Meet Steve Antony
Five years ago, Steve Antony pursued his dream job as a children’s book author and illustrator. Since then, he’s written and illustrated 16 picture books, including his 2014 award-winning debut The Queen’s Hat, the bestselling Mr. Panda series, and Unplugged. He illustrated Tim Minchin’s When I Grow Up from his hit musical Matilda and illustrated a cover of The Famous Five, Enid Blyton’s popular series. Steve lives in Swindon, England, and is Patron to Swindon Libraries Children’s Services. Steve will read selections from the Mr. Panda series and sign books at Fairytale Town on September 29 and 30 as part of the ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival.
What was your inspiration for Mr. Panda?
The first story, Please, Mr. Panda, came to me in a most peculiar way. One lazy Sunday afternoon I was doodling pandas in bed when I heard a voice inside my head. “Would you like a doughnut?” asked the voice. I imagined this to be the voice of the deadpan Mr. Panda who was staring right at me from my sketchbook. “Give me the pink one,” replied a tiny, squeaky voice, which I imagined to be that of a cute little penguin. “No, you cannot have a doughnut. I have changed my mind,” huffed Mr. Panda. This made me chuckle. But why did Mr. Panda change his mind? I continued to imagine him interacting with other animals in a similar fashion. Then it dawned on me: none of the animals said please! That’s when I knew I had a good story. Mr. Panda wanted to teach me, and the world, a lesson or two in manners.
Mr. Panda is now the star of four picture books and two board books. When you were writing and illustrating the first book, Please Mr. Panda, did you ever imagine that Mr. Panda’s adventures would expand into a series?
No, I never imagined in a million years that Mr. Panda would star in his very own series of books! I wrote Please, Mr. Panda a year after being made redundant from a call center. In fact, if I hadn’t been made redundant the Please, Mr. Panda probably wouldn’t exist. The book wasn’t even called Please, Mr. Panda to begin with. It was called Would You Like a Doughnut?
The response to the first Mr. Panda book took me by complete surprise, and I just knew Mr. Panda had more stories to tell. I also love adding more black and white animals to Mr. Panda’s expanding circle of friends. I pick only black and white animals for Mr. Panda’s world because I’m red-green color-blind, and at the start of my career I steered clear of using too much color. Now I’m more confident with using color. For example, my illustrations for Tim Minchin’s When I Grow Up are super colorful.
I’ve actually just finished the 5th Mr. Panda picture book. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of Mr. Panda because he’s such a funny character to develop. He’s grumpy-looking yet really generous. He’s big and gruff yet wears pink frilly aprons. He isn’t perfect, yet he tries his best to teach manners in his own unique (and somewhat unorthodox) way. Plus, he has the best fans. Every now and then I check the hashtag #PleaseMrPanda to see what people are posting on Instagram. One school painted a gigantic Mr. Panda in their class and took turns taking selfies next to it. Another transformed their class into Mr. Panda’s doughnut factory. I often get tagged in Mr. Panda related tweets, too.
Tell us about your role as patron of Swindon Libraries Children’s Services. What do you like best about that role?
Since my first book, The Queen’s Hat, was published, I have developed great friendships with my local librarians. I regularly hold free events in libraries across the Borough of Swindon and meet with librarians to creatively brainstorm new and imaginative ways to inspire children, families, and schools to visit their local branch. It’s a lot of fun. Lots of people can’t afford books. Schools often can’t afford new books, which is why I think the best thing about my role is that I’ve been given this amazing opportunity to share the joy of reading to children who, if not for libraries, would not have access to books. Books are so much more than just ink on paper. They are doorways into amazing worlds where just about anything is possible. This is something I always tell school pupils. You should see their faces when I tell them they hold the key to each and every door.
What was your favorite book to read as a child?
There were so many. I loved poring over picture book illustrations and finding all the hidden details. I particularly enjoyed books by Richard Scarry, but the books I borrowed most from the library were actually the Draw 50 books by Lee J. Ames and Ed Emberley’s “How to Draw” books. To be honest, I actually struggled with reading non-picture books, but I found that comics and graphic novels helped bridge the gap.
Doughnuts are a recurring theme and visual in the Mr. Panda series. Do you like doughnuts, and what’s your favorite?
Unlike Mr. Panda, I do like doughnuts. My favorite is salted caramel. I am cutting down because I’ve probably eaten far too many since the publication of Please, Mr. Panda, although I did eat one yesterday.
ADA Parking Upgrades to Temporarily Impact Traffic and Parking
***UPDATE: 15th Avenue at Land Park Drive will be open the weekend of June 23 & 24.
Traffic and parking at Fairytale Town will be impacted on weekdays from June 4 – 29 due to construction. The City of Sacramento will be upgrading existing on-street disabled parking on 15th Avenue at Land Park Drive near Fairytale Town to meet current ADA standards.
Impacts: Impacts to the traveling public includes temporary road closures and access to parking. Visitors are asked to watch for detour signs to access parking. Road closures and detours include:
- 15th Avenue at Land Park Drive will be closed to traffic on weekdays. It will be open on weekends.***
- Northbound traffic on Land Park Drive to detour right onto 14th Ave.
- Southbound traffic on Land Park Drive to detour left onto 14th Ave.
- Additional detour: Southbound traffic on Land Park Drive to detour left onto Sutterville Road, turn left on Freeport Blvd., left on 14th Avenue (stay on 14th Avenue), left onto 18th Street.
- Entrance to Parking thru 18th Street and 15th Avenue – watch for detour signs.
Fairytale Town will be open daily during construction!
Open 9 AM – 4 PM
If you are in the park by 4 PM, you may stay and play until 5 PM.
Local “Blue Star Museums” Offer Free Admission to Military Personnel and their Families this Summer
Fairytale Town is one of seven Sacramento area museums participating in this year’s Blue Star Museums program, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums across America.
Blue Star Museums offers free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families starting the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (May 26) and continuing through Labor Day (September 3), 2018.
In addition to Fairytale Town, the following local museums are also participating in Blue Star Museums: Aerospace Museum of California, California Automobile Museum, California Museum, Crocker Art Museum, Powerhouse Science Center, and the Sacramento History Museum.
This year’s participating Blue Star Museums represent not just fine arts museums, but also science museums, history museums, zoos, nature centers and children’s museums. The free admission program is available to any bearer of a Geneva Convention common access card (CAC), a DD Form 1173 ID card, or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card, which includes active duty military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard), National Guard and Reserve members and up to five immediate family members.
Before planning a visit, please contact the individual museums for hours of operation and note some are normally closed on Mondays and in observance of holidays such as Memorial Day and Labor Day. For more information or a complete list of participating Blue Star museums, please visit the Blue Star Museums website. For more information about upcoming activities offered by Sacramento area museums, visit the user-friendly website at www.SacMuseums.org.
Meet “Finding Winnie” Author Lindsay Mattick
Do you know the true story of Winnie-the-Pooh? Long before Winnie and his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood came to life in A.A. Milne’s classic stories, Winnie was a real bear who journeyed from Winnipeg to London with a young soldier named Harry Colebourn. Author Lindsay Mattick—the great-grandaughter of Harry Colebourn—tells the full tale in the New York Times bestselling and Caldecott award winning children’s book, Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear. Lindsay will read and sign copies of her book at Fairytale Town on September 16 and 17 at the ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival.
What was your inspiration for writing Finding Winnie?
This story has inspired me ever since I was a kid. The idea that a small gesture on the part of my great-grandfather would go on to have such a huge ripple effect is powerful. I always imagined telling my own child this story one day and when I found out I was pregnant with my son Cole, that was the motivation I needed.
What did you enjoy most about writing Finding Winnie?
I loved the process of watching the text come to life through my illustrator’s (Sophie Blackall) incredible illustrations. It was a very personal and moving journey to watch the story come to life in such a powerful way.
Winnie-the-Pooh is beloved by children and adults the world over. For you, though, Winnie is part of your family history. What was it like growing up knowing about the real Winnie?
I have been proudly sharing this remarkable story since I can remember and have always felt grateful to have it as part of our family history. I have delighted in the fact that one of the world’s most beloved fictional stories came about in small part, because of a true story—a love story—between my veterinarian great-grandfather and his pet bear.
What was your favorite book to read as a child?
I loved many books but a few standouts would be The Giving Tree, The Velveteen Rabbit, and The Little Mermaid.
We’re Creating a New Playset
Fairytale Town has selected artist Garr Ugalde to design, create and install a new interactive playset!
Named Anansi’s Web, the playset represents the West African folktales of Anansi the spider. Anansi is the keeper of all stories and wisdom. He’s also a trickster who obtains his goals through various ruses. The new set will feature three climbing webs and four animal sculptures, in addition to one of Anansi himself.
Fairytale Town has seen many new buildings and additions over the years—Mr. McGregor’s Garden opened in 1999, the Mother Goose Stage made its debut in 2005, the Yellow Brick Road was completed in 2012 and more—but, Anansi’s Web will be the first brand new play structure in 20 years. The most recent addition was Jack and the Beanstalk, which opened in 1997.
Garr Ugalde is an accomplished Sacramento sculptor who has exhibited widely in Sacramento and across the country. He also has completed several public commissions throughout the Sacramento region. His most recent public installation is a series of three sculptures called “Agora’s Light,” which was installed in December 2016 at American River College.
Work will begin in the artist’s studio this summer, preparation on-site at Fairytale Town begins this November, and the playset will be installed and ready for play by August 2018.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, we were able to request proposals from professional artists to create the playset. Six artists responded to a call for qualifications, three were selected to create scale models, and Ugalde’s proposal was selected by a panel of seven board and community members for its playability and artistry.
The new playset will be installed between the Tipi playset and the Mary’s Little Lamb exhibit, replacing a portion of the waterway that winds through the park. Repurposing a portion of the waterway creates additional space for a new play area and allows Fairytale Town to conserve water.
All of us here are committed to keeping the historical integrity of the park, but we also know we must be relevant to the present and sustainable in the future. While we have had ample rain this year, the years of drought reinforces how important it is to conserve water. We believe that repurposing this portion of the waterway for a new playset will beautify the facility, provide innovative and challenging activities for children in our community, and enhance the Fairytale Town experience for all our guests.
It is not too late to support this project!
Donations towards the new playset will be matched by the grant from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission.
Fund Our Friendly Fowl on the Big Day of Giving
Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to Fairytale Town, of course!
Fairytale Town is home to 28 rare or miniature breed animals—including the Little Red Hen and friends. Our chicken exhibit next to Farmer Brown’s Barn shelters our five feathered friends, where they roost and lay eggs. Weather and time have deteriorated the coop and it needs to be replaced.
Young children are fascinated by animals, so it is no surprise that our animal exhibits and activities are popular attractions. Our barnyard brood is often a child’s first introduction to the world of animals. The proposed new coop would offer better viewing of the habits and life cycle of chickens—and help children learn the importance of animals in our daily lives.
Fairytale Town is once again participating in the Big Day of Giving!
The Big Day of Giving is the the Sacramento Region’s 24-hour online giving challenge on Thursday, May 4. Donations we receive from the day will go to rebuild the chicken coop. We’ve received generous matching funds of $9,400! With your support, we can complete the project. If we exceed our goal, the additional money will go towards rebuilding the home of Peter Rabbit and his sisters. The combined goal for both projects is $24,000
It is easy to participate in the Big Day of Giving. On May 4, simply visit bigdayofgiving.org and select the nonprofit(s) you want to support.
As the story goes, the Little Red Hen asks for help from her barnyard friends. We hope you will help by donating to Fairytale Town and the nonprofit(s) you care about on May 4 and make a difference in our community. Thanks to support from our friends and donors, we can enhance our exhibits and education programs for children and families in our region.
Join us at the park on May 4!
We hope you are able to join us at the park on May 4! We’ve planned a fun day celebrating our chicken family and Star Wars Day with story time, visits from Star Wars characters, prizes, and more! And with an online donation of $25 or more, you will receive FREE admission for two guests on May 4, 2017. Just show your Big Day of Giving donation receipt to our Box Office staff for complimentary admission.
We Need Your Help to Build a New Playset
Entering a place called Fairytale Town just has to be a magical experience. We work hard to make sure that once children and families cross under the Humpty Dumpty gate, they enter an enchanted realm where stories come to life and children can play to their heart’s content. These days, after hearing the initial “Oohs!” and “Ahhs!” upon entering the park, the next comment we often hear is, “What is that supposed to be?” when children see the drought-stricken waterways throughout the park. One frequent guest hit the nail on the head when she said, “Fairytale Town has done such a great job of upgrading and refreshing the grounds and playsets. It’s a shame the moats are such an eyesore.”
The Board and Staff of Fairytale Town are committed to keeping the historical integrity of our storybook park. We can easily justify maintaining and improving the moat around King Arthur’s Castle and the waterways close to the Pirate Ship and the Water Wheel. But, after many years of drought, it has become difficult to rationalize the use of water as a decorative element and costly to fill the non-thematic waterways in the park. For these reasons, we began to look at ways to repurpose the non-thematic waterways in the park.
Thanks to a grant from Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, we are in the process of creating a new playset! The grant allows Fairytale Town to request proposals from artists and arts organizations to create a new playset to replace the waterway between the Tipi playset and the Mary’s Little Lamb exhibit. Like all the structures at Fairytale Town, the new playset will be story-based, interactive, and powered by the imagination rather than electricity.
The grant requires a one-to-one match, and we need your help to raise the $100,000 match! We invite you to join us in making this exciting and collaborative project come to life.
While all of us at Fairytale Town are committed to keeping the historical integrity of the park, we also recognize that we must ensure the facility remains relevant to the present and sustainable in the future.
We hope our community will support of this new project by providing donations to match our grant! Make a contribution online, or please contact Kathy Fleming at (916) 808-7060.
Meet Author Barbara Jean Hicks
Acclaimed author, storyteller, speaker and educator Barbara Jean Hicks has published seven picture books, including Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty, and the multi-award-wining Jitterbug Jam. Her two most recent titles are A Sister More Like Me and An Amazing Snowman, both commissioned by Disney Studios as tie-ins to their Oscar-winning animated feature film, Frozen. She currently makes her home in Northwest Washington state. Barbara will headline this year’s ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival the weekend of September 24 and 25. She’ll read A Sister More Like Me plus her newest book, Once Upon A Parsnip, and sign copies of her books.
You are known as “The Story Queen”? How did you acquire that title?
Okay, you got me—I crowned myself! Here’s the thing: I’m an introvert. When I realized that being a published author wasn’t just about writing, that it was also about connecting with my audience on a personal level, I had to figure out a way to make that work for me. And putting on a costume did it. When I don my gown and tiara, I’m no longer the one hanging back in a crowd hoping no one will notice me. I’m an actor onstage. The weird thing is that the character I’m playing is actually me. Or at least an aspect of me, one that I’d never expressed before—and one that makes an immediate connection with kids, for whom I am anything but make-believe. I am the Story Queen. (And “queen” only because it rhymes with “Jean”—I could just as easily be “Claire the Story Bear” and dress up in a furry suit, if Claire were my name!)
What did you enjoy most about writing A Sister More Like Me, featuring Anna and Elsa from Frozen?
First, I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing an early screening of Frozen, more than a year before the movie was released. It was still in production—no music, not completely animated, pieces of the story not yet fleshed out—but still, I think everyone in the audience knew it was going to be something special.
I also enjoyed the story-building process—thinking about my own two sisters and me, and how we didn’t always understand each other because we were so different from one another. And I thought about how we sometimes depended on one another because of those very differences.
I lost my eldest sister the day before Frozen was released in theaters. I’m sad she never got to see the movie, but glad she was able to hold the finished product in her hands before she died. The book is even more special to me because I associate it with Lindy. The last weekend we spent together, she had arranged for me to read and do a book signing for A Sister More Like Me at her favorite bookstore in Seattle, and many of her friends as well as her daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters were there. I have a picture of the two of us at the signing, me decked out in my royal finery, Lindy standing behind me with her hand at my back—a visual metaphor. Even now I feel she stands behind me, supports me, encourages me.
Tell us about your latest book, Once Upon a Parsnip?
A number of years ago I joined a children’s book writers’ group and met Kevin Wood—a man who is off-the-charts, in my opinion, when it comes to creativity. One day he brought a grocery list to the meeting–of items you might find in a fairytale grocery store, like poison apples, magic beans and pumpkins that turn into carriages. It was written in rhyme. He basically asked me if I could help him come up with characters and a plot to be used as a delivery system for his grocery list!
The Fairytale Grocery Store gained characters and a plot in a Little Red/Wolf rematch, with cameo appearances by the Three Pigs and other various fairytale folk. We had a publisher interested at one point, but it didn’t go anywhere. I continued to work on the story off and on; I’m a dog with a bone when it comes to a good story—if I think it has potential, I just don’t give up on it. Somewhere during that time, the title became Once Upon a Parsnip and parsnips were added to the plot.
Fast forward a dozen years…. I was doing a promotion for A Sister More Like Me at our local movie theatre the weekend Frozen was released. Ben Mann introduced himself as a local artist; we had a lovely chat and later developed a friendship. Meanwhile, I had met a group of “author-entrepreneurs,” women who had all published books independently, and I felt an immediate affinity with them. (I call them my “tribe”!) I had several manuscripts out to agents and editors but was getting no response, so I asked Ben if he might be interested in illustrating a book and self-publishing it with me. The timing was right. It was something he had wanted to do, and he felt our partnership and the manuscript were both a good fit. We met about every two weeks over the next six months, and I gave him feedback based on the things I’d learned paying attention to the editors and art directors on my previous books.
Six months after Ben finished the illustrations, we had Once Upon a Parsnip in hand. It was very exciting to open that first box of books! I had published a total of 20 books through traditional publishers, but this one felt different. For one thing, I loved acting as art director for the project. I pretty much let Ben do what he wanted to with the art, but I had a few suggestions about the relationship between the text and the illustrations in places, and he took them to heart. Later, I worked with the graphic designer at our publisher, Mascot Books, until we achieved the vision I had in my mind. I saw the art direction as another expression of my creativity, and I am so, so pleased with the look, color and movement of the text on the page and how it integrates with the artwork.
I also learned that I love the collaborative process. I have been fortunate to have had several amazing artists assigned to my previous books, but I wasn’t lucky enough to have actually worked with any of them. It was such a pleasure working with Kevin on the manuscript, with Ben on the illustrations and with the staff at Mascot Books on the editing and graphic design. I was very pleased when Kevin, who teaches English Language Learners in an elementary school, wrote a short easy reader about our three-way collaboration. Parsnip Partnership is designed for teachers to use in the classroom alongside Once Upon a Parsnip. Kevin has graciously given permission to other teachers (and parents!) to download and print this unique teaching guide.
And if you could be any fairytale character, who would you be? Why?
I’d like to be a fairy-godmother-at-large. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to right the wrongs of the world with the wave of a magic wand? I know what I’d do—I’d use my magic to make sure that every child everywhere had a chance to be a child–to laugh, to play, to imagine, to see light and beauty in the world. To feel safe. To be loved without reservation. In the meantime, I do what I can sans magic.
What’s the Difference?
The Pop-Up Adventure Play Days at the Maple Neighborhood Center over the summer months have been great fun. Kids of all ages have been able to engage in ‘good, old-fashioned’ play activities like digging holes, painting walls and building cardboard forts.
As we move toward establishing an ongoing Adventure Playground at Maple, we have been adding more challenging activities. Saws, hammers and nails are now more prominent. A ladder has been added to a tall tree to facilitate climbing. Kids have been signed in and dropped off by parents. All these activities are laying the ground work for us to open the Sacramento Adventure Playground for regular operation on Tuesday, August 23.
The closer we get to the opening day, the more we hear the question, “What’s the difference between the Pop-Up Adventure Play Days and the on-going Adventure Playground?”
The major difference is the age of the participants. The Adventure Playground at Maple is developed to serve children and youth ages 7 to 15 rather than children of all ages and their families. This is a big shift for Fairytale Town as we have always served young children (from birth to age 10) and their families. We are excited about the opportunity to offer playful and creative experiences for youth. The types of play at the Playground will suit older children and youth as they will involve a little more risk and creativity, and a lot less adult involvement.
Another significant difference is the introduction of tools and building supplies. Saws, hammers, nails, screwdrivers, sewing machines and such will be available for participants to use. Play workers will be on hand to make sure the participants learn how to properly use and care for the tools, but the kids will be able to create and build things they can call their own.
There are other minor differences as well…
- The Adventure Playground will be open during afterschool and weekend hours. Operating hours will be 2:30-6:30 PM Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays from 11 AM to 3 PM.
- Once registered by a parent or guardian, children and youth can come and go from the Adventure Playground on their own. Parents and guardians may visit the Playground, but for observation only. They are encouraged to let their children pursue activities on their own.
- Participants can create—and destroy—things over time, rather than in a one-day time-frame.
And, of course, much is the same…
- The Adventure Playground will be free to those who register.
- Participants will get messy and are encouraged to wear clothes and shoes that can get dirty. (In fact, closed-toe shoes are required.)
- The Playground will continue to hold regular Pop-Up Days for the community—at both Maple Neighborhood Center and other locations around town!
Around the world, Adventure Playgrounds tend to become places the participants call their own; and we hope the Sacramento Adventure Playground at Maple does as well.
Learn more about the Sacramento Adventure Playground at the Playground’s website.
Fairytale Town and the Sacramento Play Coalition hosted their third Pop-Up Adventure Play Day at the Maple Neighborhood Center last weekend. The quote of the day happed when a 7-year old girl scampered up a ladder into a tree. Surprised by her quick ascent, her father said, “I didn’t know you liked to climb trees,” to which his daughter replied, “That’s because you don’t let me climb them at home.”
These kinds of ‘risky’ play experiences have been disappearing from childhood over the past few decades. It’s understandable that we as a society want to protect our children, but we do so at our own risk. Risky play challenges children. It allows them to stretch their boundaries as they explore their world. In the case of the tree climber, it even gives them a different perspective from which to view the world. Risky play also allows children to gain a sense of their own abilities, learn to assess risk, test their skills, and experiment with more complex and difficult tasks. Or, as the girl on the ladder might say, it helped her climb higher that she ever had before.
Of course, risky play needs to be managed and have oversight, and that’s where organizations like Fairytale Town can step in. Recognizing the need for broader play activities, especially for older children, Fairytale Town is working to bring a permanent Adventure Playground to the Maple Neighborhood Center. Thanks to involvement from volunteer groups like the Sacramento Play Coalition, Men in Childhood and other nonprofit organizations, we are nearly there.
We have been hosting Pop-Up Adventure Play Days sat the site to build momentum for the permanent Adventure Playground, adding a little more risk each time. Tree climbing and hammers and nails were added to our existing activities of mud play, fort building, and wall painting. Additional Pop-Up Play Days are set for July 23 and August 20. The permanent Adventure Playground will open August 23.
Details on the difference between the Pop Up Adventure Play Days and the permanent Adventure Playground will be shared in my next post. Until then… let’s find ourselves some trees to climb, and see how different the world can look.