Book it to the Fair

Monday marks day three of the Champlain Valley Fair, northern Vermont’s annual 10-day celebration of 18th-century opera, elegant spa cuisine, and reading. Oh, wait: I must be looking at the wrong news release. My bad.
Let’s try that again: Monday marks day three of the Champlain Valley Fair, northern Vermont’s annual 10-day celebration of massive grandstand concerts with amplifiers the size of Winnebagos, fried food that comes with an angioplasty, and reading.
Yes, reading. Again this year children between kindergarten and the fifth grade who participated in their local library’s “Read and Win” program and polished off three books by the middle of August will be admitted to the fair free Monday — and receive a coupon for a free ride at the midway. This year 45 libraries statewide participated in the program.
That means that a sizable number of the kids you see wandering happily around the fair on Monday understand that there is more to life than Ferris wheels and racing pigs — though, of course, in the last week of August there is something to be said for both. (Someday, someone will be clever enough to figure out a way to have the pigs race on the Ferris wheel. Now that would be interesting!)
“We’re a nonprofit year-round, and it’s part of our mission to support education and agriculture,” said Steve Mease, communications director for the Champlain Valley Exposition.
I happen to like the “Read and Win” program a lot, and not because it’s such a great money saver. The truth is, it’s not. A child’s admission to the fair is 5 bucks — 4 bucks with an advance purchase ticket. That’s about the cost of a single spin on one of the marquee rides, or an order of fries and a soda. The reality is that parents who take their child to the fair expect to hemorrhage money: Somewhere in the fair there is a great invisible vacuum cleaner that just Hoovers bills from billfolds.
But my adolescent daughter and her friends used to participate in the “Read and Win” program when they were younger, and I saw firsthand that when you’re 7 or 8years old you don’t make the distinction between free admission to the fair and a free day at the fair. All she and her friends saw was that they read a pile of books and they were rewarded.
Yes, reading is still its own reward: But in the digital age I am not going to complain if someone is going to make a connection between finishing off the tale of a two-dimensional mouse like Lilly in Kevin Henkes’s “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse,” and getting to climb aboard a three-dimensional diaper-dirtying roller coaster like the Wild Mouse.
Just for the record, the Wild Mouse is new this year at the fair. The version that arrived this month at Essex Junction also might be called the Vom-a-Tron or the Hurl-and-Whirl because the cars in which you sit actually spin as they race around the tracks of the roller coaster. This means that you are not merely nauseous, you are terrified.
Actually, only adults are both nauseous and terrified. In my experience, children and teenagers are in some cases one or the other, but rarely both and often neither. I have no idea how to explain this.
In any case, the Wild Mouse is a pretty massive ride for the Champlain Valley Fair, and just the ticket after you’ve consumed a wedge of fried dough the size of a pizza. And after a quiet, cerebral summer spent with the likes of Lemony Snicket and Mary Pope Osborne and (of course) J.K. Rowling, it’s nice to see the kids screaming their little heads off at the fair.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on August 26.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “Book it to the Fair

  1. ScaredSillySally says:

    Wow, I really get a sense of Vermont’s great, summer fairs by reading this column! (It’s also wonderful that this fair encourages reading for kids). In terms of rides at fairs, I’ve mastered the Tilt-A-Whirl (I love this ride!) and….(ahem)…the…Merry-Go-Round. One time I went on a rather staid looking ride (nothing crazy! no roller-coasters that turn upside down and do the boogie-woogie) that truly did both terrify me and make me want to vomit. Admittedly, I’ve always been a bit confused, myself, over the appeal of certain rides: rides that make you feel like you are about to meet your imminent, extremely violent death.

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