All the things worth worrying about—and the things that are not

secret_of_zoone_coverI’ve been a little anxious lately in advance of the release of my new book, The Secret of Zoone, worried about ALL THE THINGS. Will the book sell? What if it “fails?” This is my first book with a big New York house. What if this is my only shot, and I blow it?

Then, yesterday, I had an uplifting and grounding experience when I visited Meadowridge School to deliver a presentation and workshop.

First of all, there were so many joyful faces, so many kids dressed in beautiful, colorful clothes for Lunar New Year. One of these kids was a student who took my creative writing class last year. I can’t believe I bumped into her in such a giant school! She called me from down the hall, then came and hugged me. She was with her mom, who insisted that we take a photo together.

Afterward, I delivered my presentation and workshop to some pretty enthusiastic fans of Kendra Kandlestar. One girl came with her hair in Kendra’s seven braids and a boy came as Professor Bumblebean (and he talked like him throughout our workshop session, too!).

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It was pretty overwhelming to receive their outpouring of love for Kendra. Their joy as we workshopped together was palpable. We wrote “visual stories” and were having so much fun that I lost track of the time—and I guess they did, too, because we went right through recess (there’s no bells at the school).

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Then, as I was packing up all my dragon eggs and other magical items I had brought to inspire the crew, I noticed a book on display on the library bookshelf. It was a book written a few years ago by another student under my mentorship. It was so cool to see it so prominently featured there, and I thought how it must inspire all these other kids who come to visit the library.

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As I drove home, I contemplated, not for the first time, what it means to be a children’s author, and how strange it is to release something into the world that you then completely lose control of. These kids have a relationship with Kendra Kandlestar that transcends ALL THE THINGS. They could care less how many other kids have read it, how many copies it has sold, or if it was written a kajillion years ago.

I don’t know if these kids—or any kids—will love my new characters of Ozzie, and Tug, and Fidget in the way that these kids love Kendra, Oki, and Captain Jinx. But there will probably be a few. And that is humbling.

 

 

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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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In which a girl with pointed ears and crazy hair gets her own plaque

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Last year I received the exciting news that the first book in my Kendra Kandlestar series, The Box of Whispers, would be a part of the Reading Lights literacy initiative, in which plaques featuring children’s books by BC authors and illustrators  are installed on lamp posts near parks, playgrounds, schools, and libraries throughout the city of Vancouver. This week, the actual plaque was installed at Alma Park near 12th & Dunbar on the west side of the city.

The Reading Lights program represents an exciting collaboration between the Vancouver Public Library and the Children’s Writers and Illustrators of B.C. Society. The first set of twenty Reading Lights plaques were installed in January 2016 and another wave is set to come out in 2018.

Check out the official Reading Lights website, where you can view an interactive map of all the plaques installed for both Phase 1 and 2 of the project. You can even download the map to take with you as you go on a kid-lit hunt!

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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” . . .

Great middle-grade novels: for free or $.99

promographic

Kendra Kandlestar is participating in a promotion for middle-grade readers; where you can download a series of digital books either for 99 cents—or for free!

Just visit the blog of my colleague, Andrea Pearson for all the details:
http://andreapearsonbooks.blogspot.com/

The Multi-Author Middle-Grade Book Promotion starts January 4, 2016 and ends January 7, 2016.

As both an author and creative writing teacher for children, I’m pretty passionate about literacy. There have been many studies to prove the educational advantages of having a large home library (whether real or virtual).

So . . . here’s your chance to load up your child’s e-reader!

 

Magical lenses for a magical adventure

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At the CWC winter camp in Korea, I led a unit on creating interesting heroes. Part of that character-building activity is coming up with gadgets and tools for characters to use.

In an earlier workshop, the students made keys for their characters (to help spark the beginning of an adventure), so for this workshop I decided to have the kids work on a costume bit . . . a pair of goggles with special abilities.

If you think about it, there are a lot of books and films that make use of special lenses. In the Wizard of Oz, the characters have to wear glasses that will protect their eyes from the brilliance of the Emerald City (it turns out the lenses are green, so just add to the mystique of the city). In the Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians series, the characters (called oculators) use a variety of lenses with different powers. Even the new Star Wars movie has a character (Maz Kanata) who uses goggles to help her “see”. I also have a pair of goggles in my own Kendra Kandlestar series; the inventor character (Ratchet) has constructed something called “foggle goggles” to help him pilot his airship through the fog. Of course, the goggles don’t work (they keep . . . er, fogging up).

There are also many books that employ the device of a “seeing stone” to help characters look up on the world in a different way—these books include The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Coraline by Nail Gaiman, and Winterling by Sarah Prineas.

So, I bombarded my students with all of this inspiration, and had them design their own goggles by using a standard base and then adding switches, gears, levers . . . well, you name it! Here are some of their creations:

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Legends & Lore from the Land of Een

Legends & Lore - Kindle CoverThroughout the month of October, I was celebrating the ten-year-anniversary of my Kendra Kandlestar series. But what’s an anniversary without gifts? So what makes a good gift for such a momentous occasion?

How about a brand-new never-before-released Kendra Kandlestar book?

FOR FREE.

Yep! You can download “Legends & Lore from the Land of Een” for FREE from your favorite digital provider. Or, you can even download a PDF, directly from the Kendra Kandlestar website.

This book is a companion book to the series. It includes some favorite stories, myths, and tales from the Land of Een. A few fan-favorite characters pop up here and there, too. Most of the material comes from existing stories and notes, things that I had written to help build the world of Kendra Kandlestar, but couldn’t be included in the actual books. I’m glad there is finally a place for at least some of these stories.

This is especially for all those young readers who have kept sending in their letters asking for more Kendra Kandlestar, even after five books. Well, this gift is for you.