Saturday, May 30, 2009

Maker Faire this Weekend

The Golden Apple is very fortunate to be located in a geographic area that teems with creative energy. Our store is about equal distance from Silicon Valley and San Francisco and a stone's throw away from Livermore Labs (though I don't think the Weapons Lab worries about thrown stones anymore). We get our science through the main line around here! This weekend the Bay Area hosts an event called the Maker Faire, which is a huge celebration of many things - Tinkerers, Mad Scientists, Crafters, TechnoGeeks, Steampunkers, DIYers and everyone in between. I have been to this event a couple of times, and it is a great way to get you creative energies dialed up to 11. See you there!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blueberries for Sal

I've eaten a lot of berries this week. It's the season, even if it isn't. Don't berries show up in summer? For Oldtime Storytime this week we're rolling out one of the big guns, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. There's a lot wrong with this story, according to bear experts, and I'm not sure blueberry picking is a familiar activity for local kids, but it's a good separation anxiety yarn, and it makes adults like me nostalgic for a childhood I didn't have either. Join us today at 4:30 - we might even taste some blueberries!

Monday, May 25, 2009

What is an Educational Toy?

I do an occasional guest blog for TDMonthly. This week they asked me to write on the topic: What "educational toy" really means:

It happens very often. A customer comes in (often it is an aunt or uncle) and asks for an "educational toy for a two-year-old". My staff prefers it's not me they ask, because they know this is one of my "buttons". Depending on the length of my fuse, I may or may not spare them the lecture on why there is no such animal as an "educational" toy for a two-year-old. But who wants a lecture, so I show them something that has the alphabet printed on it, or it involves numbers, or colors. That's the reason they came in to my "Educational Store", they were told to get something educational, not to hear me spout.
So what is an educational toy? Our fall back criteria is the old BRIO credo, which formed their core philosophy, before they got lost in the woods. It's a child-centered toy. It doesn't play for the child, the child plays with the toy. It is open-ended and adaptable to all kinds of play. It lacks a built in-story (unlike say a SpongeBob figurine). Now this could be drawn into a flow chart, and applied to every toy, but we spend most of our time flying by the seat of our pants. We strayed from orthodoxy a long time ago, and a few popular items skirt close to the line of "not in the least bit educational". Nonetheless, when a customer is looking for "educational", we have to meet their expectations. They want a toy that "teaches" something. Going back to a visual chart, here's how I would represent an ideal educational toy: a Venn Diagram with three circles. The first circle is what I, as a life long educator and toy buyer would consider an "Educational Toy". The next circle encompasses what a customer with a specific idea of a toy that "teaches something" has in mind. The third circle is what a child thinks is a fun way to spend some time. A toy that can fit in the intersection of all three is an "educational toy" that I would gladly put on my shelves.
With some effort, I can usually convince the above aunt or uncle that a pounding bench is the perfect educational toy for a two year old. It teaches cause and effect, it does nothing if the child doesn't interact with it, and it's pretty fun to wail away at. As kids get older, a broader range of toys that will fit my diagram are available, and I can direct a customer to a toy or game that satisfies everyone involved.
But, you might be thinking, what about that D-Tech Smart Pad that speaks the alphabet in 10 languages and provides both visual and auditory feedback - that must be an educational toy! Oh, don't get me started!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Teacher Appreciation - It's Real!

I slowed down on my posting this last week. My excuse is I was working on building a website (not Golden Apple related but you can check it out here) I was doing it as an exercise, to get my web skills up to date. Learning new things is hard, but what's harder is learning new things without the help of a teacher! I could have saved myself hours of time if I had had someone to give me some guidance, feedback and correction. It isn't something you can get from books, it isn't something available online.
I'm happy to have improved my skills, but I appreciate what teachers do even more than before.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Millions of Cats at Storytime

Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats. That's what we're dealing with today at Old-time Storytime. Space is limited!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Looking for Something Fresh I was willing to carry something fresh that I may look as a man minding business, which I have done too much for a great while to forfeit, and is now so great a burden upon my mind night and day that I do not enjoy myself in the world almost.

Samuel Pepys taught me everything I know about blogging! For the past 5 or so years I have been reading on a mostly daily basis the Diary of Samuel Pepys. Posting Sam Pepys diary as a blog was the brilliant idea of Phil Gyford. The diary was always something you were assigned to read in English Lit, and so at best you skimmed it and forgot it by the end of High School. Reading it as it unfolds is an incredible experience, and gems like his posting today - (excerpt above) reminds me so much of what I am doing with the Facebook, this Blog, Twitter the Enews (and who knows what is coming next) that it is uncanny. Keeping up, and having something new to report does get a bit oppressive. I'm still enjoying myself in the world, and I think Sam was just playing "poor me" for a moment. Check it out if you would like to find out how little has changed in 400 years.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Time for some Blogrolling

Pufferbellies lures the press to their weekly storytime and gets a write-up! YoYoJoes is playing with some very high-end toys. Peapods has some fun with local logs. And they're parking new trucks over at Early Work in Petaluma.
As for the Golden Apple, we're just taking it easy today, it's too hot to do much. I'm almost too lazy to report that we unpacked another batch of Sunny Patch from Melissa and Doug, including a Grub Scouts Sprinkler that would make any hot day worth living!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Starbucks Loss is Your Gain

Starbucks sells coffee. Recently, they announced that they would be selling less coffee by 900 locations. Meanwhile, they are running full page newspaper ads begging us to please buy coffee. Bad economy? Let me put on my small business hat and tell you why Starbucks has been bad for America, and why they deserve what they get with extra foam on top.
What does this have to do with the Golden Apple, you might wonder. We started our business 30 years ago this month. The CEO of Starbucks was still scrubbing out percolators at Peets when we signed our first lease. Over the years we have moved several times, and signed many leases. About fifteen years ago, things changed for small businesses that needed commercial retail space. Suddenly, you were treated to the Starbucks Standard. Starbucks seemed to have the ability to pay any price for any space they wanted. They drove out competitors by outbidding them, and they drove up the rent for all businesses in a center. In addition, some landlords did not want anything to do with small independent businesses. Starbucks, Noah's Bagels, Papyrus, Quiznos, they were desirable, and single location family businesses were outcasts.
Rents went up, especially in high-traffic, downtown locations. Businesses that wanted to be where the action was had to pony up. Now Starbucks is walking away from 900 stores, and downtowns are seeing merchants closing up at rates approaching 50%. Those high rates that were barely affordable when times were good are pulling stores down in these hard times.
The market corrects itself, but that doesn't mean no-one gets hurt. Small business is often a shoestring endeavor, and fast companies like Starbucks can make life hard in ways that might not be apparent. Their loss might be a community gain.
To sum up, click here to learn more about the 350 project, everyone benefits when we support local businesses!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ride Your Bike to the Golden Apple

Yesterday was bike to work day in the SF Bay Area (and elsewhere). It was a nice day, and I rode around the city a little before I headed off, just to see how it was going. Everyone was on a bike! I had to attend a meeting downtown, and since there was no safe street parking, I took my bike up the elevator, down the hall and into the meeting room. The only comments were "Oh, Bike to Work Day". It's a Utopian dream for one day.
As part of Bike to Work Week we are planning a "Bike to the Golden Apple" event on Saturday. We had hoped to build it around our Skuut Balance Bikes, but they are out of stock until June. We have scaled it down, but we are still offering 10% off to anyone arriving by bike, prizes for the kids on bikes, Bike Stories, and Bike decorating. You are welcome to ride your bike to the Golden Apple any day, but roll in on Saturday and say hi! (the image above is from "Duck on a Bike" by David Shannon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's On the Menu?

Mouse Soup! The only way to make a good mouse soup is to add some stories. Old-time Story-time this week is serving up Arnold Lobel's Mouse Soup, an I Can Read variation of the Arabian Nights. Just you try to tell a funny, interesting story using only Dolch sight words. I'm also starting off with something from Aesop, but I haven't decided which story. Any suggestions?

Previous Post: Jan Brett's Dolch Words

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Children's Book Week

Poetry Month, Teacher Appreciation Week and now it's Children's Book Week (May 11th -May 17th) Here's a link to some of the festivities. I wish I was in the cake decorating business. (Is there a National Cake Decorating Week?) Other than sitting down with a class full of active listeners and knocking their socks off with a good scorcher, I think an appropriate way to celebrate is by taking yourself back - have someone tell you a great story. My choice is E.B. White. His reading of Charlotte's Web is a way to hear a story you think you know, made brand new. Stuart Little is a runner up. I especially like the bitter-sweet ending of SL, it makes you yearn for the days when stories didn't have sequels. Anyway, you can have your Jim Dales and your Meryl Streeps, give me E.B. White's New England intonations and I'm ready curl up in my jammies on the top bunk .

Saturday, May 9, 2009

That's Cute

One of the hurdles I have had to overcome in life is cute-blindness. I'm okay with babies and puppies and things of that nature, but put me in charge of ordering Suzy Zoo classroom decorations and I shut down. Things have improved, I still don't have an eye for cute, but other people at the Golden Apple help me, and I've learned to appreciate "cuteness" as a quality. Crocodile Creek has been bumping up the cuteness on some new lunchbox items to the point where I can register it. These new eco drink bottles are cute.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Tweets Don't Fail Me Now!

I'm old. The picture illustrating this post comes from the distant past, my high-school years. For those of you too young to remember; there was a fad that swept the country called CB radio. There is so much explaining required to make CB radio make sense to someone who didn't live through it, I just can't do it. Many sensible people, like my mother, had CB radios installed in their cars, along with giant light saber like antennae bolted to the trunk. All so they could "breaker breaker one-nine" each other as they tootled on down the highway, "driven 55".
Today I registered with Tweeter. Now trust me, I am as hip as the next person. I had "Early Adopter" tattooed on my bicep way before tattoos were cool. But I'm really having trouble distinguishing Twitter from CB radio. There just might not be a there there.
I did find several Tweeters(?) sending haiku - An old pond!/A frog jumps in/The sound of water - which seems like a plot detail from a Kurt Vonnegut story:

Rosewater glanced at the Basho-tron on his desk -
An old pond! A frog jumps in- The sound of water ...
they were playing reruns again.

Other than exchanging haiku, I can't wrap my mind around the value of 140 character communication. The thought of it brings out the Abe Simpson in me.
The point of this post is: you can follow our Golden Apple tweets here! Where our motto is "If you can't say it in 140 characters, then maybe you shouldn't say it at all." QED
(If you need an explanation of the Burt Reynolds image, click here)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Curious George DOES NOT Get a Medal

Due to circumstances beyond our control, we were forced to make a last minute substitution at old-time storytime today. Substituting for George was another old stand-by, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Lane Smith and John Scieszka. So far so good, but on polling the audience, it was discovered that over half were not familiar with any story about three little pigs, true or not. This required our brave story teller to do what's called "blind storytelling", or BS-ing. Purely from memory I was forced (much like Homer recounting the Illiad) to recite the Tale of the Three Little Pigs so that my audience could appreciate the wit and clever turns in the retelling by A. Wolf. Despite my forgetting the part about the "hair on my chinny chin chin" and that the second house was made of sticks, not wood, I think I pulled it off. I also failed to kill any pigs, out of sensitivity. TTOTTLP has a much higher death toll. My audience was great, and they forgave my transgressions. Next Wednesday, it's Mouse Soup!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Curious George Gets a Medal

Everything about this story is from another time and place. It's hard to imagine kids relating to a single thing that happens to poor George. But being curious, and following your curiosity where ever it leads, laughing through all the calamities that come with adventuring, who wouldn't deserve a medal? It's on the menu at old-time storytime tomorrow. We'll be giving out medals.

Monday, May 4, 2009

If you can read this...

Then you probably made it out of school without having destroyed your native curiosity! It's Teacher Appreciation week, which causes a hail of mugs much like the one pictured here to shower down on our most under appreciated community workers. We don't sell many "Hallmark" style items at the Golden Apple, it goes back to my mom's day, when she knew from personal experience that the last thing teachers needed were more "I heart teaching" mugs. Gift certificates make nice gifts.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pandemics and Critical Thinking

"The word "Pandemic" seems like a neologism, a useful combination of panic! and epidemic! that serves to scare everyone. A pandemic is an epidemic spread over a wide area, but that's it, no sinister extra meaning. There have been serious pandemics throughout history, but just the label on our current news event has set a panic in motion. The news media goes berserk, schools close, and events (especially ones where kids are attending) are being canceled.
It reminds me that critical thinking skills are the most important skills we can pass on to children. At the Golden Apple, we sometimes call this section of our store the "GATE" section, but really, these books should be prescribed for every child. These skills help everyone keep a level head in a crisis, or even a non-crisis.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day

Today is a big holiday around the world - it seems to pass unnoticed here. April 30/May 1 is Walpurgis Night in northern European countries. May Day is a day of celebrating the coming warm weather, cleaning up the garden and enjoying a picnic. Here in Northern California May 1st brought a rare rain storm, so no picnics today - but I'm giving out virtual rainchecks - treat yourself to a picnic at the first opportunity! Happy May Day