School visits, author residencies, and writing workshops

Hard to believe the new school year is already here!

I had a very busy—and fun—2021-2022 season as an author, visiting schools, libraries, and learning institutes in Canada, USA, and Korea. Many were done virtually, but I also was thankful to see a return to in-person workshops (especially in Korea!). Many of my workshops were built off the release of my latest middle-grade book, Spell Sweeper—which meant a focus on magic potions, mysterious monsters, enchanted pets, and spell-binding shopping trips!

If I had an official resume, it would read like this for 2021-2022 . . .

  • World Read Aloud Day (virtual readings for schools across the US and Canada)
  • Canadian Children’s Book Week Tour (virtual workshops for schools in Alberta and Ontario)
  • Several in-person workshops for libraries and learning institutes in Korea
  • Several virtual author presentations for schools and libraries in Canada, in which I rolled out my trademark interactive brainstorming sessions

Writer/Artist-in-residencies for:

  • Vancouver School Board gifted learning program
  • Star of the Sea School, Grade 5
  • Kamloops School of the Arts (grades 8-12)
  • Hume Home Learning school (K-8)

I delivered activities for The Imagine in the Park festival in Hamilton, Ontario, and I even led events for adults, delivering presentations for CANSCAIP, The Writers’ Union of Canada, and WriteOnCon.

What magic will this school year hold? I’m prepping for my scheduled creative writing classes, writer-in-residencies, and school visits now, but you can still book me for an in-person or virtual author visit! Just visit my website.

Cherishing our family stories

Today, I received a package from Quilchena School in Vancouver where I did a (virtual) writer-in-residency on the theme of family and cultural stories. 

Over the course of several weeks, the students, teacher Kelly Enns, and I explored family connections through personal memories, heirlooms, old photographs, and legends passed down through the generations. We spoke of different family situations, what makes a family, and the different cultures that have contributed to our lives. Kelly is Japanese Canadian and could speak a lot about her family’s experiences during the internment of World War II. I was able to speak about how my wife and I adopted our son internationally, and what it means to embrace and incorporate a new culture into our daily lives. And, of course, the students had many stories to share.

Along the way, we produced many different writing pieces. We wrote poems or descriptive paragraphs about an item or moment in our lives. We wrote short stories inspired by family legends, and even imagined our family homes telling a story about us.

I loved seeing all of the heirlooms and photographs that the children showed me; some of them very old and beautiful, coming from all corners of the world. Along the way, I showed some of my own family heirlooms and photos. 

It’s not always easy to know what kind of impact you leave as a visiting author, but it’s even more difficult in this age when everything is online. So, I am extremely touched that the teacher prepared this book of writing and artwork! I will cherish it always.

The students drew many pictures of how they connected with me. There are a lot of drawings of the characters from my books: Kendra Kandlestar, Tug the skyger, Fidget, Ozzie . . . plus many pictures of brooms, since I talked to them a lot about my forthcoming book, Spell Sweeper, and how a large part of it was inspired by my grandfather handmaking his own brooms.

You will also notice many pictures of chickens. Students are always amused to hear the stories of me being attacked by the rooster when I was a kid! So, in short, it seems that when kids think of me it goes like this: flying tigers, chickens, and brooms. Seems about right!

Exploring all the nooks and crannies

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Whew! Yesterday, I wrapped up my last school visit of the year. While I still have some camps and conferences coming up in the summer, I get a little break in my schedule.

It was one of my most hectic seasons in recent memory and, as I reflect, I’m very thankful that I have been given the opportunity to work with so many kids and to explore so many different parts of the world—both close to home and afar—that I may not otherwise visit.

In my home province of British Columbia, I worked as a writer-in-residence at schools in Sechelt and in Surrey, and as an artist-in-residence in Coquitlam—where we built a hatchery’s worth of dragon eggs.

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I visited many schools in my home city of Vancouver, including one where many of the students dressed up as Kendra Kandlestar . . . check out all those braids!

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At another school in West Vancouver, the classroom produced an entire “EENcyclopedia” board and booklet, build off the characters, creatures, and settings in the Kendra Kandlestar books.

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I also participated in two separate school tours this spring. The first took place in the central Okanagan Valley, with schools in Kelowna and West Kelowna. It was nine schools and a bookstore in one week! The second tour was built around my appearance at the the Vancouver Island Children’s Bookfest, which entailed visiting many different schools in the city of Nanaimo and its neighboring communities. During that trip, I was taken to the hidden gem known as Protection Island.

There are no stores or businesses on the island, except for a pub situated on the docks. I had never even heard of the island and, if not for the festival, probably never would have. It is a charming place . . . sort of reminding me of Tom Sawyer’s Island. In particular, I loved seeing the heron nesting site.

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Recently, I was also given the opportunity to present at the school in Stewart, BC. This is a very remote community on the border of the Alaskan panhandle. It’s small—in fact, I’ve presented at schools that have more people than the entire town of Stewart. But it is a gorgeous place. Getting there involved a 1.5-hour flight, followed by a four-hour drive through beautiful scenery. It was during this trip that I got to see my very first glacier.

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A big highlight of the fall was presenting at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. This is an event of rare characteristic. Where else do you get to hang out for three solid days with so many creative people in the same hotel. A sort of culture sinks into that place. It’s exhilarating and exhausting all at once. Especially, when they introduce costume events . . . because I’m just not the sort of person who can mail it in!

Here’s a photo of myself and my buddy, kc dyer, as steampunk fairytale characters!

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As for out-of-province, I had the opportunity to speak at the Package Your Imagination conference in Toronto, which also involved doing some library visits, including at the beautiful and historic Wychwood Library. That’s my bag and coat sitting on the ledge in the photo. And, of course, in the bag, is one of my dragon eggs. In retrospect, I can’t believe I left it that far out of reach—even for a moment!

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And here’s me doing actual work at the conference itself, where I discussed world-building for the middle-grade novel:

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I also had the opportunity to teach a creative writing camp with my wife, Marcie Nestman, in Korea just after Christmas. One of our favorite moments was waking up on New Year’s Day in Seoul and going to explore the Bongeunsa Buddhist Temple, which was only a few minutes’ walk from our hotel. It was a very spiritual way to begin the year.

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I really want to thank all the people who hosted me: the teacher-librarians, the public librarians, the classroom teachers, the festival and conference organizers, the billets, the volunteers, . . . wow! Without all of you, I’d never get anything done. And, also, there are the PACs and the Canadian Council for the Arts that helps to fund all of these endeavors. I really hope I could help inspire and invigorate our children this past year.

Now, for a bit of R&R before it all starts up again in September!

 

Exploring the Hero’s Gallery

Last year, I spent a day a week from November to December working with a class at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary to help the kids contemplate, design, and illustrate heroes, setting them up for a project to write a story starring those characters.

I returned to the school last week to see the “Hero Gallery” that was put on display throughout the school. Each display consisted of a poster board that showed the process of creation and some of the different elements that went into creating the characters. I loved the fact that the project celebrated the process—not just the polished, finished work, but the messy sketches and brainstorming. In addition, it was great to see the swatch of a hero’s cape or the key that a brazen character might use to unlock the door to adventure.

It was so much fun to see the kids, who all leapt from their seats and came flooding over to see me. I felt very much missed (and loved).

I took countless photos of the exhibit, but here’s just a smattering . . .

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Captain Four Face and the Attack of the Giant Robot . . . and other stories

I received a delightful package in the post yesterday—a thank you book from a school I visited in the spring. The cover shows some photos of the workshop I did with the Grade One class at Mulgrave School. My workshop started off with a presentation on how I develop my own inspiration, specifically the Land of Een in my Kendra Kandlestar series. I then led the students in an interactive world-building activity that could set up each of the students up for a story.

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And, on the inside were many wonderful stories written by the students, complete with title page. Just check out some of the interesting titles and artwork:

mulgrave2015_captain4face mulgrave2015_wasie&wolf mulgrave2015_soccergame mulgrave2015_bear&jewel mulgrave2015_mouse&queen mulgrave2015_theninja&badguys mulgrave2015_itch mulgrave2015_knightVSdragon mulgrave2015_dragonwars mulgrave2015_lion&theman mulgrave2015_magiccrystal

I don’t always get to see what the results of my inspirational activities are at a school, so it’s a real joy to receive this anthology of wonder!