Author Leslie Bulion's latest book may strike a nostalgic nerve with readers in Durham, or just about anyone else who's been to the town during the last weekend in September.
A Durham resident of 20 years, Bulion has written The Universe of Fair, a children's tale that follows Miller Sanford, an over-anxious 11-year-old boy who sets out to conquer the fictionalized fair.
"There's so much about the fair that I love. When I started work on this book, it felt to me a little bit like a love letter to the town," said Bulion, who never refers to the fair by it's actual name in the story.
While her other books — 8 of them in total — draw on her background in science and affection for poetry, The Universe of Fair is an exhibit of Bulion's love affair with her hometown's fall spectacle.
Throughout the main character's adventures, readers will find comforting familiarity — from giant raised doughnuts to an eerily depicted graveyard just steps from the fun of the fair.
"This is so easily recognizable as the Durham Fair. I sort of refer to it as fractured Durham Fair history," said Bulion, a reference to the classic Rocky and Bullwinkle Show's Fractured Fairy Tales.
Much of the story is derived from Bulion's direct involvement with the fair. She's spent the past 15 years as a volunteer with the youth committee, arguably one of the busiest and most chaotic departments. She has also exhibited her own photography, pottery, flowers, vegetables and knitting at the fair.
"I do love going up in the ferris wheel. I like to get that view of the town, like 'here we are again.' I love that feeling," she said.
Bulion recalled one conversation in particular that inspired her to write the book.
"This lovely woman told me this story about baking. She was getting ready to come to the fair and trying out recipes and bringing them into work and having people taste them and trying to decide what would be the best thing to make for the fair and she decided and she baked her entry, and she brought it in and set it aside at work and people thought it was another test and ate it," she said.
The Universe of Fair is illustrated by Frank W. Dormer, an accomplished author and illustrator who lives in Branford. He's also a friend of Bulion's.
"He knows the fair intimately," she said. "I knew everything that he did would be so funny and great."
The Universe of Fair will be published in August but is available for pre-order now. The book recently recently received the following review from Kirkus Reviews: "A cheerful and totally entertaining look at fairs, friendship and the value of family."
In September, Bulion and Dormer will be promoting the book during fair weekend and offering programs for kids.
Bulion is also organizing a contest in which fairgoers will be able to win prizes by taking a photo with a life-sized wooden cutout of Miller placed at different locations around the fair and uploading the photos on the The Universe of Fair's Facebook page (stay tuned for details!).
The book will also be featured in the upcoming program sponsored by the Durham Public Library and Levi E. Coe Library.
"I hope people in town are really going to love it," Bulion said.