Shiver me timbers! Pirate flags from the creative writing camp!

I’m still in the midst of teaching a creative writing camp on the theme of pirates in Korea. This theme is so rich with fuel, and we’ve been having  a wonderful time inspiring the students for their stories. One of my favourite activities is designing flags. After leading the students through the history of pirate flags, we had each of them design one for the ships in their stories.

Here’s just a few of the designs they came up with . . .

piratecamp2015_flag11 piratecamp2015_flag10 piratecamp2015_flag09 piratecamp2015_flag08 piratecamp2015_flag07 piratecamp2015_flag06 piratecamp2015_flag05 piratecamp2015_flag04 piratecamp2015_flag03 piratecamp2015_flag02 piratecamp2015_flag01

Plot me a treasure, me hearties!

We’re sailing along here at the CWC Pirate Camp in Korea. We’ve been working hard to fill our students’ boots with inspiration. On the first day of the camp, we led the kids in a treasure hunt and then, afterwards, we had them plot out an adventure for their stories by having them design, illustrate, and tea-stain their own maps.

These maps now serve as the plots for the stories they are writing for the rest of the week. Here’s a few of their maps, some in progress, and some completed.




piratecamp2015_map10 piratecamp2015_map09 piratecamp2015_map08 piratecamp2015_map07 piratecamp2015_map06 piratecamp2015_map05 piratecamp2015_map04

Ahoy! Pirate camp has begun!

I’ve just kicked off a creative writing camp for children based on the theme of pirates in Yangpyeong, Korea. There’s SO much creative fuel to be fished from the world of pirates—treasure maps, sea monsters, sailor lore, villains, heroes, and sea shanties. We’re even planning a class on pirate fashion!

We decided to kick off camp with a fun activity: a treasure hunt. I mapped out the grounds of the residence where we’re staying and then “pirate-ized” it:


What this means is that I basically imagined what all the current, modern ,spots would be in a classical pirate world. All the locations on the above map correspond to a real place on the grounds!

We took the map, made copies, then cut it into fours. Each team was given the first quadrant and had to locate the first X, where they would discover the next part of the map . . . which led them to the next part, and so on, until they finally arrived at the treasure—a stash of gold coins and rubies.

This was such a successful activity because it helped the students get to know each other as they worked together in teams to decipher the map pieces. Also, they experienced all the things that real treasure hunters go through—ups and downs, trials and frustrations, and—for one team—joy when they discovered the booty. The students will all be writing pirate stories involving treasure maps, and now have the first-hand emotional experience to draw upon.

Here are some of the spots that were featured on the map I drew . . .

The Devil’s Fang:


The torture racks:


The six-headed fountain:


The iron rings:


The Lost Lagoon:


The Marooner’s Maze:


The Mermaid Falls:


The Pirate’s Trail:


Place where ye rest:


The Skipping Stone Bridge:


The Slippery Slope:


The Stone Witch with Three Children (you can only see two of the children in the photo):


Of course, the other benefit of this activity, is that it got our writing students out and running about!

pirate2015_treasurehunt_running03 pirate2015_treasurehunt_running02 pirate2015_treasurehunt_running01

Here’s the winning team, holding their loot!


A writers’ retreat on Jeju Island


I just wrapped up a five-day retreat with young writing students on Jeju Island in Korea, taught with author Kallie George for the Creative Writing for Children (CWC) program.

I’ve led many different writing camps or worked at an author-in-residence at several different schools, but this experience was unique for a number of reasons.

First of all, the retreat was limited to just a few students, so we could really work with them closely. Also, each of the students was a dedicated writer, with plenty of experience gained from past CWC workshops and programs. Finally, the location was a secluded hilltop residence, surrounded by lush forests and an abundance of nature. This gave us plenty of opportunity to explore the world around us.

For the theme of the camp, we decided to get each of the students to research traditional Korean folktales and then retell them in their own voices.

Personally, I really loved the abundance of nature we found at the camp. The forest trails were teeming with all sorts of creatures.

One afternoon, I was walking with two of the students through the misty and dewy landscape, when a golden deer bounded out in front of us! That felt like particularly good fortune because one of my students, Yujin, was writing a tale that involved a deer who delivers a message to a woodsman. We didn’t get a picture of that deer, but that moment certainly stuck with Yujin.

I did get many pictures of the rest of that walk:


jeju_fence  jeju_mrwiz&yujintree jeju_snail jeju_spiderweb

On a subsequent walk, I found a giant hammerhead worm wriggling across my path. I had never seen one in real life before! Apparently, it’s a predatory worm, subsisting off of other worms. This particular specimen looked well-fed, if you ask me.


Finally, here are a few photos from  yet another walk. On this path, we found many tiny bronze-colored frogs leaping out of our way!

forest  jeju_frog


Here are some of the snapshots of the students’ work in progress . . . in addition to retelling the folktales, the students also produced accompanying illustrations.

jeju_alexwriting jeju_chelseadrawing jeju_chrisdrawing jeju_rosiedrawing jeju_sejin_writing&drawing jeju_tiana_drawing jeju_yujin_writing&drawing

It was a very successful retreat! In a future post, I’ll post some of the photos from our day trip!

Introducing Mercy Moonwing

I have been introducing all the new characters, week by week, to help celebrate the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.  Today is the final introduction! This is a character close to my heart: Mercy Moonwing.

Mercy Moonwing

Who she is:

Mercy is like another character I introduced earlier in this series of introductions, Timmons Thunderclaws, in that she is part of the underground resistance known as the Knights of Winter. She is a key member of the group because, as a character who can fly, she can provide critical reconnaissance for the group. So, essentially, she is a scout—though her long beak is also useful in a skirmish. The only problem is that Mercy is quite forgetful and often confuses or mixes up details, including the names of her fellow knights. So she also serves as a bit of comic relief.

Where she came from:
Since this was the last Kendra Kandlestar book, I decided I would base some secondary characters on the people I know and love. In earlier posts, I explained about Paipo Plumpuddle (a friend and dedicated reader) and Charla Charmsong (my goddaughter).

Well, Mercy is based on my wife, Marcie. To begin with, Marcie loves hummingbirds, so that part was a natural fit, especially since I had been wanting a bird character to be a member of the Knights of Winter.

And Marcie flies, too, in way—on her skates at least! Actually, on her feet, Marcie is clumsier than I am (and that’s saying something). But on her skates, it’s like she’s dancing on air.


And, then, there is this other photo of Marcie that I love, with her poising ever so gracefully near the edge of the Grand Canyon. When I saw her do this pose, I really did think of her as a bird.

Grand Canyon.

Here’s my first sketch of the Knights of Winter, including the character of Mercy Mooning.

Knights of Winter Woodsong - sketch

In earlier posts, I chronicled the dangers of basing characters on real people. In the case of Mercy, it was no different! I remember sharing an early draft of my Arazeen manuscript with Marcie and her getting upset because I broke “her” wing. To which I replied: “Er . . . you don’t have a wing.”

In any case, Mercy ends up without a broken wing, too—not because of Marcie’s request, but just because the plot ended up changing in subsequent drafts.

Introducing Shuuunga, the Unger Witch

In the continuing celebrations for the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I am introducing a new character each week. You can go back to earlier posts to meet Timmons ThunderclawsTuttleferd T. Thistle ToePaipo Plumpuddle, and Charla Charmsong.

This week’s character is my favourite of all the new ones: Shuuunga the Unger Witch.

Shooing the Unger Witch from Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen.

Who she is:

Shuuunga is an Unger witch who has risen to power in the Unger nation to lead them in the wars against the other monster tribes. By the events in The Search for Arazeen, Shuuunga has defeated the other tribes and incited them to attack a new enemy: Kendra Kandlestar’s home, the Land of Een.

Even though Shuuunga is mentioned for the first time in this book, her personal story is strongly connected to characters and events in the previous books. For example, she studied in secret with the Unger wizard Oroook.

Where she came from:
Shuuunga represents one of those characters that arrived into my imagination via my pencil. I was not entirely sure who would be the villainous leader of the monster army in early outlines for The Search for Arazeen. But one day, while brainstorming in my sketchbook, the idea, name, and visual appearance for the character began to take shape:

Brainstorming for Shuuunga the Unger Witch

If you look closely, you will see that I had started concocting names for the character, including Oonga, Soonga, and Shuagaaala. The above sketch didn’t really capture my imagination, however. I think at this point of the story, I thought the witch might not be very significant in terms of the plot. But the sketch below changed everything:

Unger Witch

As soon as I had drawn this version of the witch, I knew she would be instrumental to the events and storyline in the book. She jumped off the page and into my plot and began to take over everything.

Below are some further sketches of Unger culture. In earlier books in the series, I had already taken readers to the monster temple in the Green Wastes known as the Door to Unger, but this time I wanted to show what Unger life was like during a time of war.

Inspired by the nature of the Unger witch, I began designing many aspects of Unger war culture, including weapons, tattoos, and drums . . .

Unger weapons.

Unger drum concepts

Finally, here are a few of the final illustrations for Shuuunga (and her lair) that appear in the book.

shuuunga&kendra shuuungaslair shuuunga-battle

The Search for Arazeen goes digital

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen - ebook cover

It’s been out in “real life” for a month or so—now, the final book in my Kendra Kandlestar series is available digitally. You can purchase it from your favorite ebook provider, including iBook, Kindle, and Kobo.

If you’ve already read it, be sure to rate it, review it, or send an Een-mail through!

I especially love getting Een-mails from kids! You can check out some of my favorites here.

Shiver me timbers! This is how we prepare for pirate camp . . .


In just a few days, I’m headed to Korea to teach two creative writing camps. The first one will be a writing intensive for young, but experienced creative writers. The second is for a more general range of students and will celebrate the theme of pirates!

Imagine my delight when I discovered that there’s an interactive pirate adventure right in my own back . . . er, sea, here in Vancouver. Marcie and I decided to give Pirate Adventures, based on Granville Island,  a spin last week—not only to help me prepare for pirate camp, but to coincide with our five-year-old niece’s visit. (You know, the proverbial two parrots with one stone.)

I was impressed by the adventure—they went the full nine leagues. The actors stayed in character, used their pirate lingo, and all the visitors were dressed and face painted to look like pirates. (Er . . . I showed up in my own pirate gear; no need to dress me!) The ship, the Black Spirit, was a wonderful, full-operational, set piece. I would have been happy to just float around on it for an hour! But there is a plot to the story, complete with hidden treasure, a message in a bottle, and an encounter with a scalawag of a villain.

Here are some of the photos from the day.






At one point, as was tried and found guilty (I can’t remember for what) and almost made to walk the plank. I was saved by a last minute intervention!

pirateadventure_plank        pirateadventure_izzy


For me, the best part was when the kids got to fire their water cannons at the villainous Pirate Pete. (But it’s okay; it looked like he could have used the bath.)



What’s a pirate adventure without a treasure map?


I have always loved pirates; they are featured in one of my books, Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve. Of course, those pirates are Gnomes and Dwarves, but other than that, they have all the characteristics of pirates. They hunt treasure, sing sea shanties, and fend off (or TRY to fend off) a deadly sea beast. I sure wish I had gone on this adventure before writing (and illustrating) that book . . .

dirtybeardstrokesbeard pugglemudspet goldenloot squaggle ruckus_rustybucket dirtybeard


Introducing Timmons Thunderclaws

As part of the celebrations for the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I am introducing a new character each week. So far, I’ve introduced Tuttleferd T. Thistle ToePaipo Plumpuddle, and Charla Charmsong.

This week’s character is another animal: Timmons Thunderclaws.


Who he is:

In The Search for Arazeen, this ornery old badger serves in the underground resistance known as Knights of Winter. In his much younger days, he served in the role of captain of the Een Guard. He retired from that position to try and live out his days in solitude in the outskirts of Een, but his loyalty to to the sorceress Winter Woodsong  compelled him to return and join her resistance movement against the would-be emperor, Burdock Brown.

Where he came from:
To be honest, Timmons Thunderclaws isn’t an entirely new character. He was mentioned in Book 3, The Shard from Greeve. Winter Woodsong sent Kendra and her friends to go hide with the badger, but they never made it that far, and ended up getting sidetracked. Even though we didn’t get to meet Timmons in person, I liked the idea of the character enough to then show him in Book 4, The Crack in Kazah. Timmons appeared during a scene when Kendra travelled back in time and saw the badger guarding the Elder Stone during her parents’ youth. He was never mentioned by name, but he did get an illustration:

Timmons Thunderclaws.

Finally, in The Search for Arazeen, Timmons gets some proper page time, complete with significant lines of dialogue. He plays an important role in the events at the end of the book. He represents one of those minor characters who has turned out to be a particular favorite of mine.

Celebrating Children’s Literature in Vancouver

Reading Lights logo designed by Lee Edward Fodi

Next year, Vancouver will be celebrating children’s literature created by local writers with a series of plaques that will be displayed on lamp posts around the city. The project, called Reading Lights, is a new literacy initiative that will feature excerpts of stories and poems from published children’s literature, along with the associated illustrations. The 24” x 7” plaques will be permanent installations and will be placed near parks, playgrounds, schools, and libraries to spark spontaneous encounters with books from the province of British Columbia.

The project is starting with excerpts from picture books, and may expand to involve books for older readers in the future. I haven’t written any picture books, so I wasn’t able to apply for the project—but I did design the logo. (Not my best work, but I had to basically do it squeezed between trips to Korea and Thailand this year!)

In any case, the picture book authors to be featured have now all been chosen. I’m thrilled that many of them are my friends and colleagues. The full list of chosen authors is below, and we should start seeing the plaques pop up next year!

To get an idea of what Reading Lights will be like, check out this similar project in Vancouver called Literary Landmarks.


Norman, Speak
Written by Caroline Adderson 
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books

Stanley At Sea
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been?
Written by Dan Bar-el
Illustrated by Rae Mate
Simply Read Books

Crocodiles Play!
Written by Robert Heidbreider
Illustrated by Rae Mate
Tradewind  Books

Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Genevieve Cote
Simply Read Books

Watch me Grow!: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City.
Written by Deborah Hodge
Photographed by Brian Harris
Kids Can Press

I Heard My Mother Call My Name
Written by Nancy Hundal
Illustrated by Laura Hernandez
Harper Collins

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle.
Written by Jude Isabella
Illustrated by Simone Shin
Kids Can Press

Emma And The Silk Train
Written by Julie Lawson
Illustrated by Paul Mombourquette
Kids Can Press

Ankylosaur Attack
Written by Daniel Loxton
Illustated by Daniel Loxton and Jim W.W. Smith
Kids Can Press

School Days Around the World
Written by Margriet Ruurs 
Illustrated by Alice Feagan
Kids Can Press

Abby’s Birds
Written by Ellen Schwartz
Illustrated by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin
Tradewind Books

If … A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers
Written by David Smith
Illustrated by Steve Adams
Kids Can Press

Binky The Space Cat
Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press

Written by Tiffany Stone
Illustrated by Jori van der Linde
Simply Read Books

Grumpy Bird 
Written and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard 

Suki’s Kimono
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Kids Can Press

Little You
Written by Richard Van Camp
Illlustrated by Julie Flett
Orca Books

How To Build Your Own Country
Written by Valerie Wyatt
Illustrated by Fred Rix
Kids Can Press