WordPlay kicks off 20th Read by the Sea literary festival

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RIVER JOHN — With the continuous baa of a lamb in the background, about 100 people were treated to author readings and musical performances as part of WordPlay.

WordPlay kicked off the 20th anniversary of Read by the Sea, as well as the opening of the third season of Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery.

For Shauna Fowler, it’s only a short drive from New Glasgow to the book shop, and it’s something she’s done with her three children every year since Sheree Fitch opened the business.

“It’s our favourite place,” said Fowler. “My girls have just been twitching waiting. I told them it opened in July and they kept asking when it would open, because it’s July. We come once a week.”

Fitch, the creator of Mabel Murple, was the master of ceremonies for WordPlay, which featured readings by Arthur Slade and Jessica Scott Kerrin. Anna Plaskett performed a number of songs for the crowd, and the Rainbow Express returned for another year. The event also saw the three authors sign their books, a young girl leading more readings, and yoga under a large oak tree.

“This event is awesome,” said Fowler, who admitted it was the first time she brought her children to the event. “It’s such a great idea. I grew up with Mabel Murple, so it was nice to meet Sheree. She’s been so kind to my girls.”

With one-year-old Kendall strapped to her back, Fowler kept an eye on her other daughters, seven-year-old Brooke, and four-year-old Penelope.

Kathryne Hoagland attended WordPlay last year, and wanted to return again this year with her daughter and mother.

“It was a lot of fun last year,” said Hoagland, who made the trip up from Hatchett Lake, while her mother, Anne MacLeod, travelled from Little Harbour.

“It’s important for events like this so the written word is not lost,” said MacLeod. “I’ve always read to my children and now my grandchildren. Anytime like-minded people can connect like this, it’s lots of fun.”

Before bringing Kerrin on stage to read, Fitch told those in the audience about having Kerrin’s ‘The Better Tree Fort’ in stock in the store last summer.

“I love it. I loved the story. I loved the vision of what was in that story,” said Fitch, adding she loved that it was about a father and son. “I loved the words, the language, the art.”

The book kept selling, so Fitch kept ordering it. She finally decided to find out more information about the author and was ecstatic to learn Kerrin lived in Halifax. Fitch called her and invited her to WordPlay.

When she got up on the stage, Kerrin asked everyone to close their eyes and just listen for about 15 seconds. She asked them what they heard. One young girl said she heard birds singing.

“That what really interests me as well,” said Kerrin.

The author said she’s become interested in birding, and looking at all the birds around us. She started watching them and to understand what birds are out there. But the trouble is, she says, there are thousands of birds in the world.

She started hanging out with birders and learned they don’t actually look for birds. Instead, birders listen for birds.

“What they’ve done is memorized the songs of all these birds. If they can hear the song of the bird, they know what bird it is and precisely where to look,” she said.

Kerrin played the songs of four different birds — barn owl, northern cardinal, black capped chickadee, and red winged blackbird. She gave the birdsongs each their own words, to help her recognize those songs in the future.

That led the author into talking about ‘The Better Tree Fort’, in which the main character, a boy named Russell, loves birds.

“He’s starting to memorize what they sound like, what they look like,” she explained. “He moves into a house and there’s a fantastic tree in the backyard, a huge maple tree. What he wants more than anything is to build a tree fort so he can watch these birds and study them at close range. But in writing this story, what this boy, Russell, learns is not so much about the birds but his dad and his relationship with him.”

Three-year-old Molly Fraser stands in the doorway to Mabel Murple’s home during a visit to the book shoppe and dreamery named after the Sheree Fitch character. Molly and her father, Sean, visited WordPlay on July 3. (Raissa Tetanish photo)