Monday, July 24, 2017

This Musical Is Underwater!

By C.J. Hirschfield

Twenty-five years ago, a sparkly but selfish fish made its debut in the world of children’s books, and soon captured the hearts of countless kids all around the world.

Rainbow Fish is inordinately proud of his multicolored scales, to the point of putting off all of the fish who would otherwise be his friends. A starfish and a mysterious octopus help him understand that only by sharing the beauty of his scales will he be rewarded with good friends.

Now that story, originally written in German by Marcus Pfister and later translated into English by J. Alison James – has been transformed into a shimmering, song-filled live entertainment. And the only place you can see it right now is at Children’s Fairyland, in our Aesop’s Playhouse.

Neal Pascua as Rainbow Fish.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Twelfth Dragon

By C.J. Hirschfield

Interactive play is what Fairyland is all about. Everywhere they go, kids can engage in a hands-on way with the park and its attractions. With a playful adult by their side, kids can stimulate their imaginations and even learn. An extra plus — it’s fun!

For years, Fairyland has invited kids to discover Fairyland’s 11 dragons, who live all over our park. Some of our dragons are big, some small, and some are over your head—one is even covered all over with leaves. (We’re coming up with rhyming clues to help kids find them – stay tuned!) But none of our dragons was alive. Until now.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Home Is Where the Heat Is

By C.J. Hirschfield
The decision to locate Children’s Fairyland in downtown Oakland was made long before my time here – in 1948, to be exact. Ever since we opened in 1950, being in the heart of the city has had its up and downsides. It certainly is never dull.

Last Friday was one of those not-dull days.

Early in the morning I was awakened by the sound of helicopters over my Adams Point neighborhood – the same neighborhood in which Fairyland lives. There was a fire a few blocks away from the park, at the site of a building that was to include market-rate apartments and retail shops.

The Valdez fire as seen from across Lake Merritt early on the morning of July 7.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Voice of Love

By C.J. Hirschfield

In the 15 years that I’ve run Children’s Fairyland, we’ve presented more than 100 puppet shows. My absolute favorite is “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which we premiered last year in honor of our Storybook Puppet Theater’s 60th anniversary.

Casting the voices to be recorded for the show was not easy. Although Puff is not the main character – he doesn’t cause things to happen; he merely advises and guides – his voice was critical. It had to be a voice that was warm and soothing yet conveyed enough credibility and love so that you really wanted to listen to and believe in him.

It was abundantly clear to Fairyland puppet master Randal Metz whose voice it had to be. Ron Zeno, Fairyland’s Santa for two decades, was the only person he ever considered for the role.

Monday, May 29, 2017

In My Fashion

By C.J. Hirschfield

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, there was a women’s clothing store called Petite Sophisticate. I used to joke that this was one store that I would never visit, because I was neither petite nor sophisticated. The chain went out of business in 2010, perhaps because there were too many like me.

I thought of that store when I was recently approached to be a model in a “Movers and Shakers” fashion show for a fundraiser being put on by the good people at Family Bridges. While I have been known to move and shake, I am definitely neither a fashionista nor a model, despite having watched many seasons of “Project Runway.” 

Invitation to Family Bridges' dinner and "Movers and Shakers" fashion show.

But how do you say no to an organization that serves Oakland’s Asian community with everything from child day care to senior health care to immigration services? I couldn’t, and didn’t.

That’s how I found myself last week journeying to the San Mateo studio of the delightful and talented designer Jessie Liu. Here’s how she describes her work: “In an artistically expressive yet sophisticated [that word again!] and elegant approach each season, the Jessie Liu Collection captivates its wearers and the purveyors of style.” In my own words: Jessie’s clothes are beautiful—luscious fabrics, bold designs, all very wearable.

Selections from Jessie Liu's Fall 2017 collection. 

Jessie suggested a number of pieces, and I obligingly tried them on. We settled on a black silk long-sleeve shirtdress with a “flounce hemline featuring dramatic draping back with double layers,” along with striped silk pants with a hand-painted effect.

After the fitting we chatted. Jessie has two young children, and I convinced her that she has to bring them to Children’s Fairyland.

Then, on the same day, I ventured into downtown San Francisco, where Victor Tung Couture is located. KQED has described Victor as “San Francisco’s Own Haute Couture Master.” (“Haute couture” – high fashion – is one of those labels, like “Petite Sophisticate,” that I thought would never apply to me. I was about to be proven wrong.)

Victor Tung (center) with pieces from his collection.

Victor’s creative designs are literally unique: There were more than 200 one-of-a-kind pieces on display at his store, made from fabric he’d hand-dyed or hand-drawn. I read about one of Victor’s dresses, described as the designer’s masterpiece: It had been constructed from the cocoons of silkworms, and it took him more than four months to complete. For me, however, Victor chose a vibrant blue jacket that I’d be wearing with black leggings and heels.

At least I wouldn’t be alone on the runway. Other models included Oakland City councilmember Abel Guillen and my very own husband/mover/shaker David Stein.

C.J. Hirschfield and Abel Guillen practicing their duck faces before making their runway debuts.

I was a little nervous about modeling for the Family Bridges Gala, which honored Suzan Bateson and the work of the Alameda County Community Food Bank and Andrea Ho, super volunteer and regional vice president of Cathay Bank. But then I reflected on the evening’s theme: “Yes, We Can!”

And yes, I thought: I will.


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, May 22, 2017

In Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood

By C.J. Hirschfield

“My hunch is that if we allow ourselves to give who we really are to the children in our care, we will in some way inspire cartwheels in their hearts.”  -- Fred Rogers

On Mother’s Day, instead of having breakfast in bed, I was on an early-morning plane to Latrobe, Pennsylvania – birthplace of Arnold Palmer, Rolling Rock beer, and Fred McFeely Rogers – to participate in a symposium about developing and disseminating messages to improve outcomes for children and families.

I left Latrobe two days later with cartwheels in my heart.

C.J. Hirschfield with a photo of Fred Rogers at the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Party Like a Pirate!

By C.J. Hirschfield

We like to think of Children’s Fairyland as Oakland’s hidden treasure: eight acres of enchantment on the shores of Lake Merritt filled with surprises around every corner – including a pirate ship, several dragons, and some well-concealed fairy houses.

So it’s only fitting that our big Gala fundraiser this year – on Thursday, June 1 – is called “Hidden Treasure.” It’s our chance to show off our treasures in a special after-hours, grownups-only celebration.

Sally Walker and Fairyland board member Ron Zeno at the 2015 Gala.

And for everyone who attends, it’s a chance to: