I spent last week as writer-in-residence at Charlie Lake Elementary near Fort St. John in northern BC. I chronicled my time there during the week, but did not talk about my main project, which was all about magic schools.
To be honest, everything became a little frantic at the end of the week due to the wildfire situation. We had spent the whole week watching the tragedy of Fort MacMurray (roughly at the same latitude and with the same landscape) and so images of that town in an inferno was in everyone’s mind. Then, on Friday, the region just north of Charlie Lake Elementary was put on evacuation alert and many students had to leave to be with their families in case the worst happened.
That afternoon I was scheduled to sit with individual students to discuss their writing and projects. Many of them were quite distracted—who could blame them? It’s hard to worry about the magic school you created when your home is about to burn down. In one case, a student was distressed because the road to his home was shut down and he felt cut off from his family.
Well, I’m happy to report that the worst did NOT happen for the Charlie Lake students—no one lost homes that weekend and cooler weather helped ameliorate the fire situation. I’ve also heard from many of the students (and their teachers and parents) about how much impact my workshops had on them. So, feeling a bit better about the entire situation, I cheerfully present some of the students’ work below . . .
We began by imagining types of unusual schools, ones with magical aspects. There are many famous examples, of course: Hogwarts, Miss Cackle’s Academy from the Worst Witch series, Camp Half-Blood from Percy Jackson, and so forth. I also talked about books where wizards have mentored younger people, such as Merlin with Arthur in T.H. White’s The Sword in the Stone. I have a similar situation in one of my books, Kendra Kandlestar and the Shard from Greeve, and this also helped the students connect to the idea of a magical tutelage.
The younger students jumped right into designing magical crests, while the older students did some initial brainstorming first:
The next task was to write an acceptance letter from the school to a character (or, in some cases, the students chose themselves!). The letters gave students a chance to build up the details of the school, providing a list of required textbooks and supplies. Many students chose to add illustrations. As you can imagine, we had all sorts of stories focused on creatures—unicorns (pink ones!), dragons, cats, and winged horses.
The final project involved designing and writing a story about one class in particular. I chose to make that a class on potions, because it also gave students the opportunity to make some prop potions and write a recipe to go along with it.
I’ve teach a very detailed potions class before in my classes in Vancouver that involves mixing and brewing, the idea being that it is a way to explore the five senses. However, it involves all sorts of specialized ingredients and can get VERY messy. Of course, I couldn’t transport mummy dust, goblin eyeballs, and the like on the plane, so I chose to create a “dry” version of this activity to take with me to Charlie Lake. The students still were able to create potions and imagine what sort of concoctions they were. Here are some of the photos of their props and brainstorming . . .
The students were allowed to make three miniature potion bottles, though, as you can see by the photos, many students were inspired to run home and construct more elaborate props. Best of all, many of them went home to write in detail about their magical schools.
This entire residency is thanks to the hard work and dedication of the librarian at Charlie Lake Elementary, Linda Haugen. She has been a staunch supporter of literacy and has done wonders with the kids at Charlie Lake. For the past several years, Linda has rolled up her sleeves and made sure that either myself or my friend and colleague Kallie George (author of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency series) have come to Charlie Lake to work with the kids. Now, after so many years I can really see the pay-off! Many of these kids I’ve known since kindergarten and they are demonstrating enriched creativity, a dedication to brainstorming, and a commitment to writing.