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The Universe of Fair

The Universe of Fair
Written by Leslie Bulion
Illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
Published by Peachtree Publishers, 2012
ISBN # 978-1561456345

Grades 4 and up
Book Review

Eleven year-old Miller’s life revolves around the Holmsbury Fair, a longstanding celebration that electrifies the entire town each year. This year, though, he is determined to convince his parents he does not need adult supervision, that he’s trustworthy, responsible, and old enough to enjoy the fair with his best friend, Lewis. Proving so means diligently saving his money and babysitting his six-year old sister Penny and her friends without complaint in the days leading up to the event. It doesn’t mean mistakenly eating his father’s entry for the baking contest, losing his rambunctious six-year old charges, and roping Lewis into one predicament after another to come clean about the pie. Throw in Miller’s fascination with a local ghost story and his stabs at using String Theory and a Theory of Everything to make sense of his day, and his misadventures become an uproarious tale of a middle schooler’s attempts at independence and maturity. Penny and her friends, in particular, are a realistic and endearing source of humor – even if Miller doesn’t see it that way. With simple black-and-white line drawings, Dormer’s illustrations underscore the earnestness and lightheartedness of Bulion’s text. For a clear-sighted perspective into an early adolescent mindset, or for a sheer upbeat and entertaining read, share The Universe of Fair with your students.

Teaching Ideas and Invitations

  • Leslie Bulion Author Study. Leslie Bulion has written several books for children across the ages. Gather multiple copies of her books and conduct an author study. Ask your students to identify patterns in setting, theme, character, and plot across the fiction titles. Examine Bulion’s storytelling techniques in the books, as well as the topics and perspectives she writes about in her poetry collections. Gather information about Bulion from her website listed below, your local librarian, the Internet, and as other biographical sources.
  • Fairs Around the World and Throughout Time. Fairs have been popular events throughout the world and throughout history. What is the purpose of a fair? How is it similar or different from a carnival? What unique contributions and facts have fairs made to local cultures and histories? Gather a set of texts about the stories, events, exhibitions, and contests that take place at different fairs. You can start by comparing and contrasting other chapter books and novels set at fairs, such as Watch out World, Rosy Cole is Going Green! and Fair Weather. Use picturebooks to gather more visual information about fairs (see Further Explorations below). Use websites about fairs, especially ones about the World’s Fair, to investigate further (see Further Explorations below). Finally, round out this set of texts about fairs by listening to NPR Road Trips: Fairs and Festivals: Stories That Take You Away, a captivating audio CD collection of stories and silliness that occur at fairs across the United States. If a local fair happens to be nearby, enrich their understandings with a trip there and behind the scenes.
  • What Does It Mean to Be Responsible? Miller is determined to prove to his parents that he’s responsible, but there are times he debates what is the more responsible course of action. Divide students into literature circles, and share several of the children’s books below that deal with characters trying to prove they are responsible, such as Flour Babies and No Such Thing. Guide each group to consider the following questions: How does each character define “being responsible”? Are they trying to prove something more? What obstacles must they overcome to show they are responsible? Can showing responsibility in one way also show lack of responsibility in another?
  • Debating Theories of Everything. Miller ponders several scientific theories to help figure out the mysteries and problems he encounters throughout the novel. In particular, he focuses on String Theory and a Theory of Everything. Pair The Universe of Fair with another novel in which the characters attempt to explain the events surrounding them through a specific scientific theory, such as Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. Direct your students to websites (see Further Explorations below) and easily digestible printed explanations of the various theories under consideration. After engaging them in a discussion about the various theories, set up a debate in which students argue and defend each of the theories against the others.
  • Inner Monologues. Miller’s first-person narration allows us to know what he thinks about the people and events around him. One of the ways Leslie Bulion accomplishes this is by writing out Miller’s inner monologues, or the actual long train of thought that goes through his mind as he experiences life around him, such as whenever he contemplates the Theory of Everything. Have students reread some of Miller’s inner monologues, studying how Leslie Bulion shapes them to reveal more about character and plot. Then, using The Universe of Fair as a mentor text, encourage students to try inserting inner monologues into their own fiction writing. You may want to scaffold this strategy by having students assume the role of one of their characters and then freewriting from that character’s point of view.

Further Explorations

Online Resources

Leslie Bulion’s website

Frank W. Dormer’s website

International Association of Fairs and Expositions

The World’s Fair Museum

Fairs Everywhere

Facts about Fairs,9171,761316,00.html

Kid-Friendly Websites about String Theory

Websites about the Theory of Everything


Cleary, B. (1957). Henry and the paper route. New York: Morrow Junior Books.

DiCamillo, K., & McGhee, A. (2012). Bink and Gollie: Two for one. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Fine, A. (1994). Flour babies. Boston: Little, Brown.

Greenwald, S. (2010). Watch out world, Rosy Cole is going green! New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Kehret, P. (1995). Danger at the fair. New York: Cobblehill Books.

Krulik, N. (2013). Katie Kazoo switcheroo: All’s Fair. Ill. by John & Wendy. New York: Penguin Young Readers Group.

NPR. (2012). NPR road trips: Fairs and festivals: Stories that take you away. [Audio CD]. HighBridge Company.

Peck, R. (1998). A long way from Chicago. New York: Dial Press.

Peck, R. (2003). Fair weather. New York: Puffin.

Stead, R. (2010). When you reach me. New York: Yearling.

Tudor, T. (1998). Corgiville fair. Boston: Little, Brown & Company.

Grace Enriquez About Grace Enriquez

Grace is an associate professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher, reading specialist, and literacy consultant, she teaches and writes about children’s literature, critical literacies, and literacies and embodiment. Grace is co-author of The Reading Turn-Around and co-editor of Literacies, Learning, and the Body.