Year in review ~ some of my favorite doors

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

tokyo_sensoujitemple_door_gold_detail02 sensoji-bike&door yasakuni_door_florette yasakuni_door_staffonly yasakuni_door_florette_below yasakuni_door tokyo_sensoujitemple_door tokyo_sensoujitemple_door_gold_detail01 sensoji-reddoor

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England, June 2014

york-devildoorknocker york_tigerdoorknocker yorkminster_door_flourish york_doorknocker_hand york_church_door alnwick-barbicondoorhandle yorkminster_door_studded alnwick-dungeondoor

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Scotland, June 2014

dunning-highupdoor dunning-fadeddoor royalmile-door02 royalmile-reddoor01 sterling-door01 sterlingtown-door02 royalmile-door04 edinburghcastle-dungeondoor01 royalmile-door08 pitlochry-reddoor

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Korea, August 2014



Korea - temple

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Hawaii, November 2014

Hawaiishackdoor Hawaii-purpledoor

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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 . . .



The boy with the inside out shirt

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!


boyinsideoutshirt-labels  boywithinsideoutshirt

A galaxy of origami

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 . . .

cwc_nv_oy09 cwc_nv_oy08 cwc_nv_oy07 cwc_nv_oy06 cwc_nv_oy05 cwc_nv_oy04 cwc_nv_oy03 cwc_nv_oy02 cwc_nv_oy01 cwc_lv_oy06 cwc_lv_oy05 cwc_lv_oy04 cwc_lv_oy03 cwc_lv_oy02 cwc_lv_oy01

Brainstorming from Hawaii

As I mentioned in some earlier posts, I was surprised to discover so much story inspiration on my recent trip to the big island of Hawaii. I’m not much of  a beach person, but I did figure I’d spend a lot of time swimming, snorkeling, and unwinding.

As it turned out, my brain never did turn off and I came up with some crucial world building details for a project I’m working on. Thankfully, I had made sure to bring my brainstorming journal with me and I was able to scribble down a few pages of furious notes and doodles . . .

qq_brainstorminghawaii_01 qq_brainstorminghawaii_02 qq_brainstorminghawaii_03 qq_brainstorminghawaii_04

Messy, as usual! But these types of pages always turn out to be a lifeline during the writing process.

Recommended Reading ~ by kids for kids

Every term, as part of my workshops at CWC, my students and I read and discuss a selection of middle-grade books.

This particular list is actually from the Spring term of 2014. I never ended up posting my students’ ranking of the titles, but I figured now would be a good time, in case anyone is looking for some suggestions for holiday gifts.

I picked the books, so I personally recommend all of them—but the ranking below (from least preferred to favorite) comes from my students, aged 8-13. There were fourteen books in total, one for each week of our class.


14. The Borrowers
By Mary Norton
Average rating: 6.64

This was one of my favorite books as a child, but my students found it too old-fashioned and slow-moving. Still, if you have a student that likes a classical book, then this is a good one!


13. The End of the Beginning
By Avi
Average rating: 6.65

This is a sweet book, probably best for younger kids. It reminds me of Winnie-the-Pooh.


12. Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Average rating: 6.75

I absolutely LOVE this book, a novel written in poetic format. I wish my students would have appreciated it as much as me. There are a few scenes in this book that will tease the tears from your eyes. It’s a sequel to Love That Dog.


11. A Dog Called Homeless
By Sara Lean
Average rating: 7.59

Usually books about dog run away with the ratings! Not that 7.59 isn’t anywhere remotely near bad, as I always encourage my students to be critical in their reviews. Still, I was surprised this one didn’t inch up towards 9!


10. The Sandman and the Turtles
By Michael Morpurgo
Average rating: 7.75

Michael Morpurgo is one of my favorite authors and I always try to teach one of his books. I’ve taught so many of his titles, that I had to dig a little deeper into his catalogue to do this one, which is a short and sweet fairytale story. It rated higher than I expected, as this actually isn’t my favorite of Morpurgo’s titles. (I highly recommend checking out The Butterfly Lion, Running Wild, and Kaspar, Prince of Cats).


9. A Nest for Celeste
By Henry Cole
Average rating: 8.02

This is a beautifully illustrated book (by the author) that follows the adventures of a little mouse who observes the famous naturalist John James Audubon. This is a perfect book for animal lovers.


8. Fake Mustache
By Tom Angleberger
Average rating: 8.43

Mr. Angleberger is better known for his Origami Yoda series, but this is a humorous book. One of my students thanked me profusely for putting this (in his words) beautiful book on our reading list.


7. The Sixty-Eight Rooms
By Marianne Malone
Average rating: 8.49/10

My goddaughter recommended this book to me, and I loved it so much, I decided to teach it. It draws inspiration from the miniature rooms that actually exist in the Chicago Art Institute.


6. The Castle in the Attic
By Elizabeth Winthrop
Average rating: 8.74

This is another classic book, but the students loved it more than The Borrowers. This is a great book for fans of books like The Indian in the Cupboard.


5. The Bad Beginning
By Lemony Snicket
Average rating: 8.87

What can you say about this one? It’s the first book in my goddaughter’s all time favorite series. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Lemony Snickett a few times at different book presentations. He just oozes funny.


4. Flora & Ulysses
By Kate DiCamillo
Average rating: 9.19

This book recently won the Newberry award (though I had put it on my list before that happened). My students absolutely loved this book, especially the comic page inserts.


3. The Familiars
By Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Average rating: 9.25

I guess I should be happy that this book rated so high, as it is sometimes compared to my own Kendra Kandlestar book (I guess it’s all the animals and magic). This has become a popular series, but if you haven’t heard of it yet, then it’s a great book for those who love animals and magic.


2. Keepers of the School: We the Children
By Andrew Clements
Average rating: 9.26

This one barely edges out The Familiars. It has some great illustrations done with classic spot color. My biggest disappointment is that is has no resolution for the main problem introduced; you have to read the sequel for that one. (Many of my students did).


1. Tuesdays at the Castle
By Jessica Day George
Average rating: 9.69

This book has a great premise: a magical castle that has moving rooms. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have any illustrations. But fans of fantasy will love this book.

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There you have it! Please check out the titles from your favorite local bookstore or etailer.

Critters and creatures in Hawaii

As I mentioned in a recent post, I discovered a lot of inspiration when my wife and I visited the big island of Hawaii in November. In addition to the varied (and often fantastical) landscape, the petroglyphs, and the totems, we encountered a lot of wildlife—much to my surprise.

Kids often ask me how I get inspiration for some of the monsters in my Kendra Kandlestar books. The visual appearance of my characters come from all sorts of sources, but there’s no doubt that the emotion that Kendra feels when running into the Ungers, Krakes, skarm, and countless other creatures is derived from my own personal experiences. I’ve seen giant water lizards in Bangkok, found myself standing between a mama moose and her calf in Canada, and crossed paths with a jaguarundi in the Guatemalan jungle near the ancient temple of Tikal.

Some of those experiences were a bit dangerous. I didn’t have quite the same excitement in Hawaii, but I did get plenty of animal-related inspiration for a world (well, actually two worlds) that I’m developing as part of a new book.

Here’s some of the critters we encountered . . .


Geckos are everywhere in Hawaii. You’d be hard pressed not to find these colorful characters. They would scurry past my feet in the morning when I would go out on the lanai each morning to drink my coffee. Yes, they’re pretty skittish, but at one of the cafes we went to, we saw an amusing sight. The staff puts out little pots of jelly to attract the geckos. Despite the nearby patrons, the geckos sneak down for a tasty treat. The way they slurped down the jelly reminded me of my cat at its dish.


Below is a leaf bug that I saw perched outside of a park bathroom. I’ve never seen one in real life before. I did a double-take when I saw this one.


Of course, one of the things Hawaii is known for is sea turtles. I once illustrated an entire book about them (I’ll Follow the Moon). I kind of wished I had been to Hawaii first and experienced these turtles before doing that book! We saw the turtles in many places, but one day we hiked out to a remote beach where we found many of them out on a low-lying spit of land. It was shallow enough to walk right across and get a better look at the turtles—though we also obeyed the signs and made sure to keep our distance, so as not to disturb them from their rest.



The turtle below came right up alongside me while I was perched on the rocks. It came so close that I could have almost touched it! I affectionately called it “Big Red.”


We saw many sorts of crabs, but my favorite ones were these big black ones that were perfectly camouflaged against the black lava rock. These scuttling critters, along with the sea turtles, really helped me formulate a clear idea for a very specific aspect of the worlds I’m currently building in my new book.


The picture below is of a dolphin in a pool at a hotel nearby where we were staying. My wife adores dolphins and we were lucky enough to also see them in their natural habitat when we were snorkeling. We couldn’t get a picture of those ones, even though we swam out to try and interact with them. Alas, it was too far out, and we had to turn back.


By far, my favorite creature experience of the trip was seeing a family of chameleons. They lived on an avocado tree on a coffee plantation that we visited. We would have missed this experience all together, except Marcie asked why there was a “Chameleon Crossing” sign next to the gift shop. The tour guide took us over and showed us the chameleons by lifting two of them out of the tree.

I had never seen chameleons up so close and was completely fascinated by them. We even got to hold the baby one.

hawaii_chameleon-adult hawaii_chameleon-baby-lef hawaii_chameleon-baby

Of course, there were plenty of other creatures that I don’t have pictures of. I never could snap off a picture of one of the mongooses that were darting about our residence. Maybe next time . . .