Interview: From Poetry to Prehistoric Pals, Jess Robus Releases Second Book, Arnold the Not Dinosaur

4 0
Read Time:10 Minute, 57 Second

Once upon a time, a green galumphing dinosaur named Arnold faced a dilemma. He grappled with issues of personal identity and the pressure to conform in a world insisting he be something other than what he truly was. This enchanting tale, crafted by 16-year-old author Jess Robus, is the heart of the charming and thought-provoking children’s book, Arnold the Not Dinosaur.

Arnold the Not Dinosaur is not only a beautiful tale but also an inclusive one. The book uses a dyslexic-friendly font, making it easier for those battling dyslexia to enjoy. Nikki Bush, an award-winning speaker and five-time best-selling author, praised the book for its celebration of uniqueness and difference, calling it a “great conversation starter and a contribution to creating a kinder world.”

Now, take a moment, get yourself a nice cup of coffee (or Juice!) and read my exclusive interview with Jess Robus herself! Dive into the world of Arnold the Not Dinosaur and join us in fostering an environment of kindness, acceptance, and understanding for all.

Interview:

Jess, congratulations on the release of your new children’s book, Arnold the Not Dinosaur! Can you share with us the inspiration behind the story and its main character?

“Thank you so much! I am so incredibly excited about this book – I actually wrote the first draft of it when I was twelve years old based on an inside joke with one of my best friends. My dad had recently bought me a green dinosaur stuffed toy that my friend and I had been trying to name all day. We finally decided on the name Arnold – although he was a dinosaur toy, to begin with, he didn’t look particularly dinosaur-y to us at that particular moment and thus Arnold the Not Dinosaur was born. I wanted to tell a story about identity and self-discovery, both of which have been very important in my own life, and so Arnold’s awkwardness and curiosity are probably a reflection of mine.”

Before we dive too deep into this interview, who exactly is Jess Robus? What makes you, YOU?

“That’s a big question! I am a complete word nerd – I love reading (particularly fantasy), writing poetry, songs, stories, and scripts, and I play a killer game of bananagram! I am also very passionate about music and the performing arts – I looooove live theatre and hope to one day write songs for professional musicals. I like to think that what makes me ‘me’, though, is my ability to be kind and look for the good in people. I believe in the importance of kindness in all circumstances – in the words of the Twelfth Doctor from one of my all-time favourite shows, Doctor Who, “Always try to be nice but never fail to be kind.

(Whovian insider joke: BTW Jess, Don’t be Lasagna… and RUN!)

Arnold the Not Dinosaur deals with themes like personal identity, belonging, and mental health. Why do you think it’s important to address these topics with younger children?

“Mental health and identity don’t have an age limit. Young children deal with these complicated issues in the family unit, in the classroom, and on the playground, and oftentimes lack the vocabulary to describe their feelings and struggles. If children can describe what they are feeling and why and increase their emotional intelligence and vocabulary then they will be able to interact more positively with one another and express themselves more effectively, leading to a better overall mental state. I also think that it is important to start having these conversations with children at an early age to build up a baseline of understanding and empathy which may be built upon in later life.”

Your first book, a Few Slivers of Light, was an anthology of poetry that focused on your experiences with anxiety and depression. How did writing that book influence your approach to creating Arnold the Not Dinosaur?

“Publishing a Few Slivers of Light was a nerve-wracking experience at first – I was scared that people wouldn’t enjoy my poetry and even more so that they wouldn’t connect with the deeper underlying themes. Putting out a book full of my innermost thoughts and feelings was an intimidating prospect – but then the book came out and I was astounded by people’s reactions to it. Not only did they like the writing but they felt that their own mental health struggles were being heard and validated and they were encouraged to open conversations around mental health, which was wonderfully encouraging to see. With Arnold, I wanted to continue opening those important conversations but in a younger demographic – this book is definitely lighter both in tone and actual design, but it deals with similar issues to the other book. After seeing teens reacting positively to my first book, I wanted to create a story for younger kids to start addressing mental health in a creative, gentle way.”

Holly Evers illustrated your book beautifully. Can you tell us more about your collaboration with her and how her illustrations complement your story?

“Holly is just the best! She illustrated Leigh Bowen’s CamleyFluffs series and did an absolutely incredible job at bringing Leigh’s characters to life. We met through Leigh and just really hit it off – she’s so creative and smart and as passionate about Arnold as I am. Right from the start she and I were on the same page about how Arnold and his world should look. She included so many wonderful details in her illustrations and did such a good job at drawing Arnold as all of the different animals he thinks that he may be – my favourite is definitely Arnold as a penguin! She also drew my little sister as a character in the book which was very special to see.”

You wrote this book when you were just 12 years old. How has your perspective changed since then, and what do you think your younger self would say about the final product?

“At the time of writing, I didn’t realise just how much of myself I had unknowingly put into Arnold. I have always struggled with fitting in and feeling isolated from my peers, as if they expected me to be someone that I wasn’t and judged me for having different interests. Over the years I have learned that being different isn’t bad – it’s wonderful! – and have found an incredible group of friends who love and support me for who I am. I think that twelve-year-old Jess would be extremely happy with Arnold – I know sixteen-year-old Jess is! – and honestly shocked that it is an actual, illustrated and published book instead of just a Word document on her mom’s computer. I like to think that she would like it – I can see now more than ever that it is a love letter to her and all kids like her who feel like the world doesn’t accept them for who they truly are.”

Arnold the Not Dinosaur is in a Dyslexic-friendly font. Why was it important for you to make this choice, and how do you think it will help readers?

“Holly first suggested the idea of using a Dyslexic-friendly font for this book and I loved it. Holly herself is Dyslexic and both of us are passionate about accessibility. It was important for me to make this book as accessible as possible for readers who struggle with Dyslexia – the core message of Arnold’s story is one of kindness and acceptance and I wanted that to extend to the book’s presentation. Someday I would love to record an audiobook version of Arnold and my poetry book to make them more accessible for people who struggle with their vision, but for now, the book’s font is a step towards accessibility that I feel very strongly about.”

Award-winning speaker and author Nikki Bush praised your book for its unique insight into diversity and inclusion. How do you hope readers will learn from and apply these themes in their own lives?

“The benefits that I hope readers will derive from this book are twofold: I hope that they learn the value of practising kindness and self-acceptance and I hope that they carry these values into their interactions with others. If this book accomplished anything, I hope that it helps one person to feel more secure in their own identity and teaches them to be that little bit kinder to others who may be needing the same kindness.”

Your book is being released during World Book Day Celebrations. Can you share some of your favourite childhood books and how they’ve influenced your writing?

“Ooh, this is a tough question! As a child, I devoured Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events which taught me many of my favourite idioms and interesting pieces of vocabulary. I also loved The White Giraffe books! Penguin by Polly Dunbar was a birthday present from my aunt and remains one of my favourite children’s books – it’s funny, beautifully illustrated, and a little dark – all of my favourite things. I loved The Dragon Machine and Snutt the Ift, but my favourite children’s book has got to be Giraffes Can’t Dance! I would beg my parents to read it to me night in and night out and used to be able to recite it off by heart. I can see echoes of it in Arnold’s story which touches on similar themes of feeling like an outsider and learning to accept yourself as you are.”

In addition to being an author, you’re also a mental health advocate, poet, and songwriter. How do these different creative outlets complement one another in your life?

“I love having different outlets to express different emotions. Generally, when I’m sad I write poetry, when I’m contemplative I write songs, and once I’ve finished feeling my feelings and expressing them through writing I tell people about them through my advocacy. Writing is tied with creating and playing music as my favourite pastime – both activities help me to process feelings that I don’t necessarily understand before I start writing. In a nutshell, writing helps me to understand myself and through expressing these emotions I try to encourage and comfort others who may be feeling the same.”

Can you give us a sneak peek into your dream project or collaboration that you would absolutely love to embark on in the future?

“I wrote a musical called The Human Stuff which I produced and acted in alongside the full-time students of the Stageworx School of Performing Arts. I am so incredibly proud of how the show (which can be found on YouTube!) turned out and would one day love to record a proper cast album for it. I also have a few ideas for television shows and a novel both geared towards teen audiences, but those aren’t quite ready for sharing yet!”

What is your favourite quote or line from a book that really embraces your own personal life and the journey you are on? 

“I have always loved Arnold’s mother’s comments to him in the midst of his panic attack, but my favourite line is probably ‘You are you and no matter what anybody says, you don’t have to change who you are inside just to fit in.’ As a teenager in the age of social media, I often have to remind myself that authenticity and kindness is more important than conformity. I’m still learning how to be true to myself in the face of difficulty and it is a challenge – but definitely a worthwhile one!”

Lastly, what would your ‘words of wisdom’ be to a young boy or girl that might feel like they would also want to start writing their own stories but might lack the confidence to do it?

“The best advice that I could give to a young writer is this: don’t stop! I think it was Neil Gaiman who said that the first draft of a piece of writing is for the writer, the second draft is for the editor, and the final draft is for the reader. Your writing may not be perfect or even seem particularly good when you first start off but it is a hundred times better than leaving a blank page. Keep writing. Your words and stories are important and valuable and the world needs to hear them. Keep writing.”

Jess, you are a legend and i cannot wait to see your journey unfold right before our very eyes. Thank you so much for doing this interview and once again, congratulations on your new book!

Follow Jess Robus on social media:

INSTAGRAM | FACEBOOK | WEBSITE

The book, priced at R130 (excluding postage and packaging), can be purchased at www.jessrobus.com and via PayStack. To order, simply send an email to jess@jessrobus.com.

To arrange school talks, book readings and book signings, contact Jess directly.

– End

Shaun Zietsman https://www.thesomethingguy.co.za

Blogger and Content Creator from Johannesburg, South Africa.

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours