Monday, December 19, 2016

Family Shares First Fruits

By C.J. Hirschfield

“I adore them,” says Patricia Hall of her 9- and 5-year-old granddaughters,  Nia and Nylah, who live in Piedmont. An internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and NYU professor, Pat visits her “grands,” as she calls them, twice a year from her home in New York, and Children’s Fairyland is always on their itinerary.

“Sometimes we go every day,” she says. “It’s just a wonderful place to learn, explore, and most important—to have fun.”

Last year she and Nia and Nylah visited us during our Fairy Winterland holiday celebration. In our Reading Room, they saw our exhibits explaining Diwali, Chanukah and Kwanzaa. Pat was very pleased that we’d acknowledged Kwanzaa, but, she said diplomatically, “I thought it could be more.”

She approached a member of our team and offered to create a display for the 2016 holiday. Needless to say, we happily accepted her offer.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book Us for the Holidays

By C.J. Hirschfield

You’ve seen them at local bookstores, popular public attractions, even at hardware stores: those sepia-colored, photo-rich paperbacks that feature hometown history and the people, places and events that celebrate elements that define a community.

They’re the work of Arcadia Publishing, a 20-year-old company that has found a winning formula in a very crowded and competitive bookselling space. As of Dec. 5, one of Arcadia’s newest Images of America books is Children’s Fairyland. The author is Randal J. Metz, who is the director of our Storybook Puppet Theater – and who has worked for Fairyland for 47 of our 66 years. 

Proud author Randal Metz in our gift shop with the new book about Fairyland.

The pre-holiday timing of the publication is no coincidence. After making 66 years of memories, we think our new book is the perfect present for anyone who’s grown up in Oakland — wherever they now call home.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Toddler Storytime

By C.J. Hirschfield

A few weeks ago, Fairyland completed a two-day training session for eight new volunteer readers for our popular Toddler Storytime. Four librarians, three teachers, and a professional children’s performer made it through the intensive workshop.

They’re an outstanding group, and we can’t wait for them to share what they’ve learned with our appreciative young crowds, who gather on our Emerald City stage every Friday at 10:30 and 3. The before- and after-nap crowds, as we like to say.

Fairyland's newest Toddler Storytime storytellers. Back row: Shana Barchas, second from left; Angela Moffett, third from left.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Weather Permitting

By C.J. Hirschfield

Note: The recent spell of rainy weather made us remember this column, which was originally published in 2006. We’ve updated it slightly, but in fact it’s timeless ... just like questions about the weather.

We can control many things in life: what to eat, how much to exercise, which books to read. And yet as my staff and I peered out of Fairyland’s front gate this morning and saw rain, I couldn’t help thinking that the success of our business is, to a great extent, out of our control.
A fairy monitors the rain gauge at Children’s Fairyland.

Here’s what we do when the weather looks iffy.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Building Blocks of Creativity

By C.J. Hirschfield

In a world of tablets and screens, wooden toy blocks may get passed over as quaint or boring. But as I recently learned, they remain one of the best ways to encourage children’s imaginations and spatial skills. In fact, playing with wooden blocks started the career of one of our nation’s most renowned architects – and he wasn’t shy about crediting the blocks’ creator, who also invented the modern kindergarten.

While touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West home and studio in Scottsdale, Arizona, last week, I admired the compound’s creativity and whimsy as well as the groundbreaking techniques for which the architect is known.

The design of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West was inspired by the architect’s early use of children’s blocks

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Healing Magic of Fairyland

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last weekend was graduation day for the kids in foster care who had completed Fairyland’s Junior Animal Caretaker (JAC) program. To celebrate, we threw a little party with hot dogs, lemonade, a cake and a visit from the Oakland Zoomobile.

Graduating Junior Animal Caretakers meet a snake from the Oakland Zoomobile.

We started our grant-funded JAC program five years ago, and have discovered its healing effect.

JAC is individualized, with 90-minute therapeutic sessions for children age 8 to 12 who have experienced trauma. Participants are referred to us by local agencies (primarily court-appointed special advocates); all have experienced abuse or other extreme stress.

In learning to care for our animals, these kids learn empathy and responsibility. Most important, they learn that they too are worthy of loving care.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

An Audit of Oddities

By C.J. Hirschfield

Each year, Children’s Fairyland is required to conduct an audit of its financials. For a number of years, CPA Hilary Crosby has done the job for us. Last week, she spent the day poring over our books as well as other documents. It’s typically a pretty dry process.

But all of a sudden Hilary broke out in raucous laughter, surprising all of us. Whatever she was reading was clearly hilarious, so much so that she felt the need to take a photo of it.

These "clothes" play a role at Fairyland. Really.

When I heard she was reading one of my monthly Executive Director Reports, I was baffled. How could my reports – which cover financials, development activities and park improvement and maintenance activities — be such a hoot? And especially to Hilary, who has done audits for 22 years, for more than 1,000 clients, and presumably has seen it all?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Mystery of the Lakeside Dome

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week I came across the script that was used when Fairyland’s train used to roll through Lakeside Park. “The Lakeside Lark is now leaving from the gates of Fairyland on our magic track. Please sit back and relax. We hope you enjoy the trip,” it began. And later: “If you look off to your right, the geodesic dome stands. It was completed in 1957, the first to be installed in the States.”

The geodesic dome in Lakeside Park.

The 36-by-28-foot dome still stands, adjacent to the Rotary Nature Center, although it is empty and sad-looking, and its purpose is unclear.  As I started to learn more about the imposing structure, I discovered that a number of other things about it are unclear as well. 

For example:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Dragon Roars Back

By C.J. Hirschfield

Topiary is the horticultural practice of training live perennial plants by clipping foliage to develop and maintain clearly defined shapes, usually geometric or fanciful. European topiary dates back to Roman times.

Walt Disney – who by now you must know was heavily influenced by Children’s Fairyland – helped bring the American portable style of topiary into being around 1962, when he used steel-wire frames through which plants extended as they grew. He re-created his cartoon characters as landscape shrubbery throughout Disneyland.

Fairyland got into the topiary game in 1999. The New York Times noted our achievement with this headline: “Dusting Off an Enchanted Land and Adding Some Dragons.” 
Behold the dragon's newly trimmed face!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Very Fairy Hair

By C.J. Hirschfield

A couple of weeks ago, six Children’s Fairyland employees chose to have sparkly metallic strands attached to their own hair. I was one of them. And we’re not alone. Others (mostly women) who have chosen to have beautifully colored,  iridescent  strands woven into their tresses include members of  Flex Gym on Piedmont Ave., partygoers in Marin, and regular patrons of an East Bay beauty salon.

Very Fairy Events was in town twice recently, for Fairyland’s Member Appreciation Day, in late August, and our adults-only Drawn Together arts event, in late September. At those events we typically offer such delights as face painting, hair chalking and henna “tattoos.” Lately, though, we’ve noticed that the fairy hair strands are really catching on.

Manda Stretch, co-owner of “Very Fairy Events,” at a Bay Area festival

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tutta la Famiglia!

By C.J. Hirschfield

For many decades, the Lake Merritt Breakfast Club has taken its annual Italian Day celebration seriously. But at last week’s party, the club, which meets every Thursday morning at 7 a.m. and supports Children’s Fairyland and the lake’s Necklace of Lights, really outdid itself.

The guest speaker was Lorenzo Ortona, who had become Italy’s consul general in San Francisco and the northwest United States only two weeks earlier. It turned out to be an Italian-American love fest, made even more magical because of a “six degrees” story that links the new consul general to Children’s Fairyland and to a special event at the park that will take place this week.

The consul general arrived at LMBC to find a big crowd in a room resplendent with green and red balloons. Frittata and biscotti were served, and shots of amaretto were offered to enhance the coffee. Local realtor Paul Valva sported a T-shirt that read “Life’s too short not to be Italian.” Raffle baskets contained pasta, sauce and wine. Before receiving their baskets, winners had to speak a word of Italian. “Gina Lollobrigida” was judged acceptable.  

C.J. Hirschfield (far left), Lorenzo Ortona (center, in gray suit), and members of the LMBC.

And who better to arrange this love fest than local caterer and LMBC Vice President Mike Miraglia, an Italian-American who describes himself as “a full-blooded Calabrese”? Asked what it is about Italians that makes them so special, Mike replied: “Our heritage, our food, our faith, fun—and, most importantly, our family.”

Which brings me to the Fairyland connection.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Getting "Realia" About Kids and Science

By C.J. Hirschfield

No, that isn’t a typo in the headline. “Realia” is a real word that means “objects and material from everyday life, especially when used as teaching aids.”

Well, Fairyland has realia in spades, and we love to share it. Case in point: beginning Oct. 11, first-graders from six underserved Oakland schools and 18 classrooms will get to see, smell and touch plants as part of our “Science Alive” program, designed to get them excited about biology.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Making a Splash at Fairyland

By C.J. Hirschfield

I’ve written before about the concept of Theatre for the Very Young, but I’d never actually experienced it myself before last week.

On paper it looked very exciting—enough so that Children’s Fairyland didn’t hesitate to partner with Nina Meehan and her Bay Area Children’s Theatre to offer this Bay Area first.

TVY is generally defined as professional theater led by adults performing for an audience of months-old babies to toddlers who are accompanied by parents or adult companions. Shows typically last about 40 minutes and are held in quiet, enclosed spaces without seats.
England, Sweden, Australia and Scotland embrace the concept. Here in the U.S., Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, and Seattle have taken the lead.

Fairyland seemed to be the perfect site for this special theatrical performance. We understand completely that unlocking imaginations at a very young age and exploring early language enhances opportunities to learn. And if a child is pre-verbal? No problem. Kids still want to be amazed and engaged and to explore their world. And since we’ve been in the memory-making business for 66 years now, we also knew that this intimate experience would encourage adults to connect with kids. 

Which is how I found myself sitting on a pillow with 35 other people in a newly installed yurt-like performance space at Fairyland on a beautiful Saturday morning – at a sold-out show, I might add!
Actors Jamella Cross and Andrew Mondello. Photo by Nina Meehan.

The show is called “Splish Splash,” and here’s the description: “From the familiar world of bath time and rubber duckies to sailing on the ocean and spotting fantastic fish, this interactive theater experience invites munchkins to explore the wonders of water and discover what this precious resource means to us.”

The journey of a drop of water from bath time to pipes, from the ocean to the clouds, and back to earth as rain was led by three talented professional actors: Andrew Mondello and Jamilla Cross (both of whom starred in our hit production of “Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site”) and Kate Brennan.

Fairyland’s theater director, Doyle Ott, could not be more pleased with the production’s premiere. “When I watched the kids’ reactions to the performance,” he told me, “it reminded me of how alive the world is to a small child.”

I myself saw kids’ eyes widen as they saw huge, brightly colored fish “swim” by them. Many were inspired to pet, kiss or hug them. I observed toddlers lying on their backs to hear a story about cloud shapes. There were singalongs, a little tap dancing and opportunities  to play musical pipes, launch a rubber ducky into water and pretend to swim in the ocean. With TVY, getting into the act is encouraged; parents don’t have to worry about their child’s random explorations.

I admit that I was sneaking peeks at the families while the show was going on. Many kids started out in laps and later were moved to throw themselves into the activity of the moment. Parents were guiding, hugging and smiling.  Doyle’s hope is that the production might inspire parents to explore new ways to play with their kids.

We love the fact that for many of these kids, “Splish Splash” represents their first exposure to live performing arts. When they grow up, they’ll no doubt learn to sit quietly and applaud at the right places. But until then, TVY celebrates the fact that they can react in any way that works for them, and it’s better than OK.

Doyle, who is also an actor and a college professor, has participated in hundreds of theatrical productions. But this is no doubt the first show in which he has to clean certain items with antibacterial wipes after each performance. That’s just how we roll with Theatre for the Very Young.

Splish Splash runs at Children’s Fairyland Fridays through Sundays through Nov. 20. For more information and tickets, go to the Bay Area Children's Theatre website.
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 14 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation the nation’s first storybook theme park.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Drawing Together

By C.J. Hirschfield

At Children’s Fairyland, we love artists and we love teachers. Oaklander Clare Szydlowski is both, and for the fourth consecutive year, she’ll be participating in our adults-only DrawnTogether event on Sept. 30.

That evening, Clare will be one of 50 local artists who will create Fairyland-inspired pieces as admiring guests look on. At the end of the evening, the art works will be sold for a flat $40 per piece; the proceeds will benefit our park and its programs for underserved kids.
Although the wine, music, tarot readings and fairy hair weaving are fun, it’s the opportunity to engage with talented artists that has made this such a popular event. Speaking from three years of experience, Clare says the feeling is mutual.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reflections on 9/11 in Manhattan

Editor's note: This post is a slightly edited version of a column originally published in the Piedmont Post on May 4, 2011, two days after the death of Osama bin Laden. 

By C.J. Hirschfield

On the evening of Sept. 11, 2011, I was in Manhattan’s Little Italy with my small staff, enjoying a great dinner on a warm and lovely night. Back then I was working in the cable industry, and every year at about that time we came to New York from Oakland to produce a huge industry fundraiser for an organization that aimed to ensure that cable’s management reflected the diversity of the customers they served. 

Clark, Abby, Paul, and I always tried to get in one dinner together before we had to turn our energies to the black-tie event for more than 1,000 VIPs. That night we enjoyed each other's company, a bit of wine, and excellent Italian food. As we walked to catch a cab to our midtown hotel, we marveled at the beauty of the night. The Twin Towers glowed.

The next morning, as I was preparing to head upstairs at the Hilton to our temporary office, I turned on the Today Show and learned that a plane had hit one of the towers. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Swarm Is Coming

Editor's note: This column was originally published in the Piedmont Post in January 2016.

By C.J. Hirschfield

Many times this fall and winter, I’d ask little kids walking around Fairyland if they wanted to see something really special. The answer was always yes, and their parents humored me. I directed their attention to a number of nondescript plants, and told them to try to find a caterpillar. Which they did.  Their eyes lit up, and their toddler selves were engaged and interested. (It helped that that the creatures are bright yellow.)

I told them that Fairyland had planted special plants to attract monarch butterflies. In fact, we are now a certified monarch way station; our dream is to create a winter nesting place for thousands of monarch butterflies.

And it now appears that our dream may become a reality.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Of Sand and Spam

By C.J. Hirschfield

Children’s Fairyland, which opened in September 1950, was the first storybook theme park in America. Many other themed attractions followed, and over the decades the number of theme parks and specialty museums has exploded. Museums celebrating sex, the Mob, chocolate, spies, prison and Biblical Creation regularly draw crowds across the world.

I want to note two new entries into the field: the world’s largest indoor theme park, which opened last week in Dubai, and a museum devoted to Spam (the food, not the annoying junk mail) that opened a few months ago in Austin, Minnesota.

The Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Photo via Meat + Poultry.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Reality of "Reality TV"

By C.J. Hirschfield

Children’s Fairyland has been approached to be the location of reality TV shows exactly four times. We’ve graciously declined three times, and just learned that we probably should have said no to the fourth as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Land of Oz

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week, a man and his 5-year-old daughter enjoyed a full day at Fairyland. They were exiting through the gift shop when the man looked up and noticed two puppets in a display that honors the 60th anniversary of our renowned puppet theater—the longest-running in America.

The Alice in Wonderland and White Rabbit puppets that caught his eye had starred in a 1960s Fairyland production, and on the display we noted the person who designed the puppets’ lovely costumes: Frances Oznowicz, who happens to have been the grandmother of our visitor, Mike Oz.

Mike and Frances Oznowicz with marionettes at one of Fairyland's annual puppet fairs in the 1950s.

Although he’d visited Fairyland many times, as both a child and a father, Mike now felt the time was right to learn more about the place that played a key role in the lives and careers of three of his closest family members.

We’re so glad he did.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Day to Play with STEM

By C.J. Hirschfield

By now, pretty much everyone knows that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and that mastery of STEM spells success in school and beyond.

STEM jobs in the East Bay pay well –$80,000 a year or more, even without an advanced degree.  And jobs are plentiful: No other region in the nation can boast three national laboratories – Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia – as well as a cross-section of manufacturing companies that use robot operators, 3-D printers, software designers, researchers, and programmers. What’s more, jobs in STEM are only expected to increase.

But many young people in our community are not prepared to take these good jobs. It’s a challenge that East Bay business leaders have been working on for decades, particularly directing their focus on school-age kids.

The trouble is, by the time kids are taught STEM subjects in high school, or even in elementary school, it may be too late. We need to start much younger, getting kids excited about math and science during their pre-kindergarten years.

And – in case you were wondering – that’s where Fairyland fits in.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Forbidden Puppets

By C.J. Hirschfield

The year was 1956. The average cost of a new house was $11,700. Elvis appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for the first time. The Warriors—the Philadelphia Warriors, that is—won the NBA championship.

And Children’s Fairyland’s puppet theater opened to the public for the very first time.

The Storybook Puppet Theater in 1957.

Sixty years, 150 productions and close to 50,000 performances later, the Storybook Puppet Theater is the oldest continuously operating puppet theater in the United States. We think it’s a great time to celebrate this landmark institution, the place where literally millions of kids were first exposed to live performing arts and where the talents of many young puppeteers – including the Muppets’ Frank Oz – were nurtured.

And what better way to celebrate than to do something our theater—and the city of Oakland—has never seen before?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Welcome, Little Citizens!

By C.J. Hirschfield

Given Children’s Fairyland’s prime location, whimsical setting and talented professional staff, we get pitched all the time by individuals, companies and all sorts of entities. Sometimes, as when a marijuana dispensary wanted to host a holiday party that included smoking tents, we politely turn down the request, saying it isn’t “Fairylandish,” a word we use to evoke our strong brand, which is authentic, non-cynical, playful and low tech.

But occasionally we’ll be presented with an offer we just can’t refuse, because it is so brilliantly—and obviously—Fairylandish. And that is why, on the first day of August, 20 children ages 3 to 9, from nine countries, will receive their United States citizenship papers onstage in our park.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Pokémon ... STOP?

By C.J. Hirschfield

Last week I learned about two events that at first seemed unrelated but turned out to be connected.  A teenager entered my co-worker’s yard, inadvertently letting her dog out. And at Fairyland, a parent tripped on our yellow brick road while focusing on his smartphone instead of where he was going.

What do these occurrences have in common? Both the teen and the parent were playing Pokémon GO. 

If you were on a remote island last week, you may not know about a craze that's taken over America and 26 European countries: Pokémon GO, an interactive game app for smartphones, was released on July 6. It's an updated version of the original Nintendo console game that debuted in 1996. 

With Pokémon GO, your phone becomes a portal to the Pokémon world, where you can see animated Pokémon in your neighborhood or other public spaces (and also private ones). When you "capture" them, you can then take them to other designated spaces that serve as "gyms," where you can train them to fight other Pokémon for points.

Without our knowledge or approval, the game’s creators designated six Poké stops in Children’s Fairyland: Noah’s Ark, the Humpty Dumpty Wall, Anansi’s Web (our Ferris wheel), a horse in our Old West Junction, the bong tree in the Owl and the Pussycat set, and Tweedledee. A Pokémon gym is located just outside our gates, at Lakeside Park’s bandstand.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Putt 'er Here!

By C.J. Hirschfield

I love reading Funworld Magazine, the official publication of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. It was there that I learned that the enduring game of miniature golf will be celebrating its centennial this year. That’s right: 100 years of windmills, clowns, tubes, ramps, chutes, kitsch and Americana.

You may not know that Fairyland’s original sets, designed in 1950 by architect William Russell Everritt, were widely copied by developers of mini-golf courses in the 1950s and 1960s. Storybook theme parks and mini-golf courses both proliferated in the postwar years, as families sought out affordable places to have fun together.

Filmmaker and mini-golfer Amanda Kulkoski. Favorite course obstacle: the "Pachinko hole."

Amanda Kulkoski fell in love with the sport in the 1980s, when she was growing up. So it wasn’t surprising that her first job in her hometown of Green Bay, Wis., was at the local miniature golf course. She’d sweep the holes, move boulders to alter a course, hand out balls, sell soft-serve ice cream and clean the bathrooms.

“I loved to play – still do,” she says.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

My Little Library

I always respond personally to the customer complaints we receive at Fairyland. We learn a lot from our guests, and we often translate their suggestions into reality.

But a note we received last week included a slew of complaints, one of which really touched a nerve. I reproduce it here verbatim:

“You should have a really cool candy shop where the library is who wants to read a book in Fairyland.”

The guest was referring to our reading room, lovingly curated by Oakland public librarians. It’s a sweet, quiet space where a kid can sit on an adult’s lap or on a giant stuffed bear and enjoy the pleasures of books and reading.
The Children’s Fairyland Reading Room offers kids and parents a chance to relax and enjoy books. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

It's a Hard Hat Life

Not long ago, Bay Area Children’s Theatre’s intrepid executive director, Nina Meehan, made an announcement after an Oakland performance: The company’s next show — to be performed at Children’s Fairyland — would be based on the New York Times bestselling children’s picture book “Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site,” by Sherri Duskey Rinker.  The New York Times Book Review said the story “has the ‘why hasn’t anyone thought of it before’ premise of marrying truck book and bedtime story.”

In the audience that day was company patron Becky Bullard, whose father-in-law was accompanying her and his grandchildren to the show. After the show, Becky approached the box office with a bit of news that was to have delightful consequences for the “Construction Site” production, which opened to huge crowds last weekend.

“We love the Fairyland shows,” Becky said, referring to the summer pre-kindergarten performances that take place at our park. “And my father-in-law runs the company that invented the hard hat. Do you need any?”
The hardhats featured in “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site” were donated by Bullard Company in Kentucky.  Photo: Melissa Nigro

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Free 'Happy Birthday'!

We’re reprinting this column from 2013, about the fight to release the ubiquitous “Happy Birthday” song, along with an exciting update—“a real Perry Mason moment,” as Oakland attorney Daniel Schacht puts it.

Schacht is a partner in Donahue Fitzgerald, the local law firm (known as Donahue Gallagher Woods until 2014) that has been working to bring the song into the public domain.
A birthday party at Fairyland in 1953.

Permanent Superfan

Chris Kelley has fond memories of spending time at his grandma’s house in the 1970s. Young Chris and his two sisters loved going fishing near her house in Alameda and visiting locomotives at the Harrison Railroad Park on 7th Street in Oakland (now long gone).

But Chris's very favorite thing to do was to open her utility drawer, grab a Children’s Fairyland Magic Key (she had many) and persuade her to take him to his favorite place, where the key unlocked much more than just a talking Storybook Box.

Chris moved to Texas in 1994, when he was 24. His grandmother is gone now. But the memories they shared live on, and part of his heart always remained in Oakland. At Fairyland.

Last week he returned to Fairyland with his entire family: his wife, their four kids (ages 10 to 19) and his son’s girlfriend. Also along for the visit was a stunning tattooed image on one of Chris's arms. It depicts our iconic Willie the Whale figure biting at a fishhook shaped like a Magic Key.
Fairyland superfan Chris Kelley shows off the tattoo that celebrates his lifelong love of the park.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Along Came a Garden

The kids who come to Fairyland are an inquisitive bunch, and we love their questions. We hear one of those questions nearly every day: Where has Miss Muffet gone?

In fact, the nursery-rhyme character has been away from our garden for a while. When kids ask her about Muffet, our horticulturist Jackie Salas explains that “she’s at the spa, being rejuvenated.”

Jackie is extremely happy that soon she’ll return to talking about plants instead of about Muffet, whose spider currently sits all by itself in our garden. Because not only is Muffet returning – newly rebuilt and repainted – but our tiny plot of green is being transformed into a lovely Learning Garden.

Our new Learning Garden has eye-level raised beds.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

No More Carrot Kisses

A 1994 news release from Children’s Fairyland read:  “Coming to join Woolly the sheep, MilkDud the cow and Japhar the cockatoo, Children’s Fairyland’s live storybook animals, is a beautiful 4-year-old alpaca. This new arrival, born and raised in the United States, will bring delight to Bay Area children and their families who have never seen a live alpaca.”

Unlike our sheep (“Mary Had a Little Lamb”), our donkeys (“Pinocchio”) and rabbits (the stories of Beatrix Potter), our alpaca didn’t tie into any fairytale or storybook that we knew of. But it didn’t matter: Señor Juan’s soulful face, liquid eyes, beautiful lope and quirky personality endeared him to staff and guests of all ages.
Juan the alpaca

Because of an insurmountable health issue, we had to say goodbye to Juan last week. He was 25 years old, well past the average lifespan of alpacas, and his passing resulted in an unprecedented outpouring of love and appreciation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Won't You Come to the Ball?

What’s the best reason to come to Fairyland’s “Beauties & Beasts” Gala fundraiser on June 2?
  1.       To experience Oakland’s legendary storybook park after hours (adults only!).
  2.       To sample food and drink from the East Bay’s best restaurants, wineries and breweries.
  3.       Costumes, costumes, costumes ... and plenty of storybook settings for selfies.
  4.       To dance under the stars to live music.
  5.       To bid on fabulous items in live and silent auctions.
  6.    .  To support a great Oakland institution that introduces young children to stories and imaginative play.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Barefoot on the Greens

When Ratka Mira Popovic was a toddler, in the 1970s, her Yugoslavian immigrant parents made a point to explore Oakland’s delights with her and her older sister. Lakeside Park by Lake Merritt was a popular destination: It boasted not only Children’s Fairyland but also gardens, a nature center and a manicured area that Ratka found particularly fascinating. Behind a short fence she observed people playing a game on pristine grass, rolling what looked like a funny ball, and generally having a great time. Her curiosity was piqued.

Lawn bowling in Lakeside Park.