The Worst Witch: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

I’ve been posting about books that inspired my new middle-grade book, Spell Sweeper—and an important one is The Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy. I love an underdog story (obviously!), and I don’t think it’s only my book that owes a lot to this classic series, but every book about magical schools that comes since. (The first one, by the way was published in 1974.)

Mildred is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. She can’t seem to do anything right, whether it’s casting a spell or flying a broom. If she’s going to survive witch school, she’s going to have to do it in a more . . . unconventional way. 

I think this enchanting book is perfect for younger readers who aren’t quite ready for the more detailed worlds and problems of a middle-grade book, but who still want all of the magical fun. The Worst Witch includes so many of the classic elements of magic school: broom flying, cats as familiars, and potions class. I especially love all the names of the instructors: Miss Amerlia Cackle, Miss Constance Hardbroom, Miss Davina Bat, Miss Imogen Drill . . .

The books also include beautiful illustrations by the author (the edition in the photo is a special edition with full color throughout). Highly recommended!

My own book, Spell Sweeper, is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

Wizard’s Hall: Exploring the DNA of Spell Sweeper

Here’s another book that served as inspiration for Spell Sweeper . . . Wizard’s Hall by Jane Yolen. 

While writing Spell Sweeper, I read or re-read different books about wizard schools or “magical learning.” The big one, of course, is Harry Potter, but Wizard’s Hall actually predates the creation of Hogwarts by several years.

Wizard’s Hall is about a boy named Henry with “unmanageable” hair, green eyes, and a perpetual smudge on his nose—as if the nose “led him into trouble.” Well, Henry ends off going to a school of Wizardry in the English countryside. He doesn’t fit in at first, making a mess of even simple spells—but he makes a couple of good friends and, together, they end up thwarting an evil sorcerer who is trying to take over the school and “lands beyond.” 

This book obviously has the same basic premise of Harry Potter, but it’s the world-building of Hogwarts, with all the classes, spells, and creatures, that I think make it so appealing. Still, if you’re a fan of books with magical schools—or, really, children’s lit in general—then I recommend Wizard’s Hall because I think it’s always good to understand and explore the DNA of more current fantasy works.

As for Spell Sweeper, I wanted to honor many of the classic wizard school tropes, but try to provide a quirky twist, almost a gentle satire. The magical school in Spell Sweeper is called Dragonsong Academy—sorry, it’s located in Canada, not England—and it has a lot of the same fun details of those British schools: fun classes (Spellography, Oology, Wizard Yoga), intriguing creatures (squix!), and fantastical talismans (Eurybia’s Torch—but, uh, please stand back). 

Spell Sweeper is available in hardbound, digital, and audiobook formats from your favorite outlet.

Magic is Messy! The official book trailer is here for Spell Sweeper

Introducing the official book trailer for Spell Sweeper. I’ve been involved with a few trailers in my time, and always find them challenging to “write.” Distilling a book into a few short sentences is no small feat.

A big thank you to my editor Stephanie Stein for helping me with the script, Maike Plenzke for providing such beautiful cover art, and to Marcie Nestman for the voice-over talent.

Activities for kids: Thinking INSIDE the box

boxofwhispers-3dI’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small stuck at home and trying to remain creative! I call this activity Thinking INSIDE the box.

I started delivering this activity to kids in my creative writing workshops after the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, one of my most popular books. In that book, a young Een goes in search of a mystical container that holds something all-too precious to her societ

There are many wonderful myths and stories of enchanted vessels. One’s that pop to mind are Pandora’s box, Urashima Tarō’s box, and Aladdin’s lamp all come to mind, and can help provide extra inspiration to the young creators in your house.

What you will need:

  • Paper
  • Drawing supplies
  • The handouts (below)

Bonus:

  • Any kind of wooden are cardboard box
  • Paint and brushes

There are a few different ways to approach this activity. For younger kids, I like to use this very simple handout, which allows them to take a pre-drawn box and simply concentrate on the design, patterns, and colors.

WS-My box

Here are a few examples of student projects:

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elc-box32

A box holding all the magic of the sea.

 

For older students, I prefer this brainstorming sheet, which allows them to freeform doodles shapes and designs for boxes, and also prompts them to consider more deeply some of the story-telling aspects of their box.

WS-Think Inside the box - brainstorming

Here are some examples of past boxes designed

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Maker-space opportunities

If you have craft containers knocking about your house, wooden or even cardboard, then you can turn your box design into a three-dimensional model. The fun part of this, of course, is that you can FILL the magical container with items!

In my time as a creativity teacher, my students have made quite a few boxes . . .

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familystories2016-memorybox-fiona

familystories2016-memorybox-andrew

familystories2016-memorybox-avary

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And here is my model of a box . . . the Box of Whispers. It is pretty big and not only served as a great prop for when I was touring this book, but also as storage for same said books!

Een Museum - Box of Whispers

Writing prompt

In terms of writing, this project provides the platform for an epic tale—I’ve had many students take this prompt and dive into the telling of a character in search of a mythical box (perhaps after it has been stolen)!

However, I always tell teachers that a good bite-sized project is to have students write the single scene in which a character first discovers the box. This avoids students having to dwell or worry about what I call “plot paralysis”—becoming so consumed with a plot that they forget to think about character development and description. By removing overall story plot as a factor to consider, students can just focus on a character in the magical moment of discovery.

(Also, I’m just a little exhausted of trying to convince my students that they don’t have to start a story with the long boring sequence of invents that involves their characters waking up in the morning to the sun shining through the window, brushing their teeth, running downstairs to eat breakfast, running to the bus, running to school, running home after school . . . and THEN they actually something important to the plot starts! If you’re a teacher, you KNOW what I’m talking about!)

Have fun with this project. Stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .

Activities for kids: make a moto

I’m posting my latest activity for all of us kids big and small who are stuck at home. Today’s activity: making a moto!

What’s a moto, you ask? It’s a type of robot that wreaks havoc upon Ozzie and friends in my latest middle-grade book, The Guardians of Zoone.

guardiansofzoone_3d_spine

The motos didn’t make it to the cover, but rest assured they play a big part, as their world, Moton, is one where our characters spend a lot of time. Here’s a look at some motos, as depicted on the vintage-style travel sticker that I created for that treacherous realm:

moton

What you will need:

  • Paper to print out the template below.
  • Pencils and coloring supplies.
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Just download the template sheet and follow the instructions. Of course, I always encourage my students to make their own creations from scratch—but sometimes a little inspiration can go a long way, and maybe this sheet will help!

make_a_moto

These are pretty much the same pieces that I used to design the travel sticker above!

There is also a maker-space opportunity here. I love building things, so if you’re like me, and keep every lid and cap from your household products, then you will have a big store of switches and buttons. I recently used a lot of these to build my own moto probe. Admittedly, I also had to draw on some more specialized supplies from the craft store, such as brads, gears, clock hands—but otherwise, a lot of the pieces are just “junk” or bits and bobs such as thumbtacks, paperclips, and plastic lids. The “body” is just a styrofoam ball painted with metallic paint.

guardiansofzoone-moto

Have fun imagining and stay safe, stay well, and stay tuned . . .

The Guardians of Zoone takes flight!

The Guardians of Zoone takes flight!

Planning a book launch isn’t all that different from planning a wedding—there are invitations, food to organize, giveaways, speeches . . . and all the stress to go with it.

Which is all to say how grateful I am that the launch for my latest book, The Guardians of Zoone, was such an overwhelming success. A big thank you to the Main Street Book Warehouse in Vancouver for hosting. The store was packed wall to wall and we sold out every book in the store emblazoned with the word “Zoone” on the cover!

I am blessed to have friends and family in many talented areas, who helped out with the event. My wife, Marcie, and our friend Stacey made delicious skyger cookies with melted turquoise chocolate. My friend, Jeff, took my drawing of the key to Zoone and turned it into a template to 3D print keys for prizes (by the way, that template is loaded up on my website, so that anyone can print their own key—the template is here). My friend, Jina, took all the amazing photographs you see below (you can check out her Instagram at @jinakimphotography).

I dressed as a portal pirate for the occasion (since they play a big part in the book) and had plenty of freebies to hand out—including keys and stickers. The prizes included the 3D-printed Zoone keys, and some props handmade by me: a dragon egg and a “moto” probe (a robotic spy that flies about the multiverse, gathering information on worlds to “motonize”).

A big thanks to everyone who came out! And, of course, you can check out the order links for the Book of Zoone here.

guardiansofzoone-skygercookies

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guardiansofzoone-lef_table

guardiansofzoone-lef_talking

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Door of the Day: The spider’s haven

Door of the Day: The spider’s haven

This door knocker in Bath, England appears very stoic, despite the fact that it’s clearly the west wing of a spider’s haven.

Bath-doorknockerwithspiderwebandface

Bath celebrates its connection to Jane Austen, so if you travel there, you can visit many museums or sites related to her. For our part, we tracked down her old flat, then enjoyed tea and crumpets.

Bath-jane austen plaque-marcie

Bath-marcie-havingtea&crumpets

I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate the release of The Guardians of Zoone!

You can find order links for the books of Zoone HERE.

Zoonecovers

Door of the Day: Some doors are small

Door of the Day: Some doors are small

Florence-smalldoorwith M

We found this tiny door at the Florence Cathedral, which we visited in 2013. Maybe it’s meant to be a tiny window shutter—but it sure looks like a door to me!

The cathedral, of course, is more famous for its dome . . . which is indeed stunning! But I’m always distracted by those tiny details hidden between here and there.

Florence-ilduomo-domeexterior

Florence-ilduomo-domeinterior

I’m posting my door inspirations from around the world to celebrate the release of The Guardians of Zoone on February 25! Doors come in all shapes and sizes in the nexus of Zoone, too!

You can find order links for the books of Zoone HERE.

Zoonecovers

Door of the Day: three magnificent gates leading to a secret world

Door of the Day: three magnificent gates leading to a secret world

Here are three magnificent and imposing doors at Changdeokgung (the Palace of Prospering Virtue), one of five grand palaces in Korea—and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Changdeokgung-Korea-3greendoors.jpg

This site also features a secret garden and, when we were there, we saw a neoguri (raccoon-dog).

Changdeokgung-Korea-secretgarden

Changdeokgung-Korea-neoguri

I’m posting door inspirations from my travels to celebrate the release of The Secret of Zoone (paperback – January 28) & The Guardians of Zoone (February 25) with HarperCollins Children’s books. There will be many photos from Korea, since it (and the UK) are the places outside of Canada that I spend the most time in!

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books are HERE.

 

Door of the Day: Would you open this one?

Door of the Day: Would you open this one?

I discovered this ominous handle while trekking London in 2013. My mom was with us and we ended up walking 18km through the city that day!

London-handdoorhandle.jpg

In the nexus of Zoone, the door designs always hint at the worlds beyond. But the question is: Will the characters pay attention to those hints?

I’m posting my door inspirations from my worldly travels to help celebrate the releases of my middle-grade children’s books with HarperCollins Children’s Books: The Secret of Zoone (paperback) releases January 28 and The Guardians of Zoone on February 25.

Purchase and preorder links for both Zoone books are HERE.