It Happened at the Fair
The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?
Cullen whistled and whipped off his hat, swinging it in the air, just like acres and acres of like-minded citizens. A hundred thousand handkerchiefs appeared, fluttering in the breeze like a sudden fall of snowflakes. With an exaggerated flourish, Cleveland pushed down the golden telegraph key and set off a chain reaction. Old Glory, whose silken folds had been bound, whipped open to catch the razor-sharp breeze. A massive cheesecloth veil fell from a ninety-foot gilded figure of the Republic posing in the waters of the Basin. A halo of electric lamps illuminated her crown. Her uplifted arms held a staff of Liberty and an eagle with wings spreading over the court. . . . The crowd quieted, momentarily awed into stillness, before letting out a cheer that lasted minutes. Then, like a lightning bolt fracturing the sky, they broke apart and dashed in a thousand directions, hurrying to take in the wonders set before them. The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition had officially begun.
Read an Excerpt
Cullen’s eyes swelled to mere slits, his roughened cheeks itched, and a sharp line separated the raw skin on his neck from the skin protected by his shirt. It had happened every planting season for his entire twenty-seven years and it would happen for the next.
He yanked off his gloves, shirt, and undershirt, worked the pump, then stuck his whole head beneath... see more
Reading Group Guide
Cullen McNamara didn’t set out to be an inventor. He had long ago settled on a life of farming, but his debilitating allergies to cotton—and a tragic history with his mother—continued to steer him toward his idea for inventing an automatic fire sprinkler system. With the support of his father, Cullen attends the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and finds more than just a platform for his invention. A beautiful lip-reading teacher quickly turns his world upside down, and everything he thought he knew about himself—and life—changes.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. In It Happened at the Fair, we are introduced to a hard-of-hearing farmer with severe allergic reactions to his crops. What are your first impressions of Cullen McNamara? Why do you think he was so resigned to a life of farming, even though it made him miserable?
2. Cullen’s father manages to persuade Cullen to attend the fair after confessing he has paid the nonrefundable mo see more