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.

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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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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).

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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.

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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!”)

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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.

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

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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.

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Designing a doorway to Storyville

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I’m just at the tail-end of a tour of schools in the cities of Kelowna and West Kelowna. The schedule has been intense, as I’ve been often delivering four workshops a day spread across two different schools.

At each school, I delivered a different brainstorming project, depending on the age of the audience and my allotted time. For the youngest students (the kindergartens and Grade 1s) I led a round of Monster Design 101, while for the older students we either mapped a hero’s journey across a fantastical landscape or designed a magical doorway. Any of these activities serve as an excellent springboard into a story. In each case, the students complete their own individual brainstorming sheet while simultaneously contributing to an overall group one.

The result is always distinctive and unique . . . and always a concoction of wonderful ideas.

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Even though part of my brain was exhausted by week’s end, another part was percolating with ideas. In my very last visit of the week, the students and I group-designed this particular door:

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I decided to take inspiration from it and write my own story, which I present below. It doesn’t match the door design exactly, but, as I always tell my workshop participants, brainstorming isn’t your boss. It’s just your guide and you need to feel free to veer off in different (and hopefully better) directions.

* * *


Time for Dinner

Tom raced down the street, school bag clattering on his back as he headed home. Coach had kept them behind for extra time and now he was going to be late for dinner. Again. And tonight Mom was making his favourite: spaghetti.

He was salivating over the thought of those home-made meatballs when he passed by the alley and came to a screeching halt. His older brother Daniel had warned him to never go down there, but that was Daniel for you. He thought he was the Boss of Everything. Besides, the alley was a shortcut home. Tom didn’t hesitate—meatballs were waiting for him!

He scampered into the alley and found himself in a narrow space with moody shadows clutching at him from either side. But other than that, it really wasn’t that scary. It was even pleasantly—and surprisingly—warm.

He was halfway through when he came upon the door.

That brought him to another stop. Because this wasn’t the type of door you encounter in everyday life. To begin with, it had a peculiar shape. The bottom was normal enough, starting in a rectangle, but at the top it branched off into different directions before tapering into five distinct points. Taking a step back to gain a better view, Tom realized it looked just like a claw. The door’s slats of wood appeared as if they had been once painted a bright red, though now very little of the color was left—just a tattered and peeling curl here and there. Otherwise, the door was mostly bare and grey, though two ornamental hinges danced whimsically across the wood in the curling shapes of dragon tails. They looked like they had once been a bright and proud black, though now they were so corroded by rain and time that long streaks of green dripped from them like poison tears.

There was a small doorknocker set in the middle of the door. It was in the shape of a face and was clenching a heavy ring of metal in its teeth. It had a wide-eyed expression; Tom decided that it looked surprised to see him. Then he looked down at the door handle. It had a round knob with a curlicue pattern.

Tom reached out for the knob, only to hear, “Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

Tom dropped his school bag and leapt backwards, eyes darting. Who had said that? The alley was completely deserted. Then Tom’s eyes wandered back to the door and he saw the doorknocker quivering, its lips contorting desperately around the heavy metal ring its mouth.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

It was as if it was trying to talk—though all too ineffectually.

Tom tugged at one of his ears. This can’t be happening, he thought. He stared down towards the end of the alley, where he could see the sun beginning to set overtop the rooftops in his neighborhood. Just around the corner and down the street was his house. And spaghetti and meatballs.

Better to just go home, he thought.

“Mrphymmmhhh . . .” the doorknocker said with a sigh.

Then again, spaghetti and meatballs happened every week. A talking door? That could be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

No wonder Daniel warned me to stay away from here, Tom told himself. Maybe he wanted to keep this magical door to himself.

He reached for the handle again. The doorknocker grunted and grimaced, still trying to talk, still making no sense. Tom turned the doorknob and yanked. It screeched in complaint and held fast; no one had surely opened the door in ages. That’s when he noticed the keyhole below the knob.

“Hmm,” Tom murmured.

He stepped back and contemplated the door anew.

Suddenly, there was a metallic creak. It came from a metal letter slot that Tom had not yet noticed, set a few inches below the doorknocker. Something was working its way through the narrow flap. Tom furled his brow and watched in curiosity as a piece of paper edged out. When it was all the way through, it fluttered to the ground.

Tom stooped to pick it up. It was old and thin, scorched and torn around the edges. In ragged writing, someone had scrawled in dark red ink: HELP ME.

“What the!?” Tom gasped. He let the paper dropped back to the littered ground of the alley. “Who is me?

He tried to open the mail slot with his finger, but it didn’t offer any view of what lay beyond. He put his ear to the surface of the door and felt heat radiating from the wood. But he could hear nothing except for the desperate pleading coming from the doorknocker.

I guess it’s asking for help—that’s what it’s trying to say, Tom thought. He could see a very intense look in that doorknocker’s eyes—well as intense as you could get for something that wasn’t exactly . . . alive.

Tom began to pace the alley. What to do . . . what to do . . .

He was just about to give up on the whole venture when he noticed the oddly-colored brick in the wall, next to the door. Most of the other bricks were grey and rough. But this one was blueish. Upon closer scrutiny, Tom decided that it was even glowing slightly. He reached out, hesitantly, and touched the brick.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!”

The brick slid outwards, coughing with dust as it did so. Tom had to stand on his tip-toes to see the top of it. There, nestled in a perfect coffin-like hollow, was a large brass key.

“Cool,” Tom murmured as he reached in and tugged the key loose. It was heavy and old-fashioned, and felt cool in his hands. Tom decided to not waste another moment. He plugged the key into the door and cranked the knob, allowing himself a self-congratulatory smile as he did so.

Yes, he was very clever, he decided. He had discovered the hidden key in the bricks. Could Daniel have done that? Well, he hadn’t, because otherwise Tom would have heard about it. For once, Tom was going to be the hero. For once, he was going to reap the reward.

Slowly, the door groaned inward. Craning his neck, Tom peered inside. All he could see was a murky black tunnel.

It did not look inviting—certainly not as inviting as spaghetti and meatballs.

“Mrumphff rumff rphray!” came the muffled cry from the doorknocker from what was now the other side of the open door.

Tom took a step backwards. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea after all. Then, from the depths of the tunnel, came an unearthly, sibilating rumble. A sharp and stinging odour reached his nostrils; it smelled like soot or burning metal, like a car trying to screech to a halt with warn-out brake pads. Tom took another step back, only to suddenly feel the door whack him in the back as it slammed shut. Tom tumbled forward, into the pitch black, and landed roughly on ground littered with what felt like pebbles and sharp sticks. He could feel the tiny shards digging into his skin. He clutched one of the sticks and held it up to his face for closer inspection, but he couldn’t discern any detail in the darkness.

Then he heard the growl again. It came thundering through the tunnel, so loud and ominous it was like being grabbed by the pit of the stomach and turned inside out. Tom quickly scrambled to his feet and pressed himself against the now-shut door. He was still clutching the stick in one hand, but with his other, he reached behind him and fumbled for the doorknob. His hand found it, jiggled it, but it was locked shut.

Then, out of the blackness, a pair of amber eyes, appeared. They were shot through with red veins and punctuated by two knife-blade irises. Tom gulped. He may have even tried to scream, but no sound left his throat. Those eyes grew larger, closer. They cast a dim light in the cavern. Tom slowly lifted the stick he was clutching in his hand, as if it might somehow protect him.

It was only then he realized that it was a sliver of bone.

* * *

A few moments later, a wet and satisfied belch reverberated out of the alleyway and through the streets of the neighborhood. It was so loud it could be heard all the way to Tom’s house.

“What was that?” Tom’s mother wondered as she sat down at the dinner table.

“Who knows in this town,” Daniel replied as he plowed into his heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs. “The better question is: What happened to Tommy this time?”

Tom’s mother sighed. “Late for dinner. AGAIN.”

Though, from a certain point of view—and, for the sake of argument, let’s just call that the point of view of a certain doorway lurking in a certain alleyway—Tom wasn’t late at all.

He was right on time.

Build the world you want to live in

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Today was a tough day. The day after the US election. The day after the climatic cap of so much negativity, hostility, and virulence.

Like so many people, it was another day of work for me. And that meant I was doing my previously-scheduled day at a school as part of my four-week writer-in-residence program.

Today’s topic? World building.

It seemed a strange thing to talk about today, of all days.

The workshop was meant to start with an icebreaker in which the kids take a fun and humorous quiz called “What type of ruler would you be?”

I didn’t have the emotional temerity to lead it today. So I cancelled the quiz and instead started by talking about how, as a kid, escaping into fantasy worlds was an important part of my life. Whenever I felt stuck or confused by the world, or events around me, reading and writing gave me certain succour.

So, I told my students, “Build the world you want to live in. It’s your world. You can do what you want in it.”

That was the serious part. I still tried to inject some fun by bringing them my museum of magical artifacts to show them how they can use prop-building as another way to work on their projects. I tasked them with finding or building artifacts from their worlds. I guess you could call it homework (though I prefer the term “dreamwork”).

Here’s some of the photos I took of their brainstorming: maps, symbols, names, creatures . . . you name it.

They are building. And that is a positive thing.

 

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Building a dragon egg

I’ve had a bit of time over the past couple of weeks so I’ve taken full advantage of it by, first, having some R&R, second, doing a lot of writing, and, third, by building a dragon egg.

This egg will become a part of the museum of magical artifacts, which I often take on author visits to schools and libraries to help spark the kids’ imaginations. Many of the artifacts are from my Kendra Kandlestar series, or from other books I have in development.

I started with a simple paper cache egg, which gave a base coat of metallic green paint (by the end of this process, I realized that undercoating of paint was completely unnecessary).  I then bejeweled slowly and carefully. Thankfully, I found these strips of jewels, which made this task a little less onerous. I then filled in the gaps with individual jewels.

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The jewels weren’t that sticky, so I added coats of modge-podge along the way to keep everyone sticking. A lot of patience was required between drying times.

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Modge-podge dries clear, so this is what the egg looked like at the end of the bejeweling process. To be honest, I didn’t really have a set plan for this project, and part of me thought I could have just considered the egg completed at this stage . . . it does look rather pretty. dragonegg04-bejewelled

However, it also looks very “made”, so I kept on going, groping on metallic green paint.

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By this stage, I had a very cool looking egg, with what looks like more organic bumps.

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Then came the most challenging part of the process, which was trying to get the final paint job just right. I wanted to achieve an overall cohesive tone, while at the same time adding some texture and nuanced color depth. I also wanted the egg to have a graduation of color, going from dark at the bottom to light at the top.

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I mostly accomplished this with some splattering and then a whole lot of dry brushing of other colors, including black, bronze, gold, and emerald green. I’m not sure how much those color subtleties show up in the photos, but they are there when you behold the egg in real life.

Final stage was to spray the whole thing with fixatif at the end. Here some photos of the final . . .

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Whew! This was actually my practice run . . . I’ve got a much bigger egg I want to build once I get the next break in my schedule. That one will be a little more “deluxe” . . .

Captain Four Face and the Attack of the Giant Robot . . . and other stories

I received a delightful package in the post yesterday—a thank you book from a school I visited in the spring. The cover shows some photos of the workshop I did with the Grade One class at Mulgrave School. My workshop started off with a presentation on how I develop my own inspiration, specifically the Land of Een in my Kendra Kandlestar series. I then led the students in an interactive world-building activity that could set up each of the students up for a story.

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And, on the inside were many wonderful stories written by the students, complete with title page. Just check out some of the interesting titles and artwork:

mulgrave2015_captain4face mulgrave2015_wasie&wolf mulgrave2015_soccergame mulgrave2015_bear&jewel mulgrave2015_mouse&queen mulgrave2015_theninja&badguys mulgrave2015_itch mulgrave2015_knightVSdragon mulgrave2015_dragonwars mulgrave2015_lion&theman mulgrave2015_magiccrystal

I don’t always get to see what the results of my inspirational activities are at a school, so it’s a real joy to receive this anthology of wonder!

“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:

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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.

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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:

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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).