Literature and agriculture comes alive at Miami Family Expo

Popular South Florida author Brad Meltzer figured he might have a hard time following a colorful, musical stage performance aimed at kids Saturday at The Children’s Trust Family Expo.

Moments after entertainers brought the worlds of kid literature alight with magic shows and storybook characters in costume inside a vast performance pavilion at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition in West Miami-Dade, Meltzer was to read from his I Am series of books on individuals who have changed the world.

How many kids will sit in rapt attention for an author as he discusses historical heroes like Abraham Lincoln, Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Robinson and Albert Einstein?

Apparently, plenty.

“What was crazy is I came on right after this wild, entertaining show and thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. I can’t follow that.’ But all these parents brought their kids, who sat in the front row, and I said, ‘Who are your heroes?’”

Of course, hands flew toward the ceiling in a hall that held some 200 exhibit and food booths that featured folks from the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, The Humane Society of Greater Miami and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. Also, performances by the Greater Miami Youth Symphony and winners of this year’s Young Talent Big Dreams performing arts competition, and Houdini-styled magic shows keyed to reading.

Authors, agriculture and arepas all competed for attention — along with a life-sized, plastic cow that kids could simulate milking.

Meltzer got a few of the responses he expected. “Superman.” “Batman.” Then his ears perked.

“Some said, ‘My mother.’ ‘My father.’ One kid said ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’ One kid said, ‘Eleanor Roosevelt.’ Barack, Hilary to Rosa Parks to Amelia Earhart. I said, ‘This is my kind of crowd,’” Meltzer said.

“For my thrillers it’s nice when someone says, ‘I read your book while I was in the hospital and it got me through a hard time.’ But there is nothing like the little girl who was just here whose dad said thanks for teaching her about Rosa Parks. That’s really a cool day of work for me,” Meltzer said.

The free, daylong festival drew about 15,000 or so people to the fairgrounds which teemed with information on schools, health and social services.

Trent Crews brought her daughter Trinity and her friend’s niece Cynthia from Key West for this year’s eighth-annual event. The 5- and 6-year-olds converged on the new exhibit, The Barnyard, hosted by the agricultural department and featuring a beekeeper, a chicken coop, a mock farmhouse and the aforementioned patient plastic cow whose udders got a good tugging all day.

“There’s not a lot of stuff like this going on in Key West so I wanted them to make sure they got this experience, because they are kids and sometimes it is about fun and playing but they also get to experience milking a cow and tasting honey. It’s been nice,” Crews said.

Ivonne Perez-Suarez, consumer advocate with the agricultural department, said this first-time appearance at the expo was geared toward introducing the group’s services to South Florida’s multicultural families. Also, “the children are getting in touch with nature. We are so focused on technology and they can lose touch with that,” she said.

“We can really meet the public that benefits from our services,” said Emily Cardenas, senior communications manager for The Children’s Trust, a funding organization.

The group helped parents sign up their pre-school children for the Trust’s free Read to Learn Book Club. Members get a free book every month by mail. Author appearances by Meltzer and Bob Shea add currency to the deal.

“We want children to know that books don’t just fall from the sky,” Cardenas said. “People actually write them.”

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