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.

 

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Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

Diving into our imaginations at Dragon Masters camp

I had the joy of starting off the new year in a fun way: by leading a “Dragon Masters” camp for tweens.

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The camp was hosted by the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC) and involved sculpting dragon scales, painting gemstones, drawing fantastical creatures, and—of course—writing about dragons, too!

One of the best aspects of this three-day camp is that I had only 15 students, which meant that we could really immerse ourselves in the activities and I had a lot of one-on-one time with each one of the kids. Many of them had worked with me in the past, so it was a fun way to reconnect with them.

“I Am” poetry

The first activity we worked on was a pair of point-of- view poems. Students brainstormed two characters, one a thief trying to steal something from a dragon’s lair, and the other a dragon who was being threatened by the theft. The students wrote one poem from each perspective.

To help with this activity, we sculpted our own dragon scales, prompting many of the students to choose this as the item that the thief would steal from the creature. Of course, the students had to come up with a reason for the theft and the response from the dragon.

One thing about sculpting, is that it’s good thinking time for writers! While the kids sculpted, they could work out some ideas for their writing. But, of course, the sculpting project in itself was a lot of fun.

Sculpting dragon scales

Here are some photos of the scales in progress. We started with plastic shapes cut from a soda bottle, then plastered them. Some students opted to sculpt ridges or shapes into their design; others decided to do a flat surface, leaving the detailing for the next phase.

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We actually had to let the scales dry overnight, but by the next morning they were ready for the students to add more detail by bejweling them (if they chose). By using acrylic gems, the students were able to add intricate detail and give their scales texture. By using the strips of acrylic gems (available at any dollar store), you can gain some uniformity, too.

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Afterwards, we painted the scales with mod podge, to help bind everything together.

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The last step was painting. I find that painting everything with a black base provides a rich undercoat; once this coat is dry, students can dry brush on a variety of metallic colors to help achieve that dragonish feel.

Of course, each student had a very specific idea for what their dragons looked like, or the type of environment they lived in, so their scales were design to match these concepts.

Here are a few of the completed projects:

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Developing a story

After the students had explored the point-of-view poems, I had them choose one of the points of view, either the dragon or the thief, and then develop that perspective into a longer, more conventional story.

The poems were more about capturing character emotion, but the story provided the students with an opportunity to flesh out a plot.

I led the students in some brainstorming exercises and provided them with some vocabulary words to help invigorate their stories. (Honestly, I’m tired of my students overusing the word “run” so we worked hard on developing a list of alternate ways to describe how characters such as dragons and thieves might move.)

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Gems of sorcery

One of the other projects that we worked on was painting glass cabochons to look like magical gems. The idea here was that these gems could be found in a dragon’s lair or a character could already be in possession of them and use them to train or communicate with a dragon.

The project is pretty simple; all you have to do is paint on the backside of the cabochons with fingernail paint. Abstract designs work well and are easy to do, though some of my students tried their hand at painting dragon eyes.

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Welcome to the Dragon Races

One of the challenges of teaching a camp is making sure students always have something to work on. Everyone creates at a different pace, and I like to have everyone work organically, which means instead of developing a checklist of projects that MUST be completed, I just have a cauldron of projects to choose from once we start getting close to the end.

For the final day of our camp, I brought in my own custom-made dragon eggs to inspire extra stories about dragon’s hatching.

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And, finally, for those students who had written, sculpted, and painted everything I had them finish off by imagining there was a dragon race coming up and had them illustrate posters.

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This turned out to be a really successful camp. I want to thank the organizers and my two assistants, Jamie and Chelsea, who helped the kids work on their art projects and did a lot of the clean up. Jamie and Chelsea have been students of mine in the past and it’s really gratifying to see them step into a different role.

Next step? We’ve collected all the students’ writing and drawings and we’ll be publishing them in a short anthology.