5 Stars The Universe of Fair Leslie Bulion Frank W. Dormer Peachtree No. Pages: 264 Ages: 8-12 .....................
Inside Jacket: For young science whiz Miller Sanford, an eagerly awaited day at the Fair turns into a wacky adventure with more twists and loops than the BlastoCoaster!
Hopeful that this year his mom and dad will let him enjoy the annual town Fair alone with his best friend, Miller works hard to show his parents how responsible he has become, including being nice to his annoying little sister, Penny.
When his mother can’t attend the Fair and his father has to cover her volunteer booth hours as well as his own, Miller ends up with more responsibility than he bargains for. Instead of enjoying a freewheeling day on his own, he’s drawn into a series of mishaps involving a string of tagalong first graders, his dad’s prize-worthy lemon meringue pie, and flying death heads!
Miller wants this year’s Fair to be the one where he finally gets to run around with his friends and not his family, and especially not his annoying six-year-old sister, Penny. Miller has been extra nice to Penny and trying hard to show his parents he is responsible and thus able to attend the fair with friends. Little does he know that his responsibility-abilities will be tested. Mom is stuck at work looking for a run-away teen, dad is working double volunteer shifts at the fair, and the neighbor recruited to take the kids is stricken with a migraine.
Hour-by-hour Miller watches the Fair slip away until he takes matters into his own hands. He has been looking forward to fair food, fair games, fair rides, and a fair ball cap. By day’s end, Miller will have not seen any of those fair items he savored. What he did get was the responsibility he eagerly tried to show his parents. Miller, and best friend Lewis, spend the day hustling around three scattered six-year-olds, honoring the first grader’s demands, and soothing the youngster’s stomachs with the fair food he himself rarely gets a sample of.
I enjoyed reading The Universe of Fair, devouring it in one evening. The pages kept on turning and I kept on reading. Full of crisp tween humor and pathos, the story is a wonderful look at sibling relationships and the power of fate or karma. One theme of the story is be wary of that which you wish for—as it just might fall in your lap, and at the worst possible time.
When reading, I could hear the fair’s background noises; a mixture of laughter and screams by the rides. Oh my and the rides, The Gravity Whirl reminds me of the spinning hell I rode once, and only once. Miller cannot wait to get on this ride, but his three charges have other ideas. You have to feel for Miller. Ms. Bulion captures that fair feeling, the giddiness, the hectic pace, and the excitement in the air. She also captures Miller’s disappointment, and his first encounter with real responsibility with equal expertise. A sense of community shines in the pages with dad and his jack-of-all-trades volunteerism.
And then there is the pie. Dad bakes pies daily trying to find the prizewinner. Then the pie is taste tested. So when there is a pie on top the fridge, Miller slices it up. Only when there is but one piece left does Miller realize the pie was THE prizewinner he is to enter for his volunteering dad. Not knowing what to do, Miller enters the one piece into the pie competition, hoping to explain.
Frank Dormer’s illustrations are quirky, like the story. He uses line drawings that look like old-fashioned cartoons. I like the simplicity and the expressions in each drawing. While there are 25 such illustrations in The Universe of Fair, I would have loved to see many more. The illustrations help set the tone of the book.
I love how Ms. Bulion gets into the psyche of each kid. Did she have a brother or sister like each one of these six kids? She knows them so well. I laughed and groaned more than a few times. Each character is well written, exquisitely detailed, and likable. From quiet Lou Ann to in-your-face Penny, the characters are everyday kids who can be both funny and poignant. Boys and girls will both like this tale of friendship, family, and fair freedom for one kid on one important day of the year. I loved The Universe of Fair and wonder what Halloween and Christmas are like for young Miller Sanford. I am hoping Ms. Bulion will let me know in a follow-up book.