Steampunking books for the Summer Reading Club


I just wrapped up a busy summer of book-building workshops at local libraries, which was all a part of my role as official illustrator for the BC Library Association’s summer reading club.

My illustrations for the program featured a steampunk book, which I call a “portal passport.”sensa book a trip blk

As soon as I drew the book, I knew I would end up building a version of it, which I did back in the spring. It turned out pretty well, with a spinning dial, a rotating bulb, and a button that can be pushed:


When local libraries started contacting me and asking if I would come in to do workshops, I decided I wanted to roll up my sleeves and do some prop building workshops. I knew this would be an ambitious project, because it’s one thing to putter away at a prop for a couple of weeks—it’s quite another to help twenty kids build one in the space of an hour!

So, I designed a less-intensive model as a test:


After this prototype, I decided the project would be achievable, and the libraries agreed—as long as I could keep the costs within their limited budgets.

So, it was just a matter of collecting supplies. As it turned out, I could only get a limited quantity of the books I had used for both of my prototypes. So I had to source another style of book. I eventually ended up with ones that were a little more “glitzy,” but I think the kids liked them better this way.

I spent many weeks collecting gears, jewels, and “greebles”—household objects such as caps and soda pop lids, which I then spray-painted black. I also purchased many of the pieces from a  great store on Main Street in Vancouver called Urban Source, which sells reclaimed and recycled household objects. You can fill up a paper bag of goodies for under ten bucks!



I thought I was well prepared for this endeavor. I had all my supplies partitioned out into individual plastic containers. I had white glue, hot glue, pins, tacks, brads, beads, wires, gears, and gems. I had a plan: maximum twenty-five students, minimum age 8 years old, and no one gets to use hot glue or pins except for me.


greebles in a bucket



Then, during the first event, 30 kids showed up, and many of them six years old. I’m terrible at being a bad guy, so I let everyone participate. As it turned out, I ended up running an hour over time.

I re-jigged my plan slightly, and then made sure to get help. Thankfully, because it’s summer time, my goddaughter Charlotte and some of my long-term creative writing kids are all on break from school, so they agreed to help me with the construction process. Between them and my wife, Marcie, I did most of my events with a helper and we got the constructing process down to a fine art!




One of the challenging things about such a project is keeping all the kids occupied. Let’s face it, kids aren’t exactly known for patience, especially when they are anxious to have all the goodies on their books pinned and hot-glued. I had the kids do some drawing if they were waiting and feeling impatient. There are many animal characters I illustrated for the summer reading club, so I had the kids design an additional animal hero—and a villain to menace them along the way! This kept most of the kids occupied.





Marcie became known as “glue girl” to the kids, and was even immortalized in one little girl’s drawing!



Well, this workshop turned out to be a resounding success. Over 150 kids ended up with little notebooks that are all steampunked up and are ready for recording thoughts, dreams, doodles, and stories.


The other thing I had to do during these sessions (which hadn’t occurred to me at first) was to sign posters and books. Or course, no author or illustrator ever really complains about that, but I had just forgotten to leave time for it!


I think one of the most fun aspects of this project for me was seeing all the different displays around the libraries, promoting the summer reading club. In many cases, my artwork was reproduced and blown up, or someone redrew their own versions of the characters. I loved seeing these displays!







Of course, I can’t post all the pictures . . . so I post a sampler below from all the different kids who participated in libraries in the communities of Surrey and Burnaby.

Thank you to all the libraries who hosted me and my assistants: Marcie, Charlotte, Jamie, and Chelsea. And thank you to Michelle Andrus from the Surrey Library for letting me use her photo in this post (all the artistic, high quality ones are hers).


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