Friday, September 30, 2011

Vignette: The County Fair

There's something so comfortably un-new about the county fair isn't there? Each year as leaves start to change in other states and my land stays fairly green and foggy, we hear the news that the fair is coming to town.  I prepare to spend at least forty dollars on fried sugar and nothing, grab our sweatshirts, and join the traffic trying desperately to maneuver through the one road that leads to the fair and is invariably jammed for hours once every September.

Once inside the grounds my kids head straight to the worrisome rides that always look like they're going to fall over, pinching fingers and trapping people on the way down.  My husband and I steer our two kids away towards the first barn which holds the largest pumpkin.  The pumpkins are large but none would make Peter happy to put his wife in.  It must have been a hard year for pumpkins.  Other things grace this building that are interesting, too.  My son goes straight to the Lego competitions and drool over sets that have been dutifully put together.  Sometimes I wish the competition would limit the entries to original works instead of the obvious, "Who can afford the biggest Lego set" race that it is.  However, there are a few inventive set ups and I even find one that isn't Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Harry Potter.  It's a castle with a dutch village tucked below it and a bustling street.  I pretend I don't see the fudge stand lurking in the corner, side-step an old woman on stilts with the largest walker I've ever seen, and march out across the sticky pavement into another cool building to see the quilts.

This place is where I have to be sneaky about seeing things.  No kids like quilts hanging on the wall but, as if sensing this fact, the fair folk have also put the collections in the back of this barn.  There are display cases all along the back of anything adults and children decide to collect.  My daughter loves the Littlest Petshop unicorns, my son has discovered Bakugan heaven, and my mother and I have found a dryer lint collection that has been arranged into a rainbow and an interesting patterned square.  Next year I hope it won't be a fingernail collection.

We've run into more friends--a pastor from our church and his wife (pictured above looking at the lint collection with my mother).  Pastor Dave's wife Pam has made a beautiful quilt and it has one first place.  Here it is above.

I get everyone past the carousel by promising them a ride if they don't see something else they like better (the horses are downright ugly and the carousel itself looks half-hearted).  I have to time myself in the Art building.  As an artist I want to size up the veritable competition and find pieces that restore my faith that art is not dying out.  I find a few that I like (lazy cat above being one of them) before the kids start wandering back and forth between the door and me, giving me those "I Want To Go" eyes.

Here we are, we've made it to the animals.  Everyone is grumbling about dinner but I'm holding out because I know most of the money in my purse will be gone after that and I'm not buying deep fried food all night.  It's disheartening to spend three dollars on a bottle of water.  It really is. But first I get to see the chickens.  I love the chicken barn.  They're all growling and calling and talking to one another in low voices as if they know they'll drive the humans from the room if they talk too loud.  Every once in awhile a rooster will forget his vow of silence and utter a screeching cock-a-doodle-doo that startles everyone but the nearly deaf.  The rooster will look around for a moment to make sure everyone knew it was him and then go back to the business of trying to peck his next door neighbor.

 On to the livestock barns that smell comfortably foul and have many curious animals snuffling, chewing, and bleating as they shuffle around in golden hay kept clean by 4-H kids who move purposefully through the buildings carrying a degree of animal equipment from leashes to buckets of feed.  It's their proudest time and they feel important in their green sashes and white pants held up by giant belt buckles.  I always wonder how it is that I don't see anyone with belt buckles for most of the year and in the space of a few hours I get my fill of these giant flashing discs to last me till next year.   

I find goats to be a little sorry looking as an animal species.  They have character in their face but the character is usually, "please go away, I'm very important and odd looking." They aren't as haughty as llamas but they're in the race to win it.

From here on out we wander in and out of barns looking at animals.  The goats, cows, pigs, and sheep are all entertaining, as is my daughter's delicately pinched nose because (and I quote) "mom, they are cute but this place smells like poo".  I wish her delicate nose pinching was the only statement she made.

As the sun dips behind the mountains and the impending raucous crowd and the nightly fog approaches, we run into my brothers, my nephews, and a few of my sisters.  We meet up for a few minutes before going off to see different booths, promising to see each other later.  My father has come to hear the Blues Brothers copycat band, which sounds pretty good from the warm-up we heard when we arrrived but we don't stay at the fair after dark.  It's a good rule of thumb for anyone under eighteen.  This place is kind of like Vegas.  During the day it tries desperately to be a family affair, even going so far as to keep most of the strange carnies operating rides that won't open till later, but once it gets dark it becomes a different beast.  Bright neon lights buzz away, flashing signs twinkle, the smell of fried food and warm beer mix in the air, and any number of teenagers holler and giggle at each other as they find love under the sticky stars.  By the time the rides are going full tilt and the fair is reaching maximum capacity, I'm at home with my feet up, happy that I won't have to visit the fair for another year but already somehow looking forward to the displays of vegetables and that quiet clucking barn full of chickens.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Children's Book Review: The Little Rabbit

Name of Book: The Little Rabbit
Author / Illustrator: Story by Judy Dunn and Photographs by Phoebe Dunn
What's It All About: A little girl named Sarah finds a white baby bunny in her Easter basket one year.  She names the rabbit Buttercup and they become good friends.  Buttercup gets lost and is found.  Buttercup grows up and has baby bunnies. The baby bunnies are named after the days of the week.  Sarah's father says there are too many bunnies and other children take them home.  Soon it is just Sarah and Buttercup again. 
My Favorite Bit: This story is told in photographs rather obviously from the early eighties, but the photographer took some lovely pictures that made me want a baby rabbit so much! The pictures of Buttercup getting lost were just magical to me as a child.  This book is from a series about animals and their owners told in photographs.  Try them, you'll love 'em!

Suitable Age For Reading It To: These stories can capture younger children's eyes with the photographs and older children with the words.  There is about a paragraph a page so small children may not sit through it to start.  I'd say start around four and read on through till they move on.
Go Get It: The Little Rabbit paperback on Amazon US.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Children's Book Review: Rumpelstiltskin

Name: Rumpelstiltskin 
Author / Illustrator: Retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
What's It All About: A miller sees the king riding through the countryside and, wanting to impress the king, he tells him his daughter can spin straw into gold.  The king has the miller's daughter brought to the castle, there to spin straw into gold or she'll be put to death (well done Dad, right?).  The miller's daughter does not know what to do until a little man appears and offers to help her for a gift in return.  Three times this happens.  The first gift she gives him is her necklace, the second her ring, and the third the promise that she will give her first born son to the little man if she becomes queen.  The beautiful miller's daughter agrees for she fears for her life and thinks nothing will come of the agreement.  She completes the tasks the king has asked for and he marries her.  A year later finds her with a baby boy prince and the little man appears to take him away.  The queen is distraught and the little man relents.  If she can find out his name before three days are up she can keep her son.  As we all know from the title of this classic Brothers Grimm tale, a servant discovers the little man singing a poem about his name and the queen is able to keep her son.  Rumplestiltskin (wouldn't you keep quiet about your name too?) rides off into the night on a wooden spoon.
My Favorite Bit: I really enjoy the painting of the scene where the queen guesses the little man's name.  The queen's stance and face are perfect and the baby is icing on the cake. These are smooth, pretty illustrations, which add to this classic tale.
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This story can be read to medium children and up.  Small children might find the story a little strange to follow though there is not more than a paragraph on any given page so if your children aren't too fidgety you could read this to younger ones.  There is nothing too harsh about this story apart from the miller's daughter dying if she doesn't do as she is asked.  But we all know this is a classic fairytale and most of the Brothers Grimm tales end up happily.  It's that Anderson fellow you want to watch out for. 
Go Get It: Rumpelstiltskin in paperback on Amazon US
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: 
Paul O. Zelinsky was born in 1953 in Evanston, Illinois.  He attended Yale and became interested in pursuing children's book illustration as a career after taking a class from Mercer Mayer.  Zelinsky said in reference to memories of what he had read, "Feelings come to me as a sort of flavor. I know that when I call up my earliest memories, what I remember seeing and hearing is accompanied by a flavor-like sense of what it felt like to be there and see that.” His most popular book is the movable story of The Wheels On The Bus, which has sold millions of copies.
Visit his website HERE.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Five Books About Trains You Should Have

Story by Gertrude Crampton and Pictures by Tibor Gergely
The most important rule: you must stay on the tracks.  This is a great book but a little lengthy for the small children.  

Freight Train by Donald Crews
This simple story tells the names of the different kinds of train cars, lists colors, and has easy to grasp pictures that are great for toddlers who love trains. 

There's A Train Going By My Window
By Wendy Kesselman and Pictures by Tony Chen
See my earlier review HERE about this fabulous rhyming book for all ages!.

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
This is a great story about a magic train and a story about Christmas! Van Allsburg delivers his usual beautiful illustrations and enchanting story.  Read this story all times of the year.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
This is a great old story about the Little Engine we all know so well.  The characters in this story are sweet and the pictures have charmed many children.