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.

Based in Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia is the largest publisher of local and regional content in America. It has published more than 13,500 titles. Its method of production is simple and successful: Each book contains 180 to 200 images and 15,000 to 18,000 words. The premise of the Images of America series: “to bring joy to people by featuring the glory of your town.”

That quote comes from Kate Everingham, Arcadia’s director of sales, who was in town recently and paid us a visit. “More accessible, friendly and nostalgic,” is how she describes the Images of America literary niche.

I asked her which title was the all-time best-seller. A book about the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina, Kate answered: 70,000 books sold. Not surprisingly, a book about Alcatraz is also a real winner. 

Not that the promise of huge sales was the reason Randal and I agreed to the project. We’re more interested in preserving Fairyland’s rich history. With this new book, we honor the fact that our park has been a special memory for millions of people, and that, in a very fractured and cynical world, Fairyland remains a sweet oasis dedicated to our youngest kids and the adults who love them.
Fairyland's first visitors (September 2, 1950) with park hosts and former "Wizard of Oz" Munchkins Edna and Victor Wetter.

Kate from Arcadia told us that when she arrived in Oakland at midnight in the pouring rain to pick up her rental car, the employees spied her Fairyland book and enthusiastically shared their happy memories of having visited many years ago. Based on their reaction, Kate believes that our new book will do well, as do other titles of one-of-a kind, iconic properties. I was surprised to learn that many people collect Arcadia books from their travels.

To celebrate our book’s publication, we held a book signing at Laurel Bookstore downtown . The event, held on a rainy Saturday, was cozy, and hot cider was served. Randal regaled the audience with tales about Popo the clown and his international travels on behalf of UNICEF. He talked about how Fairyland’s first architect demolished a model with a baseball bat because the project’s leader claimed it wasn’t whimsical enough. He told the audience how the park’s beloved Magic Key came to be. Oh, and he also talked about how the monkeys from our Treasure Island set kept escaping and running amok throughout Oakland.

Popo the Clown leads the Fairyland parade through downtown Oakland.

(Yes, Fairyland used to have monkeys. Read the book!)

Even after being at the helm of the good ship Fairyland for 14 years, I still learned something new, as will the book’s readers.

So if you want to rekindle happy memories of Children’s Fairyland for your loved ones, consider giving them our beautiful new book this holiday season. Of course, we would prefer you buy it at Fairyland’s own gift shop (or in our online store – find it on our website), or at one of our wonderful local independent bookstores.

I’m sure that if you bring your copy to the puppet theater and ask nicely, our master puppeteer and resident historian will be happy to sign it for you.

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.

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