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.

librarytour2018_yongin_library

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).

librarytour2018_yongin_lef_signingsheet

librarytour2018_yongin_dan_signing

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!”)

librarytour2018_songpa-staceylibrarytour2018_songpa-danlibrarytour2018_songpa-authors-q&a

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.

librarytour2018_songpa-book_questions

librarytour2018_songpa-lefdiscussing

By the way, this library had the best bathroom I’ve ever visited. Just check out this urinal:

librarytour2018_songpa-urinal

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

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Exploring Vietnam ~ Day 2: how to avoid scooters, buses, taxis, and tuk tuks

Exploring Vietnam ~ Day 2: how to avoid scooters, buses, taxis, and tuk tuks

My wife and I continue to explore the city of Hanoi as part of our “inspircation”—a vacation that involves research and world-building inspiration.

In particular, I’ve come to Vietnam to gather ideas for an upcoming book in my writing schedule (part of the new Zoone series that I’m working on with HarperCollins).

The day did not disappoint, as I found plenty of inspiration . . .

We began our itinerary by venturing out into the spiderweb of streets radiating out from our hotel. Nothing makes you feel as alive as navigating the whirling, buzzing, roaring streets of Hanoi. Back home, I see people crossing the busiest of intersections with their noses firmly planted in their phones, but such habits would lead to certain injury here!

The sidewalks are a maze of people socializing, cooking, selling wares, entreating you for your custom. It’s also not uncommon to suddenly hear a scooter humming from behind you! The paving stones are often uneven and broken. At one point, a car turned into an alley and struck a block of stone fallen away from the sidewalk. The driver did not discern what was going on, so kept pressing the accelerator—only to have the wedge-shaped stone suddenly spit out across the alley like the payload of some ancient catapult. This created quite a stir amongst the onlookers!

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There is always something different to see here. At one moment, you happen upon the most derelict door . . . the next a French Colonial building, painted in bright colours and sharp trim. Then, suddenly, a beautiful tree has insinuated itself into the architecture, its roots and vines twisting upwards through electrical cables.

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The collision of past and present is very apparent here. The scooters weave in and out, but it’s not uncommon to see the riders wearing nón lá (traditional Vietnamese hats), or to suddenly espy a woman wandering along, carrying a quang ganh (two baskets on either end of a bamboo stick).

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So many sights, smells and sounds. Especially sounds. The cacophony of the traffic noise is relentless. Honking is a way of life here. I have fantasies of discovering a shop that specializes entirely in installing, enhancing, and fixing car horns.

Yet . . . these are all things I love about this city. You certainly feel alive. Some people like to go for a beach holiday, but to me, nothing makes me feel more present and clear than exploring a city like this.

In just one day, we’ve become pretty adept at crossing the streets here, drawing on our previous practice in Bangkok. The trick is timing the scooters, cars, tuk tuks, and buses—all coming straight at you at different speeds and angles, and often swerving as they approach.

I should add that most intersections don’t have lights. The ones that do are a bit more manageable, but the ones that don’t—there’s some mystery at play here as to how the drivers and riders on the different intersecting routes sort themselves out. As a pedestrian, there is no opportune moment to cross—you just have to go for it. The key, is never stop moving. You stop, you juke, you jag . . . you’re probably done for.

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Eventually, we did require a break from the din, so we ducked inside the palatial gardens of the National Library of Vietnam. The library was originally founded by the French Colonial government, and it shows in the very European layout of the place. It was amazing to take a few steps off the street and suddenly find ourselves in a place where the traffic was muted and the birds were squawking.

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The library itself featured many old texts and newspapers, many of them in French.

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After the library, we found our way to the Museum of History. We purchased our tickets for a humble fee of 40,000 dong (less than 2 US dollars) and began exploring the gardens. There were many statues here, interspersed with beautiful bonsai-type trees.

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The trees gave me unexpected inspiration for a different world I’m building for Zoone, but I was most intrigued by the statues . . .

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That last one is a mythical tiger. Mythical, I suppose, because of that mischievous grin!

After we had our fill of the gardens, we went inside the museum itself. The museum covers the history of Vietnam from the prehistoric age, through the middle ages of repelling Chinese incursions, to French Colonization.

A couple pieces in particular caught our eye . . .

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This pair of whips jumped out at me (once again, for world-building purposes):

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One is made of bones, the other a manta ray tail.

After a quick lunch, we back-tracked through the city to the Women’s Museum. This is a unique exhibit chronicling the contribution of women in all aspects of Vietnamese society—from child-rearing, textiles, food preparation, agriculture, and even war.  There’s a different floor to cover each aspect.

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The museum is designed around a central installation of these beautifully decorated nón lá:

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I found a lot of unexpected inspiration here—unexpected because so many of the traditions and customs had been previously unfamiliar to me and they really helped me consider some angles for the world I’m building. In particular, I was quite interested to learn that many of the ethnic groups within Vietnam employed a matriarchal approach. So, instead of the woman going to live with the husband’s family, the reverse was the case.

Marcie and I were very captivated by the floor dedicated to women’s involvement in the Vietnam War. They were truly instrumental in that conflict; their strength, determination, and zeal really comes across in the exhibit.

The museum is very modern, incorporating a lot of multimedia, but, for me, I’m always the most attracted to the physical items. Here are some of my favourites that caught my eye . . .

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After the museums, we were pretty tuckered out, so we slogged back to our hotel and arranged traditional Vietnamese massages.

We’ve made arrangements for a tour of Halong Bay towards the end of the week—as for tomorrow, we’ve left it wide open for more exploration and discovery.

 

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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Steampunking books for the Summer Reading Club

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I just wrapped up a busy summer of book-building workshops at local libraries, which was all a part of my role as official illustrator for the BC Library Association’s summer reading club.

My illustrations for the program featured a steampunk book, which I call a “portal passport.”sensa book a trip blk

As soon as I drew the book, I knew I would end up building a version of it, which I did back in the spring. It turned out pretty well, with a spinning dial, a rotating bulb, and a button that can be pushed:

steampunkbook-front

When local libraries started contacting me and asking if I would come in to do workshops, I decided I wanted to roll up my sleeves and do some prop building workshops. I knew this would be an ambitious project, because it’s one thing to putter away at a prop for a couple of weeks—it’s quite another to help twenty kids build one in the space of an hour!

So, I designed a less-intensive model as a test:

greensteampunkbook

After this prototype, I decided the project would be achievable, and the libraries agreed—as long as I could keep the costs within their limited budgets.

So, it was just a matter of collecting supplies. As it turned out, I could only get a limited quantity of the books I had used for both of my prototypes. So I had to source another style of book. I eventually ended up with ones that were a little more “glitzy,” but I think the kids liked them better this way.

I spent many weeks collecting gears, jewels, and “greebles”—household objects such as caps and soda pop lids, which I then spray-painted black. I also purchased many of the pieces from a  great store on Main Street in Vancouver called Urban Source, which sells reclaimed and recycled household objects. You can fill up a paper bag of goodies for under ten bucks!

greebles

 

I thought I was well prepared for this endeavor. I had all my supplies partitioned out into individual plastic containers. I had white glue, hot glue, pins, tacks, brads, beads, wires, gears, and gems. I had a plan: maximum twenty-five students, minimum age 8 years old, and no one gets to use hot glue or pins except for me.

gears

greebles in a bucket

beads

bookatrip_strawberryhill_supplies

Then, during the first event, 30 kids showed up, and many of them six years old. I’m terrible at being a bad guy, so I let everyone participate. As it turned out, I ended up running an hour over time.

I re-jigged my plan slightly, and then made sure to get help. Thankfully, because it’s summer time, my goddaughter Charlotte and some of my long-term creative writing kids are all on break from school, so they agreed to help me with the construction process. Between them and my wife, Marcie, I did most of my events with a helper and we got the constructing process down to a fine art!

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One of the challenging things about such a project is keeping all the kids occupied. Let’s face it, kids aren’t exactly known for patience, especially when they are anxious to have all the goodies on their books pinned and hot-glued. I had the kids do some drawing if they were waiting and feeling impatient. There are many animal characters I illustrated for the summer reading club, so I had the kids design an additional animal hero—and a villain to menace them along the way! This kept most of the kids occupied.

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characters

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Marcie became known as “glue girl” to the kids, and was even immortalized in one little girl’s drawing!

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Well, this workshop turned out to be a resounding success. Over 150 kids ended up with little notebooks that are all steampunked up and are ready for recording thoughts, dreams, doodles, and stories.

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The other thing I had to do during these sessions (which hadn’t occurred to me at first) was to sign posters and books. Or course, no author or illustrator ever really complains about that, but I had just forgotten to leave time for it!

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I think one of the most fun aspects of this project for me was seeing all the different displays around the libraries, promoting the summer reading club. In many cases, my artwork was reproduced and blown up, or someone redrew their own versions of the characters. I loved seeing these displays!

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Of course, I can’t post all the pictures . . . so I post a sampler below from all the different kids who participated in libraries in the communities of Surrey and Burnaby.

Thank you to all the libraries who hosted me and my assistants: Marcie, Charlotte, Jamie, and Chelsea. And thank you to Michelle Andrus from the Surrey Library for letting me use her photo in this post (all the artistic, high quality ones are hers).

 

Poster illustration for the BC Summer Reading Club

I’m nearing completion of my project for the BC library system’s 2016 summer reading club. I’ve completed most of the individual illustrations and have now cobbled them together to complete one overall composition for the poster.

bcsrc-poster_illustration_2016

The graphic designer will be choosing the font and adding in the text and other required elements. I layered the composition in Photoshop so that individual elements can be nudged here and there to help accommodate the text.

I can’t wait to see the final, printed version!

I’m still fine-tuning some of the individual illustrations. I had a request to show the portal passport vehicle transform into a balloon, so here’s my current rendition:

balloon_multicoloredpages

 

Critters abroad

Here’s another series of illustrations that are a part of the project I’m doing for the BC Library’s 2016 summer reading club.

I’ve shown our crew of critters travelling through different environments in their “portal passport” (which you can check out here). Those drawings are obviously focused on the vehicle. This next set is focused on the critter crew.

Since the theme of the project is “Book a Trip”, the aim is to show the characters in a series of settings that will convey the scope of their adventures without showing specific landmarks (like the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids of Giza, or the Great Wall of China). So I chose a variety of zones and plugged the characters into them.

I think my favorite is the travel bug in space!

tropicalisland_travelbugspace_travelbugflyingsquirrel_mountaindesert_polarbear

Designing characters for the BC Library’s Summer Reading Club ~ Round 5

I’ve been posting some of the artwork that I’ve been doing for the BC Summer Reading Club these past few weeks, but it’s now my work on the project is officially official.

So far, I’ve mostly been designing the look and feel of the characters that we are going to use for the material. Here’s the final versions of them—as you can see, we decided to go with a more “sketchy” look for the style of artwork:

Our pilot, the flying squirrel:

Flying Squirrel - sketchy color - pink clothes

Our navigator, the travel bug:

travelbug_sketchy

Our engineer: the polar bear:

polarbear_sketchy

I’ve also been working on the designs for the “portal passport”. My first attempt was a bit flat . . .

Portal Passport 01

So the team at the BC Library asked me to “up” the gadget factor, which I did:

portalpassport02

It’s by means of this book that the characters will take their travels. (The theme of the 2016 reading club is “Book a trip”.) I’m not sure if we’re going to use them, but I’ve sketched some (mis)adventures that the crew has in various locations around the world.

piranhaproblems-amazon

noodlenosh-shanghai

mummymishap-cairo

portraitpose-Paris

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