COMMENTARY: Easter Is the Other Big Holiday

I don’t know about you, but in my family, Easter is the “other” big holiday. It gets as much attention as Christmas and Thanksgiving, complete with family from near and far, a feast, candy, and, of course, Easter baskets. My sister and I are both in our 20s, but who says grown-ups can’t still get excited to open their Easter baskets and see what goodies await? While Easter isn’t the time for lots of presents, our baskets usually contain some candy, a few small trinkets, and one bigger gift. This Sunday, when kids across the country open their Easter baskets, some may be lucky enough to receive any of the following fun spring toys.

airhogsskywinder

Spin Master Air Hogs Skywinder is an awesome choice for a kid’s “big” basket gift. Kids toss the R/C stunt rocket into the air and squeeze the trigger on the remote. The rocket flies, dives, hovers, and loops, and is lightweight enough that it can be used indoors. It flies high, though, so kids will enjoy it most outside—a perfect reason to go outdoors and celebrate spring! [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Taking Plush to the Next Level

Gone are the days when plush was simply a category of stagnant stuffed toys. Kids today can enjoy plush items that sing, dance, play music, light up, talk, and more. With technology moving ever forward, the plush category is seeing new ways to integrate interactive elements into soft products. While mechanized toys aren’t a brand new concept, many companies are producing new items that utilize today’s technologies in ways never seen before.

I’ll be honest—I wasn’t much for animated plush when I was a kid. Maybe it was the fact that interactive items didn’t really do anything cool enough to warrant sacrificing the softness and squeezability of a traditional stuffed animal. Or maybe I didn’t like the fact that you have to change the batteries. Whatever my reasons, I think I would have felt differently about interactive plush if I’d had some of the toys available today.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 1.50.19 PMPeek-A-Boo Elmo, a licensed Sesame Street item from Gund, holds a cozy blue blanket to play peek-a-boo with kids ages 18 months and up. When kids press Elmo’s foot, he lifts his blanket over his face while saying phrases such as, “Where are you?” and “There you are!” One of the nicest things about Peek-A-Boo Elmo for parents is that by pressing his foot again, he turns off. I also love that he moves his arms up and down fairly quickly, enhancing the surprise factor for little ones. Elmo’s mouth also moves consistently with what he’s saying. Peek-A-Boo Elmo is programmed to say 13 phrases. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Friendly Monsters Come to Life with The Horndribbles

imageAdventures of the Horndribbles: Zapp and the Oogah-Oogah Nut, by Herbert Joel and published by Explorers’ Playground Inc., is the tale of four creature friends that work together to save one of their own when he finds himself in potential danger. The Horndribbles live on—you guessed it—Horndribble Island, a fantastical land with lakes, forests, mountains, and beaches with names such as “Waka Forest,” “Rumblethump,” “Pinball Rapids,” “Willy Nilly Waterway,” “Namby Pamby Creek,” and “Gadzooks Glacier Range,” just to name a few.

My favorite part of the book is the map of Horndribble Island, printed on the inside front cover. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Plush Manufacturers Show Off Awesome New Plush at Toy Fair

Toy Fair 14 was a spectacular, four-day event held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City from February 16 to 19. Manufacturers from across the country gathered to debut new items, display classics, and make connections with retailers, buyers, and the press. We here at The Toy Book took the opportunity to forge new professional relationships, engage companies with whom we have established relationships, and discover new companies. As I walked the floors checking out the plush items, I saw dozens of great designs that I loved. Big, small, fat, tall—you name it, it was at Toy Fair. Some plush is cute, some is realistic, some is abstract, some is sculptural. While I appreciate all plush, there were some pieces in particular that really caught my eye.

toothpickToothpick, from GUND, was my hands-down, No. 1, absolute favorite plush at the show. I was already “aww!”-ing at the other bears on the wall in the GUND booth when my eyes landed on Toothpick’s skinny little body with his big, cute head and brown corduroy nose. His body is surprisingly sturdy, letting him sit up easily, but is still soft and cuddly. The material that GUND used for Toothpick’s fur is also super-soft, and has an almost curly sort of look to it. He is just adorable. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Makeup Kits for Girls Are Fun and Inexpensive

Screen Shot 2014-01-30 at 4.13.43 PMLittle girls love to play with makeup. I know I definitely did. Unfortunately for me, my mom mostly stuck to neutrals, earth tones, and pale pinks—”boring” colors, in my young opinion. I wanted to open that makeup bag and see electric blue eye shadow, fire engine red lipstick, bright pink blush, vermillion glitter nail polish—you know, the works. But I made do with what she had, bland though I may have thought it, because it was fun to play with. For years, I’ve said that if I ever have a daughter, I will keep a stash of all the fun stuff (that I would never wear myself—I now, of course, completely understand why my mom kept the palette she did) and let her have at it as a special treat. However, there are lots of great makeup kits for girls available today, which may save me a trip to the cosmetics aisle of my drugstore.

Alex Toys’ Mix & Makeup Nail Sparkle kit lets girls ages 5 and up create their own sparkly nail polish. Kids make the polish themselves by mixing the colors and glitter in the included mixing cup, then pouring their creation into the cute candy-shaped bottles with the funnel. The polish is easy to apply, and easily peels off. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: #SantaCame!

Early Wednesday morning, the posts started. My Facebook and Instagram feeds were filled with images of friends and family’s kids tearing into presents, digging through stockings, and excitedly displaying their treasures for the camera. As I scrolled through the photos, I noticed several items that showed up over and over again. Having dedicated the last few months to the hottest toys on the market, it was neat to see them finally end up under Christmas trees around the country.

leappadI’d say the most common recurring toy in my feed was the LeapPad Ultra. Each time it showed up, the caption described how the kid who received it loved it and wouldn’t put it down. The LeapPad Ultra is a great introduction to tablets for kids, and lets them fully utilize its contents safely. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Life-Size Plush Seems Like the Real Deal

Everything seems bigger when you’re a kid. Rooms, yards, playground equipment—it all just seemed so much larger back then. Revisiting childhood places and beloved toys of yesteryear can often be as amusing as it is perplexing, when making the comparison between how you perceived the same thing as a child versus now as an adult. I think that’s one of the things that makes childhood so special: It’s a finite amount of time to see the world from below and feel tiny. One of my great desires as a kid was to have a life-sized stuffed animal. Not a life-sized cat, bird, or bunny. I’m talking a life-sized elephant, lion, bear, camel—something enormous. I just wanted to be able to curl up on it and be engulfed. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid either. Here are some great, life-sized plush products that will not only make kids feel like they’re up close and personal with nature, but will make an awesome Christmas morning scene under the tree.

t300_438055d9152e74136068f2b172059e86

Melissa and Doug actually has a “giant stuffed animals” section online, featuring animals including a cheetah, a lion, an elephant, dogs, a penguin, and my favorite: the giraffe. The giraffe stands more than 4 feet tall, towering over kids with realistic markings and authentic facial features. Even as kids get older, this giraffe can transition into a decorative element of a bedroom without taking up much space. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Making a List and Checking It Twice

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, brave the malls, trim the tree, visit family—and if you’re a kid, it’s time to get serious about that Christmas list.

As we get older, our wish lists shift to more practical items, or fewer (and often more expensive) indulgences. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that my list included such fantasies as a horse like the one from the Billy and Blaze book series, an RV (a real one), a ride-on car, and other obnoxious requests.

Not everything was ridiculous or out of my parents’ price range, however. One Christmas I was delighted when Santa brought me a coveted doll that I’d had my eye on for months. Another year, Barbie’s shoe store made it down the chimney, to much jumping around and “YESSSS!!!”-ing. And the year that presents filled a shiny new Radio Flyer red wagon and overflowed all over the floor goes down as one of the most memorable of all.

Times have changed, and so have the requests of kids as they add, edit, erase, and perfect what may be the most important document of the year before carefully addressing it to the North Pole and sending it off to the big man himself. Here are a few gifts, old and new, that are sure to excite and delight the kids of today as they did us kids of yesteryear.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 10.45.00 AM

The red wagon from my Christmas past was a simple, classic steel wagon that I thought was just the best ever. Now, Radio Flyer’s Build-a-Wagon offers customers the chance to design their wagon to their own unique specifications. Through the website, users can choose from the classic steel-and-wood design or modern plastic, quiet-ride or rugged rubber tires, and accessories including canopies, umbrellas, seat pads, and an MP3 player. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Costumes Aren’t Just for Halloween

Halloween may be over, but costumes are still alive and well in many households. I don’t know about you, but I definitely got more than one night’s use out of my costumes as a kid. In fact, we had a whole dress-up box full of Halloween costumes, dance recital outfits, wigs, tutus, etc. My mom would find extras at yard sales or after-Halloween clearance sales. My neighborhood friends and I used them all year long, whether playing house, coming up with plays and performances (that our parents graciously endured), or just for the fun of it. Here are a few fun costumes that kids can enjoy any time, inspired by some of my favorite disguises of Halloweens past: [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: GeoSafari Laptop Is Fun and Challenging

Growing up, we’d pack up the car and take the 8+ hour road trip from Rhode Island to Virginia to visit my mom’s side of the family several times a year. In those days, before the commercialized Internet (much less wireless Internet), tablets, apps, and before most people even had a basic cell phone, my sister and I entertained ourselves with books, magazines, car games, audio books, and my favorite of all: GeoSafari.

The GeoSafari model I had in the 1990s was like this one (for sale on eBay)

The GeoSafari model I had in the 1990s was like this one (for sale on eBay)

Educational Insights’ GeoSafari Laptop looked different back in the ’90s than it does today, but the concept and overall user experience is mostly the same. By the third grade, I was a whiz at geography. I could identify every state and state capital, the oceans and seas, mountain ranges, rivers, Central and South American countries and capitals, and more. While GeoSafari isn’t just about geography, it was what I used the most. (To this day, I still kick myself for not trying out for Where In the World is Carmen San Diego? I totally would have won that trip at the end.) I credit GeoSafari for my enthusiasm for geography and maps, which I still have to this day. [Read more...]