Free style wand duelling at the Wizards’ Camp in Korea

One of the final, and most entertaining, projects I did at the CWC Wizards’ Camp in Korea was “Wand Duelling.” I’ve only done this a few times before, because it involves a lot of my brain power.

How it works is this . . .

The kids design and build their own wizardly wands and write rhyming couplets to attack me. They get to prepare their spells in advance, and then come onto the stage to attack me. I have to defend myself by responding to each couplet by using the same rhyme scheme. I can’t use any of the words they use.

A typical attack went something like this: Mr. Wiz, this is no joke; I’m going to cover you in gooey egg yolk. I then had to rhyme by saying something like: Your hurtful rhyme makes me choke, But in your face, I throw a coke. Then comes the next attack. Whomever runs out of rhymes first, loses. It’s rather like a rap-duel, I guess, but a lot more magical. Here’s some photos of our wands—and our duels.

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Writing and performing radio plays at The Wizard’s Library Camp in Korea


One of the great activities we did this week at the CWC creative writing camp in Korea is have the kids write and perform their own radio plays. This activity was led by my wife, Marcie Nestman, who was able to draw on her acting experience to help the kids deliver top notch performances.

My part was a bit more humble—I just suggested the kids design their own posters to advertise the play.







The performances were very amusing and we had some good laughs as the kids used various props to help communicate what was going on in their play. I was also impressed with how many of them tried different accents and voice styles to help bring their characters to life.

Enter the Wizard’s Library

My wife Marcie Nestman and I are currently in Korea teaching a creative writing camp on the theme of the Wizard’s Library, which is really just a fancy way of saying fantasy.

We’ve had a lot of fun incorporating Marcie’s voice over and acting talents with my visual approach to writing. Our camp began with giving each of the kids a “magical” quiz to break their ice and test their powers of imagination. Afterwards, I delivered a presentation on the standard archetypes founds in fantasy stories and it was time for the students to begin developing their own cast of characters.

We gave them each a wizardly kit to help them in the creation of their characters. In each kit were things such as miniature potion bottles, a dragon’s tooth, and the feather from a magical creature. Here’s some photos of their creations . . .









Crafting characters and kingdoms at the Children’s Art Festival in Richmond

Last week was a busy one. In between working on my own projects, I delivered a series of creative writing workshops for the Children’s Art Festival in Richmond, BC. Kids of all ages attended the festival, while selected classes from local schools came to my workshop room to learn some of my top techniques for creating heroes, villains, and kingdoms.

Each of these workshops comes with a fun quiz to help warm up the students to the topic. I’m happy to report that three students failed the Quiz of Villainy. It’s hard to fail—and rare!

Below, are some pictures from the week, showing off some of the brainstorming done by the imaginative students. The Children’s Arts Festival will be back in 2016! Find out more here.

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Designing crests for our kingdoms

Before the students could work on their final design, I had them brainstorm multiple concepts on a worksheet. I was pleased to see the students invest some time in this important phase of the creative process.

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Heroic characters

The worksheet for this workshop isn’t so much about building a character profile, but about brainstorming different ideas for a heroic character. I really encourage the students to put aside their erasers and just create.

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Villainous Characters

Similar to the hero workshop, this class involves brainstorming, as opposed to creating a finalized character profile.

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Egg-citing description

In a recent post, I shared some photos of one of my favorite creative workshops, which for the sake of simplicity I just call Dragon Eggs. In this workshop, the students design, build, and paint their own magical creature egg and then imagine what creature will hatch out of it.

I tie this activity in with a discussion of the five senses. Since the students have an actual prop to work with, they can easily imagine the visuals of the egg and get to experience it with a tactile perspective. From that point on, it’s not too difficult to start imagining sights, sounds, and even tastes.

I recently delivered this workshop for a second time this year . . . here’s some of the students’ creations!

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Not your average eggs . . .

Creative writing demands creative ideas, so in my latest workshop, I led my students in crafting some magical creature eggs. This is a great activity for getting kids to think about the five sense. As they create their eggs, they also have to complete a worksheet that asks them to consider what the egg looks like, what it sounds like, what it smells like, what it feels like to carry, and even what it might feel like to eat (after all, there might be predators after the egg).

Of course, some of those things they have to imagine, but others, such as what it looks like, and what it feels like to touch, are right there for them to explore.

Here are some of the photos of my students’ creations . . .

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Picturing the past

I’ve had a busy start to 2015, spending a lot of time writing and prepping for all the travels, touring, and teaching that’s coming up for me in the Spring.

One of my exciting projects is to teach a picture book class for kids with the fabulous author, Kallie George. Kallie really knows her stuff when it comes to writing a picture book (she’s got several in the pipeline to come out in the next few years). As for me, I’ve never written a picture book (well, at least one that I tried to publish), but I have illustrated a few, most notably I’ll Follow the Moon and The Chocolatier’s Apprentice.

Which is all to say that my role in the class will be mostly to help the students with the design and illustration part of the picture book process.

All of this has prompted me to unearth the picture books from the various corners and bookshelves, and now my studio is awash in them! Here’s a photo of some of one of my piles . . .


In the top left is my all-time favorite, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears. Another one I found (from when I was a kid) is The King with Six Friends. I read that one COUNTLESS times. 

Of a newer vintage is The Runaway Alphabet, which you can see in the top corner. It is by my friend, Kari-Lynn Winters. It features a CD with a reading of the story and both my goddaughter and I played parts. Really, my goddaughter was the main character and I was just there to support her and ended up playing one of the smaller roles. It’s my only voice-acting gig to date. I think my official credit is “Whiny Kid”.

So many books, so many memories. It’s funny how emotionally connected people are to the books they read at such a young age. When I mentioned The King with Six Friends on social media, I was surprised by some of the response. One of my closest friends said he remembered that book from when he was a kid, but couldn’t remember the title, the author, or anything about it other than the story. He said it has driven him nuts for years. It’s pretty cool that we had such a strong love for the same book.

I can’t wait to ask my students about their favorite picture books, too. I wonder . . . what was yours?

A galaxy of origami

Today is our annual Yoda Yulefest party, an event we host for our gang of local geeks and nerds. More on that in a future post, but it just so happens that our party this year coincided with the last day of my creative writing workshops for the term. In each class we did a reading workshop of an Origami Yoda book by the one and only Tom Angleberger.

I love teaching these books because they include instructions for making the origami Star Wars character. This builds perfectly on one of my core philosophies as a teacher, which is connecting students to literature (both reading and writing) through a variety of artful activities.

Here are some of my kids’ origami creations . . .

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Recommended Reading ~ by kids for kids

Every term, as part of my workshops at CWC, my students and I read and discuss a selection of middle-grade books.

This particular list is actually from the Spring term of 2014. I never ended up posting my students’ ranking of the titles, but I figured now would be a good time, in case anyone is looking for some suggestions for holiday gifts.

I picked the books, so I personally recommend all of them—but the ranking below (from least preferred to favorite) comes from my students, aged 8-13. There were fourteen books in total, one for each week of our class.


14. The Borrowers
By Mary Norton
Average rating: 6.64

This was one of my favorite books as a child, but my students found it too old-fashioned and slow-moving. Still, if you have a student that likes a classical book, then this is a good one!


13. The End of the Beginning
By Avi
Average rating: 6.65

This is a sweet book, probably best for younger kids. It reminds me of Winnie-the-Pooh.


12. Hate That Cat
By Sharon Creech
Average rating: 6.75

I absolutely LOVE this book, a novel written in poetic format. I wish my students would have appreciated it as much as me. There are a few scenes in this book that will tease the tears from your eyes. It’s a sequel to Love That Dog.


11. A Dog Called Homeless
By Sara Lean
Average rating: 7.59

Usually books about dog run away with the ratings! Not that 7.59 isn’t anywhere remotely near bad, as I always encourage my students to be critical in their reviews. Still, I was surprised this one didn’t inch up towards 9!


10. The Sandman and the Turtles
By Michael Morpurgo
Average rating: 7.75

Michael Morpurgo is one of my favorite authors and I always try to teach one of his books. I’ve taught so many of his titles, that I had to dig a little deeper into his catalogue to do this one, which is a short and sweet fairytale story. It rated higher than I expected, as this actually isn’t my favorite of Morpurgo’s titles. (I highly recommend checking out The Butterfly Lion, Running Wild, and Kaspar, Prince of Cats).


9. A Nest for Celeste
By Henry Cole
Average rating: 8.02

This is a beautifully illustrated book (by the author) that follows the adventures of a little mouse who observes the famous naturalist John James Audubon. This is a perfect book for animal lovers.


8. Fake Mustache
By Tom Angleberger
Average rating: 8.43

Mr. Angleberger is better known for his Origami Yoda series, but this is a humorous book. One of my students thanked me profusely for putting this (in his words) beautiful book on our reading list.


7. The Sixty-Eight Rooms
By Marianne Malone
Average rating: 8.49/10

My goddaughter recommended this book to me, and I loved it so much, I decided to teach it. It draws inspiration from the miniature rooms that actually exist in the Chicago Art Institute.


6. The Castle in the Attic
By Elizabeth Winthrop
Average rating: 8.74

This is another classic book, but the students loved it more than The Borrowers. This is a great book for fans of books like The Indian in the Cupboard.


5. The Bad Beginning
By Lemony Snicket
Average rating: 8.87

What can you say about this one? It’s the first book in my goddaughter’s all time favorite series. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Lemony Snickett a few times at different book presentations. He just oozes funny.


4. Flora & Ulysses
By Kate DiCamillo
Average rating: 9.19

This book recently won the Newberry award (though I had put it on my list before that happened). My students absolutely loved this book, especially the comic page inserts.


3. The Familiars
By Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Average rating: 9.25

I guess I should be happy that this book rated so high, as it is sometimes compared to my own Kendra Kandlestar book (I guess it’s all the animals and magic). This has become a popular series, but if you haven’t heard of it yet, then it’s a great book for those who love animals and magic.


2. Keepers of the School: We the Children
By Andrew Clements
Average rating: 9.26

This one barely edges out The Familiars. It has some great illustrations done with classic spot color. My biggest disappointment is that is has no resolution for the main problem introduced; you have to read the sequel for that one. (Many of my students did).


1. Tuesdays at the Castle
By Jessica Day George
Average rating: 9.69

This book has a great premise: a magical castle that has moving rooms. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have any illustrations. But fans of fantasy will love this book.

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There you have it! Please check out the titles from your favorite local bookstore or etailer.