Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

Jewelry, wands, and masks: creating characters through costume

I spent the last few weeks as an artist-in-residence at a school for particularly awesome teens. It’s a specialized school with only fifty students and, since this is my third or fourth stint there, I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know the kids.

For this term, I decided to embrace the Halloween season and have the students imagine character through intensive costume and prop-building. As an instructor, this is a challenge because no one is doing the same thing. That means there’s not a lot of demonstrations on my part, but a whole lot of problem-solving.

This means finding the right type of material for each student’s individual project and then helping them build what’s in their imaginations.

The Theme

We loosely chose the theme of superheroes, though many students decided to lean towards a fantasy or steampunk design.

Over the last few weeks, they drew, painted, sculpted, and built!  Here’s some photos of some of the many projects they created.

Jewelry Design

One of the main projects I introduced was jewelry design and creation. Using glass cabochons and fingernail paint, the students came up with different designs. These make fantastic accoutrements for superheroes, wizards, magical thieves .  .  . you name it.

I think they are all beautiful, but I will admit I’m partial to the ones that look like dragon eyes!

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Masks and Goggles

Every good superhero needs a mask, right? Many of the students chose to build masks or decorate goggles to help bring their characters to life.

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Enchanted Bottles

I brought so many containers of supplies to the school that I wasn’t even sure what I had there half the time. But one of my students found the “bottle box” and from then on many of them became obsessed with building enchanted bottles. Using colored sand, acrylic gems, beads, moss, feathers, and other material, they created a veritable wizard’s den!

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Wands and other magical props

Many of my students chose to build props that you can hold and carry.

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One of my friends showed up at my house one day with a box of sticks that he had pruned from some trees on Vancouver Island. “I figure these will make great wands,” he said. (I guess I have a reputation as a prop-builder.)

I decided to share the sticks with my students, and many of them made some cool items with them.

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Drawing, painting and multimedia

A significant part of the project was drawing, designing, and conceptualizing characters.

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Many of my students combined these drawings and brainstorming notes with their props to submit final “character design” projects.

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Wrapping up and saying good-bye

It’s always a bittersweet moment for me to wrap up a term at this school. These kids are so FABULOUS. They come to class each week, often thinking of themselves as less-than, and all I ever think is how I wish more people were like THEM: introspective, caring, creative, and community-minded.

We built a lot of amazing props over the course of the last nine weeks, but we hopefully we also built a lot more.

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Touring libraries in Korea

Touring libraries in Korea

In a previous post, I described the “Storytelling Carnival Camp” that in taught in South Korea with Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. There was no rest for the weary after this camp—we immediately whisked off on a short tour of libraries.

Supporting literacy

The tour was put together with the help of the Canadian Embassy in Seoul and The Creative Writing for Children society. It is part of an ongoing effort to help build a cultural bridge between Canada and Korea and to help support literacy initiatives there.

Day 1: Yongin International Library

First stop of the tour was this palatial library in the city of Yongin. Actually, perhaps palatial isn’t quite the right word—the brand-new building is more like a stadium, and I mean that in terms of not only how it looks, but in its size.

In fact, at first we thought we must have the wrong place. How could we be visiting a library in a sports arena?

Turns out, it is just a magnificent and cavernous recreation and community center. There are all sorts of facilities in this facility—including a massive library.

When we first arrived, the place was empty, leaving me with a lonely, hollow feeling. All those unattended books! We were escorted to our presentation room and began setting up our computers and slideshows. Soon, families began streaming in.

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This turned out to be the most ostentatious of our events, with even local dignitaries attending. We could never quite figure out if it was the mayor of Yongin or the premier of the province.

We delivered our introductory presentations, then afterwards broke into three groups to deliver focused writing workshops. I decided that the focus of my tour would be to lead brainstorming sessions inspired by my book Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers. I discussed with the students different enchanted vessels in mythology, such as Pandora’s box from Greek mythology and Urashima Tarō’s box from Japanese lore. Then I led an interactive session in which we designed our own boxes, imagining what each of them held, how they were opened, and who would find them.

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After the workshops, the library held a book sale. Even though the attendees were well versed in English, many of the kids asked me to sign their books in Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Here’s a photo of the sheet showing the kid’s writing down their names, so I would have something to copy. (In truth, I do this no matter the language I’m signing in, because even the most innocuous-sounding names can sometimes have surprising spellings).

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When we finally exited our rooms, it was to find the library simply teeming with families. What an awesome sight. There were kids draped on stools and cushions, reading, playing, and basically enjoying the library.

Day 2: Mapo Community Library

The next day took us into the heart of Seoul, to a quieter, humbler library found on an unassuming street. This library is sponsored by a local university and we found the kids here to be quite tightknit, coming from the same neighborhood within the city.

They had pre-read my book Kendra Kandlestar series, which made it a lot of fun to talk and work with them.

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Since the kids were a little shy in asking questions, I took a poll to determine their favourite characters from the books.

Here are the official results:
Kendra: 5
Oki: 4
Jinx: 2
Uncle Griffinskitch: 2
Rumor: 1
Ratchet: 1
Undecided: 4

Poor Trooogul. Never got a sniff.

Mapo Community Library had a real cozy feel to it; you can tell it’s a type of haven, full of quiet nooks and corners for the neighborhood kids to come hang out in and talk with the warm and friendly staff. I wasn’t able to get many pictures here, just because of how the schedule went, but it was definitely a memorable environment.

Day 3: Sonpa English Library

The final day of our tur took us south of the Han River to a more distant neighborhood. This library is in an old water management system building that has been converted for community use. It is a beautiful space, however, with workshop rooms and a main presentation area.

Dan, Stacey, and I each delivered introductory presentations and then were lined up for a group Q&A. This was really quite fun. The library organizers had been worried that the kids would be too shy to ask questions, but they weren’t. I remember one question in particular: “What is your ultimate goal?”

That one made me think on my feet. I came up with what I thought was a pretty good answer at the time, but I actually can’t remember what it is now. (I just know I resisted the temptation to shout out “WORLD DOMINATION!”)

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After the Q&A, we each delivered short writing workshops again. In my room there was a board of questions specifically about my Kendra Kandlestar books.

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By the way, this library had the best bathroom I’ve ever visited. Just check out this urinal:

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A real success

All the audiences were super-engaged, despite the fact that English was the second language for most of them. I want to give a big thank you to CWC and the Canadian Embassy in Seoul for arranging and assisting in the tour and another giant shout out to the staff at each library for their warm and generous hearts. Their love of literature and children really shone in each of their spaces.

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A storytelling carnival in Korea

A storytelling carnival in Korea

I recently returned from Korea where I led a week-long creative writing camp for tweens and teens with authors Stacey Matson and Dan Bar-el. We survived the heat (at one point, it was 49 degrees Celsius, with humidity!) and managed to deliver a great program for our students.

Creative approaches to writing

Our creative writing camp was delivered through the Creative Writing for Children Society of Vancouver (CWC) and was designed around the theme of a Storytelling Carnival. This gave us lots of fuel for creative ideas—including gift parcels (in old-fashioned popcorn bags) full of fun activities such as yo-yos, stickers, and circus animal erasers.

At our camps, students usually write a lot of stories and poems, illustrate their work, and build props, working towards the goal of publishing an anthology of their creations.

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Storytelling

This year, we added a whole other factor under the expert leadership of Dan Bar-el: Oral storytelling. Each evening, Dan led “campfire” sessions, in which the kids created stories and practiced telling them. The younger students wrote stories based around the idea of a carnival and did the storytelling in themes. Our older kids took on a greater challenge: their subject was taking traditional Korean myths and telling modernized versions.

Prop-building, steampunk style

One of the main projects I led at camp was helping the students to design and decorate their own steampunk style books. I did this project at local libraries in BC a couple of years ago, and decided to bring it to Korea.

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The idea is that the students not only get a cool notebook by the end of the project, but it can serve as inspiration for a short story. There are plenty of tales of dangerous or forbidden books in the fantasy genre (think of the chained books in Harry Potter), so I thought this would be a good way to stir the imagination.

Here are a few photos of some of their creations:

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Character brainstorming

One of my favorite activities that I led was an interactive brainstorming session. I had the kids brainstorm a character who might participate in the circus, including coming up with all the minute details. As a way to galvanize them, I brainstormed my own character at the front of the group, using their individual suggestions to help build my character.

Here’s my character . . . “poop boy”:

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And here’s a few of the characters the students came up with:

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Afterwards, the project was to write a short “I Am” poem about the character. I decided I would write one based on the group character we developed. Here it is . . .

I am a poop boy

I am a poop boy
Shovelling truckloads of dung
Every
Single
Day.
It never ends.

Lions, monkeys, and elephants
—which is worse?
I can’t tell you.

The monkeys swing above me
Bombarding me with feces.
Sometimes, they even fling it at me,
Forcing me to wear
A handkerchief around my head.

The lions mangle and maul me,
Snatching at me with weaponized paws;
Those razor nails scratch and scrape me
Until I look like shredded paper.

And the elephants?
They leave behind MOUNTAINS of poop.
I wear three masks around my face,
A clothespin on my nose,
Goggles across my eyes,
But nothing seems to work.
The stench always wriggles its way through,
Causing everything to run:
My eyes, my nose, even my ears.

I wish I could run.
Away.

But I can’t
—not if I want to achieve my dreams.
One day, I will stand and strut
In the glare of the bright lights
And be the star of the show
With a crack of my whip
A twirl of my cane
And a tip of my hat.
People won’t call me
Stinky Will anymore.
No, sir!

They’ll look at my fine clothes,
Not handed down to me
From some second-rate clown,
But tailored and hand-stitched
Just for me,
And they’ll call me Ringmaster Will
And all of these poopy problems
Will be just a distant memory.

~

Well, most kids came up with characters far more prestigious than a poop boy! We had a lot of ringmasters, acrobats, and knife-throwers. Having the brainstorming portion completed help them be more detailed in their poems and, also, helped me with editing their work–if, for example, I noticed a dearth of description in their poems, I could point them back to their visual brainstorming.

Many kids took the visual brainstorming to heart and did it for other stories and projects in the camp, too:

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The camp was a lot of work for Stacey, Dan, myself, and our team of counselors, but it was a giant success. No one melted in the heat (even when we made the kids go outside for certain activities) and we’ll soon be publishing our anthology.

Here’s a photo of Stacey, Dan, and I and our students at the end of the camp.

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There was no rest to be had though; immediately after the camp, Stacey, Dan, and I embarked on a tour of libraries in Korea. But more on that in a future post . . .

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!