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.

* * *

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

Just in time for Halloween . . .

I’ve helped kids produce dozens and dozens of little monsters in bottles this year in my creative writing workshops, but it’s such a fun activity, especially leading up to Halloween, that I decided to do it two last times for this year. Besides, it is such great inspiration for stories!

So, here are a few more photos of monsters, all ready to be hatched. In addition to the normal fangs, eyeballs, and fur, I was also able to find some glow-in-the-dark larvae . . . see if you can spot them in some of the bottles!

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“Cook”ing up characters

This past week, I did an all-day visit at Cook Elementary in Richmond, BC, and delivered a few rounds of my interactive drawing workshop, which serves as a springboard for kids to develop their own characters and—ultimately—stories.

There’s always a “group” character that gets designed by me, based on the suggestions from the crowd. These are usually quite terrible drawings—but the point is to brainstorm, not to produce a brilliant illustration. Take for example, these two characters:



While I design the group characters, the participants furiously design their own characters. Some participants follow the group character while others go off to develop their own. Here are some of the photos of student-generated characters.










The idea is that the students head back to class with a character in hand, so that they can write a story with their brainstorming. However, in some cases, the stories begin to develop right on the page, during the session:





The students at Cook Elementary were certainly full of vim and energy and what I really appreciated is that I had time in the schedule to take a closer look at some of their drawings (and, of course, take photos of them).

The Holy Ketchup . . . and other covers by my students

Earlier in the summer, I posted some of the covers designed by my students who take my creative writing program (you can view those covers here and here).

Here’s another round of artwork. Most of these covers were introduced by the students, but in a couple of cases I worked with the young writer to pick and purchase some stock photography.

I have to say, one of my favorite covers is for The Holy Ketchup. (By the way, I famously despise ketchup, and it’s this hatred that served as inspiration for the entire book!)

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A monster of a time at the Whistler Public Library


This past week, my wife Marcie Nestman and I taught at the Write It, Read It Camp in Whistler, BC. We love Whistler and go there to escape the city all the time, so we thrilled to be able to go up during the summer and work with a keen group of young writers and readers. Other presenters during the week included Carrie Mac and Sarah Leach.


I rolled out my famous monster-in-a-bottle workshop and Marcie followed up by delivering a workshop on building voices through character. I popped in at the end of Marcie’s workshop to hear all sorts of imaginatively peculiar voices emanating from the corners of the room. (Also, there were two girls dancing around like unicorns . . . not sure what that was about). In any case, there was no doubt that the students had an imaginative time.

Here are some of the work that Marcie helped the kids do during her voice workshop:





And here are yet even MORE monsters in a bottle. I’ve posted a lot of them this year. But you know, they each seems so unique and imaginative . . . some of the creations are so fantastic!

















Many a magical journey . . .

My Summer at St. George’s Book Publisher’s camp has finally ended.


It was such a joy to work with so many great kids—and counsellors. It’s always bittersweet to end such a camp. In one way, I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted and am just relieved to be done. In another way, it feels like I’ve just been pulled from sort of magical life support, so feel, as always, a little sad.

Here’s a few photos of the kids’ work from throughout the week, to celebrate all their hard work and achievements . . .