Monday, February 20, 2017

To Sleepover, Perchance to Dream

By C.J. Hirschfield


The calendar still says February, but here at Fairyland we have summer on our minds. Registration for two of our popular summer programs – birthday parties and summer sleepovers — is now open. And our summer-camp sessions filled up within the first week. 

It seems like a good time to revisit a column I originally wrote in 2009, about one local (and famous) author’s experiences with his daughter at a Fairyland summer sleepover.

Waiting for sunset: A Fairyland sleepover gets under way.

When I wrote it, we were celebrating: For the first time in a couple of years, Fairyland’s summer sleepovers were completely sold out. (This year, we still have plenty of spaces! Go to the “Events and Performances” section of our website to sign up for one of four dates in July and August.) We wondered: Why the sudden good fortune? Maybe a mention in a book that had just been published was the cause.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

We Hear Voices...

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week the puppet show “The Three Wishes” opened at Children’s Fairyland. It was the first time the show – a classic German folk tale – had been mounted here in 21 years. In our telling, a woodcutter is rewarded with three wishes after aiding an elf. Things quickly get out of control.

We often use the original soundtrack of the show, using voices and music that were recorded long ago. It may seem sad to hear that all of the voice-talent artists who recorded the show have passed away, but to Fairyland’s master puppeteer Randal Metz, it’s a comfort.

A youthful Randal was at the recording session for “Wishes” back in the 1970s, and for most sessions after that. Here’s the way it worked:

Adult and child cast members would meet in Fairyland master puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann’s stately, historic Oakland apartment for a homemade dinner. Everyone would have received their scripts beforehand, and Lewis or Randal would direct. All would do a read-through together, and then take suggestions and talk about emphasis. The show would be recorded, all would listen and then try again. There would be much laughter and, after the kids left, some drinking.

Left to right: master puppeteer Randal Metz, David Jones, and Liesel and Brian Weimer record the puppet show soundtrack for "Brer Rabbit" in 1995.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Whatever Floats Your Teeth...

By C.J. Hirschfield

Amy Blake was due to have her baby in just a few days, but that didn’t keep her from coming to Children’s Fairyland to see our equines – two donkeys and one miniature horse – having their teeth filed. “Of course I said yes!” she said.

And that is how last Wednesday, the extremely pregnant Amy – who is a dentist for humans, and is married to Fairyland’s facilities manager, Nick Mitchell – found herself observing the work of Billy Liskey, equine dental technician. He was happy to have the company because, he said, he likes to explain his job—and to show off the $30,000 in equipment he’s invested in his practice.

Dental technician Billy Laskey works on our donkey Gideon's teeth.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Spicy, Sweet, Creamy, Crispy

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week, two of Fairyland’s finest attended the 42nd Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Featuring 1,400 exhibitors from around the world and “80,000 exciting specialty foods and beverages,” the event was not for the faint of heart – or stomach, for that matter, since samples are the name of the game.

One aisle in one of the halls at the Fancy Food show in Moscone Center.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Yoga with Goats

By C.J. Hirschfield

Yes, it’s a thing.

Children’s Fairyland’s Animal Caretaker Maura McMichael first heard about it about a month and a half ago, when family and friends started sending her clips from the New York Times, USA Today, and ABC News. One of the first yoga-with-goats classes took place in a town about 70 miles south of Portland, Ore.; it now has a waiting list of 600. People, not goats.

At first Maura thought it was funny. Then she realized that yoga-with-goats was a dream come true. “This combines two of the most wonderful thing in my life,” she says. She thinks other people will enjoy it, too, so she’s working on a plan to lead classes at Fairyland, when the park isn’t open to the public.

Maura, Brownie, and Cookie practice their downward-facing dog pose. Or is it downward-facing goat?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Subliterary Scare

By C.J. Hirschfield

I’m finally getting around to writing about an article that appeared in the online Slate magazine, a piece that has generated no small amount of interest: 340 comments at last count.

In “My Kids Read Only Subliterary Branded Commodities. Yours Probably Do, Too,” writer  Gabriel Roth tells us that children’s book publishing today “is dominated by … book-like objects featuring familiar properties licensed to publishers by massive entertainment conglomerates.” Examples include Dora the Explorer, Transformers, My Little Pony and the Disney Princess and Disney Fairies line.


Roth is not shy about his views on the subject.  

“These stories are the juvenile equivalent of pornography: They aim to gratify base desires as voluptuously as possible,” he says. Comparing these books to junk food, he nonetheless concludes that he’ll continue to let his daughter indulge in her Disney fairy fantasies. He grudgingly ends his piece with: “My daughter’s appetites are her own.”

In 1972, Fairyland was featured in a subliterary branded commodity: a "Dennis the Menace" comic book.


At Fairyland, we don’t offer books in our gift shop, or in our Reading Room, that are based on branded and licensed products. There are too many creative, inclusive and original stories — many written and illustrated by Bay Area locals — that we prefer to highlight.

Books in Fairyland's Reading Room are not what one writer describes as "subliterary branded commodities."


But I was interested to know what our local expert — the person who has the final say on all of the children’s books that are purchased for the Oakland Public Library — had to say about the subject. As it turns out, Children’s Collection Management Librarian Amy Martin says this is one of her favorite topics in children’s literature.

She points out that there’s a good reason you’ll find scads of Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, and even Transformers picture books in your 17 local children’s library sections: kids LOVE them. And that’s why a goodly portion of the children’s library’s $200,000 annual book budget goes to purchase – or replace – these books. 

Oakland Children's Librarian Amy Martin reading to children in an Alameda County Social Services Agency waiting room.


Amy wants kids to get into the habit of reading for pleasure. She believes it's important to teach kids that books reflect what they're excited about, whether it's drawing with a purple crayon or mermaid Ariel getting married. She cited an important study that affirms that reading for pleasure -- anything the child chooses -- gives children more educational advantages than having two parents with college degrees. 

Other Oakland children’s librarians concur. Here’s one story Amy heard from them: Two young brothers visited East Oakland’s Martin Luther King, Jr., branch on their own (many, many kids come to the library without adults). The older brother browsed, but told the librarian that his younger brother hated reading. That changed when Younger Brother discovered the library’s collection of “The Simpsons” comic books. After that, he returned every few days for a new stack.
“We found his entry point,” is how Amy describes it.
Feeling snobbish about Disney books? Talk to the children’s librarian at Oakland’s Brookfield branch, who still thanks Amy for approving the order of many books in this series.
Allowing kids to choose their own books validates their choices in general, something Amy thinks is important. “If adults reinforce that the things children value aren’t good, that could lead to defiance or bruised self-esteem,” she says.
She says she loves to see the excited faces of kids holding books. “I don’t necessarily care what the book is,” she says. And, she assures us, “classic books aren’t going anywhere.”
But she also loves to purchase original books by local authors. One she particularly likes is One of a Kind, Like Me, written by Laurin Mayeno, illustrated by Robert Liu-Trujillo, and published right here in the Bay Area by Blood Orange Press. It tells the true story of the author’s young son, who wants to wear a princess outfit to a school parade and is supported in his (ultimately successful) quest. 
One of a Kind, Like Me / Unico Como Yo

We like the book, too -- and are pleased that Laurin (and hopefully Robert) will be among the authors featured in our May 6 Turn the Page! childrens book festival. It's a celebration of Bay Area authors and illustrators, wholl be reading, drawing, and talking about books in front of their biggest fans: kids. There may be some princesses, ponies, and trains in the lineup, but for this particular event, none of them will carry a registered trademark symbol.
__

C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children's Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation's first storybook theme park.



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Box of Buttons

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week, Tim Youngs from Spokane left a review of Children’s Fairyland on Facebook. He said our park is “the last truly non-cynical destination in the Bay.”

Sometimes it really does feel like our little park is an oasis: a place where families can go to escape the troubles and fears in an uncertain world. Gentle  animals, art, storytelling, fantastic play structures, gardens, puppet shows — we present them all in a manner that respects the innocence of childhood, encourages the imagination to take flight and demonstrates the kindness we’re all capable of.

The Fairyland Card Maze (and one rose).