Joy riding! Bernie Baird-Browning drives the golf-cart for a video shoot at her Malibu cottage.

Joy riding! Bernie Baird-Browning drives the golf-cart for a video shoot at her Malibu cottage.

You step into another world at Small Wonders, the amazing educational toy store on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Rolling Hills, California. The place is a work of art that’s a world of toys, as unique and spirit-lifting as its owner and creator, Bernice Baird-Browning, who researches and discovers fun treasures from merchants all over the world.

Every inch of every shelf of her store is brimming with uniqueness and quality. Up near the ceiling, a colorful miniature train chugs along on a wooden railroad that somehow winds around or tunnels through every item in the store’s densely-stocked alcoves. Puppets and marionettes from faraway places smile at you as you pass by. You see boxes full of wooden trains and miniature construction sets from Scandinavia. And from Germany, kits for building colorful fire engines and taxis, or grand cathedrals and skyscrapers. Musical instruments and finely carved pull toys come from Poland, Italy, and Czechoslovakia. Delicate French dolls beg to be pampered and primped, but they’re tomboyish enough to be bathed in a washing machine!

Bernie married a doctor before the age of 20, and raised two brilliant kids who’ve launched successful careers of their own. So she’s also a grandmother-made-in-heaven! (Can you imagine dashing over the meadow and through the woods to such an enchanting place?)

And just as in a fairy-tale, Bernie met—or rather re-met—her current husband Ralph Browning at a high-school reunion in the late 1990s, and they’re living, traveling, and prospering happily ever after!

The source of Bernie’s passion for joy and fun and letting kids learn as they play might come from having started school in first grade. She longed for kindergarten ever since, so maybe skipping it was the twist of fate that led to the blessing Small Wonders is to the world. There, where everything has been so carefully searched, selected, and displayed by a mother, grandmother, businesswoman, and grownup kindergartener, you’ll find yourself warmly embraced in quality, charm, and just plain fun.

Fun, in fact, sums up Bernie Baird-Browning in a word.

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