Growing up, I had an uncle who lived in Orlando, Florida and grandparents who lived in Anaheim, CA. I went to both Disneys—World and Land—a lot. Which you’d think would sour me on anything as pedestrian as the local county fair in Center Sandwich, NH, a tiny town by most standards, but it didn’t. The mystery, the wonder, the excitement of the Sandwich Fair still stays with me, 35 years since I was actually standing on the Midway.
We got the day off from school for the Sandwich Fair—or so I thought. In fact, the fair was always held Columbus Day weekend. But having the day off seemed like a recognition of just how important this fair was—far more important than some guy landing a boat on an island hundreds of years ago. And to the few thousand people living around Sandwich, it was. There were ox pulls, horse pulls, all kinds of farm animal shows, jams and jellies and cakes and pumpkins and squash waiting for blue ribbons. And then there was the midway with its flashy games and rides, the Ferris wheel presiding over the lot like a queen.
But the thing that I think made the fair so special for me was that I was independent. Even when I was as young as seven, my parents would give me money for the fair and turn me loose. I decided when to watch the oxen, when to play midway games, when to ride the Ferris Wheel. I ducked under the arms of adults and between couples, running from sight to sight, money burning a hole in my pocket, feeling like I was the master of my destiny.
The glory of the fair may have had something to do with my favorite book at the time, Charlotte’s Web. When Fern goes to the fair only part of her excitement is the ruse Wilbur, Charlotte, and Templeton are working on. In fact, the fair is the beginning of the end for Fern. She’s on the cusp of being a young adult and riding the Ferris wheel with a boy eclipses her beloved Wilbur’s situation.
And that may be why so many young adult authors separate their main characters from their parents. Independence is the drug. It’s heady and exciting and makes for memorable moments. As readers, kids want to know what it’s like to be on their own. In real life, the excitement of a small-town country fair might be enough. In fiction, it’s often the challenge of survival.