Kendra’s whisper

This is a photo of my latest prop: the bottle that contains Kendra’s secret from The Box of Whispers.

I’ve been working on this prop for ages. At first I wanted to suspend glow-in-the dark paint in a vial of clear glue. The result? The glue slowly absorbed the paint, so that I ended up with a murky mess. I tried putting in layer of glue and letting it dry, but eventually abandoned this plan in favour of using a strand of cotton lightly glossed with the glow-in-the dark paint. I hope you like the results!

Kendra Whispers

The girl who had never seen Een

Charlo CharmsongI usually don’t base characters on real people I know. However, since this will be the last Kendra Kandlestar book, I decided to name some secondary characters after people dear to me.

The character shown here is called Charlo Charmsong, and is named after my goddaughter, Charlotte. After years of campaigning, she has finally received her wish!

In the story, Charlo Charmsong is a young girl whom Kendra meets in the City on the Storm. Even though Charlo is an Een, she has never been to that land tucked between cracks of here and there, having been born in the city on the clouds. Charlo is known for her beautiful voice, and sings a song for Kendra and her companions during an important celebration in the City on the Storm (that is, until, Ratchet accidentally ruins the evening with one of his new inventions).

Picture Perfect in Korea

I’ve just wrapped up a creative writing camp in Korea with my teaching partner and fellow author Kallie George. I didn’t have a chance to do any blogging during our hectic schedule, but now I can post some of the photos from our week.

We packaged our Picture Perfect theme that we’ve been teaching in Canada and brought it to this camp. The whole idea is to inspire kids in their creative writing with art history.

Day 1 began with a brainstorming exercise in which our students contemplated what art meant to them.


We had a mascot for this camp—Pablo the raccoon. Just like Kallie and I, he needed lots of coffee too!


On the first day we also began our projects to design and build mummies. I was really impressed with the results. I’ve led this activity a few times and, finally, someone built me a crocodile!




One of our other activities involved designing miniature portraits.


One of my favourite activities was when we took a cue from Surrealism and thought about dreams. Students designed their own dream bottles and then wrote a story about them.




We also led a writing activity in which the students crafted a hand-written letter to their favourite authors. I think the students enjoyed our approach of embossing the envelopes with wax and a seal impression.


We also ran a Picture Perfect Tournament, in which the students had to engage in a variety of activities.We had stations for word scramble, Pictionary, and mix-and-match, but my favourite stations were the ones below, starting with “Feats of Architecture.” Here, the contestants had to try and build the tallest card castle possible.


In this station, the participants were blindfolded and had to try and pin the smile on Mona Lisa.


In this station the students had to draw portraits of myself, Kallie, and our mascot, Pablo the raccoon.


We wrapped up today with each student presenting a monologue in which he or she imagined being an apprentice, model, or inspiration for a famous artist. This was quite entertaining! Some of the points of view adopted included Mona Lisa, a mummy, and a Campbell’s soup can!

Now, it’s time for one final meeting, and then we get our rest and prepare for the long flight home!

Finding fire in Seoul

Insadong fire.

As many of you know from Twitter and Facebook, I’ve had quite the experience during my most recent trip to Seoul with fellow author Kallie George. On our second night here, the building behind our hotel exploded due to a gas leak. I had never seen such a large and ferocious fire so close up. We were forced to evacuate for a few hours, but came to no harm rather than smelling a lot of smoke and losing sleep. And, as my friend Kari Lynn-Winters said in response to my tweets, “What doesn’t kill you makes a good story!”

The shapshots I took don’t really do the event justice, but you can see some truly spectacular photos of the fire by checking out this link and scrolling down.

In any case, I managed to pull myself together the next morning and appear, as scheduled, at a school that operates in Seoul under the auspices of the British Columbia government back home in Canada. Turns out they follow the BC curriculum. The kids were fantastic, full of energy and enthusiasm for Kendra Kandlestar!



After the presentation, we travelled to Yong-in, where we are delivering our Picture Perfect curriculum at a writing camp for writers aged 8-15. I’ll be posting some pictures of that once things become a little less hectic!

Is love brewing for Kendra?

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I would address a question that I get a lot, especially from my older readers: “Is Kendra going to fall in love?”

Well, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been playing with that notion. In particular, I’ve always loved the idea of a love potion mix-up, much as happens in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But I feel that sort of scenario is better suited for some of Kendra’s sidekicks—and, if you have read The Crack in Kazah—you will remember that there are some unexpected situations that develop between some of them.

And, of course, there is the full-blown romance that occurred between Kendra’s parents, Krimson and Kayla, when they were teenagers. The Crack in Kazah covers that too! The illustration below shows Kendra’s parents at the annual Jamboreen festival. (I admit that Kendra’s mother doesn’t really look like she’s in love in this illustration, but, as Winter Woodsong says, “Love is a cruel master.”)

Kendra's Parents

As for Kendra, well let’s cut her some slack. After all, she is only twelve (though she does turn thirteen in the fifth book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen).

And, as always, I will leave you with this last statement, which is how I so often answer questions: “Be careful what you wish for, because I rarely deliver what you expect.”

Return of the Unger

Here’s a sketch for an illustration I’m working on for Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen:

King and Trooogul.

One of the number one complaints I’ve heard from readers about the last book is that it didn’t have enough Trooogul. Rest assured, he has a bigger role in this book—and a very important one, as is hopefully conveyed by the above drawing.

More world building at West Sechelt Elementary

I finished up my writer-in-residency at West Sechelt Elementary this past week, and thought I would show a few more pictures of the kids’ projects. I have been really impressed with their work, especially their brainstorming.Here are some wanted posters, to help get their stories going . . .
ws_posterdragonws_posterspiderHere are a few more kingdom crests . . .ws_crest_icefirews_crest_wolws_crest_midnightdustws_crestmustacheBelow are some examples of character illustrations and brainstorming . . .ws_brainstormingcharacterws_brainstormingvillainws_brainstormingweaponws_characterSome of the students even started mapping out their worlds . . .ws_map01ws_brainstormingmapAnd here’s a secret code that will play a part in this student’s world . . .ws_codeAnd finally, here are two small booklets that one student put together, during my time there . . .ws_books

The art of rating books

I recently wrapped up my Picture Perfect class, a series of workshops in which we explored creative writing by taking inspiration from art history. As part of this class, we read and discussed fourteen different books. Every book had a connection to art. The students rated each book out of ten. I’ve taught them to be pretty critical in their judgments of books—they don’t throw around nines and tens too easily. In any case, here’s how our overall rankings ended up (oh, and thanks to my student Siyeon for being our accountant!) . . .

 Noonie's Masterpiece14. Noonie’s Masterpiece
Written by Lisa Railsback / Illustrated by Sarajo Frieden
Average rating: 2.65/10

This book features colourful and (in my opinion) delightful illustrations throughout, telling the story of a young artist’s attempt to find her expression. My students didn’t really like this book, and for one reason: They found the protagonist self-absorbed and selfish. But I think everyone feels that way from time to time . . . so I recommend this book for any young lovers of art.


Chasing Vermeer13. Chasing Vermeer
Written by Blue Bailliet / Illustrated by Brett Helquist
Average rating: 4.25/10

This book combines an exploration of Jans Vermeer’s artwork with a mystery (fitting, since Vermeer seems to be a figure clouded in mystery himself). There are many clues and codes at work within this book, which I found hooked my immersive mind. Some of my students, however (especially the younger ones) were too frustrated by this particular aspect of the book. This book made an obvious connection to our study on the golden age of Dutch Art.


Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms12. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms
Written by Lissa Evans
Average rating: 5/10

I suppose this book had the weakest connection to art, as it is about a boy who searches for his great-uncle Tony, a famous magician and inventor. I taught this one in conjunction with a study of Leonardo da Vinci’s artwork and invention diagrams. The story has a lot of mystery, a bit of intrigue, and a sprinkling of wonder. I’m not sure why I didn’t rate higher with my students; it seemed to have all the ingredients that would otherwise please them.


Mixed-Up Files11. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Written and Illustrated by E.L. Konigsburg
Average rating: 5.5/10

This is a classic book, and one that I really love. It tells the story of a sister and brother who decided to run away from home and live in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. During their stay, then become immersed in a mystery about the authenticity of a statue supposedly carved by the Renaissance master Michelangelo.


08-tapestry10. The Hound of Rowan: Book One of The Tapestry
Written and Illustrated By Henry H. Neff
Average rating: 5.55/10

When Max happens upon a mysterious Celtic tapestry in the art museum, he sets forth a chain of events in which he finds himself invited to a secret magical school where he is given an enchanted creature to care for and must survive those who immerse themselves in the darker side of magic. Sound familiar? That’s why half my students loved it—and the other half were annoyed by it, so gave it a low rating. One of my students loved it so much, that she promptly went out and took out every book in the series from the library.


07-blackhopeengima9. The Blackhope Enigma
Written by Teresa Flavin
Average rating: 5.95/10

When fourteen-year-old Sunni sees her stepbrother Dean disappear inside a painting, she follows after him, only to find herself being sucked deeper and deeper into the art’s hidden layers—and hidden worlds. This book tied in well with the Renaissance and had a great premise. I think it suffered in rating only due to its length, which some of my younger students struggled with.


mangoshapedspace8. A Mango-Shaped Space
Writing by Wendy Mass
Average rating: 5.95/10

This is a coming-of-age novel, but with a twist. Mia has synesthesia, a condition in which her perceptions are intermingled so that she can see sounds, smell colors, and taste shapes. The problem is that she has kept the condition hidden—even from her parents—for her entire life. This book was actually tied with The Blackhope Engima in terms of scores, but I remember my students verbally commending this book more than their actual scores indicated . . . so I give it the edge.


06-carnationlilylilyrose7. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting
By Hugh Brewester / Illustrated by John Singer Sargent
Average rating: 6.2/10

This book is sort of like a scrapbook, chronicling the true story of how John Singer Sargent’s famous painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, was created. It includes reproductions of the artist’s sketches and cartoons and is told from the perspective of young Kate Millet, one of the painter’s would-be models.


05-masterpiece6. Masterpiece
Written by Elise Broach / Illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Average rating: 62.5/10

A boy and a bug try to solve an art heist of miniature paintings by Albrecht Durër. I think this book would have rated higher if so many kids just didn’t hate bugs so much! Otherwise, I would say this is the perfect sort of middle-grade read, full of strong characters. It offers a great connection to making miniature portraits.


04-usbornebookoffamouspaintings5. The Usborne Book of Famous Paintings
Written by Rosie Dickens
Average rating: 6.4/10

This is the book I used to kick-off the workshop series. It’s nonfiction, just offering an overview of art history. It was a great way to get my students to start thinking about our overall theme; and I think they enjoyed analyzing and opining on each piece that the book chose to present.


03-nestforceleste4. A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home
Written and illustrated by Henry Cole
Average rating: 6.7/10

This book challenges the assumptions that middle grade books should have minimal illustrations. It is full of black and white images by the author. Some pages have very little text and are devoted to the image, just like a picture book, whereas other are more focused on the text. The story is not a typical climax-focused tale either. It tells of the gentle journey of a mouse searching for a good home, but has a nice non-fiction component as well as the naturalist and painter John James Audubon appears as a major character in the tale.


02-chroniclesofharrisburdick3. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Written by 14 different authors / Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
Average rating: 7.05/10

With a foreward by Lemony Snickett and stories crafted by many stalwarts of the children’s literature scene, there’s hard not to find something to like in this book. Many teachers use this book as a basis for creative writing activities. In this workshop, we actually didn’t, but we did discuss what illustrations we liked the best, and which ones we thought offered the most fuel for a writer.


01-lunchmoney2. Lunch Money
Written by Brian Clements / Illustrated by Brian Selznik
Average rating: 7.2

Greg has a talent for making money—and enemies, as demonstrated by his long-time feud with Maura, the annoying girl who lives next door. But when the two decide to work together to start their own comic book business, they end up with a new enemy: the school principle. This is an engaging story that covers themes of community, capitalism, and censorship.


01-gatheringblue1. Gathering Blue
Written by Lois Lowry
Average rating: 7.2

We actually had a tie between this book and Lunch Money, but I’ll put this book at the top just because I’ve had the privilege of meeting Ms. Lowery and I think it’s only right to defer to someone who has won the Newberry. Left orphaned and crippled in a dystopian future that shuns and discards the weak, Kira is faced with an uncertain future. But when her talent as a weaver is discovered, she is offered a new hope—and a frightening glimpse at the workings of her society. This book prompted many provocative discussions about the value of life, art, and community.


Well, there you have it! I have some hard reviewers, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t like (or in some cases, LOVE) these books. Of course, I encourage you to check them out.