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.

librarytour2018_yongin_lef_presenting

librarytour2018_yongin_lef_brainstorming

librarytour2018_yongin_bookbrainstorming01

librarytour2018_yongin_bookbrainstorming02

librarytour2018_yongin_bookbrainstorming03

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

Advertisements

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.

cwccamp2018_bookcover.jpg

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.

cwccamp2018_steampunkbookbuilding.jpg

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:

cwccamp2018_steampunkbook06cwccamp2018_steampunkbook05cwccamp2018_steampunkbook04cwccamp2018_steampunkbook03cwccamp2018_steampunkbook02cwccamp2018_steampunkbook01

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”:

cwccamp2018_poop_boy_brainstorming

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

cwccamp2018_characterbrainstorming03cwccamp2018_characterbrainstorming02cwccamp2018_characterbrainstorming01

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:

cwccamp2018_plot_brainstormingcwccamp2018_carnivalfood_brainstorming

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.

cwccamp2018_group

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 . . .

How a new children’s book series reminded me about the magic of world-building

How a new children’s book series reminded me about the magic of world-building

Author (and friend!) Kallie George recently wrote a guest post on my blog in which she described her world-building process for her brand new children’s book series, The Heartwood Hotel. 

Since that post, Kallie officially launched the series with a fun and engaging event at Kidsbooks, our local bookstore that specializes in catering to young readers.

heartwoodhotellaunch-kalliegeorge

The launch was a stupendous success. Families were lined up down to block as they waited for the doors to open, clamoring to hear Kallie share her new world. For Kallie, that mean not only mesmerizing the kids with a reading of the first book in the series, but also providing amazing and tangible pieces that were completely interactive.

I was reminded, once again, about the magic that can happen when you really put the “build” into world-building.

Mapping

In the earlier post on my blog, Kallie talked about using mapping as a way to construct a believable and interesting world. If you haven’t read that post yet, then I really encourage you to do so.

04_tree_map_floors

Mapping has long been a key technique that I use in my own writing process, and, as Kallie describes in her post, I helped her map the Heartwood Hotel, too. Personally, I map all kinds of spaces in my books, everything from entire worlds to one-room settings. I find it’s a great way to “stage” a scene and to help make it logical.

These maps don’t need to be slick and professional for the purposes of the author’s writing, but, of course, they can end up becoming the basis for something your publisher can use for the final book.

Dioramas

The kids who turned up to meet Kallie at her book launch were in for a real treat. Kallie and her husband Luke put in many late nights working on a model of the Heartwood hotel–a sort of doll house complete with furniture and accessories.

heartwoodhotel-model00.jpg

heartwoodhotel-model01heartwoodhotel-model02

The only thing missing?  Well, that was the figures. But no worries! Kallie provided wooden peg figures so that the kids could make their own animal critters that were the perfect scale to roam around the Heartwood Hotel environment.

heartwoodhotel-joanne

Of course, the kids got to take their peg figures home with them, but I love the idea that they could imagine that they got to stay in the hotel first.

Props

Well, if you’re going on a vacation, you also need a suitcase. Kallie provided miniature suitcase templates that could be cut out and folded into shape.

heartwoodhotel-activity

heartwoodhotel_suitcase_on

If you weren’t so lucky as to attend the launch, you can still make your own Heartwood Hotel suitcase. Just head over to the official website to download the template.

The final activity that I wanted to mention was that the kids attending Kallie’s book launch also had the opportunity to leave behind a record of their stay at the Heartwood Hotel by filling out an entry in one of the many pages in the beautiful guestbook created specifically for the book launch.

heartwoodhotel_guestbook

heartwoodhotel-book.jpg

I thought this was a fabulous idea . . . the kids could base the entry on the peg figure they created, or even put their own name (though, really, no humans are allowed at the Heartwood!). This guestbook really helped immerse the kids in Kallie’s world.

Why put the build into world-building?

If you’re a fantasy author—especially a fantasy author for kids—I think you have a really great opportunity to bring your world to life in every way you can. Maps, dioramas, really can make for a magical book launch or school visit.

Building for your readers

We live in an interactive but highly-digitized world. More than ever, there is something enchanting about kids being able to look at a tangible, three-dimensional prop and to hold it their hands. I can’t tell you the number of times a child has examined one of my dragon eggs or magical potions and asked, “Is it real?”

So, these add-ons can really help attract kids to the worlds you have created or deepen their affection for the love they already have for a story. If you ask me, they are a must for a book launch or school visit!

Building for you

So, making magical potions, building a diorama, sketching a map . . . they might be great for promotion, but what do they do for the book itself? Do they make the words better?

I think so. The writing process can be arduous and taking a break from the screen to build something connected to your world can really help you examine your story from a different angle. I like to think of it as getting to play in my world, but in a different way than using words.

I can recall so many times in which I’ve imagined a magical item, written about it, then built a prop of it, only to realize that the final prop is vastly different than the way I originally imagined it—in a much better way. So, in essence, prop building helps enrich the ideas in my story. When you’re a fantasy writer, that’s critical.

Building for teachers

Kallie and I have worked as creative writing teachers, often in tandem, for many years and we have always taken the philosophy of putting the “build” into world building seriously. We often encourage our students, young and old to draw maps of their worlds, build diorama of key settings, create costume designs for characters, and to find or fashion important props.

Of course, these techniques can also be used to help kids connect to books as readers. In my time as an author, I’ve seen pictures of kids connecting to my worlds through costume, dioramas, and figurines. Recently, one student even made her own history book or “EEN-cyclopedia” of my worlds!

What do you think? If you’re a teacher, do use these techniques? If you’re an author, do you use them? If so, which ones?

More Kendra Peg Figures

diorama_ratchetsstump

eencyclopedia.jpg

mulgrave_kendras

 

 

Legends & Lore from the Land of Een

Legends & Lore - Kindle CoverThroughout the month of October, I was celebrating the ten-year-anniversary of my Kendra Kandlestar series. But what’s an anniversary without gifts? So what makes a good gift for such a momentous occasion?

How about a brand-new never-before-released Kendra Kandlestar book?

FOR FREE.

Yep! You can download “Legends & Lore from the Land of Een” for FREE from your favorite digital provider. Or, you can even download a PDF, directly from the Kendra Kandlestar website.

This book is a companion book to the series. It includes some favorite stories, myths, and tales from the Land of Een. A few fan-favorite characters pop up here and there, too. Most of the material comes from existing stories and notes, things that I had written to help build the world of Kendra Kandlestar, but couldn’t be included in the actual books. I’m glad there is finally a place for at least some of these stories.

This is especially for all those young readers who have kept sending in their letters asking for more Kendra Kandlestar, even after five books. Well, this gift is for you.

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 . . .

diorama_ratchetsstump

boxofwhisper_prop

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 . . .

charlotte_kendra_costume

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

kendracostume03

kendracostume02

Kendra Kandlestar costume.

kendracostume01

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:

arazeenlaunch_kendracake

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

chloe_kendra_christmas

sueah_kendradrawing

graceli_kendradrawing

Sonya's drawing of Kendra Kandlestar.

Charlotte's drawing of Kendra

elc_fanart_yash

elc_fanart_suhavi

elc_fanarts_chanice

elc_fanart_emma&yasmin

elc_fanart_agam

elc_fanart_alexander

elc_fanart_lika

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: monsters, monsters, and more monsters

In 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 original inspiration for both the premise and characters. Today, we get into the fun stuff—the monsters!

Even in the earliest drafts of this story, I was clear about one thing: there would be no shortage of monsters in this story. After all, the original opening of the book stated that the land was surrounded by “Trolls, Giants, and a great many terrible monsters.”

As demonstrated by this line, I originally wanted to populate my story with the type of creatures that already existed in traditional fairy tales. The Trolls in particular were to play a major role, for it would be an infant Troll—then named Grugel—that would be rescued by the heroine (then Luka, as shown in the illustration below).

luka&grugel

Why did I make the decision to change the Trolls to Ungers? Well, as I developed the story in greater detail, it became apparent to me that these creatures shared a very special relationship with Kendra and the Eens. I decided that I didn’t want Grugel to be associated with the traditional fairy-tale characters of Trolls so eventually made the decision to call him an Unger, in order to establish his species as one that was original and unique.

Of course, there were creatures other than the Ungers that appeared throughout the story, namely the worm-like Skarm and the Goojuns. We get to see the Skarm in all its glory as it battles the brave Captain Jinx:

skarmattacksjinx

Alas, the Goojuns were only mentioned in the tale about Jinx’s Uncle Jasper. Because their role was so minor, I never included any final illustrations of the Goojuns in the book, though here is one of my concept sketches:

goojun_concept

Of course, future books in the series, feature many Goojuns, plus the other members of the monster tribes: the Izzards, Krakes, and Orrids.

The biggest and boldest monster in The Box of Whispers is that menacing old creature, Rumor the Red Dragon. Though his character survived intact from that very first concept painting I did (which you can see here), the way the dragon looked went through many changes. You can see by the illustration of him below that he originally looked a bit more like a snake (especially because he has no wings).

rumor_concept

It eventually became crucial to give Rumor wings once I realized that he needed to fly across the world stealing “trinkets, baubles, and all manner of curios” to fill his massive vault of riches.

In my next installment, I’ll talk about the evolution of the book’s setting from The Land of Tween to the Land of Een.