Inspiring young imaginations in Korea

Inspiring young imaginations in Korea

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I recently returned from Korea, where I taught a creative writing camp for kids and presented at the Canadian Embassy in Seoul.

creativewritingcontest_poster.jpgA contest to celebrate Canada150

The event at the embassy was an award ceremony for a creative writing competition that was held in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. The contest was sponsored by The Korea Herald, Air Canada, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and CWC (the Creative Writing for Children Society of Vancouver, a company I co-founded in 2004).

Contest judged by Canadian authors

Over 200 students from elementary, middle, and high schools across Korea entered the contest and were reviewed and judged by three Canadian authors: myself, Stacey Matson, and Kallie George.

It was a great honour to be a judge and to read through all the diverse entries. The theme was a difficult one; in some way, the entrants had to incorporate the idea of “150.” It was quite entertaining to see how the kids wove this theme into their short stories!

A ceremony at the Canadian embassy

The award winners were announced on July 1 (Canada Day) and the ceremony was held on July 22nd at the Canadian embassy in Seoul. Joon Park, who is the CWC co-founder, Stacey Matson, Marcie Nestman, and I attended the ceremony on behalf of CWC. Unfortunately, Kallie George could not accompany us, but she was there in spirit.

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During the ceremony, we were privleged to meet the contestants and award them their prizes. There were 30 winners in various categories, with the top winner receiving a free round-trip ticket on Air Canada to travel to anywhere in Canada.

After the ceremony, Stacey and I held a Q&A session with the young writers. We were so impressed by their thoughtful and in-depth questions. I’m so proud of all the kids who entered and of their beautiful words that they dared to share.

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All contest winners will have their stories published in an anthology.

For more information, check out the article on The Korea Herald website.

About 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 tailored writing programs. In CWC’s programs, students are guided by professional authors, illustrators, editors, and actors to write and illustrate their own books, which are professionally desktop published. Founded in 2004, CWC is based in Vancouver, BC.

 

 

Exploring all the nooks and crannies

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Whew! Yesterday, I wrapped up my last school visit of the year. While I still have some camps and conferences coming up in the summer, I get a little break in my schedule.

It was one of my most hectic seasons in recent memory and, as I reflect, I’m very thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with so many kids and to explore so many different parts of the world—both close to home and afar—that I may not otherwise visit.

In my home province of British Columbia, I worked as a writer-in-residence at schools in Sechelt and in Surrey, and as an artist-in-residence in Coquitlam—where we built a hatchery’s worth of dragon eggs.

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I visited many schools in my home city of Vancouver, including one where many of the students dressed up as Kendra Kandlestar . . . check out all those braids!

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At another school in West Vancouver, the classroom produced an entire “EENcyclopedia” board and booklet, build off the characters, creatures, and settings in the Kendra Kandlestar books.

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I also participated in two separate school tours this spring. The first took place in the central Okanagan Valley, with schools in Kelowna and West Kelowna. It was nine schools and a bookstore in one week! The second tour was built around my appearance at the the Vancouver Island Children’s Bookfest, which entailed visiting many different schools in the city of Nanaimo and its neighboring communities. During that trip, I was taken to the hidden gem known as Protection Island.

There are no stores or businesses on the island, except for a pub situated on the docks. I had never even heard of the island and, if not for the festival, probably never would have. It is a charming place . . . sort of reminding me of Tom Sawyer’s Island. In particular, I loved seeing the heron nesting site.

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Recently, I was also given the opportunity to present at the school in Stewart, BC. This is a very remote community on the border of the Alaskan panhandle. It’s small—in fact, I’ve presented at schools that have more people than the entire town of Stewart. But it is a gorgeous place. Getting there involved a 1.5-hour flight, followed by a four-hour drive through beautiful scenery. It was during this trip that I got to see my very first glacier.

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A big highlight of the fall was presenting at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. This is an event of rare characteristic. Where else do you get to hang out for three solid days with so many creative people in the same hotel. A sort of culture sinks into that place. It’s exhilarating and exhausting all at once. Especially, when they introduce costume events . . . because I’m just not the sort of person who can mail it in!

Here’s a photo of myself and my buddy, kc dyer, as steampunk fairytale characters!

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As for out-of-province, I had the opportunity to speak at the Package Your Imagination conference in Toronto, which also involved doing some library visits, including at the beautiful and historic Wychwood Library. That’s my bag and coat sitting on the ledge in the photo. And, of course, in the bag, is one of my dragon eggs. In retrospect, I can’t believe I left it that far out of reach—even for a moment!

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And here’s me doing actual work at the conference itself, where I discussed world-building for the middle-grade novel:

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I also had the opportunity to teach a creative writing camp with my wife, Marcie Nestman, in Korea just after Christmas. One of our favorite moments was waking up on New Year’s Day in Seoul and going to explore the Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple, which was only a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. It was a very spiritual way to begin the year.

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I really want to thank all the people who hosted me: the teacher-librarians, the public librarians, the classroom teachers, the festival and conference organizers, the billets, the volunteers, . . . wow! Without all of you, I’d never get anything done. And, also, there are the PACs and the Canadian Council for the Arts that helps to fund all of these endeavors. I really hope I could help inspire and invigorate our children this past year.

Now, for a bit of R&R before it all starts up again in September!

 

In which I survive my most recent tour and visit a magical island

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I recently  made it back from a second tour in three weeks, in which I visited eight schools in four days, followed by a day of presentations at the Vancouver Island Children’s Bookfest. You can only get to Vancouver Island by ferry, so I opted to drive over with my car so that I could cart all my various props and supplies.

What supplies? Well, for one, that included my Tour Survival Kit. I knew it was going to be a tough slog, energy-wise, just because I had come off another recent (and hectic) tour of schools, so I prepped a kit that included:
~ throat tea
~ vitamins (echinacea, golden seal extract, vitamin C)
~ coffee
~ cereal bars
~ hand sanitizer
~ more coffee

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Unfortunately, just before heading out, I caught a bug and that really played havoc with my voice. Without the benefit of days off or rest, I had no choice but to just plow straight ahead and squeak like a teenager going through puberty.

Thankfully, I was billeted for the week with one of the festival volunteers. Laurie tended to me like a nurse, which helped me make it through all those school visits. One day, I headed off to my school without my thermos of tea and when I came out into the parking lot, there she was, waiting with it! Now, that’s dedication!

It’s a challenge doing this kind of tour because it not only involves during several presentations in one week, but doing them at several different schools a day. For an author such as myself, who loves his props, that means a lot of quick set up and tear down, not to mention all the driving in between. Luckily, I have all of this down to a fine art.

Throughout the week, I did a variety of brainstorming activities at the schools. We often brainstormed doors, but we also did creatures and entire worlds. I even got to spend a couple hours talking archetypes with Grade 6s and 7s at Queen Margaret School in Duncan.

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Doing so many presentations in a condensed period of time takes its toll on me physically, but mentally as well. It’s fun brainstorming with kids, but it fires up my imagination. By the time I am finished for the day, my brain is percolating like a pot on the stove and I feel the urge, despite my exhaustion, to create.

One way I tried to purge my brain of all the creative clutter was to do some character naming. I ended up generating a long list of names for background characters in a world I’m building. That seemed to be able to settle my mind down enough to get some sleep.

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By the time Saturday rolled around, the day of the Book Festival, I felt I had made it over the hump. My voice was holding out, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I did two presentation/workshops at the festival, and was delighted to have my room teeming with kids and parents. For the festival day, I decided to try something I hadn’t quite done before, and that was brainstorming a magical market with the kids. I’ve done this sort of workshop before, but it’s usually with more time, and in a more classroom-style setting. This was the first time I did it with the sort of raw brainstorming approach. Thankfully, the kids (and parents) embraced the activity and we ended up with many fun and lively shelves full of all sorts of magical items, strange foods, and bizarre curios.

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One of the most fun things about going on this sort of tour is all the people you get to meet. I really enjoyed meeting my billet, Lauri. Her home has a very cool vibe to it, for it is full of treasures such as old-fashioned school desks, antique cameras, and typewriters. Laurie saw how enamored I was with her collection so bequeathed to me one of her typewriters.

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Of course, there were many other people to meet: all the librarians, book vendors, and other volunteers who helped make the festival a possibility. There were many other authors and artists to meet as well. This year’s presenters were Celestine Aleck, Scott Chandler, Eugenie Fernandes, Suzanne de Montigny, Ruth Ohi, Chieri Uegaki, Richard Van Camp,  and Cybèle Young.

I had met some of these creators at past festivals and events, so it was great to see old acquaintances again. (If you have ever met Ruth Ohi, then you know she pretty much takes the party with her. There’s a certain shake in her soda).

As a special treat, we were taken out to nearby Protection Island, which is a short ferry ride from Nanaimo. Protection Island is a real treat. I’m pretty sure it’s enchanted.

First of all, the ferry is for passengers only; no cars. So any cars on the island itself had, at one time, to be barged over. In fact, there are no stores on the island, not even a small one. The only business at all is a pub (well, I guess they got their priorities right). So, the people who live there have to bring everything over on the passenger ferry (that includes canisters of petrol for their cars).

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That means the island is quiet and peaceful; no urban noise, no cutter for the ears. The island and its views are stunning, and we had a wonderful dinner hosted by residents Dora and Jerry who founded the Children’s Book Festival many moons ago. As I said, I feel like there’s a rumbling of magic on this island. It also sort of reminded me of Tom Sawyer’s island; it just had that sort of vibe.

I especially enjoyed seeing the heron nesting site. Apparently, the herons themselves have moved on, but you can still see the evidence of their habitation.

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My deepest thanks to all the organizers, volunteers, and administrators who helped make Bookfest Nanaimo 2017 such a success. Also, my thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts, whose funding helped make my participation possible. It was a rewarding week full of adventure and inspiration!

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Captain Four Face and the Attack of the Giant Robot . . . and other stories

I received a delightful package in the post yesterday—a thank you book from a school I visited in the spring. The cover shows some photos of the workshop I did with the Grade One class at Mulgrave School. My workshop started off with a presentation on how I develop my own inspiration, specifically the Land of Een in my Kendra Kandlestar series. I then led the students in an interactive world-building activity that could set up each of the students up for a story.

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And, on the inside were many wonderful stories written by the students, complete with title page. Just check out some of the interesting titles and artwork:

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I don’t always get to see what the results of my inspirational activities are at a school, so it’s a real joy to receive this anthology of wonder!

Rejoicing in Reading at the Kids’ Lit Quiz

kidslitquiz_logoOne of my best experiences of 2015 so far was participating in the Kids Lit Quiz.

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is an annual reading competition for children aged ten to thirteen. It’s an international competition, with students from New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Canada, the US, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia participating. The winning teams qualify for national and world finals!

The tournament I attended was for Western Canada, so the winning team went on to Toronto to compete for the national title. The Western Canada tournament was held at Little Flower Academy on a Friday afternoon on January 23rd. I was part of the author team. We weren’t allowed to win, but we competed just for fun and to help provide entertainment and support for the students who were playing for keeps.

Our author team was dubbed The Quizzards of Oz and consisted of myself, Kallie George, Tanya Lloyd Kyi, and Stacey Matson.

Here we are before the three-hour tournament:

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Personally, I was pretty nervous about questions regarding vampire romances or young adult dystopian novels, but we ended up scoring a respectable 92.5 out of a 100. There were ten rounds of ten, with categories such as “Giants,” “Harry Potter,” “Book Knowledge,” “Classics”, “Comics”, and “The Last” (all about the last parts of books or series).

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The Western Canada tournament, like all the tournaments in the world, was managed by quiz master Wayne Mills, who had travelled all the way from New Zealand to Vancouver the day before. Despite inevitable jetlag, he delivered the questions with charm and humor. Here he is with Stacey Matson. You have to love his hat!

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The winner of the Western Canada heat, from Southbridge Elementary, won a very cool trophy. But there was plenty of swag to go round—every team came away with a stack of books.

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It was such fun to see the kids competing. They took it SO seriously, and it was a joy to see them embrace literature.

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is not for profit and run entirely by volunteers. You can find out more at www.kidslitquiz.com.

The magic of literacy; giving away books with the Raise-a-Reader program

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I just returned from a whirlwind tour of schools as part of the Raise-a-Reader program in Penticton, Canada.

The program in this part of the country is spearheaded by Yasmin John-Thorpe, a tireless advocate of literacy in her community. In my opinion, Yasmin has created something truly unique, using her program funds to sponsor authors to come to schools to give books directly to kids. In fact, every kid who attends a presentation by the author receives one of those author’s books for free.

I journeyed to the Okanagan to present at four different schools over two days, along with author Kallie George. Boxes of our books arrived just after us, and we personally signed each and everyone—over 700 books! Kallie signed copies of her early reader Flare, while I signed copies of my Kendra Kandlestar series, including The Box of Whispers, The Door to Unger, The Shard from Greeve, and The Crack in Kazah.

You can see the stacks here; needless to say, we signed into the wee hours of the night.

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But it was completely worth it. I visit a lot of schools, but it’s pretty darn cool when you get to give away books. It must be what Santa feels like!

One of the neat things about this series of visits was that I visited the school classroom by classroom. I brought poster boards of my cast of characters, which turned out to really provoke the imagination of the kids. I had plenty of questions about each and every character!

Here are some photos of my presentations in action, and some shots of some very happy children.

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It was interesting to hear about Yasmin’s personal stories regarding reading. She remembers authors coming to her school when she was a child and giving order forms to buy their books. But coming from a family of nine, buying a book just wasn’t an option. These days, Yasmin’s determined that kids get books in their hands, books that are their very own, books that they can take home.

I think her concept is pretty magical . . . and I’m pretty lucky to have been part of it!

 

 

 

A week of celebration at the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival

I just finished my work as the feature author at the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival. It was an exhilarating week that began with a 5:45am wake up call on Monday morning so that we could get to the site in time to do a spot on the local talk show, Breakfast Television.

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I’m not sure how long the link will stay active, but you can check out the spot here.

That was followed by a day of performances. It was a thrill to have so much of the festival centered around my Kendra Kandlestar books and fantasy writing. Artwork from the books decorated the library the entire week!

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There was a fantasy map station and a hat-building station too!

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The rest of my time at the festival was spent leading kids in creativity workshops. I delivered some of my best-known workshops, such as “Monster Designing 101”, “Crafting Kingdoms: The Art of Building Strong Fantasy Worlds”, “How to Be a Hero”, and “So, You Think You’re a Villain?”

Here’s some of the snapshots I managed to take of the kids’ work. To start with, here are some of the group characters we brainstormed in “Monster Designing 101”:rcaf_monster01

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And here are some photos of some of the individual pieces:

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You can see the brainstorming simply bursting off the pages, with some students even starting a story!

Here’s one last one, which depicts a little caricature of Kendra reading. What great hair—I think she could give Medusa a run for her money!

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I’d like to extend a big shout-out to all the organizers, performers, and volunteers who made the week a fantastic success! I have a lot of fun doing what I do, but it takes a whole lot of energy, and nothing helps like all of that behind-the-scenes work.

And now, I’m off to Asia to teach a Monsters & Mythology camp. The fun never seems to end, as you can see by some of the things I have to pack in my suitcase:

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