TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 6

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 6

My tour is over, so there is basically no Day 6, just a return to life. However, I’ve been writing this online journal all week so I thought I would take the time to reflect on the week, think about went well, what didn’t, and to offer so heartfelt thanks!

Let’s start with the thank-yous . . .

An awesome network of teachers, librarians, and literary people

Getting a spot on the TD Tour isn’t the easiest. There are so many talented creators in Canada, so I’m really grateful that I earned a spot, especially since I don’t write books with obvious social-justice content, or overtly Canadian content, or anything that grabs the attention necessarily of the media. I do like to think my books have lots of great messages and social commentary about culture, diversity, and gender roles, but they are nuanced.

Which is all to say, I’m very thankful to the CCBC (Canadian Children’s Book Centre) for picking me. Also, I can’t even imagine the work that goes into organizing this tour. So, I give a particular shut out to Shannon Howe Barnes at CCBC for providing me with so many detailed instructions and being at five-alarm alert this entire week, jumping on any and all panicked messages from touring authors (I certainly sent my share of them!).

I also want to thank Emma Hunter and Kirsti Granholm for stopping my event at the Children’s Book Bank in Toronto. I always appreciate it when people who organize tours can see me in action.

Finally, I want to thank all the teachers and librarians I connected with this week. I have a lot of particular “asks” when I come to a school—supplies for set up, rooms arranged a certain way, and so forth. Without fail, every single school, library, and institution jumped into action to accommodate my requests. I really appreciate it!

Even though I was often rushing off to my next presentation, I really appreciate those quieter moments when I had a chance to talk to some of you about writing and teaching writing. I am an educator at heart, and I really love those conversations.

Finally, thank you for saying all those kind things about my books! Writing is hard and sometimes the simplest of reviews or praise can sustain me.

What went well

I guess I already covered this to some extent, but the trip was so well-organized and I was provided with such detailed instructions that it was easy to go from one place or the other. I was never once late, which is amazing!

I felt my personal plan for the trip was strong. I had presentations prepared for the bigger groups and, for the smaller groups, I could use my wizard’s suitcase as a tool for telling stories and engaging the kids. I think I did a brainstorming activity with every single group, except one—if you follow me on social media, then you know I have been inundating you with many pictures of kids brainstorming: suitcases, trees, doors, and maps.

By the way, having a variety of activities and talks is also important for me. It helps keep my brain on track, so that I’m not necessarily just doing the same thing over and over again. Some of this is inevitable—I mean, my story is my story and I can’t really change that or tell it in too many different ways. But delivering different presentations that talk about different sources of inspiration keeps everything varied for me.

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What didn’t go so well

When you are zooming from workshop to workshop in different facilities, there is inevitably going to be hiccups and problems.

I always prefer presenting in libraries or gathering spaces—not necessarily because they are more intimate or friendly (they are), but because of acoustics. Some gyms just are terrible for presentations. That’s no one’s fault—gyms are obviously the biggest places in schools for accommodating large portions of the student body. But, in some gyms, not even a microphone really helps—it just causes your voice to bounce off the walls in a different way.

I also had a technology fail on my last day. My remote to my computer simply stopped working halfway through two presentations. Thankfully, I don’t show my fluster, so I was able to compensate, but I really wish this hadn’t of happened! Everything had worked perfectly all week long. Hey, I lasted the week—how come my technology couldn’t?

Managing energy

Speaking of which, managing energy is something I’ve had to learn how to do over the years. It’s not only the daily public speaking and workshopping, but when I put myself into this intense creative headspace, that means a lot of ideas are swirling around in my brain. Because it’s not that I’m simply presenting—I’m doing these brainstorming sessions with the kids, which is all about idea generation.

So, each evening when I made it back to my hotel, I found it hard to unwind. (This is the case whenever I’m doing a writing camp, an artist-in-residency, or a tour. Intense periods of creativity are hard to turn off like a tap.) There were many times when I would take my brainstorming journal with me to dinner, so I could unwind with doodling. Ultimately, I suppose writing this daily journal/blog has been one other way to do this.

Questions, questions, questions

Each day, I posted my favorite question of the day, but I wanted to tackle one more that I didn’t mention from the week: “Do you ever take ideas from the brainstorming you do with the students in your workshops?” This question came from a teacher and it is a good one.

The short answer is “No.” I always do my brainstorming on a sheet of chart paper in my interactive brainstorming sessions and while I often take a photograph of what we create, I always leave the paper itself behind (in case the class wants to use it in their follow up activities).

Often cases, what we come up with on that chart paper is a fusion. It’s a combination of multiple ideas pitched my way my participants, ideas that then go through the filter of my imagination, and get my own twist. For example, students often give me multiple competing ideas for a doorway, a tree, or a magical object, and I end up combining them for the item we put on the page. This is the power of group brainstorming—the idea that makes it onto the page has been enriched by the multiple suggestions and is more interesting than just any singular idea coming from myself or any one student.

immanuelcs-market

The truth is that I want the students to write something from the brainstorming—not me! I feel like I generate enough ideas in my own brainstorming journals. Though, I will admit to stealing names from students, though it’s usually not their character names—it’s usually their own names! If a student has a name that I really like, then I ask them if I can add it to my one of my name “banks” for future use. (I’m ALWAYS on the hunt for good character names!)

The hardest part of the tour

Well, this one is easy. The hardest part of the tour has been being away from Marcie and Hiro! In the past, I’ve only had to worry about being separated from Marcie, but now that we have Hiro, it’s even harder. He’s too young to really understand what’s going on, and I have just missed cuddling him every night and interacting with him and being there for great moments like this one:

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That’s a photo Marcie sent me yesterday. So cute! Of course, technology helps being away because I can facetime Marcie and Hiro everyday, but Hiro often just gets a little confused that he can see and hear me, but can’t touch me.

But I will be back soon, Hiro!

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 5

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 5

Well, it’s over. The final day of TD Book Week came to an end on Friday, and I managed to survive with my voice mostly intact. One more day probably would have killed it!

Mapping a story

I did two sessions of mapping a story, one at two schools that shared the same librarian (the schools are only five minutes apart).

In the planning stages of the tour, I had provided the schools and libraries with a list of my brainstorming sessions and most picked “enchanted trees” or “secret doorways.” These two schools, however, chose “mapping an adventure”—it was nice to get a little variety today. Don’t get me wrong! I LOVE designing doors, but when you are doing multiple sessions several days in a row, a change of pace is good for my creative energy.

Essentially, this type of mapping is writing with pictures—the students not only plot an adventure but create settings along the way—and, of course, characters, too! Here are some of the story-maps they came up with:

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As you can see, many elements of the story are in place. In fact, I feel like some of these look like the adventure route on a Candy Land-style board game.

Final round of door brainstorming

The very last session of the tour was done at the Woodside branch of the Toronto Public Library. They invited in a classroom of tweens for a presentation and door brainstorming. I figured it was a Friday afternoon and they might be low energy, but they really produced some great designs: Just check these out:

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Also, some of the kids started spilling into other areas, designing characters, such as this one sheet from a very talented kid:

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I was also enamored with this drawing that one student did of my artifacts:

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Speaking of my artifacts, this was the last time I unpacked and packed them back again before taking my flight home this weekend. They all survived! I didn’t break or lose a single one. Of course, kids continually asked to sell me the props, but I always say the same thing: “make your own!” Because, really, I don’t feel any of my props (other than the suitcase) is that complicated to make. Prop building is like writing—it takes mostly patience. And none of the supplies I use are that complicated.

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Doing a workshop at the Toronto Public Library was a really great way to end the tour. Sophia, the library assistant, was a great host and she had just finished reading The Secret of Zoone and gave me a glowing review. Hey, I’ll take a glowing review from anyone, but, of course, it’s always special to get a good review from a librarian, because they are the ones who really read a lot and know their stuff. So, thank you, Sophia! I really appreciate your comments about my book.

Favourite question of the day

I actually got this question a few times this week, but I decided to feature it today. It was: “What is your favourite place that you traveled to?” (REAL place—not imaginary; I had to clarify!)

It’s always hard to answer this question. There are places I go to on a regular basis for work or family reasons: Korea, Japan, and England. But I think my favourite places I visit are the ones that are new to me, the ones that can offer me a surprising or unusual experience. I love nothing more than stepping out of my hotel door and being walloped by smells, sounds, and sights!

Book signing

After my last official TD Book Week visit, I had one more stop: the local Indigo book store at Scarborough Town Centre. My publisher had asked me to stop by and sign some stock. There were six books in the store, so I signed all of them (and one sold while I was there!).

In particular, though, it was fun to walk into the store and see my book positioned face out—this is obviously a good thing, because it means the book gets more attention.

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Well, it’s time for me to go and get some grub, and some rest! I think I’ve earned it!

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 4

TD Book Week Tour ~ Day 4

It was another fun and busy schedule on Day 4 of my TD Canadian Children’s Book Week tour!

Knocking your socks right off

The first thing I want to say is that I have been having a great time and I think the students have, too. In fact, I can now say with all authority that my presentations will knock your socks off—literally.

Doubt me?

Well, I have the proof. After my very last presentation of the day, I found this lone sock hanging out on the gymnasium floor!

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But back to the beginning of my day, which started with me waking up in Markham to dismal weather. It was cloudy, rainy, and cold—in other words, what it feels like on a typical winter’s day in Vancouver. (Or, admittedly, often in June.) That was a good excuse for an extra cup of coffee, which I got at the Starbucks conveniently located in my hotel lobby.

I jumped into the car and headed to my first school Saint Francis Xavier—or, as they like to call it, SFX. Sounds like a cool Sci-Fi channel, but more importantly, it makes it a lot easier to autograph books to their school!

This friendly display welcomed me as I entered:

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Perhaps more importantly, so did a tray of delicious snacks. Little touches like that can really help an author keep going in the middle of a buzzing tour.

Enchanted Trees

Every presentation I did today was in a gymnasium, which means I had a lot of big groups. I did two sessions at SFX, the first one involving 220 kids, grade K-3.

I rolled out my brainstorming session on enchanted trees for these guys; it always seems to be a good fit for younger kids.

Our “group” tree ended up looking like this, with keys for fruit and a flying pig as a critter:

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Here are some of the trees the kids came up with:

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Magical Doorways

For the second session at SFX, plus my presentation to grades K-8 at William Armstrong Public School, we designed magical doorways.

There have been a lot of doorways designed this week, but I was intrigued by what one boy did today. It was something very simple, something you would think would be quite intuitive, but something I haven’t seen any other kid do. He folded his paper in half so that he could physically open his doorway, then draw, on the opposite side, where his door led to!

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Here are some of the other doors that kids designed in these two sessions:

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Favourite question of the day

There were a lot of great questions from my three sessions today, so I’m going to pick a main favourite, plus two honorary ones. So, my ultimate favourite is: “Why is writing special to you?”

I liked this question because I’ve never been asked it before. I’ve been asked similar questions, such as “Why do you like writing?” . . . but not one worded quite this way. And I tend to pay attention to specific wording in questions (I guess that comes with the territory of being an author and a teacher).

I will say that I had trouble answering the question. I’m not sure that I’ve ever thought of writing as something “special.” It’s a part of me, yes. But it’s always felt so integral, like a limb. Maybe it’s something I’ve taken for granted? I’m not sure . . .

Now to the honorary questions. Honorary favorite question #1 is: “Which character did you like writing the most?” This one is also hard to answer.

In terms of my Kendra Kandlestar books, I think it was Agent Lurk and Uncle Griffinskitch, because they both changed a lot across the series, and it was fun to see their growth, motivations, and history.

Uncle Griffinskitch

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For The Secret of Zoone, I’m tempted to say Tug the skyger because he is just so much darn fun!

Tug on the sofa

But, ultimately, I’m going to say Ozzie’s Aunt Temperance and I think it’s for the same reason as Aent Lurk and Uncle Griffinskitch. Her back story, her compulsions, and her motivations were very intriguing to me. Even though Ozzie is the clear main character in the book, I somehow feel the Zoone story is hers.

Aunt Temperance sketch

Honorary favorite question #2 is: “Can I have your key?” I like this question, because I get to answer “YES.” As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, my Zoone key is 3D printed, and I have provided the file on my website (you can download it here).

Aunt Temperance's Zoone Key - orange background

I didn’t get to lost

Now to the big news of the day: I didn’t get lost. Not once! (First day this happened on the tour!)

Well, one day left . . . hard to believe it’s almost over! (Insert sad emoji face here.)

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 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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224FF666-F271-43DD-85EC-7C853C184250

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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)

Summitville-magicalmarket-group

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 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.

 

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.

librarytour2018_songpa-authors&staff

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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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 . . .