Sometimes finding inspiration can be a trainwreck: pondering the creative process

Sometimes finding inspiration can be a trainwreck: pondering the creative process

Inspiration is everywhere. Sounds cliché, right? Or perhaps trite or obvious—but I think the thing that a lot of people miss is that inspiration floating around everyone is pretty much useless unless you train yourself to pay attention to it and (most importantly in my opinion) record it.

It’s something that I didn’t always realize. Back when I had a 9 to 5 job working as a graphic designer, I’d race home after work and write and draw. Evening and weekends; these were my blocks when I could truly be creative and do what I want.

But now that I’ve been a self-employed writer and specialized arts educator for the last fifteen years, I’ve learned that I need to be in-tune 24-7.

To put it simply, working in a creative profession means I am alwaysworking. That doesn’t mean I’m forever hunkered down over a computer or notebook. It simply means my antennae are always circling, waiting to pick up the signals that are floating around out there.

I guess what I’m saying is that this was something I didn’t always conscioiusly realize. Or it didn’t come naturally to me. I had to train myself to, first, pay attention and, second, make sure I documented what caught my attention.

I realize this same problem in many of my students. Whether they are in elementary school, high school, or university, so many of them are extremely well-trained to think in “blocks: This is math block, this is writing block, this is history block. Yes, some of those blocks aren’t your passion and you just want to survive the hour or so that you are locked inside of them. But there are other blocks that should needle your passions! Those passions should ooze out of their confinement and seep into every aspect of your life. Being a writer (or an artist, or an actor, or a . . .) means thinking like one all the time.

To some people, this comes naturally! But, as I mentioned above, I was one of those people who came from an exceedingly practical background. Maybe it’s the case with many of my students.

That’s why I now carry my notebook (or, as I call it, my brainstorming book) with me everywhere. I have specific books for specific projects, but often things that are unconnected to that project (or at least SEEM like they might be unconnected) go in there.

I only have one criteria for recording something: it interests me. Most of the time, I don’t know what it is about something that grabs me—just that it does. In those cases, I photography, draw, and scribble notes. That means those ideas are waiting for me in the future. It might be a week down the road. Maybe a month. Perhaps years. Or, quite possibly, NEVER. But I’ve learned to honor the process, not the result.

Vacation/smacation

All of this is to say, when my family was on “vacation” a couple of weeks ago in Whistler, BC, and we learned about the famous Whistler train wreck, my Spidey-senses perked up. I knew I needed to grab my sketchbook and my camera and head there.

(Also, I tend to now just call all vacations “inspircations” because it is impossible for me to go anywhere and NOT be inspired.)

About the trainwreck

Just south of the resort town of Whistler, not so deep in the forest, is the site of a train wreck that occurred on August 11, 1956. The train had started in Lilloeet, 130 km north of Whistler and was bound for Vancouver with a load of lumber. The train was behind schedule, so was going twice its speed to make up time. When it arrived at a narrow passage carved in the rock with a sharp curve at one end, one of the engines jumped off the track. Twelve boxcars in total were derailed.

The clean up took a long time, and some of the carriages were left behind—and this is the site you can now visits. Here, in the not-so-deep woods, the boxcars are both solemn and garish, painted with graffiti after all these years.

Getting to the train wreck

The site is a short drive south from Whistler, and once Google or your satnav takes you to the appropriate turnoff, you’ll find signs marking the way into the woods.

The path is even and not at all onerous. In fact, we took Hiro in his stroller and only parked it once we arrived at the hill that led up to the final site (a one-minute walk).

The way there also features a suspension bridge and a view of the gorgeous, swirling river.

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Exploring the train wreck

Once you arrive at the site, you can explore all the different carriages. You can climb some of them (at your peril!), and one leans toward the river gorge, tempting fate.

This place certainly stirred my imagination and gave me inspiration for a scene in a story that has been percolating inside of me lately. I made sure to take as many pictures as possible and to jot down some notes, too.

The rest of the family enjoyed it as well (though I was the only one brave—or foolish—enough to climb atop one of them). Hiro loved the colors.

I think my favorite part were the couplings, painted to look like creatures. In my mind, they are train gargoyles! You can check out a few of our photos below (including those mischievous looking gargoyles). . .

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In search of the nine-tailed fox

In search of the nine-tailed fox

This past summer, I led a summer camp in Korea with the theme of magical creatures. I have plenty of magical creatures in my own books—some of them borrowed from mythology (dragon, unicorns, perytons, etc.) and some are completely made up (like Tug the skyger, who is a main character in The Secret of Zoone).

But there is a creature I’ve been becoming more and more interested in, and that’s the fox spirit, which is prominent in Asian folktales and myths. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Korea, or maybe because so many of my creative writing students in Canada come from Chinese or Korean backgrounds. And, of course, my son being adopted from Japan has something to do with it.

The fox spirit in myth and legend

Legends about the fox spirit vary from country to country, story to story, but a common theme is that it is depicted with multiple tails—often nine. In Japan, it is called kyūbi no kitsune (literally fox with nine tails), in Korea it is called kumiho or gumiho (also, literally, fox with nine tails), and in China it’s called húli jīng or jiǔwěihú. Sometimes the foxes are seeking to gain all nine tails, which will take a thousand years (gaining a tail every hundred years) and allow them to transcend to a greater wisdom or being. They are sometimes associated with being evil (especially kumiho in Korea)—they can shapeshift into beautiful women and are often portrayed trying to seduce young men, even desiring to eat their livers!

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Last summer, when we first met Hiro, I encountered many fox effigies at the temple sites throughout Japan. When we returned to Tokyo this summer with Hiro, I made a point to seek out one of the temples in the city featuring the fox.

These are the benign versions of the fox spirit. Kitsune is associated with the God Inari, who is worshiped for fertility, rice, tea, sake, agriculture—essentially prosperity and success. That is why kitsune can be found at so many Shinto sites.

A trip to Toyoa Inari Betsuin

On a sweltering morning in Tokyo, we headed to Toyoa Inari Betsuin to see the many kitsune assembled at the shrine. It’s not always easy to make the trek across the city with a one-year-old in tow, especially when it comes to navigating the subway system. Actually the Tokyo subway system itself is easy—finding ways in and out with a stroller aren’t, especially at the older stations.

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But that minor inconvenience was offset by the beautiful shrine.

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When it came to finding foxes, we weren’t disappointed—there were countless ones at Toyoa Inari Betsuin.

Here are just a few of the many photos of the kitsune . . . such delightful creatures! Many of them were wearing a red bib (a symbol of good luck).

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To provide a bit more information about the shrine, I transcribed the information from the welcoming sign, which is also in the photo below:

The Toyokawa Inari is in reality the Toyokawa Dakini Shinten, one of the many Buddhist saints who were Protectors of the Buddhist doctrines. This saint has a beautiful countenance mounted on a white fox, carrying the ear of rice, and is called Toyokawa Inari. It has been enshrined in the Myōgon-ji, a temple in Toyokawa City, Aichi Prefecture, since the first founder Kangan Giin received an inspiration, enshrined it about 700 years ago. Since then, it has been worshipped by peoples of all walks of life, bringing them happiness and saving them from the suffering through the generations to this day.

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I’m pondering the idea of incorporating a magical fox with multiple tails in one of my upcoming middlegrade books. I think my many students with Asian backgrounds (not to mention my son!) will like it, though I know my magical fox won’t be an antagonist, but rather a helpful character.

The multiple tails also seem to match up very nicely with another main idea I’m developing for the book. I don’t have much else to say on it at this point, but let’s see how it goes . . .

Our magical creature camp in Korea

Our magical creature camp in Korea

I’m just catching up on organizing photos after our whirlwind trip to Korea and Japan this past summer—which means I’m finally getting around to blogging about the Magical Creatures creative writing camp that I taught along with my actor/playwright wife Marcie Nestman and fellow children’s author Kallie George.

Marcie and I are used to spending time in Asia—personally, I’ve been there over thirty times, most of it to teach creative writing camps or workshops. What WAS new this time was that we took our one-year-old son, Hiro, with us. So, seasoned travelers that we are, we had a very different type of adventure!

A magical theme

Since Kallie and I both recently released books featuring magical creatures—Kallie’s Wings of Olympus and my The Secret of Zoone—we thought that would make the best theme for our camp.

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Of course, there are plenty of books and films featuring magical creatures, so this was a great way to connect with and inspire our students.

 

The magical menagerie art exhibit

In The Secret of Zoone, one of the characters references the “Multiversal Menagerie,” an art exhibit featuring paintings of different creatures from across the multiverse. I thought I would take a cue from that and have my students do a creative writing project in which they produced artwork of a creature then wrote the information card that goes with it.

You see, I have this belief that not every writing assignment has to be a proper story. I worry that my students get so focused on plot, that they forget other elements of writing—such as description, setting, character development and BEING CREATIVE. I call this “plot paralysis” because students get so caught up in that ONE part of writing that they start ignoring everything else.

Projects like the multiverses menagerie are meant to help the students wriggle free of the shackles of plot and just have fun.

Our project started with brainstorming creatures  . . .

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Afterwards, the students turned their attention to final artwork. Some students chose to draw, some students chose to sculpt, and others chose to do both.

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The Eye of the Dragon

Another project I rolled out at camp involved writing a scene in which a character finds or steals a magical gem that gives that character the power of connecting with a creature. The students got to choose the aspect of that connection—it could be transforming into the creature, controlling it, or even seeing through its eyes.

Step one, however, was painting the gem of power!

I really love this project because it is relatively simple, but produces stunning results. In fact, many of my students end up wearing their jewelry afterwards (it’s easy enough to glue the gems to a metal ring or amulet).

The gems themselves are glass cabochons, which you can get in different shapes (such as oval or round) and the paint is simple nail polish. This project is very forgiving—even those students who don’t consider themselves artistic can create abstract designs. Also, if you make a mistake, a little nail polish remover helps you start over!

Here are some of the gorgeous designs produced by my students:

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The magical market

We delivered many other projects at the camp, but there is one other event I wanted to blog about—and that is our magical market night. Our camps our long—often six or seven days, and we find we need some sort of event in the middle to help break it up and provide a “boost.”

We usually host a tournament or some other team-building exercises; this time, Marcie had the brilliant idea of putting on a magical market. This was brilliant for a few reasons—not the least of which was that we could do it outdoors and avoid the intense summer heat and humidity. Also, we corralled our older students into coming up with the ideas for the stalls, and then running them during the event itself.

So, we ended up having all sorts of fun stations consisting of games, face painting, fortune telling, and—my favorite—food! We invented a new fizzy drink by combining soda water and pop rocks and also had glow-in-the-dark cotton candy. We gave the students fake jewels to use as currency, so they got to stroll our market and decide how to spend their loot.

Marcie had led a project in which the students designed their own lanterns for a made-up magical creature holiday, so we already had some decorations ready to go.

It was a HUGE success!

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TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 3 (robots are liars)

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 3 (robots are liars)

Day 3 of TD Canadian Children’s Book Week marked the mid-point of my tour and it was very different from my previous days, mostly because I got to spend the whole day at one school. This was a nice switch! When you are a prop guy like me, there’s a lot of set up and pack up, and I only had to do it once today—as opposed to Monday and Tuesday, when I had to do it multiple times, and as quickly as possible to make the next event. (Hey, it’s my own fault!)

An oldie but a goodie

I spent the day in a gorgeous hundred-year old school called Summitview Public School located in the town of Stouffeville, Ontario. I was so busy hunting for the school that I didn’t even see the big sign out from with my name on it. The librarian pointed it out to me, so I rushed out at the break to take this photo, and one of the exterior of the building:

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Trees, doors, and a magical item or two!

Because I was there the entire day, I got to speak to the entire student body, from K-8, but in different groups, which I really appreciated. It not only made each group more intimate but allowed me to tailor my content to each age level.

For the younger group, that meant a lot of raw creativity and energy. We brainstormed magical trees and, for the group tree, ended up with a potion tree that was happy to dole out his magic to any passersby (the greedy little dragon who lived in his branches, however, had other ideas!)

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Of course, each student also created a tree of his or her own, and I managed to snap a couple of shots:

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For the intermediate groups, I was able to combine the brainstorming with a little bit more of a discussion on the writing process. They had such great questions! And, of course, they had some very intriguing designs for their doors. Here’s just a handful of the ones that were produced:

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My final group was with the Grades 6-8. I had a lot of time with this group so I really covered some of the professional aspects of publishing, such as how a book cover is designed. Of course, I did allot some time for brainstorming, and we did the idea of magical markets.

This group was a little reserved to begin with, but at one point the cork suddenly popped and they burst forth with ideas. They pitched so many of them at me that we actually ran out of time (the teacher had to do the equivalent of yanking me off the stage with a long cane)!

Some of the items they came up? Well:

  • a jar of human souls
  • a vial of toenails from a king
  • a skirt that allows you to fly
  • shadow spray
  • truth serum (in a bottle shaped like a question mark)
  • a bottle of dragon tears
  • a portable hole
  • an orange, which, whenever you peel it, offers you a different type of fruit (and it’s unlimited)

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A piece of advice I gave them is to try and be as specific as possible in their ideas—and they took it to heart. That’s why I was given ideas such as “a bottle of king’s toenails” as opposed to simply “toenails.” When you’re specific, the ideas are more interesting and more evocative!

What an engaged and creative bunch—all of them! It was a really great day, which was capped off with more event . . .

Adding to the Buzz

Fiona, one of the older students, started a podcast at her school called “What’s the Buzz?” (The school’s sports teams are “the stingers”, so they got a bee theme here). So, at the end of the day, I sat down with Fiona and recorded a short interview. She was so poised and confident (and prepared)—I was impressed.

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Kindred spirits

It’s not just the kids I enjoy meeting at schools—it’s also the educators. I certainly love to talk about the process of writing, but I also love to talk about the process ofteachingwriting. I’ve had so many great conversations with teachers and librarians these past few days, and it was no different at Summitview. Constance Calvert, the librarian, runs a really great show and I really enjoyed talking “shop” with her!

Favourite question of the day

I’m going to pick two favorite questions, and I feel like I’m entitled because one was from an actual session and one was from the podcast I did with Fiona.

So, from one of my workshop sessions: “Are your favorite characters always your main characters?” (The answer is “no!” I often prefer the side characters in my stories in terms of the ones I grow quite attached to.)

My other favorite question came from Fiona’s interview and was the last one she asked me, which was: “What’s the one questions that I didn’t ask that you would like me to?”

I chose: “What character in your book are you most alike!” (I won’t tell my answer here—I think I’ll wait until the podcast is posted!)

Did I get lost? Yes, because robots are liars

Um . . . does a bee buzz? In yesterday’s blog post, I mentioned that the potential for me getting lost today was low, because I had less travel. I should have never written with such bravado because the robots ganged up and sent me on a whirlwind circle around the greater Toronto area. Google Maps, my GPS, even the hotel website all provided an address that sent me down a freeway with NO hotel. So, basically, I’m in the middle of a stretch of freeway with nothing around me and the GPS is telling me I have arrived at my destination.

I pulled over more than once to try and figure it out. Eventually, I looked up the hotel on Google Maps, found a nearby Tim Horton’s, and plugged its address into the GPS and that got me to my destination. (Take that robots!) I’m staying here for three more nights, so at least I won’t have to hunt for the hotel tomorrow.

Oh, oh.

Did I just jinx myself?

Stay tuned . . .

About Book Week

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. Hundreds of schools, public libraries, bookstores and community centres host events as part of this major literary festival.

 

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 2

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 2

Day 2 of my TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour was a wild one, presenting four times in three different locations. Because of that I didn’t have time to get many photos—it was go, go, go!

But here is one of me at the end of my first presentation, courtesy of one of the teachers at Carruthers Creek Public School:

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A very literary day

There was a very literary theme to my day—and not just because I’m an author on tour! I stayed over night in a town called Ajax and on my way to present at the local library, drove on Achilles Road. Obviously, there is quite a Greek Mythology theme here. At one other point, I presented at a school on Byron Road (I was tempted to take out a sharpie and add “Lord” on the street sign)!

Another theme to the day was that there was a lot of variety. Doing a tour like this can sometimes feel like your trapped in a recurring dream, in which you are doing the same thing over and over again. Since becoming a published author, I now understand why touring bands get tired of playing the same old songs over and over again. After awhile, everything can blur together and I often forget if I have already said something to a group, of if that was something said I mentioned earlier in the day.

But that was not a problem today! All of my presentations were very distinctive . . .

 

Ajax Public Library

My first presentation was at the local public library, which means the kids were coming from a nearby school. I had 125 Grade 3 kids in attendance. Once I arrived at the library, and was “on the ground” so to speak, I realized that my usual format wasn’t going to quite the right fit. The space was excellent, but it wasn’t exactly conducive to doing a brainstorming session.

Plus, my time was really tight—I had to make sure I ended right on time so that I could jump in the car and zoom to my next school. That meant that if the kids (who were coming from offsite) were even five or ten minutes late, then the whole thing would be too rushed.

On top of all this, the library tech was in a bit of a panic because the technology and hookups weren’t working. So, with all these factors floating around, I decided that “less is more” and made the call to drop the brainstorming activity and just focus on my presentation and Q&A.

As it turned out, the tech didn’t have anything to worry about because I have a Mac. Which means I simply plugged in my computer and—as always—ta da!

It also turned out that I had made the right call with the format. By the time the last group made it into the presentation space, we were ten minutes in. I jumped to it!

As has been a common thread on this tour, the kids were fascinated by my suitcase of magic stuff! If I actually start taking the offers I’m getting to purchase all of these things, I could probably retire—because when nine-year-old kids offer me four thousand dollars for my Zoone key, I can assume they’re good for the money—RIGHT?

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By the way, I keep telling everyone that they don’t have to offer to buy my Zoone key. They can make their own! Mine was 3D printed by my friend Jeff Porter and he was good enough to supply the print file, which can be downloaded off The Secret of Zoone page on my website. The direct link to the 3D print file is here.

A character in a suitcase at Hatch House Montessori School

After presenting at the Ajax Public Library, I zoomed to a Montessori School in Whitby. This was an incredible 90-year old building that looks like a castle!

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The inside was just as amazing, with rich wood paneling along the narrow hallways. I simply just didn’t have time to take photos; in truth, I would have loved exploring that building for a couple of hours. (I bet there are cool doors down in the basement!)

The great thing about this presentation is that it was very intimate, with only twelve students in attendance. So, I didn’t need to set up my computer and projector; I just simple opened up my wizard’s suitcase and started showing the kids my artifacts.

Afterwards, we handed out blank paper and I had the kids design their own suitcases. The previous day, at the Children’s Book Bank in Toronto, I had provided the kids with premade templates, but that was mostly because they were younger and sometimes a bit more structure can be more helpful.

But at Hatch House, I had more time and less students, so I led them through a more organized process. As they designed their suitcases, I had them think about what characters would own them. Many of the kids chose characters such as princesses, spies, pirates, or magical animals (we even had a half-human, half-dragon—a “dragonoid”).

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One impish student, however, decided that the owner of her suitcase was ME. Based on this drawing, I need some dental work—STAT!

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This activity is a lot of fun because it allows students to develop character (and story) from a different perspective—by SHOWING the character’s personality by the things he or she owns. (Writing teachers? We love to harp on our students about showing not telling.)

Enchanted trees and magical markets with Immanuel Christian School

After Hatch House, I jumped in my car, set my GPS, and roared off to the next school. Unfortunately, my GPS and my Google Maps print-out (because, yes, I like to have a back-up) were both convinced that the school was in Oshawa.

It is not.

It is also in Whitby—which means I went completely the opposite direction and got lost. To be fair to everyone (including me!) the school usedto be in Oshawa. I finally pulled over, rechecked some information and got turned around in time to make it to the school in time for both lunch and my presentations.

My first workshop was with the junior grades (1-5). In this presentation, I talked about enchanted trees and showed pictures of various trees that I have “collected” during my travels (don’t worry—I don’t take snippings! My collection just involves photos).

Afterwards, we brainstormed our own trees, including what the tree looks like, what it might grow, and who might live in it!

The kids came up with their own unique designs; as for the group tree, we ended up with a donut tree.

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As you can see, he is really grumpy and doesn’t want to share his donuts, even though he has such nice rainbow-coloured leaves. Thankfully, there is a donut dragon living in his foliage, ready to swoop in and help weary and hungry travellers sneak a treat!

The second group was the tweens and teens. I showed them some photos of my visits to markets in Europe, Asia, Egypt, and Guatemala then we brainstormed our own magical shops, inventing all kinds of mysterious, arcane, or enchanted items that might be for sale. As you can see, the kids took great delight in populating the shop with different sorts of EGGS (because, as soon as you tell kids you can’t stand eggs, they go to town). Also, they added dragon poop. Yep, they went there. So, if you think about it, our market features the complete cycle of life.

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Favourite question of the day

My favourite question from today was one I’ve never had before:  “Which book did you enjoy writing the most?”

I often get asked which book I like the most, but not which one I liked writing the most. I actually didn’t have an answer for this question! Each book involves its own unique challenges. I think I remember more of the emotional torment I feel while writing a book—not the positive stuff. There are certainly times when I’m writing that everything is flowing smoothly, but then I don’t think about it—I’m just going with that flow. But when something is going wrong—like I’ve just tumbled into a massive plot hole—that’s what I really remember!

Well, tomorrow will be a unique day on this tour. I’m spending the entire day at a single school! (Which, for those keeping track, really reduces my opportunities for getting lost.)

About Book Week

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. Hundreds of schools, public libraries, bookstores and community centres host events as part of this major literary festival.

 

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 1

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 1

Today was the official start of my TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour in Toronto and surrounding areas.

Yesterday, I chronicled my long travel day. Despite that long day, and the time difference, I sprang out of bed this morning before my alarm actually went off. Always a good sign!

I had three different places to visit, so I made sure I left with extra travel time to spare. Which I needed, because I got lost twice before even arriving at my visit—the first time just trying to find my way to the hotel parking lot from the front lobby.

Do NOT underestimate my ability to get lost!

Enchanted vessels at Shaughnessy Public School

My first visit was for an audience of K-6 in a gymnasium setting. Gyms aren’t my favorite places to present because they are often so big and vacuous and, for some reason I can never fathom, schools are always keen to arrange the kids so that there is giant 100-foot gap between me and them. At Shaughnessy Public School, though, the gym is small and intimate, and I could easily interact with the kids.

Here’s a picture of me at the presentation (photo by Grace Wu).

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Part of my presentation included an interactive brainstorming session based around the theme of “enchanted vessels.” I led them through the activity, asking them to consider important details for their vessels, including shape, design, decoration, and other sensory details—such as sounds that the vessel might make, or what it might feel like to touch it. Of course, they also had to decide how it could be opened and what it might contain.

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Secret doorways at St. Joseph’s Catholic School

My next stop was only a short drive away. I didn’t get lost! I had plenty of time to unload my kit, drop it off to the school, then go for lunch. The school is located in the Leslie Village neighborhood and I really dug it. There were so many old doors along Queen Street! (Anyone who knows me, knows I dig doors).

Here’s a beautiful flourish I found decorating just one of the many neat doors I encountered.

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After lunch, I headed back to the school and set up my space in the library. I had an enthusiastic group of Grades 3-6 who were bursting with questions about my props and approach to writing.

Similar to the morning session, I led the students in an interactive brainstorming session, but this time around the theme of—you guessed it—doors.

Here are some of the kids’ creations:

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Spellbinding suitcases at the Children’s Book Bank

My final visit was at the Children’s Book Bank, which is a wonderful little hybrid between a library and a bookshop—except no one pays for the book. The Book Bank provides free books and literacy support to children living in low-income neighborhoods across Toronto.

I absolutely adored the space in its beautiful brick building with its delightful corners for curling up and reading a good book or two.

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But there was no time for ME to disappear into a book during my visit. I was busy presenting to two different afternoon groups!

I was also treated to a great surprise—two representatives, Emma and Kirsti, came from the Children’s Book Centre to watch me at work and take photos. I actually like it when parents, teachers, school board trustees, and other representatives come to see my workshops and presentations because I think that’s the only true way to really get to understand what I do.

Having said that, what I delivered at the Children’s Book Bank was pretty different from what I usually do. Because of the intimate setting, I didn’t show slides, but simply sat down, and told stories using all of the items in my wizard’s suitcase as visual aids.

They were enthralled, to say the least—which was good, because the activity I had for them was decorating and designing a suitcase that might belong to a traveler who would visit Zoone. Afterwards, they got to think about what that traveler might have inside his suitcase.

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It was all over in a blur!

Favorite question of the day

I get bombarded with questions during a school visit, and I always like to try and pick out one or two that really stand out. The first question that pops into my head came from Shaughnessy Public School. A girl asked, “How do you get all these names for these characters and worlds?”

But I think my true favorite question came from a little girl at the Children’s Book Bank, who asked, “Can I buy your notebook?”

The answer, of course, was “NO!” Why? Well, that brainstorming notebook is howI come up with all of those names for my characters and worlds!

You can see the brainstorming book in the photo below (photo courtesy of Emma Hunter at the Children’s Book Centre).

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About Book Week

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. Hundreds of schools, public libraries, bookstores and community centres host events as part of this major literary festival.

 

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 0

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 0

I’m currently on the TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour in Toronto (and nearby areas) and I’ve committed to journaling (blogging) each day about my experiences.

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week is the single most important national event celebrating Canadian children’s books and the importance of reading. Hundreds of schools, public libraries, bookstores and community centres host events as part of this major literary festival.

One of the great things about this tour is it takes Canadian chidlren’s writers, illustrators, and storytellers and sends them out of their “home” territory. I chose to visit Toronto, because well, I like the big city and it also gave me an opportunity to tack on a day to visit my god daughter.

Before that? Well, I’m going to babble myself to death talking about my new book, The Secret of Zoone.

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Today was “Day 0” of the tour. How can a tour have a “Day 0”? That’s easy! It’s called a travel day.

I had chosen an 8:00 am flight, which meant getting up bright and early to get to the airport. I had packed the day before, including carefully arranging my Wizard’s suitcase and setting it right by the front door for a quick departure:

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I had also prepared my “travel survival kit”, which includes:

  • Coffee
  • Throat tea
  • Emergency snacks
  • Hand sanitizer

. . . and bookmarks—I thought these would be particularly helpful if I had to explain to airport security why I was carrying such a unique suitcase.

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Well, I got up bright and early at 5:20. I had checked my flight the night before, but forgot to recheck it at such an early hour. I simply jumped in a cab and off I went. On the way, my driver told me that they were busily closing down many of the major routes in Vancouver for the annual marathon.

“In another hour or two, you’re not getting to the airport quickly,” he told me.

Whew! I congratulated myself on choosing such an early flight—but all the relief evaporated the moment I arrived at the airport. Turned out my flight was cancelled.

Not delayed.

Cancelled!

I quickly hopped into the ticketing line and got rebooked on the 10:00 am flight.

Which was immediately delayed by two hours.

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So much for my plan to get into Toronto early to give myself prep and relax time before hitting my first visit Monday morning.

First things first, was getting through security. I had already been worried what they would think of my suitcase and I watched in amusement as I saw it appear on the X-ray monitor, with all the metal bits (the keys!) jumping out on the image.

Sure enough, the case got pulled over. The attendant took one look at it, with the gear and the locks, and told me to open it.

So what caused it to get an extra inspection? It wasn’t the dragon eggs, the potion bottle with glowing stones, the bestiary, or even the secret key to Zoone. It was those pesky bookmarks! I guess they couldn’t tell what they were!

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Well, I eventually boarded my flight and from there it was pretty smooth sailing, with us landing at Toronto Pearson airport without further delay. I snatched up my check bag, picked up my rental car, and off I went.

But not without circling the airport car rental lot first. That’s because I missed the turnoff to the highway, and it reminded me of the LAST time I did the TD Book Week tour. On that occasion, I was travelling with fellow author Tanya Lloyd Kyi and we must have circled that airport lot three times. So, I guess my work has improved—this time, just one circle and I was off and running.

Now, I’m finally ensconced in my hotel room, ready for my first suite of visits tomorrow. On the sched? A public school, a Catholic school, and one children’s book bank!