The world of Kendra Kandlestar comes to life

Box of Whispers prop.If you have ever been to one of my workshops you’ve probably seen the props of some of the enchanted items that feature so prominently in Kendra Kandlestar.

I love making props; it helps brings my stories further to life—not only for my readers, but for me as well. It’s a way to kind of celebrate the adventures that dance through my head. And, of course, this is a philosophy I bring into my classroom. If we’re going to write about a magic potion, we might as well also make it (but that’s another story).

I never construct my props until after I’ve illustrated the item in question. This always causes problems—I am definitely NOT an engineer, and never draw with the practicality in mind.

For instance, if I had known that the Box of Whispers would have been so difficult to construct, I might have designed it differently! (That round top caused all sorts of problems for my dad and I when we tried to build it; on the plus side, it was great fun to drag my dad into the hardware store and then ask if they sold sparkly gold paint and little yellow stars.)

Door to Unger prop.The Door to Unger was probably more work in the long run, and it’s the most heavy and cumbersome of my props. My dad helped me build it (I can’t be left alone with power tools) and then my brother took a router (I think; I may have the tool name wrong) and gouged some cracks across the surface. The end result was quite impressive, and the gateway (the mouth) actually opens and closes.

Shard from Greeve and Kendra's wand.My brother then provided me with the perfect prop for Kendra’s wand, all by chance. He showed up one day with a piece of driftwood and said, “You like weird stuff and this looks like some wizard wand.” Little did he know, it looked exactly like the illustration I had already completed of Kendra’s wand. It just needed a bit of sanding into shape and then a wood stain.

As for Greeve’s shard, this came courtesy from The Crystal Ark, a.k.a. the rock shop on Granville Island, near where I live. My goddaughter, Charlotte, and I combed through the whole store until we found the perfect piece of black quartz.

The clerk was delighted to tell us all about the properties of the stone, all of which I politely listened to. Afterwards Charlotte asked my why I hadn’t just interrupted her, to which I replied, “Do you think she really wanted to know that we were buying a rock to serve as a prop for a stone of dark magical powers that will tilt the balance between an epic battle between Elves and Dwarves?”

Well, it is obvious what the prop for the fourth Kendra Kandlestar book will be — it will be the Kazah ring. I’ve been thinking about how I could make it for some time. Last summer, when I was wandering through the markets of Insa-dong in Seoul, I came across a stone that I thought would fit the bill. So I put it into my brother’s deft hands and he immediately set about to craft the most wonderful of props.

At least I think it’s wonderful! What do you think?

Kazah Stone prop.


Teens these days . . .

Teen Een howls.I have really enjoyed crafting the new main character that figures so prominently in Kendar Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah. I’m simply calling her the “Teen Een” for now, as I’d like to keep her actual name as a surprise for when the book is released.

In any case, the Teen Een’s role is crucial to this story, so I really had to roll up my sleeves and get every nuance of her character just right. I wanted her to have crazy hair, but of course, she couldn’t quite out-do Kendra. At the same time, I wanted her to be a bit more wild. She’s a free spirit, so I tried to communicate that not only through the beads and baubles and braids of her hair, but through her clothing as well.

Her design didn’t happen over-night. If you’ve been in one of my workshops recently, you’ve seen some of the source photos and sketches I compiled through the process of designing this character.

Then came the way the Teen Een speaks. She isn’t your average citizen of Faun’s End. She has a bit of shake in her soda, so to speak. Indeed, Oki even calls her a rather “Jinxly” character, comparing her to everyone’s favourite grasshopper.

The illustration shown in this posting is the most recent one I’ve completed for the Teen Een. I think it captures her character perfectly! And why is she howling, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to wait for the release of Book 4 to find out!

Utinni! My class has been taken over by Jawas!


Droid scavengers, inventors, and tinkerers were running amok this past week in my workshops. It was Part Two of my robot class. Part One was all about preparing the designs and instructions of the robots. This turned out to be an interesting class in terms of teaching my students about technical writing. Most of my students found it hard to use formal language!

Part Two was all about construction. I was impressed that a lot of my students’ robots actually matched their original designs. Part Three will be writing a story about the robot. In one class, we’re even going to do Part Four: writing a commercial to go along with their robots!

Emily's Robot.

Andy works on his robot.

Julie's Robot.

Sue's robot.

Ryan's robot.

Dean's robot.

Robot worksheets.

Hoon works on his robot.

Robin's robot.

Shane's robot.

There’s nothing like the narfoo

The narfoo.This is one of the recent illustrations I’ve completed for Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah. This is the character I’m simply referring to as the “teen Een” for now. She a rather tempestuous character, but in this scene I’ve tried to catch her in a more poetic moment, as she sits in her front garden, playing the musical instrument known as the narfoo.

I knew early on in the writing of this book that I wanted this teen Een to play an instrument. I named it quite early on, but I had NO idea what it would look like. I just knew that I wanted it to be complicated and  unusual.

After a lot of research on other instruments, I began sketching. I was pretty sure I wanted something more like a French horn or a baritone tuba (the instrument I used to play), but in the end it I suppose the narfoo is more of a hybrid between a saxophone and a trumpet. With its many valves, horns, and buttons,  you can imagine that the narfoo is a complicated instrument to play. But, once mastered, it is capable of a wide range of sounds. One minute you might hear the player emit a solemn, woeful tune and the next a loud and raucous melody.

The Moorchild.For this specific illustration that depicts the teen Een playing the Narfoo, I took some inspiration from the cover of the classic fantasy book The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw. I just like the idea of the little Elf-like character sitting amidst nature, playing a tune.

The final thing I’d like to say about this illustration, is that I’m sure it’s going to serve me well in future creative writing classes. I’ve already taught classes in which we’ve designed musical instruments, so perhaps it’s time to roll out that activity again. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll find inspiration for another instrument of Een!

Instrument Design

Ketchup, chickens and eggs — oh my!

I promise to be posting some new artwork soon from Kendra Kandlestar IV, but in the meantime I thought I would put up some, er . . . fan art. I love it when readers send me Kendra Kandlestar artwork, but just as often I seem to get a lot of artwork of me.

I’m not sure why, exactly, but kids find my dislike of chickens, eggs, ketchup and Anne of Green Gables to be quite amusing.
This first picture is actually quite lovely. It’s me as my favourite animal, getting crowned. It’s be Jeanne in Chula Vista, California.

Mr. Wiz as a Tiger


This next one is by Jeanne’s sister, Ellen. I guess she’s on my side—she’s trying to eradicate all chickens by shooting them out of cannons.

Chicken cannon


And last but not least for today  . . . well, let’s just call this one “Mr. Wiz’s Doom.” It’s by Matthew from North Vancouver.

Chicken Army.


You know you’re a geek when . . .

R2-D2. . . you get your very own R2-D2 robot for your birthday. And, er . . . you’re not exactly turning eleven.

Well, nonetheless, my R2 rocks. He chirps and whistles, goes on patrol, plays messages, guards your room (er, I mean your house), and he can even do the tango. And he’s not remote control—he has a heat sensor, a motion sensor, and a pretty clever electronic brain that obeys voice commands. Except he doesn’t always obey my commands. Seems my R2 unit is a lot like the one from the movies. He often disobeys, even shaking his head and turning his back on me!

Well, there was no doubt that I would bring R2 into my classes to share with my students. By happy coincidence, in some of my classes I’ve been teaching a book called The Cabinet of Wonders, a wonderful steampunk-style fantasy that features a little tin spider called Astrophil (pretty much a robot). So, with R2 in tow, I delivered a presentation on the history of robots to my kids and then  set them to work on designing their own robots.

This week has been Phase 1: brainstorming and design. The students are coming up with a “blueprint” for a robot, a style of communication, and a short “instruction manual.” You can see some of the results in the photos below. Of course, you can also see that poor R2 was subjected to all sorts of torture—including the fashion sensibilities of Julie and Siyeon. R2 bore it with as much dignity as possible.

Robot Design

R2D2 kitted out.

Robot worksheets.

R2 helps a student.

Next week, we BUILD! I’m not sure exactly how the construction will go, but I will make sure I post photos. Of course, after the building part, the students will write a story based on their robots. Our classes are actually wrapping up for the term,  so I guess these stories will have to be short, by necessity. Otherwise, I think this activity could really prompt some epic tales!

In the meantime, it’s got me thinking . . . sooner or later my own crazy inventor, Ratchet Ringtail, will have to come up with some sort of robot. I wonder what he should build?

Message from a moth

So much of Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah has to do with the past legends and lore of the Land of Een. In this first illustration I’m showing you, I’ve depicted that fateful moment when the Wizard Greeve sends a message to his brothers, inviting them to come to his palace to make peace with him.


Here he is dressed all in white, sending out from his withered palm an invitation by way of a moth. I have drawn pictures of Greeve before (he appeared quite prominently in The Door to Unger), but I have never shown him without his hood. After working on this illustration, it occurs to me that he looks something like Saruman from Lord of the Rings.

Of course, the Wizard Greeve is going to betray his brothers, but first he has to lure him into his palace. I took quite a few cracks at drawing this place of doom. At first I was thinking of the work of the famous Spanish architect Gaudi and his wonderfully fluid and floral designs.

I eventually decided that I wanted to go more subtle. I had written this scene before illustrating it and when I went back to read over my manuscript I noticed how sparsely I had depicted the palace. Instead of a castle with turrets and arches and gargoyles, I had described Greeve’s abode as a place with tall, glimmering white spires. So I went back to my original concept . . .

Palace of Peace

Those are supposed to be flowers growing on the hill surrounding the palace. But they look like little marching ants to me. So I ended up doing one more version, to include a few close up of flowers. In the book, it says as the six brothers and their armies approached Greeve’s palace that they first had to cross a green field carpeted with white flowers, so I decided I needed to include that as part of the illustration.

Palace of Peace

Stay tuned for more illustrations from the new book!

A perilous plunge

A perilous plunge.It’s been a while since I’ve posted any news on the progress of Kendra Kandlestar and the Crack in Kazah. I’ve been putting plenty of work into it; it’s just been going slowly as I fine-tune the story and work on the illustrations.

I’ll try to get back in the habit of posting new pictures as I complete them. Of course, I can’t show you everything I’m working on, but I’m sure a picture here and there won’t ruin the story for you!

In the illustration at the right, I tried to capture Kendra in a moment of drowning. The place where she is drowning is pretty important—but you’ll just have to wait to find out where exactly that is. The little fish was an afterthought. I didn’t have him in the original sketch, and so didn’t leave room for  him when I did the inking. So I just drew him separately then added him in Photoshop.

The illustration below depicts an Een badger. He is a minor background character in the story, so will most likely go unnamed in the actual book. However, I often like to name my characters, even if those names don’t make it into the books, and the moniker I’ve assigned for this ferocious-looking fellow is Timmons Thunderclaws. (If you’re one of those readers who remembers every little detail in my books, then you might recall Winter Woodsong mentioning Timmons Thunderclaws in The Shard from Greeve. He never did make an appearance during that adventure, so I thought it would be fun to sneak him into this new book.)

Timmons Thunderclaws.

Kendra Kandlestar shadow puppets!

A few weeks ago, I did a writing activity with my class in which we constructed shadow puppets of various animals or mythical creatures and wrote accompanying origin tales, sort of in the vein of one of my all-time favourite picture books, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.

Lo and behold, one of my students decided to make a Kendra Kandlestar shadow puppet. Why not? Her braids cut the perfect shadow! Of course, she ended up making her own background story for Kendra Kandlestar. I guess you can kind of consider it as Kendra Kandlestar in an alternate universe!

Well, I decided to make some shadow puppets and post them on the activities page of the Kendra Kandlestar website. You can choose from one of three characters: Kendra, Oki, or Prince Peryton. If you make one, be sure to let me know!

Shadow Puppets

Writing an origin tale.

Student shadow puppet.

The Wizard of Chickens

Chicken WizardI’ve been remiss from posting because I’ve been off teaching a week-long camp in Chula Vista (just south of San Diego, California) and I forgot my cord to transfer photos to my computer.

So, it’s catch up time!

One afternoon, after I had finished teaching for the day, I was wandering the streets of the quaint seaside town of La Jolla, with my camp coordinator, Joanne Kim. We stumbled upon a delightful hat shop—and what was the first hat I saw? A chicken.

Famously, I hate chickens. I had to look after them when I was a kid, which involved much shovelling of poop. And, in my opinion, chickens are so stupid they don’t even know when they are dead (yes, chickens really do run around with their heads cut off). Well, my very first pet was a blind chicken, and I loved her dearly—but that was before I had to start cleaning the coop every Saturday. Thus began my days of hatching a plan to escape the farm.

But I digress. So I brought my chicken hat to my class and, of course, it wasn’t long before one of them decided to dress up as a chicken wizard. I suppose this was meant to represent ME, under a terrible chicken spell. My worst nightmare.

This was my first time to take the teaching philosophies of the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) to California and I’m pleased to say it was a great success. Initially, there was some resistance to our use of the imaginary arts (drawing, music, roleplaying) to help inspire young authors to write, but by the end of the week, we had converted everyone to our way of thinking.

Over the course of five days, my wonderful and gifted students blossomed into willful writers, crafting legends, poems, and short stories. Honestly, it was my privilege to teach them.

San Diego stories.

San Diego stories.

The added bonus for me was the opportunity to enjoy some lovely San Diego weather in the afternoons after my teaching was done.  In Canada, we definitely don’t get to hang out on the beach in January! (That’s Joanne walking barefoot ‘cross the sandy beaches of Del Mar Heights, just north of San Diego). The sunset was incredible; it was if, for just a few brief minutes, the clouds erupted in flames. Awesome.

Del mar beach.

Del Mar surfers