China Toy Fair


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.

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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.

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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...]

COMMENTARY: Kids Love to Make Stuff

Kids love to make stuff. Arts and crafts, do-it-yourself kits, construction sets—you name it. I loved crafts as a kid, especially the kinds that didn’t quickly run out of the included supplies, so I could start over if it wasn’t quite right the first time.

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Recently, I took home Schylling’s Metal Pot Holder Loom. It was the first time I’d made one of those over-under hook-and-loop pot holders since elementary school. Even back then, I remember taking great pains to get the weave tight, so there weren’t gaps or curves. This time was no different, except that the loom is now significantly larger. The kit includes a metal loom, a metal hook, a plastic crochet hook, an instruction manual, and enough loops to create two pot holders and still have some left over. One quiet weeknight, I settled in with a good show on TV and started making a pot holder. The little girl in me still enjoyed the process, and I put thought into the design before beginning. The result was an even, tight, and pretty awesome-looking kitchen accessory, if I do say so myself. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Not All Science Toys are Created Equal

Not all science toys are created equal. Today’s kids live in a world oozing with technology, discovery, gizmos, and gadgets—and toy store shelves reflect this environment. Classics, such as volcano kits and fossil excavation sets, will always retain their charm and their ability to excite and inspire kids. However, more high-tech items, such as solar-powered robots and hovercrafts, are the toys of today—and tomorrow.

There is immeasurable value in science toys. Kids gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them by immersing themselves in a hands-on activity that lets them comprehend how things work, where things come from, or how to use one thing to power another. Providing kids with fun and exciting alternatives to mind-numbing video games or TV shows is a great way for parents and caregivers to encourage learning and positive play, even outside of school hours.

Hovercrafts, once a thing of sci-fi and fantasy, are now a reality. Thames & Kosmos offers kids the opportunity to build their own working hovercraft with the Air Stream Machines kit. The kit teaches kids about air mass and air pressure by letting them experiment with propellers, impellers, blower motors, and fans. Kids can even build a batting machine that suspends a ball on top of the stream of air. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Solar-Powered Toys Let Kids Harness the Power of the Sun

The best way to learn is hands-on, and there are lots of great toys that let kids learn about the world around them—while having fun at the same time! With solar-powered toys, kids come to understand how the sun provides energy and how to harness it for their use.

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OWI’s 14-in 1-Educational Solar Robot Kit, recipient of Best Green Products Award 2013, is a solar-powered robot that transforms into 14 different robot modes. Kids can easily change from a tail-wagging dog to a running beetle, a walking crab to a surfer, a speedster to a zombie chaser, and others. The robot kit provides unique accessories and parts that allow the robot to move on land and in water. It moves in direct sunlight and allows kids to create and use their imagination. There are two levels in building the robot kit. Level one includes Turtle-bot, Beetle-bot, Quadru-bot, Boat-bot, Walker-bot, Dog-bot, and Wheel-bot. Level two includes Roly Poly-bot, Auto-bot, Slither-bot, Surf-bot, Zombie-bot, Crab-bot, and Row-bot. Additional features include adjustable polarity on the solar panel to change direction of motor rotation, a retractable robot head which can be quickly stored in the upper body and can be installed in the front, top, or rear of the gearbox, and a transparent housing so kids can see the movements of the gears. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The Many Incarnations of Apples to Apples

Christine.August12.2Apples to Apples has emerged as a go-to party favorite for players of all ages. Since its debut in 1999, the game has become incredibly popular and has been reinvented time and time again to cater to different audiences. It is now published by Mattel and is available online and at retailers worldwide.

Apples to Apples

Apples to Apples Party Box contains more than 1,000 cards. Each player begins with seven red cards that contain “Things.” One player selects a green card and reads the “Description” aloud. The other players must then decide which of their red cards is the best match for the green card. For example, if the green card says “A day at the park,” players must choose the best card to fit that card. Players can select anything from the literal (perhaps “picnic”) to the silly (“dancing clowns”) to the ironic (“sad and lonely”). The player that read the green card must shuffle the cards and then pick the one they like best. The player that put in the winning card keeps the green card. The first player to get five green cards wins. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Fandooble is Fun for Players Young and Old

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During a recent game-testing session here at The Toy Book, I had the opportunity to play Fandooble, from Mindtwister USA. This game took a few rounds to get the hang of, but once I did, I really liked it—so much so that I called dibs and took it home. Last weekend, I hosted my two teenage male cousins from Sweden. Needless to say, it could be a challenge at times to find activities that we all enjoyed; after all, a 13-year-old boy and a 28-year old woman don’t have a lot of common ground. Fandooble was a great solution, and we played several times during their visit. I even purchased another copy to send home with them as a reminder of our time together.

The game includes four dice and a bag of gold coins. The dice bear images of green dragons, red dragons, knights, wizards, treasure chests, and Fandooble—the money-snatcher. Each player begins the game with five coins in their “stash.” The rest of the coins are kept in the middle. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Kids Can Have Pets with Living Toys

Every kid wants a pet. Some start small, asking for a goldfish or a hermit crab; others go all-out from the get-go and ask for a pony; many more go for a more attainable, yet oft-denied option: a dog or cat.

For parents that want to let their kids have a pet but don’t want to take on the responsibilities of a larger animal, there are plenty of toy choices that will let kids have the enjoyment of a live pet.

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Sea-Monkeys are a classic item that originated in the 1950s. Kids “hatch” their own brine shrimp—nicknamed Sea-Monkeys—from numbered packets and follow instructions in an enchantedly illustrated instruction booklet, depicting the Sea-Monkeys as a magical underwater society. The graphic element of Sea-Monkeys is enough to lure many kids in, but watching the Sea-Monkeys come to life and grow keeps kids interested, and teaches them responsibility as they must feed their pets each week. [Read more...]