Our magical creature camp in Korea

Our magical creature camp in Korea

I’m just catching up on organizing photos after our whirlwind trip to Korea and Japan this past summer—which means I’m finally getting around to blogging about the Magical Creatures creative writing camp that I taught along with my actor/playwright wife Marcie Nestman and fellow children’s author Kallie George.

Marcie and I are used to spending time in Asia—personally, I’ve been there over thirty times, most of it to teach creative writing camps or workshops. What WAS new this time was that we took our one-year-old son, Hiro, with us. So, seasoned travelers that we are, we had a very different type of adventure!

A magical theme

Since Kallie and I both recently released books featuring magical creatures—Kallie’s Wings of Olympus and my The Secret of Zoone—we thought that would make the best theme for our camp.

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Of course, there are plenty of books and films featuring magical creatures, so this was a great way to connect with and inspire our students.

 

The magical menagerie art exhibit

In The Secret of Zoone, one of the characters references the “Multiversal Menagerie,” an art exhibit featuring paintings of different creatures from across the multiverse. I thought I would take a cue from that and have my students do a creative writing project in which they produced artwork of a creature then wrote the information card that goes with it.

You see, I have this belief that not every writing assignment has to be a proper story. I worry that my students get so focused on plot, that they forget other elements of writing—such as description, setting, character development and BEING CREATIVE. I call this “plot paralysis” because students get so caught up in that ONE part of writing that they start ignoring everything else.

Projects like the multiverses menagerie are meant to help the students wriggle free of the shackles of plot and just have fun.

Our project started with brainstorming creatures  . . .

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Afterwards, the students turned their attention to final artwork. Some students chose to draw, some students chose to sculpt, and others chose to do both.

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The Eye of the Dragon

Another project I rolled out at camp involved writing a scene in which a character finds or steals a magical gem that gives that character the power of connecting with a creature. The students got to choose the aspect of that connection—it could be transforming into the creature, controlling it, or even seeing through its eyes.

Step one, however, was painting the gem of power!

I really love this project because it is relatively simple, but produces stunning results. In fact, many of my students end up wearing their jewelry afterwards (it’s easy enough to glue the gems to a metal ring or amulet).

The gems themselves are glass cabochons, which you can get in different shapes (such as oval or round) and the paint is simple nail polish. This project is very forgiving—even those students who don’t consider themselves artistic can create abstract designs. Also, if you make a mistake, a little nail polish remover helps you start over!

Here are some of the gorgeous designs produced by my students:

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The magical market

We delivered many other projects at the camp, but there is one other event I wanted to blog about—and that is our magical market night. Our camps our long—often six or seven days, and we find we need some sort of event in the middle to help break it up and provide a “boost.”

We usually host a tournament or some other team-building exercises; this time, Marcie had the brilliant idea of putting on a magical market. This was brilliant for a few reasons—not the least of which was that we could do it outdoors and avoid the intense summer heat and humidity. Also, we corralled our older students into coming up with the ideas for the stalls, and then running them during the event itself.

So, we ended up having all sorts of fun stations consisting of games, face painting, fortune telling, and—my favorite—food! We invented a new fizzy drink by combining soda water and pop rocks and also had glow-in-the-dark cotton candy. We gave the students fake jewels to use as currency, so they got to stroll our market and decide how to spend their loot.

Marcie had led a project in which the students designed their own lanterns for a made-up magical creature holiday, so we already had some decorations ready to go.

It was a HUGE success!

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It’s a big world out there . . .

Last week, I taught a creative writing camp for the Creative Writing for Children Society on the theme of “Secret Worlds” with author Kallie George. We’ve both written books that involved secret settings, so it was a perfect fit for us to teach. In particular, we decided to focus the topics on characters who get miniaturized and have to survive in what is now a giant world.

We began by having the kids construct miniature peg figures and writing a short poem about being small. This was a great exercise because these peg figures served to be their scale models for the week. They never had to remember how big their characters were—they were right in front of them!

 

After this project, the students began writing stories about characters who discover a shrink ray machine and accidentally (or in some case, purposely!) get shrunk down. To help with this part, we built shrink ray props. So, now, everyone in the class had a miniaturized figure and a shrink ray gun. The kids were off to the races, writing their stories.

 

The next step was to have the students imagine a single room in the house as an epic landscape that their miniaturized characters had to cross. So, for example, a pile of dirty laundry became Mount Clothes, and that sort of thing. This was a fun way to get them to think about perspective.

Then, as the characters crossed this landscape we introduced the problem of an attack by a creature. The kids picked critters from a bag, receiving things such as spiders, cockroaches, and centipedes (these were plastic critters, of course, but there was still much screaming). We then had the students pick items from a second bag, and these were things that their characters might find on the floor and use to survive the creature. I call that particular workshop “Big Problem, Small Solution.”

Here are some photos of their brainstorming sheets, which the students used to figure out their plan of attacks against their critters.

 

As you can see by the photos,  items the characters had at their disposal included stamps, toothpicks, birthday candles, bottle camps, spools, and miniature cocktail decorations! The result was a lot of fun solutions.

A second major  project we had the students do at the camp was to take all their props and produce a short script and storyboard for a four-minute movie about how they themselves got shrunk down at camp and had to survive. They loved this creative process and, of course, they all had props ready to go.