New Little Engine That Could Play Set

A new train inspired by the classic children’s book The Little Engine That Could opened at Fairytale Town on August 15, 2013!

Comprised of an engine car, train car and caboose, the new train replicates the little train that saved the day with its plucky attitude and positive thinking. It was designed and fabricated by local artist Shane Grammer. The train sits alongside the little red engine that currently represents the classic story. Playground surfacing surrounds the base of the play structure to make for soft landings during play time on the structure.

The new train was made possible in part by generous gift from the Ken Stieger family, William A. Brown, Jr., Raley’s Family of Fine Foods, Otto Construction, and Lionakis, as well as a portion of the proceeds from Fairytale Town’s Yellow Brick Road fundraising project.

Watch a time lapse video of the train being built!

All Aboard for Play!

TrainMany years ago, a young visitor pointed out that the engine we have representing the story of The Little Engine That Could was actually the engine that broke down, not the little engine that could. The Little Engine That Could was blue, he said, not red, and had a wide smokestack, not a crooked one.

His comment inspired us to include a new train in our master facility plan. In 2011, a donor made a $10,000 lead gift for the train. In 2012, plans were drawn and budgets were created. In 2013, we raised the rest of the funds needed to build the new train and construction began in July.

SG Studios WeldFrameA crew of artists fabricated the train in an off-site studio. Meanwhile, the crew at Fairytale Town prepared our site to receive it. The ground was excavated and a concrete pad was poured. The existing red train was brightened up with fresh paint.

The new blue engine, coal car and caboose were transported to Fairytale Town on July 19 and put in place. Once secured, another construction crew came in to pour playground surfacing around the play set. This crew was artistic also – they made the surfacing look like train tracks on the section where the train sits. Once the playground surfacing cured, the Fairytale Town and artist crews returned to add the finishing touches.

I wish I knew how to get in touch with the child who inspired us to add the new train. I think he would be surprised to know that hundreds of people have been involved in making our The Little Engine That Could play set more true to the story. Thousands more will become involved when we open the new set in mid-August and they are able to play imagine themselves in the story.


I hope that somewhere, a young man recognizes that his childhood comment was taken seriously, and is thinking happily to himself: I thought they could, I thought they could, I thought they could.

The Work of Blogs


Photo by Dina Heidrich

I don’t know how, but time seems to slip through my fingertips these days.  When I began this blog in 2011, I was away from my ‘normal’ life and was experiencing so many new things it was easy to post on a regular basis. Now that I am back to ‘normal’ – and in the thick of our busy season – blog posts are not part of my ‘normal’ routine!  This doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy with the work of play. Quite the contrary!  Below are a few of the things we’ve been working on.

FunCamps: These weeklong day camps involve a lot of moving parts. Lesson plans are developed, special training is provided for camp staff, supplies are purchased, registrations processed and teachers are contracted for each of our 17 camps. Teachers and aides are exhausted by the end of the day – but they love getting to know the camp kids – and having the chance to play!

SG Studios WeldFrame

Welding the Train Frame


A New Play Set – The Little Engine That Could:  Set design, permitting, scheduling and fundraising for the new train set began late last year and continued into this year. We are scheduled to install the new set in late July!


Photo by Dina Heidrich


Mad Hatter Meets Mad Men:  This new fundraising event was wonderfully creative and playful. Held in May, it was months in the planning and involved 29 volunteers, 19 sponsors, 12 food purveyors, 13 wineries, 42 raffle/auction donors and about 250 guests. Nearly all who attended wore mad Hats – many made them by hand! And, of course, all proceeds support everyday play at Fairytale Town.

More to come on these and other projects as I get back into the swing of blogging!

Set Your Sails for Fun in July

International CelebrationEvery weekend in July is packed with fun family events, all free with paid park admission! Fill your July with dance, art, play, theater, fort-building and more.

International Celebration
Enjoy a day of international dance and music performances on the outdoor Mother Goose Stage on July 6.


fort building month 1July is Fort Building Month
We’re celebrating the time-honored tradition of creating child-sized hideaways out of cardboard, string, tape and other found materials. Bring your imagination, and join in the adventure! Fort Building Month takes place Saturdays and Sundays  in July at 11 AM (starting Sunday, July 7).

Very Special Arts Day
Performances, visual art shows and art “funshops” will be featured at this annual event for children of all abilities on July 13. Presented by I Can Do That!

Children’s Play Day
Celebrate the importance of childhood play with a fun day of games, hands-on activities, arts and crafts and more on July 20.

Trouper Show: Jack and the Meanstalk
The Fairytale Town Troupers, our children’s theater program, presents a clever retelling of the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Performances take place on the Mother Goose Stage on July 20, 21, 27 & 28.


We Need Your Help to Build a New Train

Photo by Dina Heidrich

We think we can, we think we can, we think we can! We think we can build a new train to add to our Little Engine That Could play set. The new train will replicate the little blue engine that saved the day with its plucky attitude and positive thinking, and will be placed alongside of the little red engine that currently represents the classic story.

Nearly 240,000 people visit Fairytale Town each year. The Little Engine That Could play set is a popular attraction — especially for young engineers! With an additional train, more children will be able to play and explore their imaginations.

The new train has been designed by local artist Shane Grammer and will be fabricated in his studio before being installed at Fairytale Town. It features the little blue engine, as well as two train cars. The total cost of the project is $50,000. With a generous initial gift from the Ken Stieger family, and a portion of funding from the proceeds of the Yellow Brick Road, we are ready to embark on building it. However, we need help from our community to close the gap and make the vision of a new train a reality. If you think you can help, we would love your involvement!

Contributions of all levels are needed to install the new engine. All contributors will bring smiles to the faces of hundreds of thousands of children who will play on the train. Contributors at the $2,500 level and above will receive a variety of other benefits, including permanent acknowledgement on the play set itself!

We hope you will consider a tax-deductible contribution to support our new effort to bring the classic story of The Little Engine That Could to life. The central message of the story—that a seemingly impossible task can be accomplished with a positive attitude and hard work—deserves to live on in the minds and imaginations of children in our region.

To make a contribution to this treasured play set, click here to make a donation online today or please contact Kathy Fleming at (916) 808-7060.

Meet Ginger Elizabeth Hahn

We are fortunate to have acclaimed chocolatier Ginger Elizabeth Hahn of Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates serving as the Honorary Chair for the Mad Hatter Meets Mad Men fundraiser on Thursday, May 16. Ginger is a formally trained chocolatier and pastry chef who has been studying and working professionally with chocolate for over 10 years. She studied pastry at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where she graduated top of her class. In 2008, Ginger and her husband Tom launched their retail store in Midtown Sacramento. In 2010, Ginger was named one of the Top Ten Chocolatiers in North America by Dessert Professional Magazine.

Before the fundraiser this Thursday, we wanted to introduce Ginger and ask her about a few of her favorite things and the special cocktail she created just for the event.

What’s your favorite: Alice in Wonderland, Mad Men, or both? Why?
Mad Men, because it is the only show I watch on cable and I love the characters and the costumes.

If you could be any character from Alice in Wonderland or Mad Men, who would you be? Why?
The white queen in the Alice and Wonderland book because she is crazy, and I feel a little crazy sometimes with the business and my two young sons.

Have you been to Fairytale Town? If so, what is your favorite feature?
Not yet, but my kids are dying to go see the animals.

What will you be showcasing at the Mad Hatter Meets Mad Men event on May 16?
A chilled drink with a little chocolate, a little tea and a little booze! It’s an Earl Grey Chocolate Chambord cocktail.

Thank you Ginger!


Play for Good Health

_MG_0599Play is a key component in the healthy development of young children. For the first time in many years, Fairytale Town was home to a health and wellness festival, thanks to the generosity of our health care partner, Sutter Children’s Center.

Our organizations worked together over several months to determine the activities that would be valuable to our audience, and the partners we could bring in to offer information and guidance to children and families – in a playful way. Height and weight checks, dental screenings, and information on exercise, nutrition, diabetes, autism, education opportunities, day care, child abuse prevention and health insurance are samples of the topics the festival covered.


The “smoothie bike”

The Sutter Children’s Center Wellness Festival was held on Saturday, April 13. Children learned about nutrition and healthy eating by making a fruit smoothie while riding a bicycle and planting vegetable seeds in medical gloves to take home to start a garden. They learned about the importance of physical exercise while dancing on stage, navigating through an obstacle course, and getting training on how to run properly. While watching a live theater performance of plays written by youth, younger children learned about productive ways to spend leisure time. They learned about the importance of taking care of their bodies while getting height and weight checks and dental screenings by medical professionals.

More than 25 community organizations worked with us on the wellness festival, in addition to Sutter Children’s Center, and nearly 5,000 people attended the one-day program. We received such positive responses from both our audience and partners that we are looking to do it again next spring.

It was a good day of healthy play and learning at Fairytale Town. All who participated were inspired to continue playing – not just for fun, but for our health and well-being too!

The Drama of Play

Boxtales Theatre Company

Dramatic play takes center stage at Fairytale Town’s Children’s Theater Festival and Puppet Festival. Theater is a great tool to inspire both imaginative and physical play in children – and adults as well. Theater is a highly collaborative and inclusive way to play. Writers, directors, actors, set designers, costumers, sound engineers, and backstage crew are all needed to put on a show – which gives everyone a chance to be involved.

Rumpelstiltskin Puppet Show

Fairytale Town’s Children’s Theater and Puppet Festival are a great way to introduce children to the magic of theater.  The shows are fun, interactive and engaging. It is easy and affordable to attend. Each show is offered twice a day and you can purchase tickets at the door or at the front gate the day you attend. Tickets to the shows are only $2 in addition to park admission (and only $1 for members).

Voice of the Wood

The companies featured during our Festivals offer a variety of stories and theater styles. Fairytales, folk tales and original plays are brought to life with mask, movement, acting, puppetry, costumes, sound effects, lighting and sets.  After the shows, it is wonderful to hear children and adults discuss character and plot, and to see them act out their own stories as they play throughout the park.

The shows at Fairytale Town are great fun, but there is a serious side of the performing arts. Children who are involved in the arts have higher academic performance, lower drop-out rates, and greater community involvement.  Like play, the performing arts foster critical thinking, communication skills, innovation and collaboration.

So add some drama to your life – come out to Fairytale Town and see a play… and play on!

Speaking of Playful Celebrations…

To celebrate the last day of our winter hours when we are closed to the public for three days a week, a few of us headed out west to visit a couple of sister organizations, Children’s Fairyland in Oakland an the Berkeley Adventure Playground.

A flute fairy at Fairyland!

A flute fairy at Fairyland!

Our first stop was Fairyland. After a tour through their 10-acre site, we shared lunch under the trees with our counterparts and friends. It was great to swap stories about birthday party packages, membership programs, marketing plans, general maintenance, food service, guest activities and weather issues.

The proscenium side of the stage

We were all impressed with their new theater facility. The stage could open up on one side for a lawn seating amphitheater, and on the other side for more traditional proscenium-style seating. We were jealous of the walk-in refrigerator and freezer in their cafe. And we loved their new Jack and Jill Hill! A small hill covered in turf, children spend hours rolling or sliding down it on large pieces of cardboard. The simple things are often the most fun!

Entry way to adventure play!

Entry way to adventure play!

After lunch, we headed further west to the Berkeley Marina where we got a brief history and in-depth tour of the Berkeley Adventure Playground. It was the first time anyone (besides me) had experienced an adventure playground, and all were amazed. It is such a surprise to enter an adventure playground because things are higgledy-piggledy rather than neat, organized and padded. It is a magical environment nonetheless – because it’s an environment that kids create themselves. Established for older children ages 7 and up, it offers a safe environment for kid to explore and take risks. Hammers and nails can be checked out to build huts. Paint is available to paint the huts – or anything else they might find, and a garden area is available for those who want to dig in the dirt. A rope swing around a may pole, and a dirt hill with old tubing for rolling down it are there for the more daring.

Zipping alongside the bay

Zipping alongside the bay

And – best of all – there’s a zip line to play on!

We arrived back at Fairytale Town at the end of the day both tired and inspired by our adventure. A full day of play was just what we needed to get geared up for spring!

Seuss-ational Fun!

Seuss Readers by Dina (18)None can deny that Dr. Seuss played with words. His rhymes and nonsense words made his stories original and fun.  We were happy we could open our spring season with a celebration of his birthday on March 2.

Lots of party guests arrived! At the end of the day 2650 people came through the gates.

_MG_9625I think the first thing they noticed was the Truffula Trees. Our talented staff created brilliant truffula-top covers for the light poles around the park.  It was fun to hear guests ooh and aah as a favorite storybook setting was transported into real life – if only for a day.

Once inside, kids could make ‘Cat in the Hat’ hats, create rhyme books and plant Truffula seeds (dandelions) to take home and watch grow. Through these playful activities they developed the eye/hand coordination so important for reading, learned about individual letter sounds, and connected the dots between seeds and trees.

Seuss Readers by Dina (19)Many guests congregated by the Mother Goose Stage where they could hear local dignitaries and celebrities read Seuss stories all day long. It’s not very often a child gets read to by their local councilmember or television anchor! Through this activity children and their family members were able to make important connections to their community.

It was a good day of play. And it all started with a few simple words!

Photos by Dina Heidrich