When she first visited San Francisco’s 826 Valencia St. in 2009, Liz Haines says she “walked in the door and almost wet my pants with excitement.”
Founded in 2002 by author Dave Eggers, 826 Valencia is home to a pioneering children’s literacy program, partly funded by the city’s “only independent pirate-supply store”—a whimsical retail anomaly that occupies the storefront façade of 826, where shoppers can acquire peg legs and planks.
As a director and producer at TVO Kids in the ’90s, Haines found it often impossible to translate children’s ideas to the screen. So she began doing writing workshops in schools, and eventually started looking for a permanent home.
Earlier this month, Haines opened her own version of the pirate-supply store, the Intergalactic Travel Authority, at 1165 Bloor West—a space travel–themed café, in the rear of which lies Story Planet headquarters.
Last Thursday, during a weeklong day camp, there were a dozen children drawing and writing, working on their own creations and dissecting others. The walls were adorned with proof of the kids’ unbound creativity—six-shooter-toting volcano monsters and Medusa-headed men with a million eyeballs.
In one corner, Rebecca, 8, Travis, 10, and Charlie, 10, negotiated the ins and outs of Hockey Life, a board game of their own devising. It followed the familiar rules of a classic board game, guiding players through penalties (miss a turn), breakaways (an extra role of the die), and a stack of brutal chance cards to ensure no one is safe from a devastating setback.
“Can one be a girl?” Rebecca asked of the players. “There are girl hockey players, you know.” She then called over on-hand artist Eric Kim to help draw a female hockey player to use as a game piece.
As they took turns playing and refining the game, the most remarkable thing was how cooperative it felt—as if watching their peers work together was more exciting that personal victories. It’s a concept that, from the other side of the portal, sometimes seems downright alien.