Miller Sandford’s parents think he’s too young to explore the annual town fair alone. But when his mother can’t attend the Fair and his father has to cover her volunteer booth hours as well as he own, Miller ends up with more responsibility than he can handle. Instead of enjoying a freewheeling day on his own, he is drawn into a series of mishaps involving everything from his dad’s prize-worth lemon meringue pie and his own ill-fated science fair project.
Author Leslie Bulion answered some questions about the story behind The Universe of Fair.
Q: Your novel takes place at the Holmsbury Fair. I understand that the setting is inspired by a similar event in your town. Is it as fun and crazy as the one Miller attends?
For kids, our fair is a magical, Brigadoon-ish place that materializes for three days each September, then disappears until the next year. Daily life is suspended and everyone in the community—friends, family, teachers—hangs out and volunteers at the fair from morning ‘til night to host the tens of thousands of visitors we get from all over Connecticut and beyond. Being set loose in this giant playground of delicious food, rides, games, exhibits, performers, activities, animals, contests, and prizes is a local rite of passage. Disclaimer: turning in fair entries the night before the fair as they do in Holmsbury is pure fiction!
The Universe of Fair features fantastic illustrations by Frank Dormer. We hear that you two know each other. How did you meet? Does he ever attend the fair?
Frank doesn’t live in my town, but he has been going to the fair since he was younger than Miller—way longer than I have. We’ve known each other through our local SCBWI critique group for at least a decade. Early on, at an NESCBWI annual conference, I had such positive feedback on a manuscript that I was physically unable to sit in my next workshop--I had to go out into the hall to jump around and hyperventilate…where I ran smack into Frank, who’d just had an effusive reaction to his portfolio and he couldn’t sit still, either. We were giddy. I babbled. Frank is so brilliant and talented. I love his kid-centric, king-of-quirk sense of humor and have (selfishly) always wished we could do a book together. His art ratchets up the book’s humor by at least six orders of magnitude.
Q: You’ve written picture books, middle grade fiction and nonfiction, and poetry collections. Do you have a favorite category or subject?
I never know what inspiration might strike, so I won’t rule out any genres or subjects, but I think my mind and heart tend toward middle grade fiction and poetry. I feel like I’m always writing to my fourth-grade self; I loved that total engagement with books as an independent reader. Nothing makes me happier that to come along for that adventure with young readers. Middle-grade readers are wide open, creative, and capable, and when I visit their classrooms they share such interesting and insightful connections. Also, in my writing arithmetic, gross = funny, so developmentally, I’m still right there.
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Labels: Author/Illustrator Talks, Backlist Spotlight, Behind the Story, Chapter Book, Children's books