Changing how kids play at Berkeley’s Peaceable Kingdom

Work in progress birthday cards dot the walls of children's game, sticker, and card manufacturer Peaceable Kingdom's Berkeley offices.
Work-in-progress birthday cards dot the walls of Peaceable Kingdom’s Berkeley offices. Photo: Julia Hannafin

Founded by children’s book author, illustrator and Berkeley resident Thacher Hurd and his wife, Olivia, in 1983, Peaceable Kingdom is a manufacturer of stickers, greeting cards and cooperative games for kids. Berkeleyside intern Julia Hannafin spoke separately with the company’s creative director, Sueellen Ehnebuske, and marketing manager, Tara Barnes, at its headquarters in Berkeley.

What is your mission? 

Barnes: Our mission is, in short, to make good, do good, and be good.

Ehnebuske: Our mission is to provide connectivity. A way for children to connect with art that is non-licensed with some creative fun involved in it: to connect children to children.


Can you explain what a cooperative game is?

Ehnebuske: Cooperative play is where a group of people have to play together against an outside obstacle in order to win. Sometimes the game wins or the obstacle wins – a wicked witch, for example – and sometimes the group wins. It’s just a way to engage people. For children, it’s been a great addition, because so many kids just struggle with the level of competition that’s in our culture. To be able to play a game with each other just for fun, not to win or to lose — parents find that just a godsend.

Suellen (on right) and fellow PK employee stand in front of their board of in-progress cards. Photo: Julia Hannafin.
Suellen (right) and Jenny Rez, an art director and senior designer for Peaceable Kingtom, stand in front of their board of in-progress cards. Photo: Julia Hannafin

What goes into a finished Peaceable Kingdom product?

Barnes: We work exclusively with independent designers, so everyone from the game designers to all of our artists is an independent designer; you won’t see any commercial artwork on any of our stuff. We really work hard to maintain those relationships with all of our artists, so that’s really a big thing. I think it makes our products stand out. Nine out of 14 of our cooperative games are 100% green, so we use recycled papers, soy-based inks, corn-based plastic, etc., so it’s all going to biodegrade over time and leave less of an imprint on the earth. A lot of our products are sold in specialty toy stores, because parents are not looking for the generic things that you’d find in a Toys-R-Us.

Ehnebuske: The way we see the way we work is very collaborative. Three or four people will often handle the same product, so there’s not so much proprietary design work. We all rely on each other’s eyes for what’s working and what’s not.

How did the business gets its start?

Barnes: The company was founded 30 years ago. There’s been a lot of evolution. It started with one poster of Good Night Moon. We used to do a lot of more licensed products, Thomas the Tank Engine, stuff like that, but we’ve really evolved into having our three core products, which are games, stickers and cards for kids. A St. Louis-based children’s education company, GL Group, acquired Peaceable Kingdom 12 or 13 years ago.


Some of PK's unique stickers.
Some of PK’s unique stickers. Photo: Julia Hannafin

Do you do any work in the broader community?

Barnes: We work a lot with MOCHA, the Museum of Children’s Arts in downtown Oakland, and donate a lot to them to help support their art programs. We work with local nonprofits to donate any excess products; sometimes we’ll have open samples that we aren’t going to ship out to customers, but that are great for organizations that do art projects with kids. We donate as much as we can. We have a “1 a day” donation program. We pick one of the many nonprofits that have approached us in a given week, and then donate a bulk of product to them, five days a week.

Why Berkeley?

Barnes: It really makes sense for us to be located here, just because especially, when it comes to things like our green products, that really fits well with the culture here in Berkeley.

Ehnebuske:  I think Berkeley is good for Peaceable Kingdom because cooperative play is an alternative idea. I think game play that is cooperative is so foreign to us — it makes people nervous a little bit sometimes, because… how do you have fun without competitiveness? I think the Bay Area is just filled with new ideas on almost every level, every sphere. This area is very forward thinking, and Peaceable Kingdom strives to be that too.

How have you seen the neighborhood change since you’ve been here?


Barnes: It’s a continually evolving area, since we’re so close to the freeway. I know a Whole Foods is going in across the street, so that’s really changing things. I’ve also seen the neighborhood, as far as the businesses go, try to come together more. We’ve certainly walked around and reached out and chatted with folks; we met with the gentleman who owns Donkey & Goat; he’s great. We’ve met with the folks at T-Rex, which is just down the street. So I definitely feel like people are trying to get to know other small business owners and see how we can support each other.

Peaceable Kingdom is located at 950 Gilman St. Connect with the business on Facebook or learn more on the Peaceable Kingdom website.

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