Snakes, crocodiles, and cats — mummified!

This fall, one of the classes I’m teaching for CWC is called “Picture Perfect,” a program in which the kids take inspiration from art history and write a series of pieces.

Our first project is to explore ancient Egypt and make mummies. Long ago, I was in Egypt and explored many temples and ancient sites up and down the Nile, so this period of history is quite dear to me. I was able to tell the students a lot of personal stories about my time in Egypt.


While I was in Egypt, I saw countless mummies: cats, crocs . . . you name it. So, as a fun inspiration for our first story in the class, we’re building mummies.

We started by making the clay figures and then let them dry for a week. Next, we began “embalming” them.

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This time, we tried something new: adding spices as part of the embalming process.


I kind of like how it leaves some of them looking a little weathered.

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Next week, we’ll add some adornments by adding some metallic paint.

For now, the students are working on stories that tell how their characters came to an end (in most cases, an untimely one) and then entered the Egyptian afterlife. They also are working with some Egyptian hieroglyphics to create cartouches for their characters. (A cartouche is a particular shape in Egyptian symbology that signifies the name of a pharaoh.)


Shiver me timbers! Pirate flags from the creative writing camp!

I’m still in the midst of teaching a creative writing camp on the theme of pirates in Korea. This theme is so rich with fuel, and we’ve been having  a wonderful time inspiring the students for their stories. One of my favourite activities is designing flags. After leading the students through the history of pirate flags, we had each of them design one for the ships in their stories.

Here’s just a few of the designs they came up with . . .

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Latest potions from the Dream Workshop


Here are some of the latest photos from the Dream Workshop I teach as part of the Creative Writing for Children (CWC) program.

My magic potions class is a great way to have the students add some conflict (or solutions!) into their stories and to help them experience the five senses. In this workshop, the students can visualize their potion, sniff it, hear it (because they always seem to fizz, crackle, and percolate), and even feel it as they stir it. The only thing I ask them to imagine is the taste (we don’t need anymore students turning into newts)!

Here are some photos of the potions during the brewing phase:

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After the brewing phase, we took a sample from each “cauldron” and distilled them into miniature bottles that the students then labeled. Here’s how they looked at the end:

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Dream Workshop Doors

As part of the creative writing class (called Dream Workshop) I teach for CWC, I deliver a lot of hands-on activities. That’s because, for me, writing isn’t just about the act at sitting at a computer, pounding my fingers against a keyboard. It’s also about sketching, mapping, diagramming, and building stuff.

I find building stuff really helps keep my creativity alive. So much the better when what I’m building actually connects to a story I’m trying to write. While building a model or a prop, my imagination becomes inflamed and those dingy corners of my mind begin to percolate with ideas.

One of my favorite activities to work on with my classes is door-building. I’m obsessed with doors and take a lot of photos of them as I travel around. But it’s also fun to build them in connection to a story. For the students, it helps them visualize their stories, which means they are better prepared to add description and detail into their scenes.

Here are some photos of my most recent class. As always, the students’ creativity surprises me! I can’t wait to see these doorways come alive in their stories.

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Mapping an adventure—and the plot for a story

I love maps. My own Kendra Kandlestar books certainly feature a few of them (you can check them out at There are also plenty of maps that I do in my sketchbooks just to help me plot out critical scenes or sections of my books. It’s an approach to writing that I try to bring into my author visits to schools—like today.

I spent the day at John G. Diefenbaker Elementary school as part of an outreach literacy program sponsored by the Richmond Children’s Arts Festival. While I did my monster design for the youngest group (the kindergarteners to Grade 2s) I decided to do the mapping activity for the rest of the student body.

It’s a fun activity, to be sure, but what I especially love about it is that it combines so many different aspects of writing, such as brainstorming, plotting, character development, and setting design.

It works like this . . .

I’m at the front of the class with an easel, where I design an adventure with ideas from the students in the audience. But the great part of this situation is that the students are also armed with paper and pencils so that they can design their own individual adventures, putting in their own unique ideas.

We start by drawing a stick-figure version of a main character in the bottom lefthand corner. Then, in the top righthand corner (so as far away as possible from the character), we draw an object that was stolen from that character. Then, it’s just a matter of getting the character to the object—but not without making said character deal with a whole slew of obstacles first!


I led two different sessions of this map making activity at Diefenbaker Elementary. During these two sessions, we certainly came up with some intriguing problems—and solutions. Not only did we have the ever-popular exploding volcanoes, deadly deserts, and spooky forests, but also giant sand worms, a trick trap door, and a school of chicken piranhas (don’t ask).

By the end of each sessions, the students ended up with basic plots that they could then transform into words or, as I like to call them, instant stories!

Below is a smattering of the maps that the students created. I know many of them are going to take their raw brainstorming and redraft them into more polished maps, but I love the energy of their initial output!

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Three drops of pixie juice, a goblin’s eye, and a sprinkle of heart’s desire

That’s just a typical recipe you might have heard called out in my Magic Potions class this weeekend.

This is actually the first time in months that I’ve led this workshop, and so there were a few new ingredients for my young would-be wizards. These included ogre boogers, troll snot, and goblin eyes. It was the eyes that turned out to be the most popular item; I guess my apprentices enjoyed how the giant orbs stared back up at them from their swirling mixtures. (Though, if you ask me, it turned out to be rather creepy.)

On the surface, this activity seems all splash and no substance, but it’s actually an excellent way to teach students about the five senses. As the apprentices concoct their potions, they record the sights, sounds, smells, and even the sense of touch they get from stirring and mixing. As for taste, well they need to IMAGINE that one. (I don’t need anyone turning into a toad on my watch!)

Two of my new ingredients, envy’s curse and heart’s desire, really add some crack, pop, and sizzle to the mixtures, so we got lots of fantastic sounds. And the smells? Well, they ranged from delicious and intoxicating to vile and disgusting!

Here’s some of the photos from the day, beginning with a potion-splattered table cloth and the slew of ingredients.


I think my parents have always felt that it’s not a real job unless you get your hands dirty. By this logic, wizardry is a real job—as proven by this young apprentice smeared with pixie juice.


Here’s a potion with a goblin eye floating in a thick mixture of basilisk blood and other strange ingredients.


This student concocted a strange swirling coffee-like brew. Stirring it with the feather from a winged horse adds a bit of extra charm.


The deep purple brew and the lime-green one (made with dragon tears) shown below feature a few feathers floating to the top. These are clippings from a winged horse, but I do want to emphasize that no magical creatures were harmed for this class (well, except . . . er, the goblins).



Mummy dust and burning acid . . . they make for some beautiful foam and fizz!



The potion below features some more clippings from a winged horse and some elf bones, which seem to float to the top of the brew. (I’m told the bones come from previously deceased elves, so no elves were harmed for the express purpose of this class).


More potions featuring goblin eyes.