Mapping the Heartwood Hotel

heartwood_truehome.jpgAuthor (and friend) Kallie George has taken over my blog for today to talk about her fantastic new children’s book series, The Heartwood Hotel. Below, you’ll get to read Kallie’s discussion about one aspect of her process . . . but before you dive into that, I just want to say that I really love the world she has created in this series.

I was privileged to be a part of her journey as this book—and this world—came to life. As you’ll read below, I helped her map out some of her settings, but I was also lucky enough to read her various drafts of the plots and stories along the way.

When Kallie first told me about her idea (it seems so long ago now!), I instantly thought of one of my favorite childhood series, The Bedtime Story-Books by Thornton W. Burgess.


I loved entering a world where animals were highly anthropomorphized, but still inhabited a world with all the natural dangers of the forest.

Kallie’s new Heartwood Hotel series is much the same. She has teased whimsical personalities from the natural characteristics of her animals and constructed a world where there is delight—and danger—around every bend in the forest trail. I hope you will enjoy her books—and her post about her process, below. Make sure you read all the way to the end to find the link for a chance to win your own copy of her book.

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It’s my pleasure to post on this blog! Lee Edward Fodi is a good friend of mine—and we’ve co-taught many times together through CWC (Creative Writing for Children).

By the nature of spending time together, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from Lee, not only how to be a better teacher, but also how to be a better writer. He’s helped me, too—by designing my website (, reading early drafts of my stories, and even mapping out my settings.

I love to create fantasy worlds that are usually based in one locale. In my Magical Animal Adoption Agency, most of the action takes place in the Agency itself. In Heartwood Hotel, the same is true. The majority of conflicts take place in the hotel.

I don’t map my settings naturally. In fact, when I wrote the first Magical Animal Adoption Agency book, Clover’s Luck, I didn’t make a map at first. However, this led to some big problems. It was my editor at Disney at that time that pointed this out. She asked me if I realized that I had Clover turning a different way down a hall to get to the Small Animals Room in different parts of the story. She asked if I could make a map.

“It doesn’t have to be fancy!” she said. “It can be really rough.”

But I am a perfectionist and, although I am not good at drawing or designing, I knew Lee was, and we happened to be teaching a camp in Korea together at the time. So, I asked him if he would help me create a map for the Agency. Many drafts later, we did.




When I was about to write the Heartwood Hotel, I decided this time I would make a map BEFORE I started, to avoid any logical issues that might arise. That’s one of the best things that a map provides—a guide for you, as a writer, so that you don’t make logical mistakes in your story.

The Heartwood Hotel was also a lot more complicated than the Magical Animal Adoption Agency. It’s a giant hotel in a giant oak, with multiple floors above and below ground.  Lee so kindly sat with me after a camp we were teaching, and although he was bone-tired, we worked together on the layout.

I remember some of our questions:

  • How to fit everything in the one tree?
  • What is the scale? (IE. How big does the door have to be if a badger is the owner)
  • Where does the staircase go?
  • Where does the fireplace go? (Of course, in reality a fireplace inside a tree is a bit crazy, but we decided it has a chimney up through the center)
  • Where are the owner, Mr. Heartwood’s quarters?
  • How can we mimic the look and feel of real fancy lodges? Are all the rooms in a fancy hotel in the Heartwood too?

These are just some of the early sketches that we created.







I used the final map a lot while writing the four books, and it kept me on track. Plus, it also reminded me of some of the interesting rooms in the tree that I wanted to use in later books and chapters (like the salon)!

I’m so grateful to Lee for helping me visualize and create this. World building is one of the most enjoyable parts of creating a story and mapping is an essential component of that. If you are writing a story—I’d highly recommend it!

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page153skunks.jpgAbout the Book:


Kallie George, with illustrations by Stephanie Graegin

Release Date: July 3, 2017
Pages: 176
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook

Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | iBooks | TBD

When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffl and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

This delightfully enticing start of a new chapter book series tells a tale of friendship, courage, and community, with exquisite black-and-white illustrations throughout..

kalliegeorge05About Kallie:

KALLIE GEORGE is the author of the Magical Animal Adoption Agency series. She works as an author and speaker in Vancouver, Canada, and has a master’s in children’s literature from the University of British Columbia. She also leads workshops for aspiring writers. Kallie happened across the Heartwood Hotel on a hike with her husband. Visit her online at


StephanieAbout Stephanie:

STEPHANIE GRAEGIN received her BFA in Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art. She later attended Pratt Institute, obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking. Stephanie now lives in Brooklyn. Visit her online at or on Twitter @Steph_Graegin.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Giveaway Details:

Three winners will receive a finished copy of HEARTWOOD HOTEL (US Only). Just click HERE.


Week One:
6/26/2017- YA Book Nerd– Author Post
6/27/2017- Seraphina Reads– Review
6/28/2017- Just Commonly– Review
6/29/2017- BookHounds YA– Author Post
6/30/2017- Once Upon a Twilight Review

Week Two:
7/3/2017- Mundie Kids– Review
7/4/2017- Word Spelunking– Author Post
7/5/2017- Mommy Ramblings– Review
7/6/2017- Batch of Books– Review
7/7/2017- Between the Cracks of Here and There– Author Post


Children’s books with art theme connections—rated by kids

I recently completed the latest edition of the “Picture Perfect” class I teach for CWC. Picture Perfect is a series of workshops in which we explore creative writing by taking inspiration from art history. The students ranged from age 11-14.

As part of this class, we read and discuss different books that connect, in one way or another, to art or art history. The students rated each of book out of ten. Many of these students have been in our program for a long time, so have been taught to be critical in their judments of books. That is to say, they don’t throw around nines and tens very readily!

Below are the books, ranked from lowest rating to the highest. So, keep in mind, this is NOT the order in which we read them. Special thanks to my student, Janice, for being our accountant and tabulating all the scores each week.

If you’re looking for great books connected to the theme of art that are not on the below list, then I’ve put some addition recommendations at the end of the post.

Noonie's Masterpiece16. Noonie’s Masterpiece
Written by Lisa Railsback / Illustrated by Sarajo Frieden
Average rating: 5.5/10

This book features vibrant (and coloured) illustrations, and tells the story of a young artist’s attempt to find her expression. My students didn’t really like the protagonist, whom they found to be too arrogant and self-absorbed. Personally, I think everyone feels that way from time to time . . . so I recommend this book for any young lovers of art.


under_the_egg15. Under the Egg
Written by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Average rating: 6.6 /10

This book captures the intriguing legacy of art theft, drawing on the real-life Nazi plunder of art treasures during World War II. Theodora accidentally spills rubbing alcohol on her grandfather’s painting and discovers a Renaissance masterpiece underneath. I matched this book with our discussion of art theft. The students wrote a story about a modern day character finding a stolen painting.


Chasing Vermeer14. Chasing Vermeer
Written by Blue Bailliet / Illustrated by Brett Helquist
Average rating: 7.0/10

This book combines an exploration of Jans Vermeer’s artwork with a mystery (fitting, since Vermeer seems to be a figure clouded in mystery himself). There are many clues and codes at work within this book, which I found hooked my immersive mind. Some of my students, however (especially the younger ones) were too frustrated by this particular aspect of the book. This book made an obvious connection to our study on the golden age of Dutch Art.


04-usbornebookoffamouspaintings13. The Usborne Book of Famous Paintings
Written by Rosie Dickens
Average rating: 7.1/10

This is the book I used to kick-off the workshop series. It’s nonfiction and provides an introduction to art history. It is especially good for those students who are new to the subject. I also used this book as a springboard for an activity in which each student presented a favourite painting.


theodosia12. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
Written by R.L. LaFevers
Average rating: 7.2/10

Taking place in the early 1900s, this book tells the story of Theodosia, an expert detector of Egyptian curses. I chose this book to match up with Egyptian art. For a writing activity, we wrote a two-part story. The first part described an Egyptian character living a normal life, and ended with that character’s death. Part Two was that character going through the embalming process and entering the after life. We also made miniature mummies!


plain_kate.jpg11. Plain Kate
Written by Erin Bow
Average rating: 7.2 / 10

Kate is a master wood-carver who lives in a Medieval-era world and is left to look after herself after her father dies. Her cat, Taggle, pretty much steals the story—delightfully so. Once her shadow gets stolen, the adventure really picks up. I chose this book to match up with our exploration of Medieval Art, as it explores that era well, mixing in the idea of superstition.


elsewhere.jpg10. The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Book 1)
Written by Jacqueline West
Average rating: 7.3 / 10

Eleven-year-old Olive moves into a dilapidated old mansion and finds a way to enter the paintings that are hanging on the walls. There are some wonderful side characters in this novel—a trio of cats, whom became class favoirites. I matched this book with a writing assignment in which a character enters a painting and visits a world on “the other side.”


Mixed-Up Files9. The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Written and Illustrated by E.L. Konigsburg
Average rating: 7.5 / 10

This is a classic book, and one that I really love. It tells the story of a sister and brother who decide to run away from home and live in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. During their stay, then become immersed in a mystery about the authenticity of a statue supposedly carved by the Renaissance master Michelangelo. I matched this book with our exploration of Renaissance Art. For a writing activity, the students wrote a first-person story that took place over a single day, from dawn to dusk, and was about an apprentice of a Renaissance Master. The key was that the apprentice is harbouring a significant secret from the master.


single_shard8. A Single Shard
Written by Linda Sue Park
Average rating: 7.5/10

This Newbery Medal-winning book takes place in twelth-century Korea and tells the story of Tree-Ear, a thirteen-year-old orphan who is given a quest to deliver an example of his master’s pottery to the royal court. I really loved the description of Potter Min sculpting his pottery. I chose this book as a way to broaden our discussion of Asian art (as so much of our course was focused heavily on Europe).


paper_house7. Paper House
Written by Lois Peterson
Average rating: 7.6 / 10

Ten-year-old Safiyah lives in the Kibera slum of Nairobi and brightens her life by making collages from pages of discarded magazines. This books was a good way to approach the subject of the healing power of art. I chose this book to match with one of our many discussion on Modern Art.


06-carnationlilylilyrose6. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose: The Story of a Painting
By Hugh Brewester / Illustrated by John Singer Sargent
Average rating: 7.7/10

This book is sort of like a scrapbook, chronicling the true story of how John Singer Sargent’s famous painting, Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, was created. It includes reproductions of the artist’s sketches and cartoons and is told from the perspective of young Kate Millet, one of the painter’s would-be models. For an activity, we tried making our own painting and then students wrote about the experience.


02-chroniclesofharrisburdick5. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick
Written by 14 different authors / Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
Average rating: 7.7/10

With a foreward by Lemony Snickett and stories crafted by many stalwarts of the children’s literature scene, there’s hard not to find something to like in this book. Many teachers use this book as a basis for creative writing activities. In this workshop, we actually didn’t, but we did discuss what illustrations we liked the best, and which ones we thought offered the most fuel for a writer. For our actual activity, we experimented with lucid dreaming; I induced a sleep-state in the students, then, afterwards, they free-wrote for fifteen minutes.


01-gatheringblue4. Gathering Blue
Written by Lois Lowry
Average rating: 7.9 / 10

Left orphaned and crippled in a dystopian future that shuns and discards the weak, Kira is faced with an uncertain future. But when her talent as a weaver is discovered, she is offered a new hope—and a frightening glimpse at the workings of her society. We discussed this book towards the end of our program, to match with our explorations of future directions of art.


mangoshapedspace3. A Mango-Shaped Space
Written by Wendy Mass
Average rating: 8.1/10

This is a coming-of-age novel, but with a twist. Mia has synesthesia, a condition in which her perceptions are intermingled so that she can see sounds, smell colors, and taste shapes. The problem is that she has kept the condition hidden—even from her parents—for her entire life. We discussed this book towards the end of our workshop series. It was a good match with our explorations of Modern Art.


wolf_brother2. Wolf Brother
Written by Michelle Paver
Average rating: 8.2 / 10

Set 6,000 years ago, this story chronicles the journey of twelve-year-old Torak and his wolf companion as they set about to restore balance to their world after dark forces encroach. I chose this book to help put the students in the mindset of prehistoric times. For an activity, we painted on rocks with basic pigments and wrote stories in which we imagined the first person to paint on a cave wall in his or her society.


with_malice1. With Malice
Written by Eileen Cook
Average rating: 8.4 / 10

This book had the least connection to art out of our entire collection, but I included it because I knew my students would love it. Eighteen-year-old Jill visits Italy for an exploration of art and culture, only to experience a deadly accident that leaves the reader guessing the real truth behind the event. My students and I successfully identified the city that is featured on the cover (Vernazza) and had it confirmed via twitter by the author!


Well, there you have it! I have some hard reviewers, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t like (or in some cases, LOVE) these books. Of course, I encourage you to check them out.

Other books on the theme of art and art history that we didn’t read in this workshop, but which I have taught in the past:

The Hound of Rowan: Book One of The Tapestry
By Henry H. Neff

The Blackhope Enigma
Written by Teresa Flavin

Lunch Money
Written by Brian Clements

A Nest for Celeste
Written and Illustrated by Henry Cole

Written by Elise Broach

The Medici Curse
Written by Matt Chamings






A list of kids’ books rated by kids

Each term of my creative writing class, we study ten to fifteen books. I’m not big on analyzing a book to death (as a kid, those weeks of intensive study of a single book eventually sapped all the intrinsic joy out of it), but we do have lengthy discussion about a different title each week.

One of the main things I get my students to do is to rate the book out of ten and to explain their reasonings. I thought I would post the results of one my recent classes. This class consisted of nine kids ranging in age from ten to fourteen years old, and I’ve put the books with their average ratings, starting from the lowest and finishing with the highest.

Of course, this isn’t a perfect science. Different times of year (read busy times) can impact how a student engages with a book. Nonetheless . . . here are some great recommendations, and given the fact that the lowest scoring book received a 6.8/10 tells me they are all kid-approved!



Liar & Spy
By Rebecca Stead
Average rating: 6.8

This book features an unreliable narrator, something which my students didn’t have a lot of experience with. This confused some of them, but by and large, they enjoyed this twist. This book also sparked great conversations—just who exactly is the liar and who is the spy?

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The Cabinet of Wonders
By Marie Rutoski
Average rating: 7.0

I have long loved this book, which is sort of a fictional retelling of the myth of the famous clock in the old town square in Prague. Of course, the real story about the clock doesn’t feature a very cool book-reading mechanical spider—which, no surprise, turned out to be most students’ favorite character.

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Young Houdini: The Magician’s Fire
By Simon Nicholson
Average rating: 7.2

This is another story that riffs off something real—this time a real person, and imagines what Harry Houdini’s early years were like. This book features interesting characters and a  great, action-packed beginning. (If there’s one thing my students complain about, it’s slow beginnings; but this book delivered on that front.)

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Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Average rating: 7.3

This is another long-time favorite of mine, and I wish my students had liked it more. It’s a novel told in poetic format, so a bit of a challenge if you are not in a certain frame of mind. It’s an absolutely beautiful story.

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By Scott Westerfeld
Average rating: 7.4

Action, drama, sumptuous illustrations, and a deliciously-conceived world, this book imagines what World War I would have been like if history had gone a bit differently. As the awesome book trailer states: “Do you oil your war machines . . . or feed them?” I had the chance to meet Scott Westerfeld in person, and really loved hearing about his creative process.

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How To Catch a Bogle
By Catherine Jinks
Average rating: 7.5

This book is a recent favorite of mine. Author Catherine Jinks really captures Victorian era London and has a lot of fun playing with bogle mythology. The lingo and setting details make this story pop.

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The Boundless
By Kenneth Oppel
Average rating: 7.6

It seems we read a lot of books this term that took historical situations and applied a fantastical element. In this tale, author Kenneth Oppel imagines that the Titanic of trains is whisking across Canada. Along the way the characters encounter staples of Canadian mythology, such as the Sasquatch. A lot of fun and action, and told in a compelling present tense style.

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How To Steal A Dog
By Barabar O’Connor
Average rating: 7.7

There is a distinctive and easy-going voice in this book that invites you in and doesn’t let you go. This book sparked interesting conversations about different issues regarding homelessness and ethical dilemmas.

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Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Average rating: 8.0

I suppose the other thing we read a lot of this year were books told in poetry format. My students loved the way author Thanhha Lai played with language and many of them could relate to the experience of immigrating to a different country.

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The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
By Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
Average rating: 8.1

This book is based on the London pub (which is still there—I’ve been to it several times) where the likes of Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson used to frequent. In fact, Dickens is a character in the story, though the main characters are the cats, mice, and ravens. Similar to How to Catch a Bogle, the Victorian dialect really help make this story feel like you are stepping into the world. The illustrations are also gorgeous.

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By Paul Fleischman
Average rating: 8.2

I love this book, but am a little surprised that it rated so high, because in the past I’ve had classes who were turned off by the multiple points of view. Truth be told, some students in this class weren’t crazy about these different voices either—but they loved the symbolism of the community garden and each could relate to different characters.

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The Gospel Truth
by Caroline Pignat
Average rating: 8.3

I picked this book off the shelf long before it was nominated for—and won—the Governor-General’s award, so felt pretty smug about it afterwards for my good instincts. Of course, my students really care if a book is award-winning unless they already like it. This is another book told in poetic form, drawing on the power of different character perspectives and voices. My students adored this book.

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s library
By Chris Grabenstein
Average rating out of 10: 9.2

I’ve yet to find a student who didn’t love this book. Inevitably, it grabs you with its fascinating concept, celebration of literature, and fast-moving fun-filled action. You’ve probably heard of this book already, but think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets books. I had the opportunity to meet Chris Grabenstein earlier this year, and he was one of the kindest authors I’ve ever met.

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The Tiger Rising

The Tiger Rising
By Kate DiCammillo
Average rating: 9.4

Well, what can you say? It’s hard to beat Newbery award-winning Kate DiCamillo. I actually thought no book would top Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, but this was the last book we read for the season and it swooped in with its powerful symbolism, poetic language, and snatched away the crown (though just barely). This book sometimes is overshadowed by DiCamillo’s other successful book (Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses, The Tale of Despereaux), but it is beautifully told.







Looking “Under the Egg” ~ a book review

Under the EggUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m always on the lookout for middle-grade books that relate to the arts, partly because I just love stories about this subject, but also because I teach a creative writing class in which the students take inspiration from art history. This book is a perfect fit. It is compared to E.L. Konisburg’s The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer, and those comparisons are apt, though this book also reminded me of a wonderful book by Matt Chaming called The Medici Curse, since they both involve a painting beneath a painting.

I loved the setting in this book and the unlikely friendship that develops between Theo and Bodhi. In particular, I liked Theo’s character growth as she moves from being isolated and introverted to more open and worldly.

I did find the plot wraps up a bit too neatly by the end—but that is a minor complaint. There is much to recommend this book otherwise.

View all my reviews