Maeve Visser Knoth: County Fairs- in life and in literature

Guest Book - Please let me know who you are or ask a question (Click here)!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

County Fairs- in life and in literature

After spending the last ten days immersed in life of the San Mateo County Fair, I found myself thinking about fairs I have read about in children's books. I have been to fairs before- as a child and also as an adult-- but I have never been part of the fair as I was this past week. My children were showing their 4H chickens so we had to arrive by 7 a.m. and spent most of every day hanging around the animal barns. Lots of children over the years have shared this same experience but it was a new one for the Knoths.

One of my favorite books as a 2-4th grader was Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. This was the first book without pictures that I ever read. I remember the feeling of accomplishment when, as a second grader, I started and finished the book in one day. Yes, it was a rainy day, and yes there was not much else competing for my time but I was wowed with my own reading ability. In this very satisfying, very well-plotted novel, Betsy is sent to life with her cousins in rural Vermont. The shy, sickly, much-doted-upon city girl has to adjust to life on a farm and cousins who expect that she can do things for herself. One of my favorite chapters is the chapter in which Betsy goes to the County Fair. She has a day rich with new sights and sounds. Fisher describes the fair so well I felt as if I were there too. When the neighbors who are to drive Betsy home leave without her, Betsy screws up enough courage to earn money so that she and her young charge (I can't remember the little girl's name) can buy tickets to ride the cars home. The Betsy who is so accomplished at the fair is a child I longed to be. Of course I did not want to be left on my own, but I hoped I would be able to solve problems as well as Betsy did. The first time I went to a New England fair, I felt as if it were familiar, thanks in part to Fisher's description in Understood Betsy.

Donald Crews has a lovely, exuberant picture book titled Night at the Fair that gives me a feeling of the lights, sounds and excitement of a fair at nighttime. The black backgrounds set off the golds, reds and yellows of the blinking lights. The other picture book that does a fine job conveying life in a country fair is Elisha Cooper's Country Fair. The square white pages house several small, detailed sketches and his descriptive text adds just enough to give the careful reader a new way of looking at the familiar. I enjoy sharing Cooper's books with a wide range of children- preschoolers notice some of the details, but 6th graders also see the world a new way after looking closely at Cooper's lively sketches. The books would be a great starting place for either a writing or an art project with older kids. In Cooper's world, it is minutiae that is special.

Mary Alice, Joe and Grandma Dowdel have a memorable experience at the fair in A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck. What are the other great moments at county fairs in children's literature?


Blogger Linda said...

Hi, I saw your link in rec.arts.books .childrens! Understood Betsy is one of my favorite books; I have the issues of St. Nicholas magazine it was original published in as well. The description of the county fair made me want to find one just like it to attend. Another good county fair book is Windy Foot at the County Fair, the first of four Frances Frost books about the Clark family, especially elder son Toby, and Toby's pony Windy Foot: all the fun of camping out at the fair, the trotting races, the midway. There is, of course, The Bobbsey Twins at the County Fair, and the wonderful Charlotte's Web with the animal-eye-view of the fair.

8/24/2006 5:11 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home