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Truro News - 2021-11-25

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‘How To Wash A Wooly Mammoth’

Literacy

HARRY SULLIVAN TRURO NEWS harry.sullivan @saltwire.com

Children’s author Michelle Robinson laughs gleefully as she reaches down to fetch a copy of HOW TO WASH A WOOLY MAMMOTH from a book shelf. “So that’s one of my most popular books,” she says, as she relays how the idea was born. “And that was inspired by me spotting the mastodon on top of Mastadon Ridge. So, I wrote that one here,” she says, with a childlike twinkle in her eyes. That book is published in more than 30 languages. Another one inspired in Nova Scotia that attracted global attention, A Beginner’s guide to Bearspotting, came to life after receiving conflicting advice from family and friends on how to act to avoid bears. Robinson is a prolific, well-published, funny and fun-loving author of more than 40 children’s books who recently moved with her family from Somerset, England to the village of Tatamagouche, on Nova Scotia’s north shore. “We have so much more space around us here. Back in England, everything’s so built up,” says Robinson, who immigrated in late August with her husband Andrew and their two children, Arthur, 12, and, Heidi, 9. “It’s just wonderful to come somewhere where you can know everybody. That’s a really nice thing, to not be surrounded by other people to such a degree that no one’s got any space,” she says. “And there’s just so much sky because there’s not a lot of high-rises here.” Robinson also finds the Nova Scotia air “fresher” and is pleased that “everywhere isn’t paved over.” “Back home we had to walk 20 minutes just to find mud,” she says, with her easy laugh. Robinson grew up listening to her father read and tell stories and says she knew at an early age that was the path she wanted to follow. “Even before I started school, I knew I wanted to write, so I used to fill notepads with squiggly lines.” She struck her first publishing deal in 2008 with Penguin Random House in the United States - although the process took four years before the book was finally printed. But she hasn’t looked back and now has 41 books to her name, with international sales in various countries and multiple languages. “And I’ve built up a big following at home,” she said. “I’m doing very, very well in the U.K., which is lovely.” Robinson’s books are filled with brightly coloured pictures and have neat titles such as: Do Not Mess With the Mermaids; When Cucumber Lost His Cool; Grandma From Mars; When Jelly Had Wobble; Ten Fat Sausages, ODD SOCKS, and so on. While Michelle says she would never write about actual events or people in her books, she does sometimes discover a bit of herself in the subject matter. “It’s strange how sometimes when you are creating, you put real life into what you are doing without realizing it,” she said. Robinson also loves to visit schools or otherwise entertain children by reading her stories to them, while dressing up in her dinosaur, sausage and banana costumes and acting out some of her characters. She cracks up when talking about the reaction from children when she mentions her inability to produce flatulence. “Kids love that,” she laughs. “Kids go nuts for that.” Although newly installed as Tatamagouche residents, Robinson and her family have been coming here for years to visit her husband’s parents in nearby Brule. She said they have wanted to move here for some time and had submitted their visa application for residency in 2019 “just before the world went mad with COVID.” “It’s a lovely place. We’ve always felt so at home here and wanted to stay here and become a part of the community and not just, you know, duck in on holidays.” Fortunately, their approval came through just two months before their visa expired. Now settled into the former Bonnyman House they purchased on Main Street, Robinson said the approximately 4,000 sq. ft. home is about four times the size of their former home in England. Although she loves the space, woodwork and other aspects of the century-plus-old house, Robinson says she is a bit nervous about lighting the fireplace. “It just feels odd to me. I come from a land of bricks and mortar, and the thought of lighting a fire in a wooden house, it just feels odd. I just feel weird (trying) to get my head around that one, but I will because I’ll be cold,” she laughs. And while the prospect of the oncoming winter is a bit “intimidating” at the moment, Robinson says she is also “sort of” looking forward to it. “I just want to make sure we’re prepared so, that, you know, I don’t feel too kind of blindsided by a sudden dump of snow and not know what on earth to do with it.” Nonetheless, she is maintaining an optimistic outlook. “We’ll get our heads around it. And everyone here knows what they’re doing, so we’ll figure it out.” Robinson recently read to local children for an event outside the Creamery Square museum and says she is hoping to get back to doing more of that, eventually conducting school visitations across the province after COVID restrictions are more relaxed. While her current priorities are centred on getting all the remaining boxes unpacked and ensuring her children are properly settled, Robinson says she is also looking forward to spending more time writing. “I’ve got to try and find a way of establishing myself here,” she says, of her future clientele. She is also considering the prospect of conducting some writing or mentoring workshops. “Be helpful, that’s what I’m trying to figure out, is how I can be useful and fit into the community and do good things,” she says. Neighbour Beth Carruthers, who volunteers at the Creamery Square museum, served as the heroine of the day when she introduced Robinson to an audience of waiting children. “She was just delightful,” Carruthers says. “She reads with such animation. She was in costume and the children were all sitting on the stage listening, it was just wonderful.” Carruthers describes Robinson as “a brilliant writer” whose books are “very funny and clever”. “I’m absolutely delighted to have such a wonderful young family moved into Tatamagouche,” Carruthers says. “They’re a delightful family and it’s just wonderful to have them. And I’m the lucky one who lives next door.” Gazing out her second-floor window overlooking the bay from her small workspace area at the top of a narrow set of stairs, Robinson is feeling rather fortunate herself these days. But never so much as when she is bringing smiles to the faces of children. “I’m very lucky. I have the best job in the world, I absolutely love it. And, you know, I wouldn’t be very good at anything else,” she says, laughing yet again. “Kids deserve to have fun. And even if you can just give them five minutes of it, it’s worth it.”

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