Fair-ly Extraordinary

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It was the Illinois State Fair. I was a guest in the Lt. Governor’s tent, and got to know some of the Illinois Reads professionals. Also, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with author Joan Bauer! Later that day, I ate one corn dog, one strawberry crepe, and a root beer float. Then I didn’t feel so good for a while.

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Visitors to the tent stop to chat.

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This is the second year of the Illinois Reading Council’s statewide program.

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They had a photo booth for fairgoers to make a memory. Here, I pose with Julie Hoffman, one of the brilliant and dedicated IRC Illinois Reads committee members.

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I read WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER probably four or five times that afternoon!

A Life-Sized Butter Cow! Also, Me.

Last Year's Cow

Last Year’s CowSource

On Saturday I get to appear at the Illinois State Fair along with the traditional butter cow, dueling banjos, and costumed sheep! (Not at the same time or tent, but still.) Won’t you stop in and say hello?

    Saturday, August 9, 2014
    1:00-3:00pm
    Lt. Governor’s Tent

I’ll be signing copies of (and bookplates for) Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer! Also, if you stop by before 1:00, you have a chance to meet YA author Joan Bauer, who will be the featured author Saturday morning. Far out!

From the Illinois Reads flyer:

Lt. Governor Simon is encouraging you to discover Illinois authors. As an ambassador for Illinois Reads, her tent will feature books for all ages by Illinois’ exciting authors. Follow the Lt. Governor’s Facebook page to learn times for featured readings. While at the Lt. Governor’s tent, be sure to register for her daily book giveaway, pose in her free photo wall and check out the typewriter used by one of our state’s most prolific writers, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon. Do you need to first clear space on your bookshelf? Donate any new or slightly used books to her book drive.

About the cow: “The 500-pound cow is made with unsalted butter. Built from scratch each year, the butter cow has been an unofficial mascot of the fair since the 1920s.” Source: AP

Laura and Illinois Reads

This is going to be hard, which is why I keep putting it off. But I want to say it and it’s not going to get any easier, so here goes–

Laura Crawford's IN ARCTIC WATERS

Laura Crawford’s IN ARCTIC WATERS

I miss Laura Crawford. She was the author of several books for children, including a book selected for this year’s Illinois Reads program, In Arctic Waters, but her writing career ended suddenly when she succumbed to leukemia in the fall of 2013. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I mean, she had fought cancer before and vanquished it twice during the time that I knew her, but those battles were all behind her, I thought. We all thought.

I was taken by surprise. I had just attended an author event with her last spring–the 2013 Illinois Young Authors Conference in Bloomington. Laura was her usual energetic, witty, genuine self all day. She, the more experienced and knowledgeable author–I, the newb. She was the only other writer there whom I knew. We had known each other for over ten years, in fact, long before either of us had published any books. We had scads of mutual friends, plus some little inside jokes and memories of other funny incidents that had taken place at previous events, so there was always something to talk about with Laura. I was so happy she was there.

Back at our hotel, we were tickled to discover that our rooms were right next to each other. We joked around while she dug around in her bag for her room key card, which, I remember, took a long time. A ridiculously long time. I smiled as she scrounged again and again through the bag’s contents. So Laura.

At some point during that weekend, we made vague plans to have lunch over the coming summer. She would be out of school then (she was a reading specialist–another talent). I looked forward to lunch with Laura, but you know how it goes. The meeting just never got scheduled. Next thing I knew, fall had come around again.

Then came the message in my email with the subject line “Sad News about Laura Crawford.”

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I couldn’t share my feelings with others who knew her, not yet. It wasn’t until this past March that I found a way both to honor Laura and to express my grief. At the ceremony to introduce this year’s books and their Illinois authors chosen for Illinois Reads, which was held the night before the Illinois Reading Council’s yearly convention, I carried In Arctic Waters.

At the Illinois Reads kickoff in the Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois (l to r: Jim Aylesworth, me, Kristina Springer)

At the Illinois Reads kickoff in the Old State Capitol, Springfield, Illinois (I’m in the center.)

Years earlier, I was one of the writers lucky enough to critique Laura’s arctic manuscript in its earliest stages. This happened, I realized, while traveling home from an earlier Illinois Reading Council convention in Springfield, before there was an Illinois Reads program, before either of us was published.

I was proud to be able to hold Laura’s book while standing in front of the crowd in the Illinois State House, in the very room where Abraham Lincoln used to speechify. Laura loved history. She would have loved being there. I wish she had had the chance.