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Meet Sherri Duskey Rinker

Sherri Duskey Rinker saw her first picture book, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, rise from the infamous “slush pile” to the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list, where it has stayed for more than 100 weeks. She’s inspired by her two energetic, inquisitive sons, one fascinated by bugs and magic, and the other by trucks and trains. Formerly the owner of a graphic design agency, she now devotes herself full time to writing books and visiting schools. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois.

Sherri will visit Fairytale Town for this year’s ScholarShare Children’s Book Festival the weekend of September 28 and 29, where she’ll present her latest #1 bestseller, Steam Train, Dream Train, and sign copies of her books.

Both of your books are “goodnight” stories. When you started working on your books, did you set out to write bedtime stories?
My fondest memories of reading as a child were at bedtime, cuddled up with my grandmother. When I became a mom, bedtime was the time for settling in and cuddling up with my own kids and reading, so I think that writing books specifically for that time was a pretty natural fit for me. And, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site was inspired specifically because my youngest son had a tireless (literally!) love of trucks, and I felt the need to give him a bedtime story that spoke to his truck passions and, yet, was soothing.

What was your favorite book to read as a child?
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. I still love that story and, interestingly, I feel like it’s evolved into an analogy for my own life: I was always lured by excitement and city life as I was growing up and as a young adult, and now I’m content to enjoy the peaceful pace of a quieter life—and I’m more appreciative of the simpler things.

What’s your earliest reading memory?
My grandmother had a big stack of books by the bed at her house, and I’d pick which one(s) we’d read together. I sentimentally still remember the smell of those books, the smell and feel of the soft sheets and blankets, the smell of my grandmother’s Camay soap, the cozy feeling of being cuddled up and having all of her attention, the sound of the ticking alarm clock in the background and titles like Be Nice To Spiders and Harry The Dirty Dog.

As a mother of two, do you have any words of wisdom for fellow parents who want to inspire and encourage their children to read?
Read to your kids—and read everything: picture books when they are smaller, chapter books as they grow older. Grab a cup of coffee at night after dinner so that you’re awake and present to enjoy this really special time with them.

If you could be any fairytale character, who would you be? Why?
This is such an interesting question. I guess I’ll say this: Anyone who gets to live “happily ever after!” That’s a copout, right? Ok, if you make me pick, I guess I’ll have to go with Cinderella: I really like shoes!


A First for Play in Our Region

The first-ever Sacramento Play Summit will take place on September 7.  Not only is this the first time a conference of this nature will be held in Sacramento, it is also the first time we have held such a program off-campus, the first time we have partnered with the Sacramento Public Library on a stand-alone event, and – after 54 years of planning playful and educational programs for children – the first time we have planned a full-day program for adults.  shutterstock_play image

I was motivated to develop a play conference by my sabbatical two years ago.  The play professionals I met abroad were incredibly inspiring, and the research I saw and seminars I attended were extremely compelling and powerful.

I was delighted to find allies for play in the Sacramento Public Library and ScholarShare College Savings Plan.  A public library and a college savings plan are not the most natural partners for promoting play, but Rivkah Sass and Zeny Agullana, the leaders of these organizations respectively, recognize how important play is to healthy child development, raising readers, and, as a result, to future success.

IMG_1356_croppedWe brainstormed about a conference last year, and our first formal meeting about the conference was held on February 14 – an auspicious date for a new partnership!  We identified our goals and set out to design a meaningful conference for our community.  And, nearly one year after our initial conversation and many months of planning we are ready to roll!

The conference features three keynote speakers. Our morning keynote, Dr. Melissa Arca, will discuss play and health. Our noontime speaker, author Barney Saltzberg will talk about the importance of play to the creative process. Our closing presenter, Myla Marks of Playworks, will address the need for meaningful play in schools and community settings.  In between the keynotes there are nine workshops focused on four different tracks: play and literacy, play and the arts, play in parks and recreation, and adventure play. The workshop presenters include university professors, elementary teachers, parks and recreation professionals and literacy experts.

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Keynote Speaker author Barney Saltzberg

There will be more than ‘talk’ about play, though! We will share morning coffee, lunch and afternoon snacks; take time to play in-between sessions; and, perhaps, end the day by setting up a coalition of people who want to promote play in our community.  Play is as important to community development as it is to child development.  In fact, play is the foundation for all learning and development – something that will be driven home when you attend the first-ever Sacramento Play Summit on September 7.

I hope to see you there!


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.

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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.


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.

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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.
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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


Renovating A Forest

Not everyone can say they are refurbishing a forest.

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But that’s what we’ve been working on at Fairytale Town. After a two-month renovation, Sherwood Forest re-opened last weekend.

The new play set has activities for children ages 2 and up including slides, climbing apparatuses, a talk tube and a telescope. Sherwood also has a refreshed birthday party area as well as new hand-made chairs, animal sculptures and landscaping.

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The renovation actually began last year when the old play structure was starting to show signs of wear. (It isn’t easy being exposed to the sun, rain, wind and 230,000 annual visitors!)  A task force was formed to head up the renovation project and designs were sought from four different playground designers. In the meantime, a search for funding was underway. A design was selected. Applications for building permits were submitted and construction plans were approved. The old set was demolished and the new one erected. Three inspections were made to ensure the structure was sound. Cash and in-kind donations were received and acknowledged. New chairs and fencing were built. Holes and trenches wee dug and new plants and irrigation were installed. A re-opening ceremony was held and the ribbon to the new Sherwood was cut.

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Now the work is turned over to the children who visit us. It’s their job to play and imagine to their hearts content in the new Sherwood Forest. Judging from those who have played on it already, they are doing their job well – and happily!