How a new children’s book series reminded me about the magic of world-building

How a new children’s book series reminded me about the magic of world-building

Author (and friend!) Kallie George recently wrote a guest post on my blog in which she described her world-building process for her brand new children’s book series, The Heartwood Hotel. 

Since that post, Kallie officially launched the series with a fun and engaging event at Kidsbooks, our local bookstore that specializes in catering to young readers.

heartwoodhotellaunch-kalliegeorge

The launch was a stupendous success. Families were lined up down to block as they waited for the doors to open, clamoring to hear Kallie share her new world. For Kallie, that mean not only mesmerizing the kids with a reading of the first book in the series, but also providing amazing and tangible pieces that were completely interactive.

I was reminded, once again, about the magic that can happen when you really put the “build” into world-building.

Mapping

In the earlier post on my blog, Kallie talked about using mapping as a way to construct a believable and interesting world. If you haven’t read that post yet, then I really encourage you to do so.

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Mapping has long been a key technique that I use in my own writing process, and, as Kallie describes in her post, I helped her map the Heartwood Hotel, too. Personally, I map all kinds of spaces in my books, everything from entire worlds to one-room settings. I find it’s a great way to “stage” a scene and to help make it logical.

These maps don’t need to be slick and professional for the purposes of the author’s writing, but, of course, they can end up becoming the basis for something your publisher can use for the final book.

Dioramas

The kids who turned up to meet Kallie at her book launch were in for a real treat. Kallie and her husband Luke put in many late nights working on a model of the Heartwood hotel–a sort of doll house complete with furniture and accessories.

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The only thing missing?  Well, that was the figures. But no worries! Kallie provided wooden peg figures so that the kids could make their own animal critters that were the perfect scale to roam around the Heartwood Hotel environment.

heartwoodhotel-joanne

Of course, the kids got to take their peg figures home with them, but I love the idea that they could imagine that they got to stay in the hotel first.

Props

Well, if you’re going on a vacation, you also need a suitcase. Kallie provided miniature suitcase templates that could be cut out and folded into shape.

heartwoodhotel-activity

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If you weren’t so lucky as to attend the launch, you can still make your own Heartwood Hotel suitcase. Just head over to the official website to download the template.

The final activity that I wanted to mention was that the kids attending Kallie’s book launch also had the opportunity to leave behind a record of their stay at the Heartwood Hotel by filling out an entry in one of the many pages in the beautiful guestbook created specifically for the book launch.

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I thought this was a fabulous idea . . . the kids could base the entry on the peg figure they created, or even put their own name (though, really, no humans are allowed at the Heartwood!). This guestbook really helped immerse the kids in Kallie’s world.

Why put the build into world-building?

If you’re a fantasy author—especially a fantasy author for kids—I think you have a really great opportunity to bring your world to life in every way you can. Maps, dioramas, really can make for a magical book launch or school visit.

Building for your readers

We live in an interactive but highly-digitized world. More than ever, there is something enchanting about kids being able to look at a tangible, three-dimensional prop and to hold it their hands. I can’t tell you the number of times a child has examined one of my dragon eggs or magical potions and asked, “Is it real?”

So, these add-ons can really help attract kids to the worlds you have created or deepen their affection for the love they already have for a story. If you ask me, they are a must for a book launch or school visit!

Building for you

So, making magical potions, building a diorama, sketching a map . . . they might be great for promotion, but what do they do for the book itself? Do they make the words better?

I think so. The writing process can be arduous and taking a break from the screen to build something connected to your world can really help you examine your story from a different angle. I like to think of it as getting to play in my world, but in a different way than using words.

I can recall so many times in which I’ve imagined a magical item, written about it, then built a prop of it, only to realize that the final prop is vastly different than the way I originally imagined it—in a much better way. So, in essence, prop building helps enrich the ideas in my story. When you’re a fantasy writer, that’s critical.

Building for teachers

Kallie and I have worked as creative writing teachers, often in tandem, for many years and we have always taken the philosophy of putting the “build” into world building seriously. We often encourage our students, young and old to draw maps of their worlds, build diorama of key settings, create costume designs for characters, and to find or fashion important props.

Of course, these techniques can also be used to help kids connect to books as readers. In my time as an author, I’ve seen pictures of kids connecting to my worlds through costume, dioramas, and figurines. Recently, one student even made her own history book or “EEN-cyclopedia” of my worlds!

What do you think? If you’re a teacher, do use these techniques? If you’re an author, do you use them? If so, which ones?

More Kendra Peg Figures

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The dragon and the thief

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Had a fun day at Mulgrave School today, working with the Grade 2 classes on a fun writing project to do with personal perspective and point of view.

I started by reading a scene from my book The Box of Whispers, in which Kendra faces off against Rumor the Red Dragon and they have an argument of ownership about the box.

I designed a brainstorming sheet in which the students planned to write a story about a thief sneaking into a lair to steal a dragon’s egg. The idea is that they will write in the first person, and choose a specific perspective—either the dragon or the thief.

As it turned out, most students decided to write from the dragon’s perspective, but we still ended up with enough thieves to create an interesting classroom dynamic.

We then brainstormed some reasons why the thief needed to steal the egg. Was it for pure greed? Was the thief forced to steal it because if he (or she) didn’t the thief (or the thief’s family) would be punished?

We also had fun brainstorming aspects of the characters that made them dangerous in a confrontation between the two sides. The dragons, of course, had different abilities, such as poison or ice breath, or different features to do with their claws, fangs, and scales.  As for the thieves, I took swords and guns OFF the table, forcing the students to brainstorm more creative and magical items, such as camouflage or invisibility cloaks and other special “tools of the trade.”

I even brought in my dragon egg props to further inspire the kids. Some of the kids decided that their thieves could use fake dragon egg props to try and trick the dragon and more easily steal its egg.

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The students will now set to work on their stories. When they share them, they will be able to hear similar stories, but from different perspectives, provoking (hopefully) some good conversations about point of view and perspective.

The creation of Kendra Kandlestar: Reading ’Tween the Lines

In my ongoing blog series to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of the publication of Kendra Kandlestar and the Box of Whispers, I’ve talked about the heroes, the antagonists, and the inspiration for the overall idea. Today’s topic is the setting.

Just like many of the characters in the book, the setting of the story went through a significant transformation. Originally, I had called this place where the tiny folk lived the Land of Tween. This was because they lived “Between Here and There.”

However, this was over ten years ago, and the term “Tween” was quickly being taken over by the media as a reference to those kids who weren’t quite kids anymore—but weren’t teenagers either.

I decided I need to change Tween to something else. This was one of those cases where the simplest decision became the easiest! I chopped off the first two letters and called it the land of “Een.”

Originally the inhabitants of the magic land in the story were going to be all manner of fairy-tale characters such as pixies, gnomes, and elves. This is demonstrated in the early drawing of Winter Woodsong shown below.

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As you can see, she was originally a fairy, complete with star-dusted wings. Because of this starry appearance, she was first known as Summer Starlight, but eventually it seemed more appropriate to change the name of the “Eldest of the Elders” to Winter Woodsong.

Certain locations within the Land of Een also went through some changes as I developed the story.

Below, you can see a concept sketch of the Elder Stone.

Elder Stone concept.

As shown by that drawing, there is a time when I thought the home of the Council of Elders should look more like a towering castle, with flags and ornamentation.

Eventually, I decided I wanted it to look more like a natural rock, as is shown in the final illustration:

The Elder Stone

The idea is that you might walk right past it and—unless you were really looking closely—you might not even notice it. Interestingly, I revisited the idea of the Elder Stone as an opulent castle in Books 4 and 5 of the series.

The Box of Whispers also established the Magic Curtain, which is the border that surrounds the Land of Een. In the original publication of the book, there was no overall map of Een, though you could see part of its border in this map from Professor Bumblebean’s notes:

Professor Bumblebean's map of Een

The idea of the Magic Curtain, this boundary that guards and hides Een from the outside world, came to play a major role in future Kendra Kandlestar books.

In the next post, I’ll discuss some of the inspirations for the visual design of the overall book.

Looking “Under the Egg” ~ a book review

Under the EggUnder the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m always on the lookout for middle-grade books that relate to the arts, partly because I just love stories about this subject, but also because I teach a creative writing class in which the students take inspiration from art history. This book is a perfect fit. It is compared to E.L. Konisburg’s The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer, and those comparisons are apt, though this book also reminded me of a wonderful book by Matt Chaming called The Medici Curse, since they both involve a painting beneath a painting.

I loved the setting in this book and the unlikely friendship that develops between Theo and Bodhi. In particular, I liked Theo’s character growth as she moves from being isolated and introverted to more open and worldly.

I did find the plot wraps up a bit too neatly by the end—but that is a minor complaint. There is much to recommend this book otherwise.

View all my reviews

Celebrating Children’s Literature in Vancouver

Reading Lights logo designed by Lee Edward Fodi

Next year, Vancouver will be celebrating children’s literature created by local writers with a series of plaques that will be displayed on lamp posts around the city. The project, called Reading Lights, is a new literacy initiative that will feature excerpts of stories and poems from published children’s literature, along with the associated illustrations. The 24” x 7” plaques will be permanent installations and will be placed near parks, playgrounds, schools, and libraries to spark spontaneous encounters with books from the province of British Columbia.

The project is starting with excerpts from picture books, and may expand to involve books for older readers in the future. I haven’t written any picture books, so I wasn’t able to apply for the project—but I did design the logo. (Not my best work, but I had to basically do it squeezed between trips to Korea and Thailand this year!)

In any case, the picture book authors to be featured have now all been chosen. I’m thrilled that many of them are my friends and colleagues. The full list of chosen authors is below, and we should start seeing the plaques pop up next year!

To get an idea of what Reading Lights will be like, check out this similar project in Vancouver called Literary Landmarks.

2015 READING LIGHTS SELECTED BOOKS  

Norman, Speak
Written by Caroline Adderson 
Illustrated by Qin Leng
Groundwood Books

Stanley At Sea
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where Have You Been?
Written by Dan Bar-el
Illustrated by Rae Mate
Simply Read Books

Crocodiles Play!
Written by Robert Heidbreider
Illustrated by Rae Mate
Tradewind  Books

Spark
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Genevieve Cote
Simply Read Books

Watch me Grow!: A Down-to-Earth Look at Growing Food in the City.
Written by Deborah Hodge
Photographed by Brian Harris
Kids Can Press

I Heard My Mother Call My Name
Written by Nancy Hundal
Illustrated by Laura Hernandez
Harper Collins

The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle.
Written by Jude Isabella
Illustrated by Simone Shin
Kids Can Press

Emma And The Silk Train
Written by Julie Lawson
Illustrated by Paul Mombourquette
Kids Can Press

Ankylosaur Attack
Written by Daniel Loxton
Illustated by Daniel Loxton and Jim W.W. Smith
Kids Can Press

School Days Around the World
Written by Margriet Ruurs 
Illustrated by Alice Feagan
Kids Can Press

Abby’s Birds
Written by Ellen Schwartz
Illustrated by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin
Tradewind Books

If … A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers
Written by David Smith
Illustrated by Steve Adams
Kids Can Press

Binky The Space Cat
Written and illustrated by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press

Teatime
Written by Tiffany Stone
Illustrated by Jori van der Linde
Simply Read Books

Grumpy Bird 
Written and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard 
Scholastic

Suki’s Kimono
Written by Chieri Uegaki
Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Kids Can Press

Little You
Written by Richard Van Camp
Illlustrated by Julie Flett
Orca Books

How To Build Your Own Country
Written by Valerie Wyatt
Illustrated by Fred Rix
Kids Can Press

 

Introducing Paipo Plumpuddle

In my continuing celebration of the release of my new book, Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen, I am profiling some of the new characters. Last week, I introduced Tuttleferd T. Thistle Toe. This week, it’s yet another animal character: Paipo Plumpuddle.

Paipo Plumpuddle

Who she is:

Paipo Plumpuddle is a young Een rabbit who lives in the Land of Een and is a member of the underground resistance movement known as the Knights of Winter. You see, in this final installment of the Kendra Kandlestar series, all animals have been enslaved by the would-be emperor, Burdock Brown. As a member of the Knights of Winter, Paipo leads many secret missions to disrupt Burdock’s rule. Especially, she is involved in rescuing many of the Een animals who have been thrown into Burdock’s prisons.

Paipo is young and small, but known for her courage. She is also the great-niece of another famous Een animal, Luka Long-Ears.

Where she came from:
For The Search for Arazeen I did something I rarely do—and that’s specifically base characters on real people I know. I figured it would be a way to honor some of the people who have helped me with the Kendra Kandlestar series. Paipo is based on a bookseller named Paige from A Good Book Café in Sumner, Washington.

I only ever came to know Paige because of her love of the Kendra Kandlestar series. A few years ago, when I was midway through the series, Paige began corresponding with me and then I eventually appeared at the bookstore where she works. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves. Not Paige—she wears it on her skin. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Paige got a tattoo of her favorite character, Oki:

Oki Tattoo

Yes, that’s real! Well, I think if someone is going to get a tattoo based on your books, then you pretty much have to base a character on them.

The name for Paipo Plumpuddle also came from Paige. You see, I have this handy form on my website that I give to kids so they can make up their own Een name (you can download it here). Paige completed the form and came up with Paipo Plumpuddle. So, after hearing that, it was just a matter of trying to figure out what role a character with such a name would play in The Search for Arazeen. I decided that Paipo needed to be someone who was important! Her page time may be short, but there’s no doubt that she is a significant character . . . especially at the very (and I mean VERY) end of the book.

Kendra Kandlestar and the Search for Arazeen

Rejoicing in Reading at the Kids’ Lit Quiz

kidslitquiz_logoOne of my best experiences of 2015 so far was participating in the Kids Lit Quiz.

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is an annual reading competition for children aged ten to thirteen. It’s an international competition, with students from New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Canada, the US, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Australia participating. The winning teams qualify for national and world finals!

The tournament I attended was for Western Canada, so the winning team went on to Toronto to compete for the national title. The Western Canada tournament was held at Little Flower Academy on a Friday afternoon on January 23rd. I was part of the author team. We weren’t allowed to win, but we competed just for fun and to help provide entertainment and support for the students who were playing for keeps.

Our author team was dubbed The Quizzards of Oz and consisted of myself, Kallie George, Tanya Lloyd Kyi, and Stacey Matson.

Here we are before the three-hour tournament:

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Personally, I was pretty nervous about questions regarding vampire romances or young adult dystopian novels, but we ended up scoring a respectable 92.5 out of a 100. There were ten rounds of ten, with categories such as “Giants,” “Harry Potter,” “Book Knowledge,” “Classics”, “Comics”, and “The Last” (all about the last parts of books or series).

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The Western Canada tournament, like all the tournaments in the world, was managed by quiz master Wayne Mills, who had travelled all the way from New Zealand to Vancouver the day before. Despite inevitable jetlag, he delivered the questions with charm and humor. Here he is with Stacey Matson. You have to love his hat!

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The winner of the Western Canada heat, from Southbridge Elementary, won a very cool trophy. But there was plenty of swag to go round—every team came away with a stack of books.

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It was such fun to see the kids competing. They took it SO seriously, and it was a joy to see them embrace literature.

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is not for profit and run entirely by volunteers. You can find out more at www.kidslitquiz.com.