China Toy Fair


COMMENTARY: Wall Street Magnate Offers Fantasy Trading to “Investors” of All Ages

Christine.June3newI don’t know about you, but to me, the concept of trading stocks is one big, complicated, web of confusion, reserved for professionals, the wealthy, or older people. I’ve felt  little left out in the past, when I’ve heard of friends of mine buying stocks, and thought, “I should do that!” The problem is, I have no idea what I’m doing, let alone where to start. That is, until I was introduced to Wall Street Magnate (WSM), a groundbreaking new fantasy trading community that lets people learn the ins and outs of the capital markets. The site uses real-world financial information to offer a realistic and fun fantasy trading experience online, with up-to-the-minute data from all of the major U.S. Stock Exchanges.

WSM allows “traders” of all ages to learn crucial skills in an exciting and social atmosphere. Users have $100,000 in simulated cash to trade stocks listed on the NYSE, NASDAQ, and AMEX. Members climb the corporate ranks by increasing their Status and Title. WSM provides an easy-to-use and intuitive interface for fantasy trading. The site accounts for both dividends and stock splits in a real-time environment, and features social club play where members can collaborate or face-off with their friends while also competing against other clubs. “Traders” can track and document their complete trading history with sortable spreadsheets that can be easily exported. Member profile pages become the central gateway to fantasy trading, where privacy settings can be adjusted at any time. Members can quickly view a snapshot of their portfolio performance, their current achievements, friends’ status, club information, messages, and the WSM Ticker. The WSM Ticker allows members to see live activity streaming in real-time, including 24/7 news from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters Business, Yahoo! Finance, and CNN Money; the 20 most recent stock trades and new trades to hit the site; critical updates regarding buy and sell orders; all Status and Title upgrades achieved by themselves and friends; stock splits awarded for currently held stocks; dividends paid on currently held stocks; ticker posts; and recent friend and club updates. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: “Old Fashioned” Board Games Still Bring the Competition

I like to play a board game every now and then. These days, pulling out a thin cardboard box filled with a folded board, loose cards, and player pieces happens less frequently, and often takes some convincing on my part for my prospective opponents. However, it wasn’t always that way, and while kids today have a plethora of entertainment options to choose from, the classic board game still has a fan base. The features and effects—not to mention appearance—of games may have evolved, but a good old-fashioned friendly competition around the table is still a great way for families to connect.

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Sorry!, from Hasbro

This is one of my favorites. Up to four players start with four pawns in their start space. Players must draw a 1 or 2 to leave the start space (for each pawn). Players then make their way around the board, moving their pawns according to the cards they draw, and head for their own safety zone. The first player with all four pawns home wins. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Musical Instruments Get Kids Into the Groove

There are so many musical toys options to choose from that I wanted to continue the theme and discuss three more instruments that let kids’ creative juices flow. My last post on this topic covered the recorder, piano, and drums. This post is focused on older children’s interests, and on toys that can prepare kids for the real thing.

The Trumpet

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Schools vary on when kids enter the music program, but in my case, my class was introduced to the recorder in fourth grade. In fifth grade, students could choose a real instrument and practice in the band. My early introduction to musical instrument toys played a key role in my interest in participating in the band. Bontempi’s Toy Band Wind Instruments Trumpet is a great way for kids to explore music and get familiar with breathing techniques. Colored keys help kids learn notes, and the silver color makes it realistic for eager musicians.

The Guitar

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Young rockers can learn to play their favorite jams with First Act’s Classic Rock Electric Guitar Pack with Amp. The solid body, rosewood fingerboard, and maple neck give the guitar a solid feel and warm tone. The guitar also features chrome tuning machines, volume and tone control, and a guitar cable. The included practice amp is battery-powered, letting kids take their tunes on-the-go.

The Saxophone

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Kids that enjoy playing the recorder can move up to the Toy Band Wind Instruments Senior Saxophone, also from Bontempi. The saxophone features eight colored keys for kids to learn finger positions and notes, and comes with instructions that teach kids to play three songs: Jingle Bells, Oh Susanna, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

For more commentary from Christine, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Musical Toys

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of watching a live jazz band play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The musicians seemed to thoroughly enjoy the set, and everyone in the audience was having a blast. Remembering my own days in the school band and piano recitals, I thought about how kids can be influenced early on by musical toys and instruments. Here are some of my favorites:

The Recorder

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Stripe Recorder, from Sassafras

A classic. I can almost hear “Hot Cross Buns” just by looking at one. Recorders, while often a symbol of fourth-grade music class, can actually be a gateway into other instruments for kids. While the standard plastic, beige soprano recorder reigns supreme among young players, there are alternatives, such as Melissa and Doug’s Makin’ Music wooden recorder, Sassafras’ Stripe Recorder, or colorful recorders from 1stNote. Alfred Music Publishing offers songbooks featuring tunes from The Wizard of Oz, Looney Tunes, and others.

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30 Key Fancy Baby Grand, from Schoenhut

The Piano

FirstAct offers a Dora the Explorer electronic keyboard for kids to explore music and try out different sound effects. Kids that want a more classical experience can enjoy Schoenhut’s 30 Key Fancy Baby Grand toy piano. For the youngest pianists, Hasbro offers the Sesame Street Let’s Rock Cookie Monster keyboard, featuring one octave of wide, easy-to-press keys.

The Drums

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Learn To Play Electronic Keyboard, from Discovery Kids

Kids that are more rhythmically inclined will enjoy Discovery Kids’ Learn To Play Electronic Drumpad. The battery-operated drumpad features drum sticks and adjustable tempo. Kids can follow the light patterns to play any of eight different rhythms. Union’s Toy Drum set features a bass drum, crash cymbal, and snare drum for little drummers to rock and roll. For a more laid-back beat, Remo’s Kids Bongo lets kids bang it out in colorful style, and are pitched high and low.

What are your kids’ favorite instruments? Let us know in the comment section!

For more commentary from Christine, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Outdoor Toys Are for Everyone

Spring is in the air, and kids are heading outside to enjoy the weather after this long, harsh winter. There are some great toys hitting shelves this season, giving kids and parents plenty of ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Who doesn’t like to fly a kite? Brainstorm has many options available for boys, girls, and parents. What I like most about Brainstorm’s Xkites line is the incredible designs. Half the fun of flying a kite is having one that’s cool, right?

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Mandrill kite, from Brainstorm

Brainstorm also makes AirSleds, colorful kites, and a range of licensed products including Angry Birds, Disney characters, Star Wars, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

For those looking for simpler ways to have fun outside, I suggest the Gertie Ball, “the world’s most catchable ball.” It has an almost-sticky texture that provides a great grip.

People who want more complex forms of play need not look farther than the Avitron. It is an R/C flying bird that is lightweight, attractive, and looks like a real bird when airborne. R/C toys are always fun, especially flying ones. Most such toys are helicopters or planes, so this is a  deviation from the norm.

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Young entomologists can explore their own backyards and collect bugs with the Bug Playground, from SmartLab. The playground is complete with a slide, jungle gym, pool, and rock wall, and kids will love to watch their new “pets” have a ball in their new hangout. The set comes with a bug-collector tool for easy capture and a manual with information on how to feed and care for insects.

For more commentary from Christine, check back each Tuesday afternoon. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Nineties Nostalgia

Ah, to be a kid again. In some ways, being an editor at The Toy Book lets me get close. Last week, we spent several days reviewing and testing product submissions for our spring edition of The Toy Insider. Over the weekend, a friend compared this to “Big,” a movie in which a boy magically gets the body of a grown man and becomes wildly successful in the toy industry. His young mind provided valuable insight that can fade as we become adults. This thought prompted me to reminisce about some of my favorite toys growing up.

Skip-It: I think the commercial may have had a lot to do with how much fun I perceived this toy to be; nonetheless, I loved my Skip-It. I had it in pink, and my sister had it in yellow. The idea was to skip over it as you swung it around your ankle, while the ball at the end kept count of the skips. The counter was far from accurate, but it still made for some fierce competition.

Christine.April2_5Barbie Beauty Bath: Of the countless Barbie play sets, dolls, and accessories I accumulated as a child, the Barbie Beauty Bath goes down as one of my favorites. The set featured a tub, showerhead, and tile-like back wall, and the shower actually functioned by pumping water through the showerhead.

Creepy Crawlers: Although I can’t recall the commercial for this one, I do remember it being the driving force behind this request. Kids would pour the liquid into the bug-shaped molds, and then, after they set, they became squishy, gummy-like bug figures. This was great, until a family friend ruined his suit after accidentally placing his arm into the wet mold. Oops.

Christine.April2_4Cherry Merry Muffin: Cherry Merry Muffin and her friends were named for their respective scents. Each doll came with several accessories that girls could collect and use on the dolls or themselves.

Puppy Surprise: This was an exciting plush toy because it came in several colors, and the number of puppies in the dog’s belly was a mystery until the toy came out of the box. It came with up to five individual plush puppies inside, and the tummy pocket was a great place to store the puppies or other small objects. (Or Halloween candy for forbidden bedtime consumption…not that I did that…okay, I did that.)

What were some of your favorite toys? If you have kids, do they like any of the same things? Let us know in the comment section!

For more commentary from Christine, check back each Tuesday afternoon. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: Discover With Dr. Cool’s Treasure Hunt Kits are a Hit

Discover With Dr. Cool provides kids the opportunity to excavate for dinosaur bones, break open geodes, or dig for gold—all from the safety and comfort of home.

These kinds of toys are exciting and educational for kids, which parents can appreciate as well. I like the way the kits require kids to work for their “prize,” whether it is a piece of “fool’s gold,” a shark’s tooth, or a bug encased in amber, giving the child the feeling of having really found something valuable. As a kid, I  remember digging in the backyard looking for fossils and shrieking with excitement thinking I had found marble veins in the rocks along the Jamestown, R.I. coast. I would have loved these kits.

New to the Discover With Dr. Cool lineup this year is the Learn How to Pan For Gold! set. Mining tools, an adventure guide, and an activity booklet accompany the pan, “pay dirt,” and pyrite (hidden in the dirt). Kids learn how to pan for gold and can practice in a real stream or river with their tools. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Appreciating Plush

Everyone has something that they never really grow out of. For some, it might be Disney movies; for others, maybe it’s remote-control vehicles. In my case, it’s plush.

Although I’ve always had an appreciation for stuffed animals, I oddly never had one as a comfort object. I liked collecting, naming, and arranging them on my bed. As an adult, I appreciate plush as art—a form of sculpture, if you will. Walking the floors of the Jacob Javitz Center for Toy Fair, I had the pleasure of seeing all kinds of plush—realistic, abstract, soft, fuzzy, big, and small.

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Cate and Levi Animal Plaque: Moose

My favorite pieces are the abstract ones. They just seem to draw me in like a magnet. This is how I discovered Cate and Levi, a company that creates adorable creatures from reclaimed wool. Not only do they make animals and puppets, they’ve gone beyond toys and created plush animal plaques as home décor. Sweatertoys, a small, Brooklyn-based  company, makes beautiful plush animals from recycled sweaters and recycled polyfil, enhanced with vintage patterned fabric accents. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Manufacturers Are Shifting Gender Roles in the Toy Space

The blurring of gender roles is a trend that I’ve been noticing more and more, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it’s silly to try and reinvent the wheel—let’s be honest, toys that are pink, sparkly, or doll-related attract girls, while Super Heroes, cars, and trucks attract boys (this is, of course, generally speaking)—and what’s wrong with that? On the other hand, there are some toys that are shifting to neutral territory that I think are not only appropriate, but smart on the part of the manufacturers.

neutral easy bake ovenHasbro’s Easy Bake Oven is a great example of this. Introduced in the 1960s, the Easy Bake Oven has always been seen as a girls’ toy. Recently, a young girl contacted the company and asked for a gender-neutral version of the toy. Her younger brother had an interest in cooking, but Easy Bake Ovens were only available in “girly” colors, such as purple and pink. Hasbro agreed and has created a black and silver oven that looks more realistic and appeals to all young chefs. Male chefs are certainly not a revolutionary concept, especially with the range of current TV shows featuring men in the kitchen—think Top Chef, Chopped, Cake Boss, America’s Test Kitchen. I expect that this new look will attract a lot of boys when it becomes available this fall. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: DuneCraft’s Whimsical Growing Kits Get Kids Enthusiastic About Plants

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With spring right around the corner, garden centers, hardware stores, and nurseries have already begun stocking seeds, supplies, and everything necessary for those with a green thumb to plant a garden. As an avid gardener and plant enthusiast, I’ve already joined the ranks and gathered enough seeds to plant a small farm in my back yard.

So it was no surprise that I was looking forward to visiting the DuneCraft booth at the recent American International Toy Fair. DuneCraft makes more than 350 different growing kits for kids. Kits are themed. The Sensory Dome includes five types of plants, one for each of the senses; the Carnivorous Creatures kit features the infamous Venus Fly Trap and sundews—the list goes on. Not only do the kits let kids grow cool plants or foods, the packaging is whimsical and fun, similar to the idea behind Sea Monkeys. [Read more...]