When you go to the fair, you know what to expect.

You admire a 500-pound watermelon.  You coo over a blue-ribboned pig on a leash.  You think fried butter on a stick is a good idea.       

But sometimes the fair can take you by surprise.

That’s what happened to me last Thursday when I was a featured author in The Alphabet Forest at the Minnesota State Fair.  Created by Minneapolis author Debra Frasier (A Fabulous Fair Alphabet) and the Children’s Literature Network, the park offers literacy games and activities each day from 9 am until 6 pm through the fair’s run.

I know you’re thinking, You’ve got to be kidding.  In the middle of every possible mind-blowing, high-intensity, sugar-frenzied fair distraction, no self-respecting child could be dragged into reading and writing experiences.

You’d be wrong.  They come in droves.

My project, based on Sweet Moon Baby: An Adoption Tale, gave children two options.  They could create stick puppets from the book’s characters and re-tell the baby’s adventure, or they could create their own characters and imagine an adventure that might have happened on their birth night.  We gave them a kit with all the necessary parts (http://sweetmoonbaby.blogspot.com/2013/08/sudden-angels-part-2-instant-relatives.html).  I assumed they’d fly through a rushed assembly of pre-printed pieces at their parents’ insistence and run off for cotton candy and duck races.  It’s still summer.  Who wants to do school stuff?!

But those children developed an original storyline.  They wondered over possible magical influences that might have helped them–snowflakes, a seahorse, fireworks.  They drew themselves as babies.  They imagined what their parents wore.  They asked for more sticks and blank circles to make additional people and animals who might have helped on their journey.  They decorated their stages with pumpkins and daisies and rainbows.  They tried out dialogue, handing puppets to me so I could play along.  Plenty of them crafted the artwork we provided, too, asking questions about the book.  When they learned that Maggie, the teenager helping them, was the real Sweet Moon Baby, they were amazed.  A little boy said, “I never knew anyone out of a book before.”

Even toddlers wanted to be at the table.  A three-year-old girl listened closely and scribbled with a crayon.  Her finished pieces might have looked ambiguous to anyone else, but they were clear to her as she announced, “Daddy, Mama, me!”      

It gets better.

You know how people insist that children need to be entertained in order to learn?  Or that children require every possible technological whirlygig?

We did all of this with paper and markers and glue sticks.  There wasn’t a battery or power cord or digital screen in sight.  Every bit of information came from their own imaginations, their own experiences, their own family stories about wonderful things that happened on that special birth night.

No one googled anything. 

I went into this thinking I was just there to fill a time slot–an activity counselor under the shade trees.  But sitting there with my husband Cliff and Maggie, I discovered we were a reminder that every life has a phenomenal story line.  Despite the nearby pull of the Lego Challenge and the clickety-clacking from the marionette booth, these children took all the time in the world to consider the magic in their own stories.

As grand and glorious as a fair can be, it’s nothing compared to a child’s blue-ribboned life. 

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