This corner of Key West, a city park in Bahama Village, drew some 100 children and their families on Saturday afternoon for a celebration of reading, with brand new books free for the taking and an array of locals offering kid friendly stuff.
But those kids wearing the balloon-animal hats, crafted by Sketch the Clown, and peeking in at the sheriff-owned sloth, who splayed out inside a crate while meticulously nibbling an ear of corn, didn't know they were honoring generations of educators who came before.
Folks who taught the teachers who later taught the likes of Virginia Irving, a retired Key West teacher who helped organize the first Venora B. Mingo Family Reading Festival at Willie Ward Park.
"It's marvelous to think this could ever happen," said Irving, seated at a table filled with free books at the park Saturday, while dozens of kids scampered about.
Along with a group of Key Westers, Irving spent the past year organizing and raising money and donations to put on the free three-hour festival that aimed to distribute 1,000 books.
A former Horace O'Bryant teacher, Irving has retired and lives in St. Petersburg.
"But my heart is here," she said, appearing cool and composed despite a late summer sun beating down.
Others braved the heat to enjoy the outdoor book giveaway, beats from a deejay and free hot dogs and punch.
"It was worth it," said Doreen Mobley, as she followed her two children, Jeremiah, 6, and Gabby, 3, as they called it a day. Mobley carried two tote bags filled with her kids' new books and other toddler-type swag.
"Most of these people are family," Mobley said, looking around the park, while her children's painted faces remained remarkably fresh.
Organizers hope to make it an annual event.
"We're trying to encourage families to start reading with their kids," said Gwen Sommers, who as a child was treated to stories.
"I was 4 or 5," said Sommers. "My mom always read to us."
In an age of electronic immediacy, e-readers, and downloaded books, Saturday's festival reached back to basics, as kids from pre-school to 13 were offered age-appropriate books, for all reading levels.
Mingo, the festival's namesake, was an education leader in Key West for 30 years, during which time she served as the teacher-principal of St. Peter's Episcopal Church. When the school closed, she founded the St. Peter's Kindergarten, welcoming young children of African, Bahamian and Cuban descent.
Mingo taught until her death in 1967.
On Saturday, her traditions continued.
Sage Kolbe, 4, carefully picked out a couple of books as his mother, Julie Kolbe, who homeschools her two children in Key West, patiently waited.
She dutifully placed one of his choices, a paperback copy of the picture book, "Izzie Lizzie Alligator: A Tale of a Big Lizard," in a tote bag.
"He's reading at the kindergarten level," Kolbe said of her son. Asked what she is reading these days, Kolbe laughed and said, "I'm too busy reading to my kids. I read picture books."
The Monroe County Public Library's children's department was out in full force, as Patricia Blanco, Allison Rich and Anne Layton Rice stayed busy helping kids make "shooting stars" with crepe paper and popsicle sticks, and provided headphones for those wanting to read "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs," while listening to an audio recording in tandem.
"It's great to see that kids are still interested in books," said Blanco, a library assistant and Conch who credits the genre of comic books for helping her overcome some reading problems when she was in sixth grade.
Across the way, the sheriff's office unleashed a goat, mini horse and the sloth in a tiny preview of their petting zoo on Stock Island. A white goat threw his hoofs on top of the fence and reached out to a woman as she pointed her iPhone camera at him.
School Board Vice Chairman Andy Griffiths walked about the park, recalling that his mom kept a stockpile of Dr. Seuss books when he was a kid.
"This is awesome," said Griffiths, as he took in the crowd.
Down at the beverage booth, 17-year-old Rachael Dietrich, a volunteer for the day, said she had to grow into the reading habit.
"I'm really picky about what I read," said the Key West Collegiate High School student. "Preferably nonfiction. Then you can be like, 'Oh, that really happened.'"
Meanwhile, Irving beamed with satisfaction at the day's turnout.
She is reading "The Righteous Mind," by Jonathan Haidt, and recently a memoir by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Irving attended the former Frederick Douglass School, which decades ago taught grades 1-12 in Bahama Village.
Who taught Irving, the accomplished educator who holds a doctorate degree, to read?
"The teachers at Douglass School," she said, immediately. "That's why this project is founded in their name."