evidenced in this photo of one teacher’s costume from last Halloween. Isn’t it great?

It was truly wonderful to meet so many young Kendra fans today, and I was reminded of my last visit to this school. It was while I was right in the middle of writing Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve. Well, on that particular day, I was working with students on designing this monstrous character and the name that the kids came up with was “Squaggle.” I LOVED that name—so much so that I asked them if I could use it for a character in my Kendra book.

Thankfully, they said “yes!” As you can see by the sketch below, Captain Dirtybeard’s first mate (a Gnome pirate) was originally going to be called “Bort.” Yes, it was just a little too Swedish. So I switched his name to Squaggle. It fits him much better . . . don’t you think?

I’m off to Ottawa next week to teach even more villainy . . . look out, nation’s capital!


When we were young

Young Uncle GriffinskitchAs far I’m concerned, character is the cornerstone of any story. And, as anyone who has been, I put a lot of work into my characters. I spend countless hours on drawing them, inventing their names, and developing a “history” for them. Of course, many of these aspects of character development don’t make it into the final books . . . but they help me immensely.

Here’s a perfect example: a sketch of Uncle Griffinskitch in his younger days. He wasn’t always hunched and crooked, you know!

You can see in this sketch that his staff is shorter, more wand-like, and he even has a scattering of hair on the top of his head. His beard of course, was not half so long, and was dark brown. I’m not sure, but I think he might have worn a Gandalf-type wizard’s hat. Oh, but one thing has always been the same with Uncle Griffinskitch. Ask him a question—then and now—and he will “humph!”

Eens Like Us

Teen Een.Last week in my writing class, I was showing my students the sketches and final inked version (shown right) of the new character, “the Teen Een,” that will play a prominent role in Kendra Kandlestar IV.

Little did I know that it had left quite the impression on them. This week, Julia showed up wearing a hood. Of course, I didn’t quite realize why at first. But finally, half-way through our book discussion (we’re reading The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo), I finally stopped and said, “Julia, why are you wearing that hood!?” To which she shyly replied, “I have something to show you, Mr. Wiz.”

So off came the hood and there, to my great delight, was a delightful head of Een braids! Awesome! It was the perfect hairstyle for that specific class, as we went on to brew and concoct our own magic potions. And, as far as I’m concerned, when one is making a magic potion, one should have Een hair.

Julia's Een braids.

Julia's braids and potion