By Jon Persson
It is just a ways past dawn, on the Thames. A weekend of “Fish Tales, Tugs, and Sails” officially starts with the arrival of the tugboats John Paul and Patricia Ann, dark-hulled locomotives of the sea with bright red superstructures. Children of all ages love these stout and stalwart vessels, which always seem to have the personalities of story characters. One of the two tugs docking has been re-named Huggy the Tug by five-year-old Arianna, who receives a special prize from Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio for her good job.
With this auspicious beginning, the events of the day get fully underway, and the kids…running, walking, toddling, and stroller-seated…are at their excited best.
First on the Custom House Pier stage is the Destiny Africa choir, who have arrived on the tugboat Patricia Ann. They are from the Kambala Children’s Center in Uganda, which helps children displaced or orphaned by war, disease, and poverty. The choir is on a 16-week tour of America to raise awareness and support for the Center. Their performance consists of traditional Ugandan dance and song, with authentic drums and an acoustic guitar. All is presented and performed with great skill, energy, and passion by the choir members, who range in age from eight to 13 years. .
DJ Johnny Mack of Radio Mitchell (College) provides the introductions and running commentary, next introducing the brilliant 16-year-old magician Elijah Pysyk. His job is to fill the time between main acts with a steady patter and some magic, which he delivers with fluid skill with the help of some good-natured audience members.
Author Tish Rabe takes the stage next, where she describes the prodigious work behind writing 17 Dr. Seuss books since 1996. The books must be factually and scientifically accurate, rhyme, have the famous Dr. Seuss sense of timing and meter, and, perhaps especially, meet the approval of Dr. Suess’s 86-year-old widow. Tish has also written books for Sesame Street characters, and has created her own original characters. Her path to authorship began as a quest to sing in the opera.
Under a pair of red tents children are enticed by more games and activities. The presenters include Connecticut and Mitchell Colleges, Whale’s Tales Children’s Book Bank, and TVCCA’s Little Learners (where little children use fishing poles to fish for plastic fish-puzzle pieces).
Nearby, a display for The Drunken Palette invites children to string beads onto necklaces or color in coloring-book pictures. This location is the mobile version of the Palette, whose main studio is on State Street in New London. There, they offer classes and hourly open sessions for aspiring artists of all ages. On this day, they have attracted a steady flow of young artists to their tent (www.TheDrunkenPalette.com).
Sailing is very much a part of the day’s venue. The schooner Mystic Whaler is offering tours and sailing trips around the river, a chance to experience sailcraft as practiced across centuries past. Or, there are Optimist prams, eight feet long and used around the world to teach the basics of sailing. Finally, there is the non-profit organization Sea Legs, which provides young people with experience sailing from either side of the Thames River (www.sea-legs.org). Meanwhile, Project Oceanology has docked its research vessel Enviro Lab II for onboard tours, giving future scientists a chance to see and feel the real world of scientific inquiry.
The Free Roaming Train takes children and their parents on a trackless trainride in its little cars pulled by a stout Thomas the Tank Engine. They wind down the pier, past vendors and displays, such as Destiny Africa’s booth explaining their important work with Ugandan children (www.kampalachildren.com). Nearby, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families has a staffed table to explain the virtues and workings of this State’s foster-parent and adoption programs (www.state.ct.us/dcf). There are also stands selling toys, handmade clothing, feather extensions, Native American jewelry, and more pretty things to see and touch. For the thrill-seekers, a large inflatable slide provides a final instant of hesitant adventure for the young audience.
And, alongside the young performers of Destiny Africa, another star of the day is 14-year-old author August Edwards, with a half dozen or so self-published books of short stories and other tales on offer (visit August Edwards on Facebook). Indeed, this is supposed to be a day for kids, but some have made it a day of and by kids, adding a special vitality beyond the written descriptions of the event’s organizers.
Be a kid again…why not!