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.

librarytour2018_yongin_library

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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librarytour2018_yongin_lef_brainstorming

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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).

librarytour2018_yongin_lef_signingsheet

librarytour2018_yongin_dan_signing

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.

librarytour2018_mapo_sign.jpg

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!”)

librarytour2018_songpa-staceylibrarytour2018_songpa-danlibrarytour2018_songpa-authors-q&a

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.

librarytour2018_songpa-book_questions

librarytour2018_songpa-lefdiscussing

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

librarytour2018_songpa-urinal

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.

librarytour2018_songpa-authors&staff

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The dragon and the thief

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Had a fun day at Mulgrave School today, working with the Grade 2 classes on a fun writing project to do with personal perspective and point of view.

I started by reading a scene from my book The Box of Whispers, in which Kendra faces off against Rumor the Red Dragon and they have an argument of ownership about the box.

I designed a brainstorming sheet in which the students planned to write a story about a thief sneaking into a lair to steal a dragon’s egg. The idea is that they will write in the first person, and choose a specific perspective—either the dragon or the thief.

As it turned out, most students decided to write from the dragon’s perspective, but we still ended up with enough thieves to create an interesting classroom dynamic.

We then brainstormed some reasons why the thief needed to steal the egg. Was it for pure greed? Was the thief forced to steal it because if he (or she) didn’t the thief (or the thief’s family) would be punished?

We also had fun brainstorming aspects of the characters that made them dangerous in a confrontation between the two sides. The dragons, of course, had different abilities, such as poison or ice breath, or different features to do with their claws, fangs, and scales.  As for the thieves, I took swords and guns OFF the table, forcing the students to brainstorm more creative and magical items, such as camouflage or invisibility cloaks and other special “tools of the trade.”

I even brought in my dragon egg props to further inspire the kids. Some of the kids decided that their thieves could use fake dragon egg props to try and trick the dragon and more easily steal its egg.

dragon_eggs

The students will now set to work on their stories. When they share them, they will be able to hear similar stories, but from different perspectives, provoking (hopefully) some good conversations about point of view and perspective.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Kids respond

This month of October, I’ve been celebrating the ten-year-anniversary of Kendra Kandlestar (the first book in the series, The Box of Whispers, was published in October, 2005).  The celebration culminates on October 31st when I release a new companion book to the series. Kendra Kandlestar: Legends and Lore from the Land of Een will be available as a free download on all digital platforms. Stay tuned for the links!

But back to today’s particular celebration! In previous posts, I’ve discussed the ideas and inspiration for the different elements of the series; today I wanted to celebrate the things that authors have no control over . . . reader response.

I’m very grateful for all of the love that has been thrown Kendra’s way over the past decade. In addition to numerous hand-written letters, Een-mails (very similar to emails; you can send one through kendrakandlestar.com), and notes, I’ve had the joy of receiving all sorts of photos showing fan engagement.

Here’s some of my favorites from over the years, from kids small and big alike!

Dolls and figures
I think one of the things I enjoy the most is when readers reinterpret my characters and turn them into other incarnations!

More Kendra Peg Figures kendrakandlestar_pegfigures

This is a Kendra doll in progress. Check out them ears!

kendradoll

oki_stuffie

Dioramas and models
There are many magical environments and items in Kendra’s world. Here’s some of them brought to three-dimensional life . . .

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Kids in costume
Of course, Kendra’s hair makes her a great candidate for a Halloween costume. When she was younger, my own goddaughter, Charlotte, dressed as Kendra and came to my book launches. Here’s a picture of her these many years ago . . .

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But many kids over the years have chosen to take on the task without bribery from me . . .

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Kendra Kandlestar costume.

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Fun stuff
Now for the really fun stuff!

This cake was made by my friend Carrie for the recent launch of the final book in the series, The Search for Arazeen:

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Someone used Oki as the basis for a jack o’lantern:

okipumpkin

And a very big fan (I mean both in the size of her fandom and in her physical age) got an Oki tattoo!

Oki Tattoo

Drawings
Of course, kids have given me all sort of Kendra Kandlestar artwork over the years. I love to see their versions of these characters.

jeannie_kendradrawing

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Sonya's drawing of Kendra Kandlestar.

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

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elc_fanart_suhavi

elc_fanarts_chanice

elc_fanart_emma&yasmin

elc_fanart_agam

elc_fanart_alexander

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Kendra Kandlestar

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

There are so many other drawings, cards, notes, and items I could show. Rest assured, I cherish them all, and have kept every single one ever given to me. Thank you so much for loving Kendra and sticking with her long ten-year journey!

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Designing Whispers

boxofwhispers-3dIn my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the setting, heroes, antagonists, and overall inspiration for the book.

For this installment, I’m discussing the visual design. Since I come from a graphic design background and am also the illustrator of the series, I was allowed to have a strong say in the overall look of the book—which is far from the normal situation in publishing.

I had a lot of passion for the way the books should be presented, so I was accommodated! When I was a child, my favorite books were those from the turn-of-the-century, when art deco was the flavor of the day. In those books, such as the Oz series by L. Frank Baum, art, text, and delightful elements of design seemed to dance together to create a magic portal into the world of storybook.

This was very much a tradition I wanted to echo when it came time to present Kendra Kandlestar to the world. This is most dramatically seen on the first page of each chapter in The Box of Whispers, which makes use of large, elaborate typography. I looked in particular to Ozma of Oz (Chapter 1 shown below, left).  Published in 1907, this third book in the Oz series was illustrated by John R. Neill (and was also my favorite in the series as a child).

design

Here are some of the other “chapter title pages” in The Box of Whispers:

Box of Whispers.indd Box of Whispers - Interior.indd Box of Whispers - Interior.indd

Incidentally, I should mention that the character featured in the illustration above was named after one of my favorite characters in the Narnia series, Puddleglum. Since my character—Pugglemud—was encountered in a marsh, just like C.S. Lewis’s Puddleglum, I thought it would be a nice homage. The characters share nothing else in common and, at the time, I thought Pugglemud would play his role in the story and then quietly slip away. Unfortunately, he’s rather like a bad weed; he kept coming back in future books. If I had known this, I probably would have not given him a name that is so similar to Puddleglum.

Box of Whispers - Interior.indd Crack in Kazah - interior.indd Box of Whispers.indd

It goes without saying that I was very pleased when one of the early reviews for The Box of Whispers made a comparison between it and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

For the final installment, I’ll talk about some of the fun fan engagement that’s happened with the book.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: A picture is worth 43,561 words

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Well, it’s hard to believe, but it’s been ten years since the publication of the first book in my Kendra Kandlestar series, The Box of Whispers.

To commemorate a book that has given me so much, I thought I would do a series of posts on some of the inspirations and imaginings that went into the creation of that book—and, ultimately—the whole series…

* * *


The Land of Tween is a secret, magical place
inhabited by talking animals, Gnomes and other Faerie folk.
If you wish to find this enchanted land,
look between Here and There—but be warned!
It is surrounded by Giants, Trolls and a
great many terrible monsters. So perhaps it’s best
to turn the page and visit Tween from the safety of your favorite reading chair…

een_book_gardenAnd so began the adventures of Luka Long-Ears and the Box of Whispers, all those years ago, when I set out to write a story that would capture the elements that I so loved as a child: magic, monsters, and mystery.

Of course, if you know the adventures of Kendra Kandlestar, then the first thing you’re wondering is who in the name of all things Een is Luka Long-Ears? And what is the Land of Tween?

Well, long before there was Kendra, Uncle Griffinskitch, or even the Land of Een, there was a much different story brewing in my imagination. This is typical of writing. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most authors don’t have a perfectly-conceived story in mind when they begin working on a project.

It’s kind of like farming. (A metaphor that I feel entitled to use since I grew up on a farm and spent many a long day toiling in our orchards and fields. And the chicken coop. But that doesn’t help this particular metaphor, so let’s set that one aside for now.) Yes, the seeds—the originating ideas—get planted. Then begins the hard work of cultivating (writing) and fertilizing (adding in more ideas) and, eventually, editing (rather like weeding). Along the way, the story begins to sprout and blossom, but sometimes it shoots off in different directions—and some things which you try to weed out keep coming back. But that’s okay—when it comes to weeding, sometime those weeds take over the garden in a way that is most helpful. (Though, my mother will tell you that weeds are never helpful when it comes to farming.)

The process of creating Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers was no different. It can be very exciting to create a story—but it can also involve some heart-breaking decisions, and there were many ideas and characters that I had to change along the way.

To begin with, the whole story for Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers grew from a single idea I had one day in the spring of 2002. Thing is, I wasn’t setting out to write a story—not at first. All I wanted to do was paint a picture of some small creatures creeping past a giant eye. As I sketched some concepts of this scene in my head, it became apparent that the big eye belonged to a snake-like dragon and that the tiny creatures—mostly little animal critters—were sneaking off with a valuable treasure.

Eventually, those sketches became the painting you see below. I guess I had a lot of Tolkien in my head at the time, for I think the scene is rather reminiscent of The Hobbit, what with the red dragon and the vast sea of treasure.

The Painting inspired by The Hobbit that inspired Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers

After I finished this painting, I taped it to my studio wall and left it there for a few weeks. I often due this with new artwork, just to see if I still like it after awhile. (I tend not to trust my initial reactions.) Well, every time I passed by this painting, I found myself stopping to contemplate it. Not for its artistic merit—that’s for sure. But what captured my interest was that I clearly felt there was a story at work in this scene. But what was it? Here were some tiny creatures sneaking past the beast with a box and a key. But what was the significance of these items? Why would they be so concerned with the box and the key when they are surrounded by all this gold? And who were these characters anyway?

As I pondered these questions, a few ideas began to germinate. Clearly, the box was valuable to the characters. I decided it must contain something very precious. But what? Over the course of a few days (perhaps it was weeks), it became clear to me. The box contained secrets . . . but not just one secret, or the secrets of one or two characters. It contained all the secrets in the land where these tiny characters lived.

And so the ideas for The Box of Whispers was born. What began as a mere painting turned into a story of some 43,561 words!

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the evolution of some of the characters…