My four-year-old I sat down the other day to do some writing, but instead of doing it the usual way (in which he narrates something for me to transcribe), I decided I’d roll out an activity I often do during an author visits at a school or library: Interactive mapping.
Mapping is a fantastic strategy for brainstorming ideas or to simply getting the creative juices flowing. I have many students (especially older ones) who find it hard to sit down and begin the process of writing—they find it hard to turn off all the other things that are pestering them. This sort of activity can serve as a “warm-up” exercise or a transition for the brain. Plus, it’s fun (and shouldn’t creativity be fun?).
For Hiro and I, we started out in one corner of our respective pages, and mapped our characters’ journeys toward treasures in the opposite corner. We created specific problems and obstacles along the way. We both did separate maps, building off our own ideas, though Hiro asked me to swoop in at certain points to do some drawing and labelling for him. (Hiro had an “ice” theme in his adventure—I especially like his “ice monster.”)
As mentioned above, I do this kind of thing with elementary and middle school students all the time, but it was the first time with a preschooler, and it ended up being far more entertaining for him than I would have guessed.
I’m just wrapping up a creative writing camp on the theme of “GALAXY.” We’ve been writing a variety of projects, including a newspaper-style article about the discovery of alien evidence, and dramatic scenes of humans having to escape from an alien’s zoo.
Probably the biggest hit, though, was my module on robots. Our camp has all been virtual, but I was determined to incorporate some sort of prop-building activity. This meant a lot of preparation, assembling “robot kits” and sending out the packages to the students in advance. Most of the pies came from household items—paper cups, lids, plastic containers, paper clips . . . yep, a whole lot of “junk” can really add up to something fun and amazing! I augmented the junk with some craft supplies such as gears, brads, and clock hands.
The students loved receiving the kits and the project turned out better than anticipated. Below are some of the amazing models that they made. Many of the pieces move—the dials spin, the heads rotate, and the propellors swivel.
Afterward, we wrote robot instruction manuals and developed communication/language systems to go with them.
The on in the bottom right-hand corner is actually the one I built as part of demo-process. I call mine a Nerd Detector, but something didn’t turn out quite right, since it kept pointing at me. Oh, well!
See if you can find my secret word in the story below and continue the search to the other authors on my team and find their words as well!
Prizes! Prizes! Prizes!
I’m on the ORANGE team, and by participating in BOWS, you can enter to win all of these great books:
Now, onto the text where you can search for my secret word. Below is a “side-story” that I drafted as part of my writing process for my middle-grade book The Secret of Zoone. While staying in the magical multiversal hub of Zoone, it’s mentioned that my main character Ozzie has read a book of Ophidian fairytales. Well, this is one of them . . .
The Delicious Dragon A fairytale from Ophidia
Long ago, when dragons still mined for gold, there lived a princess, high in the mountains of Ophidia, in a magnificent castle lair. Her name was Merigna and she was the same as all princesses: greedy, gold-hoarding, and vile in appearance. Her eyes were pale and blue, her hair was so long that it fell in curls upon her shoulders, and her nails were long and painted a crimson red.
But these were not the worst things about her.
Each night, she awoke with the moon and, after a hasty breakfast, rushed to the royal vault to count her treasure. Every gold coin and gemstone came from the dragons who dwelled in the forests below; it was what they forfeited to the Princess. The dragons toiled day in and day out, mining treasure from the deep earth.
Yes, the dragons had natural weapons, but, like all dragons, they were timid and gentle-hearted beasts. And from her mountain-top lair, the Princess commanded the thunderclouds, so that whenever the dragons pondered revolt, she threatened to destroy them with her power.
The Princess was the master of them; the dragons were her slaves. But there soon came a time when she was not satisfied with merely counting her treasure. She wanted to swim in it, so she demanded that the dragons work even harder. Double the amount of treasure poured into her vault each week. Soon the level of treasure was so high that Merigna could slither and slip through the mounds of gold. She let the coins spill through her fingers and rejoiced in the tickle of the gemstones as they massaged her skin.
For a time, the Princess was satisfied with this nightly routine. But, as she grew in age, so did her indulgences. No longer was swimming in treasure forged by dragon fire enough to placate her greedy heart. She began to demand the egg of a dragon be brought to her once each week, so that she might feast upon it for her breakfast.
Her soldiers ventured into the forests to pluck the eggs from the nests in the dragon villages. The dragons quavered at the approach of the soldiers, and each day they wailed, “Do you not know how precious and rare our dragon eggs are? They are laid only to be our children, not to be the fruit for your Princess’s delight.”
The soldiers brought back the dragon pleas to Merigna, but she was a princess, and, like all princesses, her heart was cold and unyielding. She demanded the soldiers perform her bidding and so it came to pass that each and every week, under the plaintive gaze of the moon, she devoured a dragon egg for her breakfast.
It was not long before the race of dragons began to decline, their numbers becoming sparse, their species rare. Entire villages soon lay abandoned in the forests.
And, yet, Princess Merigna’s ravenous appetite only continued to grow. There came a time when she demanded not only her daily swim in dragon gold, and her weekly dragon egg breakfast, but to dine on a roasted dragon hatchling for her Full-Moon Feast.
Each month the soldiers would escort the gluttonous Princess into the remaining dragon villages, where the dragons were forced to present their young for inspection. Only the tender, most juicy dragon would do for Princess Merigna. Once she had made her choice, the sacrificial hatchling was taken away to her mountain lair and slain for her Full-Moon Feast.
The dragon numbers continued to dwindle until there was only one remaining village left and the species hovered on the knife-edge of extinction. Finally, in desperation, the village elders called for one of their most adventurous citizens. His name was Grust, and he was a handsome creature, with vivid green eyes and a long black tongue.
“Go forth into the mines of Ophidia,” the village elders told Grust, “and search for the ancient dragon-witch known as Estrella the Wise. It is said that she slumbers, sometimes a hundred years at a time, deep below the surface of the earth, deeper than memory. If anyone can save us, it will be the dragon-witch.”
Grust was eager to accept this quest, for there were only eight children left in all the village, and one of them was his own beloved son. With this weighing on his heart, he descended into the mines and began his search for the fabled dragon-witch.
For many weeks did young Grust travel, with each step delving deeper and deeper into the mines. He passed through the Cave of Fangs, where dripping stalagmites rained acid. He navigated the Poison Tunnel, where toxic gasses leached from fissures in the rock. He even crossed the Bridge of Fire, which arched over a bubbling sea of lava. At last, he arrived at a quiet and humble hole, deep within the earth. He could feel heat emanating from this dark cave and knew at once that this was the domain of Estrella the dragon-witch.
Grust was a brave dragon, but now he hesitated, lingering with uncertainty on the dragon-witch’s doorstep.
“I can hear your breathing, and it has awakened me,” rumbled a voice from the hole. “If you mean to enter my cave, then do so now! Otherwise, let me go back to sleep; for I have only slept these past 99 years, and am feeling grouchy.”
Grust swallowed, mustered his courage, and crept into the cave. Even in the darkness, he could catch a glimpse of the dragon-witch. She was thin and bony, with dull scales and ever duller teeth. Only her eyes were sharp; they glinted bright and green with cleverness.
“Tell me, why have you disturbed my slumber?” Estrella boomed.
“There is a princess who vexes our people,” Grust informed the dragon-witch. “I have been sent to ask for your help.”
“There is always a princess,” Estrella grumbled, twitching her long tail, which was crooked and kinked, and missing many of its scales. “What is this one doing?”
Grust told Estrella of the terrible Princess Merigna, and her appetite for baby dragons. Now, Estrella had lived a long time, but even she was horrified to hear such a tale. After Grust was finished talking, Estrella sighed, closed her eyes, and began to think. She thought so long that Grust wondered if she had fallen back asleep.
But, eventually, she opened her luminous green eyes and said, “I have devised a plan to save dragonkind. I will brew a potion, and you must take this back to the village. Whichever child is chosen by Merigna must smuggle this potion into her lair. Then, just before Merigna slays the hatchling, he should down this elixir.”
“What will it do?” Grust wondered.
“It will give him great power to defeat the Princess,” Estrella claimed.
Grust agreed with the plan, and Estrella set to work in her chambers, brewing and concocting her potion. For several days she worked and when at last she was done, she poured a portion of the substance into a small glass vial and thrust it into Grust’s claws.
“My work is done,” she told the dragon hero. “Now, return at once to your people—and let me go back to sleep!”
Grust thanked the dragon-witch and made all haste back to his village. By the time he returned, there were only seven hatchlings remaining—for during his absence, Merigna had come to claim one more of them. And, now, it was the night of the full moon, and the princess was coming any moment to choose her next victim. Grust had returned just in time!
All the hatchlings, including Grust’s own son, were lined up in order to be presented to the evil Princess. When she arrived, she prowled in front of them, surveying their plump bodies, and ravenously licking her lips. Since there were only seven hatchlings, it did not take her long to choose one of them; Grust’s own son.
Just before Merigna’s soldiers loaded the hatchling into her chariot, Grust rushed to his son and embraced him. During this moment, he was able to pass the potion to the hatchling and explain the plan. Grust’s son was a clever and brave dragon and, with a nod of understanding, he hid the vial in the curl of his tail, then went forth with the loathsome Princess.
Now, Merigna was a particularly bloodthirsty princess, and though there was a royal butcher and a royal cook in her employ, she preferred to conduct the deed of killing the chosen hatchlings herself. After the soldiers had deposited Grust’s son in her personal chambers, the Princess unsheathed her knife and smiled maliciously at the innocent hatchling.
The poor dragon was quaking in fear, but he remembered the potion that his father had bestowed upon him. With a quick flick of his tail he tossed the vial into his mouth, gnashed it in his teeth, then swallowed it whole. He felt the liquid drizzle down his throat and prepared for its powers to take effect.
The Princess approached, brandishing her blade. Grust’s son opened his tiny mouth, expecting to gush fire and rage upon dragonkind’s worst enemy.
But only a mere puff of smoke emerged. The potion had failed. Princess Merigna conducted her deed and the dragon hatchling was roasted. Soon the princess was sitting at her royal table to enjoy her meal.
But enjoy it, she did not.
As she took the first sweet taste of dragon, Merigna’s throat constricted. Her eyes bulged; her stomach boiled with fire. She dropped her silver fork and clutched desperately at her neck, gasping for air. She collapsed to the ground, thrashing and writhing in agony. Next, she began to scream—so loudly that her cries thundered down the mountains and into the forests of Ophidia. After a few moments, the cries ceased all together.
Princess Merigna was dead.
Deep down in the mines of Ophidia, Estrella the dragon-witch chuckled in her sleep. She had known all along that the liquid in the vial would not give the hatchling power. She had brewed a deadly poison because she knew that the only way to trick Merigna into ingesting it was by poisoning the hatchling first.
That crafty old witch! Her ruse had worked, and now the dragons were free. Grust mourned for his son, but dragons always know to put the greater good before their own selfish needs. He knew that the sacrifice was a worthy one.
Alas, there always seems to be another princess on the rise, greedy for gold and dragon suffering, but for now, what can we say? Blink of an eye, flick of a tongue, hiss no more—this tale is done!
I’m so proud of the kids! Despite all the extra challenges this past term, everyone finished up a book in my two creative writing classes that I teach through CWC.
Like so many classes, we were forced to transition to teaching through online platforms halfway through the term due to COVID. Teaching anything creative is hard to do on screen, but we muddled through. The hardest part, though? Designing and illustrating covers for our books.
Usually, when I’m in class, I can literally lean over the student’s workspace and help them sketch or tidy up a design. I often have them work on “thumbnail” sketches first so that they can fine-tune a design before investing a lot of time on a final illustration. I still asked the students take this approach so that I could at least look at their designs—this time, though, I just couldn’t literally get in there and make amendments.
Still, many students succeeded in coming up with excellent designs and/or illustrations. Of course, I have many kids who are fabulous illustrators. For those who aren’t comfortable with their artistic abilities, they decided to draw on the stock photo libraries available through pexels.com and pixabay.com. In these cases, though, the students still had to design their cover, which including deciding upon the right placement of the photo, choosing the font, and thinking about overall impact.
So, here are some of the great covers designed by my students. We’ve got mysteries, science fiction, fantasy quests, and thrillers . . . quite the collection!
The books will go for printing this summer (we print our books perfect-bound, so that they even have proper spines) and they will arrive in our students’ hands in the next couple of months. For them, it feels like forever, I know!
The Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the creativity, confidence and writing capacity of children through well-tailored writing programs, delivered in-class and through digital platforms. In our programs, students from around the world write and illustrate their own books, which are professionally desktop published. Founded in 2004, CWC is based in Vancouver, BC.
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small stuck at home and trying to remain creative! I call this activity Thinking INSIDE the box.
I started delivering this activity to kids in my creative writing workshops after the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, one of my most popular books. In that book, a young Een goes in search of a mystical container that holds something all-too precious to her societ
There are many wonderful myths and stories of enchanted vessels. One’s that pop to mind are Pandora’s box, Urashima Tarō’s box, and Aladdin’s lamp all come to mind, and can help provide extra inspiration to the young creators in your house.
What you will need:
The handouts (below)
Any kind of wooden are cardboard box
Paint and brushes
There are a few different ways to approach this activity. For younger kids, I like to use this very simple handout, which allows them to take a pre-drawn box and simply concentrate on the design, patterns, and colors.
Here are a few examples of student projects:
For older students, I prefer this brainstorming sheet, which allows them to freeform doodles shapes and designs for boxes, and also prompts them to consider more deeply some of the story-telling aspects of their box.
Here are some examples of past boxes designed
If you have craft containers knocking about your house, wooden or even cardboard, then you can turn your box design into a three-dimensional model. The fun part of this, of course, is that you can FILL the magical container with items!
In my time as a creativity teacher, my students have made quite a few boxes . . .
And here is my model of a box . . . the Box of Whispers. It is pretty big and not only served as a great prop for when I was touring this book, but also as storage for same said books!
In terms of writing, this project provides the platform for an epic tale—I’ve had many students take this prompt and dive into the telling of a character in search of a mythical box (perhaps after it has been stolen)!
However, I always tell teachers that a good bite-sized project is to have students write the single scene in which a character first discovers the box. This avoids students having to dwell or worry about what I call “plot paralysis”—becoming so consumed with a plot that they forget to think about character development and description. By removing overall story plot as a factor to consider, students can just focus on a character in the magical moment of discovery.
(Also, I’m just a little exhausted of trying to convince my students that they don’t have to start a story with the long boring sequence of invents that involves their characters waking up in the morning to the sun shining through the window, brushing their teeth, running downstairs to eat breakfast, running to the bus, running to school, running home after school . . . and THEN they actually something important to the plot starts! If you’re a teacher, you KNOW what I’m talking about!)
Have fun with this project. Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small stuck at home and trying to remain creative! I call this activity costume makes the character! Simply print out the handout below and imagine what this little mouse does in its life. Then decorate it accordingly!
Is it a knight?
A cat keeper?
The possibilities are endless, of course, and I highly recommend printing out a few of the sheets to make as many jobs as you like! I’ve done this activity several times at schools in Canada, the US, Korea, and Thailand—no matter where I’ve been, kids love this story starter.
And it IS a story starter, because you can write a story about how this mouse achieved its dream job. Or, if you do multiple mice, you can write a story about how this mouse had to change its jobs throughout his life.
Here are some of the mice from the past occasions where I’ve led this activity at schools.
By the way, the one above is one of my all-time favorite mice: COFFEE MOUSE!
Have fun and, in the meantime, stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small sticking around the house this weekend. Around here, we are busy painting eggs for our annual dragon egg hunt (and you can, too—see my post here), but this activity is a simple one to fill in some time!
It’s pretty self-explanatory! Just download the sheet here:
Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned for more activities!
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small who are stuck at home. Today’s activity: making a moto!
What’s a moto, you ask? It’s a type of robot that wreaks havoc upon Ozzie and friends in my latest middle-grade book, The Guardians of Zoone.
The motos didn’t make it to the cover, but rest assured they play a big part, as their world, Moton, is one where our characters spend a lot of time. Here’s a look at some motos, as depicted on the vintage-style travel sticker that I created for that treacherous realm:
What you will need:
Paper to print out the template below.
Pencils and coloring supplies.
Just download the template sheet and follow the instructions. Of course, I always encourage my students to make their own creations from scratch—but sometimes a little inspiration can go a long way, and maybe this sheet will help!
These are pretty much the same pieces that I used to design the travel sticker above!
There is also a maker-space opportunity here. I love building things, so if you’re like me, and keep every lid and cap from your household products, then you will have a big store of switches and buttons. I recently used a lot of these to build my own moto probe. Admittedly, I also had to draw on some more specialized supplies from the craft store, such as brads, gears, clock hands—but otherwise, a lot of the pieces are just “junk” or bits and bobs such as thumbtacks, paperclips, and plastic lids. The “body” is just a styrofoam ball painted with metallic paint.
Have fun imagining and stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small who are stuck at home. Today’s activity: creating vintage-style travel stickers for imagined fantasy worlds!
In a recent post, I uploaded the activity to make a travel brochure. The activity I’m posting today is less ambitious, but just as fun (and, in fact, I used many of my own travel sticker designs to populate my travel brochure example).
What you will need:
Paper to print out the template below.
Pencils and coloring supplies.
Just download the template sheets, which are filled with various frames and shapes. This project is a great way to brainstorm ideas for different worlds, and distill a setting to its most important feature or essence.
Also, for those young writers who have already created a setting, this is a fun way to celebrate it!
And here are some examples of vintage-style travel stickers that I designed for the worlds in my middle-grade books, The Secret of Zoone and The Guardians of Zoone.
There’s an add-on project here, of course. You can cut out your ideas and glue them to your own storage boxes or luggage. (It’s probably no surprise to people that I have Zoone stickers on my actual suitcase that I travel with.)
I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small who are stuck at home. Today’s activity: Creating an advertisement for a monstrous product that can appear in a monster newspaper or magazine. What sort of thing does a monster horde want to hoard? This is your chance to imagine it!
I’ve done this activity many times with my creative writing students——it’s so much fun to see their imaginative ideas spring to life, not only in terms of the types of products and services they imagine that monsters need, but their slogans and pitches!
What you will need:
Paper to print out the template below.
Pencils and coloring supplies.
Just download the template and start imagining (of course, you can just draw your own frame)!
This project also provides a fun story prompt. What if the monster sees this ad, then goes to the story, only to find its favorite product out of stock? What will it do?
Have fun and, as always, stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .