Fitch recalls the student stating she didn’t think it was very nice for Fitch to leave Mabel Murple upset.
“I still remember her, seven years old, she was indignant,” Fitch says during a recent interview.
It is because of this girl, whose name Fitch doesn’t know, that Mabel Murple got her own book.
“I know what to do. You just take her out of that book and you give her a book all of her own and then she should have a really good time,” Fitch remembers her saying.
When Fitch made the decision to open her own bookstore with her husband Gilles Plante, she chose to make Mabel Murple the theme because of what the character represents – the result of a child’s imagination.
“This little girl’s capacity to imagine that deeply and then go that next step and figure out the solution… to me, that’s what imagination is about.”
The granary-turned-bookstore, set to open Monday, is bright and inviting. It opens to a pasture and barn, complete with horses and a donkey, and plenty of spaces for young ones to hide away with their new favourite book. A nearby building will offer a peek into the imagined home of Mabel Murple.
Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery came to be following the school board’s decision in June 2015 to close River John Consolidated, after a dedicated committee had come up with a hub proposal that would have seen the building used for many purposes.
Fitch wanted to see something open in the face of closure, but couldn’t afford to rent – when Plante looked to their own property on Allen Road and said, “I could renovate that old granary over there.”
“I knew right from the beginning that probably I’d integrate some of the ideas that I helped develop in the idea of the hub proposal and try to integrate some of that, so literacy in nature, outdoor education, storytelling, history. That kind of stuff can still happen here.”
Though it’s been a lot of work for the pair, Fitch says she’s not stressed.
“Why would I be stressed over something so fun?” she asks as she and Plante, whose hands are covered in purple paint, get a few bites of sushi into their mouths in between preparations for opening day and an interview.
They already hosted two field trips before the shop was finished – one from New Glasgow Academy and one from Tatamagouche Elementary.
“I loved seeing the school bus pull into River John instead of taking 72 children away everyday,” she says, noting they showed the children a “bookstore in the making” and shared stories outside.
The stories she’s selling in her seasonal store are very carefully chosen –children’s books by Canadian authors and books from Atlantic Canadian publishers or writers.
Describing herself as a “fierce regionalist,” Fitch believes in celebrating “our own instead of reaching for that American book every time.” She wants the books that readers may not find in a big box store.
“At this point in Atlantic Canada … I really believe one of our natural resources is storytelling and that’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been, whether it’s in song or books or stories or oral storytelling, whether it’s in the rugs we hook. We are a very storied region and that’s something to be proud of.”
Her desire to bring attention to people in the region is clear as she talks about River John, quick to note she’s “just a little tiny piece of a village that’s doing really well.”
She names recent community-funded waterfront development, already-established businesses and beautiful scenery as some examples of what River John has to offer. The main subject of her praise, though, is the people.
“In all this mix of people, the one thing I’ve seen is this incredible sense of community spirit and willingness to work together for something bigger than yourself, like we did on the hub proposal.”
Fitch believes there’s resiliency in the village, and that it will continue to have a space for kids and families.
Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe & Dreamery officially opens Monday, July 3. The opening will include Read by the Sea’s children’s literary festival WordPlay, from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., with authors Marie-Louise Gay and Alan Syliboy.