By Floyd Whiting
Via Wyoming News Exchange
BUFFALO — In a forest full of animals, a little girl brushes her white horse next to a stream. A panda bear watches from the tree line while eating bamboo.
The stream falls over a green cliff, creating a mix of white and blue foam as it collides with the ocean below. A blue whale swims through the deep water as a purple octopus and mermaid tend to their undersea garden.
This is the Mystic Forest, and it took three weeks and the imaginations and building skills of three sisters to bring it to life at the eighth annual “Legos at the Johnson County Library.”
The Ketner sisters – Isabelle, 10; Madelene, 8; and Elena, 6 – decided to take part in the Lego build this year for the first time. They entered their Lego landscape, “The Mystic Forest,” into the team build category.
The build featured two levels: a forest full of animal friends and a waterfall into a second level of an undersea garden. The landscape was packed full of imagination and animal life. The framework to support the forest required sophisticated engineering to bear the weight.
The team build category, new to this year's competition, allows teams to conceive an idea and use teamwork to bring it to life. The event fosters community, engineering and imagination, said Mary Rhoads, who organized the event with Megan Herold. Rhoads and Herold both work in children's services at the library. The two women came up with the idea after attending a librarians’ conference. This year there were 47 entries, which is average for the event according to Rhoads.
Building the Mystic Forest was a team effort, but the original idea goes to the “mastermind,” said Madelene, who said she prefers to be called Madie.
“I was just thinking of a huge forest,” Madie said.
“I was thinking of water,” Elena said.
“I was probably watching TV,” Isabelle said. “My name is Isabelle; I go by Bella though. I'm in charge of these two.”
The girls sat down and shared their ideas. Madie wanted to build a forest, Elena wanted a water garden and the situation was deadlocked. But the oldest sister came up with a compromise.
“I think these two might have started fighting,” she said. “But then we were like, 'Wait, what if we combine two builds?' That's when the light bulb went off.”
The girls got to work.
“It took a long time to build the wall,” Madie said.
Elena had trouble placing blocks in locations to hold it all together, but she remained determined.
“At the very bottom, in the middle, there are these little Legos that hold the bottom, so it wouldn't go down," Elena said.
The girls all agreed the most difficult part of the build was connecting the two layers.
“The stream would not stick to the base,” Madie said. “So that was hard.”
The rules ask children not to use commercial Lego sets. Halfway through, the girls ran into another hurdle when they ran out of Legos to use.
But mom, Justine Ketner, saved the day and purchased two more sets of colored blocks and plant pieces.
“It was really boring and bland before we added a lot of those plants,” Bella said.
The attention to detail and multilevel approach worked, and the Ketner sisters won the team build category. Their prize was a Lego set to continue expanding their world.
"We were really shocked,” Bella said. “A lot of people don't know this, but this is our first year, so we were surprised when we won. We thought a lot of other people’s builds were better than ours.”
After the awards were handed out, accompanied by applause, all the Lego-build competitors were treated to sundaes with all the toppings they could handle.
As for the Ketner sisters, they are planning for next year's build, and they are taking home more than just bellies full of ice cream and an award.
“She (Madie) is the biggest mastermind,” Bella said. "I didn't know if I was going to do it. … All I do all day is sit around and watch TV and make fun of them. So I was like, 'Let's try to make this sister-bonding time.' And it worked.”