I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For … Cotton Candy!

Some of my favorite summer memories revolve around the carnival’s annual visit to my little Iowa town. Why?

-Freedom! My best buddy Teresa and I headed to the park in a euphoric frenzy, saved quarters burning holes in our pockets. Ride tickets in hand, we’d run flat out between the Octopus, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Scrambler, and the Ferris wheel until we’d finally have to collapse under a tree to take a breather. And look for cute boys.

-Sensory overload! Lights. Midway smells. Blaring rock music. Grinding motors. Somebody hollering distant numbers in the Bingo tent. Persuasive carnies jabbering to get some poor sap to play their game of chance. I remember begging my parents for more money every morning of the carnival’s 3-day run.

-Cotton candy! Oh, cotton candy. How I loved thee.

So when I saw that my friend Ann Ingalls had a new book titled FAIRY FLOSS – The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy (little bee books), I thought What? I have to have this one! (Also, Dang, why didn’t I think of this?!)

Ann agreed to an interview so we could hear the story behind the story.

JE: Can you remember how you stumbled onto this subject?

AI: Actually, Sonali Fry at Little Bee asked me to write a book on cotton candy. She gave me free reign to come up with a story. When I discovered that it was one of the most important inventions of the fair (it received an award as the most important), I made the decision to write it as narrative nonfiction. I thought adding a child character might invite readers into the book. I used names that were very popular in the early 1900s. I also wanted to use a nontraditional family.

JE: Tell us a bit about your research process for this book. (Nice backmatter bib, by the way!) Were there any fact discrepancies that led you deeper down the rabbit hole?

AI: I love doing the research to write a book and this was especially fun. I went to libraries, websites, google books, etc. Because William Morrison, co-inventor of the electric candy making machine was a dentist, I found some solid info about him and the invention at University of Missouri in Kansas City’s Dental Library. I also looked at the U.S. Patent office for information and images of the machine.

Photo research for the World’s Fair was the most fun! As Sue Lowell Gallion and Jody Jensen Shaffer can tell you, one of my dreams is to actually go to the fair. Too bad it ended 113 years ago.

JE: I went to a World’s Fair in Montreal in 1967 (And hey, why aren’t we riding around in flying cars by now?) Ann, what factors went into your decision to present this fascinating information in a fiction format?

AI: The only things I have fictionalized about the story are the characters and their dialogue. All of the rest is fact, right down to the long handled fork used to gather the fairy floss and place it in the wooden boxes in which it was sold.

One especially fun fact I found out was that when Walt Disney was just 5 years-old, his parents took him to the fair. His mother is said to have remembered his saying, “This is like a magic kingdom.”

Love that Disney tidbit, Ann! Thanks so much for visiting Picture Book Builders and giving us a peek at FAIRY FLOSS. And readers, Migy Blanco’s bold, colorful illustrations, as you can see, are the perfect complement to Ann’s lively text, bringing 1904 to life in a way kids will eat up.

Sorta like cotton candy.

Visit Ann’s website here. And check out illustrator Migy Blanco here.

Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2024: Parrotfish Has a Superpower (a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection) and Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World (another JLG Gold Standard Selection). She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at http://jillesbaum.com.


  1. This looks terrific! Congrats to Ann! Love Migy’s vibrant illustrations too. And, Jill, I love your carnival reflections. I sense a book there. 🙂

  2. This book looks deliciously delightful!

  3. Congratulations Ann and Migy on Fairy Floss! Enjoyed reading about how this book came to be and why Jill was drawn to it. Great title, too!

  4. Cotton candy is my favorite! Can’t wait to read this book!

  5. Definitely my kind of book! Congrats, Ann!

  6. What a delightful book! Congratulations, Ann! And thank you, Jill, for the interview.

  7. Very *sweet*!! I’ve always loved cotton candy! I’m sure I’ll enjoy the book too. Thanks!

  8. Sure to be another delicious read. 🙂

  9. What a wonderfully fun nonfiction topic! And I love the detailed illustrations. This book is a winner!

  10. I love learning through narrative nonfiction. Can’t wait to read this one! I can still remember the sweetness of cotton candy melting in my mouth when I was a kid. Congrats Ann and Migy!

  11. Thank you so much, dear Jill, for this opportunity to share my work.

  12. Sweet topic that will be devoured by many, including me.

  13. Kevan Atteberry

    This looks delicious!!

  14. What a great topic for a narrative NF book! I’ll be in Iowa later this month. I loved going to the IA State Fair.

  15. We DO have a fantastic state fair, don’t we, Tina? I love going!

  16. This book looks like sweet fun!

  17. Hard to resist, Claire!

  18. A book about cotton candy–my favorite fair-time treat? That’s a lollapalooza for sure!
    I got to attend the ’74 Expo in what is now Spokane Washington’s Riverfront Park and have visited Seattle Center, home of 1962’s 21st Century Exposition, many times. That’s one of the great things about the World Fairs: they created parks, museums, and architectural wonders we still enjoy.

  19. Looks like the perfect match with the illustrations. Going on my list. 🙂

  20. Just yesterday, my seven year old granddaughter begged me to buy her some cotton candy. Your story captures the fascination children have with this sweet treat and the bright illustrations bring that story to life. I’ll never be able to call cotton candy by any other name than fairy floss from now on. The next time my granddaughter visits, I plan on the two of us reading this story together.

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