Monday, April 24, 2017

A Celebration of Kids' Books

By C.J. Hirschfield

Kids, books, authors and illustrators: an irresistible combination – and the inspiration for Turn the Page!, a celebration at Fairyland of the role of literature in the lives of children. We held our first Turn the Page! last year, and it was a hit, with more than 25 local children’s book authors and illustrators, nearly 2,000 guests, and 365 books sold.

That kind of success calls for an encore. And so we’re thrilled to bring back Turn the Page! on Saturday, May 6, from 10 to 4.

Monday, April 17, 2017

An Ode to Two Bookkeepers

By C.J. Hirschfield

I have had two great careers with two wonderful organizations, totaling 35 years. During those years I have worked with exactly two bookkeepers, and I can’t say enough about how much they’ve contributed to the overall success of each operation – and about how they’ve made it possible for me to look smarter than I am, and to grow businesses in a way that benefits our employees and the folks we serve.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A City of Neighborhoods

By C.J. Hirschfield
Quick: How many distinct neighborhoods do you think there are in Oakland?
Photographer Stephen Texeira says the answer is 146, and his Oakland Neighborhood Project seeks to hear from all of them.
Children’s Fairyland doesn’t technically constitute a classic neighborhood. Nevertheless, Stephen invited us to participate last week in a photo shoot that allowed our Children’s Theatre kids to share with the world what their distinctively Oakland park represents to them. 
Photographer Stephen Texeira captures Fairyland’s Children’s Theatre kids and their messages for his Oakland Neighborhoods photo project. Photo by Stephen Texeira.

Stephen, who was raised in the Bay Area and now lives in the Laurel District, started the project three years ago, believing that his city was among the most misunderstood and misrepresented in the country. His goal: to change Oaklands image both internally and externally, one neighborhood at a time, by holding photo sessions featuring a local person, couple, or family displaying a sign with a message about the place where they live.
Until last week, his compelling photos graced the windows of a vacant but highly visible building at the corner of 19th St. and Broadway. For 18 months, Stephens work attracted the attention of commuters and locals. The reaction, according to the business district’s representative, Andrew Jones, was “totally positive.
Stephen admits that when he first embarked upon this project, he didn’t have a clear notion of where it would lead him. He has disciplined himself to devote four hours a day to it; the rest of the time he earns his living as a professional photographer for clients that include Alameda Health System, the YMCA of the East Bay, Mills College, and numerous dance companies.
Photographer Stephen Texeira at Fairyland's Aesop's Playhouse.

The neighborhoods project got more attention when it was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle and OaklandLocal. Suddenly, people were contacting Stephen instead of the other way around.
Oakland residents have opened their homes and their hearts to Stephen. For his part, he says his goal is to make images “that are honest, emotional, funny, touching, sad, beautiful, and moving.
The project allows Stephen to explore parts of Oakland he says he wouldn’t have otherwise seen. He’s sometimes asked whether venturing outside his own neighborhood makes him nervous. No, he answers: “Neighborhoods are made up of families and kids — people who are trying to pay their rent, have a garden. That perspective is huge.”
Stephen says that he never censors what his subjects write on their signs. Often, he says, he is most moved by the folks who write the least.
The photos capture our city’s quirky, proud spirit. One resident representing Allendale is photographed with his happy dog. His message: “I promise Oakland will NOT eat your child, it just wants to lick you in the face.”
From a mom and her three kids whose Bushrod roots go back many generations: “Family.”
And from one young lady from Grand Lake: “Diversity, kindness, and local is my way of describing Oakland!”
Stephen recalls two especially memorable photo shoots. One took place at the East Oakland Youth Development Center, where he worked with kids age 6 to 14. One drew a picture of a gun; another asked how to spell “homicide.” But hearts, butterflies, and trees were also represented in abundance.
Another involved Maybelle Broussard, a 102-year-old resident of Toler Heights who passed away a month ago. In 1932, she was one of a handful of African American students admitted to the University of California at Berkeley. She earned a B.A. in languages in an era when few women of color and only 10 percent of all Americans attended college. “Her message read like a Visit Oakland ad,” says Stephen: “Not too large a city,” “Lots of hills, fabulous views, good transportation.” Her message closes with “Many cultures are living together here peacefully.”
Maybelle Broussard.

“A remarkable woman,” Stephen says.
The shoot Stephen did last week with one of our Children’s Theatre casts was great fun for all of us. A sampling of their messages: “At Fairyland I learned stories that taught me lessons I learned that it’s nice to BE YOURSELF.” “Fairyland is a party to be YOU.” And one that really resonated with me: “Fairyland inspires me to be more ... kid.”
Children's Theatre kids working on their signs.

Stephen will be posting the Fairyland photos on his website, Oakland Photo, later this week. In the meantime, you can see photos from all the neighborhoods he’s already shot. There’s also a map of all 146 Oakland neighborhoods. Proceeds from the sale of photos are put directly back into the project.
Stephen’s photos are also scheduled to be displayed soon in a storefront at 15th St. and Broadway. He hopes one day to see them in the airport, in libraries and cafés, and even in a book.
But for now, he’s still actively recruiting participants for the project.
But don’t think you can convince him you’ve come up with a new neighborhood, as a handful of creative realtors have. ‟Deep East San Francisco” is one that was suggested for an up-and-coming neighborhood near the Emeryville border. Stephen didn’t buy it. For him, 146 neighborhoods are clearly enough.
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.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Fungus among Us

Editor’s note: Inspired and dampened by the Bay Area’s unusually wet winter and early spring, we’re reprinting a column originally published in 2009. Horticulturist Robin North is no longer with Fairyland; her replacement for the last six years has been Jackie Salas.

By C.J. Hirschfield

After the most recent rainstorm, two separate groups of people—one from Asia, the other from Eastern Europe—recently knocked on our door at Fairyland and asked if they could pick the mushrooms they’d spied inside our gates.

After conferring with Robin North, our horticulturist, I decided to politely decline. There are tons of types of mushrooms, and even Robin can’t be 100 percent sure of the safety of all of the varieties that call Fairyland home. At least once every year, there is a story about a Bay Area family rushed to the hospital after someone misidentified a local fungus.

Ironically, the cutest, most “Fairyland-like” mushroom that grows in our park is probably the most poisonous: the Amanita. This deceptively lovely mushroom, which is red with white spots, is responsible for approximately 95 percent of deaths from mushroom poisoning. And darned if the huge mushroom in the middle of our park, on which our “bubble elf” sits, isn’t Amanita-like in its coloring.

Fairyland's bubble elf, "Oswald," atop what appears to be an Amanita mushroom.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Of Steampunk and Stories

By C.J. Hirschfield

For 16 years, as an artist employed by the City of Oakland, Bob Schultz created sets for Children’s Fairyland. Although he left our park 40 years ago, the whimsical sets he worked on – including Dragon Slide; the Owl and the Pussycat; Geppetto’s Workshop; and Rub-a-Dub Dub, Three Men in a Tub —have made Schultz, as he now prefers to be called, a park hero.

And Schultz – a former Navy aircraft mechanic with an arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts – didn’t stop creating when he left us.

Now 81, the “Grandfather of Steampunk” recently opened a new show within walking distance of Fairyland. “Schultz and the Machinery of the Absurd,” at Classic Cars West Gallery in Uptown through April 28, features a dozen wheeled creations that combine the functional and decorative, with supernatural overtones and an absurdist sense of visual humor thrown into the mix.

Schultz and dog companions with one of the pieces in “Schultz and the Machinery of the Absurd.” 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Park Superhero

By C.J. Hirschfield

I’ll never forget the day, nearly 15 years ago, when I met Anne Woodell. It was at a Fairyland event, just after I’d been hired as the park’s executive director. I found myself literally backed into a corner, where Anne poked at my chest and told me what needed to be done to continue moving Fairyland forward.

I was shocked. Who was this woman, and what gave her the right to talk to me this way?

I quickly learned what many people in Oakland knew quite well: that Anne Morrow Woodell was a fierce advocate of parks and recreation, and never shy about promoting this cause.

Anne died on Jan. 25, and last week a large crowd gathered at the Dunsmuir Hellman Historic Estate to honor her life. In her eulogy, Mayor Libby Schaaf called Anne a “park superhero” and a “superhero of citizenship,” and she was both. She was also my inspiration and a strong ally. Last week, as I listened to all the admiring speeches, I realized that one person — particularly a strong willed and persuasive one – can change the face of an entire city.

Anne Woodell, 1936-2017.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Bettelheim in the Basement

By C.J. Hirschfield

The other day I ventured down to the basement to look for something, and discovered a box I hadn’t opened in many years. On the top was a letter that my mother had written to me 44 years ago, when I was in my first year of college. She passed away 11 years after writing it.

There was the distinctive handwriting and smiley-face drawing (long before the image become ubiquitous). She’d addressed it simply to “number-one daughter,” along with the correct P.O. box, should give you an idea of what my mom was like.

I re-read the letter, and the article she had enclosed. It reinforced my theory that my mother was psychic.

An article sent in a letter 44 years ago seems to have predicted the future.