COMMENTARY: Billy’s Got the Toddler Beat

As a 24 year-old, one would hope that it would take a fairly fascinating toy to really pique my interest. While it does take probably less than you would imagine (I am admittedly a kid at heart), there is one toddler plaything that I simply can’t get enough of—Billy Beats Dancing Piano. This musical DJ, from Mega Bloks, does it all. Billy is a too-cute-to-handle, dancing piano that is the culmination of all things enjoyed by toddlers. I know that if Billy had been around in my toddler hay-day, his batteries would have needed very frequent changing. My short attention span made it difficult to entertain me, and Billy Beats is four sources of entertainment in one—singing, music playing, dancing, and block building. Win, win, win, and win!

billybeatsHe has eight classic preschool songs in his repertoire, and he knows them all in three styles—with standard piano sounds, barnyard animal sounds, and a funky DJ-style. Kids can mix-and-match the sounds in the “Discover Music” mode. The “Dance Along” option makes Billy dance along as the song plays. The keys light up and Billy shakes his little piano booty. I think my favorite is the “Teach Me” setting. Billy Beats’ keys will light up in the order of the notes in the song. Toddler musicians can follow along, playing the song. If they make a mistake, Billy Beats lets out an adorable little giggle; if they get it right, he plays the song back for them—and of course adds a little jig.

Staying true to the Mega Bloks First Builders brand, Billy Beats is a construction toy that is fully compatible with all Mega Bloks First Builders blocks. They can be stored in the space under his red cap, and built up over his keys and on top of his head. Along with the included blocks, Billy Beats comes with stickers of sheet music that kids can play on his light-up keyboard.

For more commentary from Kara, 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!

Hexbug Launches #theycanclimb Coloring Contest

theycanclimbHexbug has launched the Hexbug Nano V2 #theycanclimb coloring contest, giving Hexbug fans a chance to flex their creative muscles.

Hexbug hired an eccentric, internationally-renowned artist (and Hexbug enthusiast) to create eight colorful drawings crawling with the gravity-defying Nano V2 bugs. The artist received a last-minute, once in a lifetime opportunity to climb Mount Everest’s Khumbu Icefall that left him unable to color in his original black and white outlines. Now Hexbug is asking for the fans help to color in these drawings.

To enter the contest, fans can choose an outline, color it, and send it in to the Hexbug review team. The contest will run through through 11:59:59 p.m. CST on September 22.

Every entrant will receive a $5 promo code for their next purchase on Hexbug.com, and every week, some of the best submissions will be featured at Nanov2.com. Entrants will be judged in two separate categories: ages 6 and under, and ages 7 to 12. At the end of the contest, first, second, and third place winners in each category will be announced and awarded prizes.

COMMENTARY: Kids Need to Move It, Move It

Today, kids are swarmed with toys that enable them to experience every world of play possible without ever having to move. Play buttons are all that’s required, and while this is incredible for the mind, it leaves the next generation sedentary. Millions of toys are available for molding the brain, but what are kids doing for their bodies? I remember a time that my mom had to beg us to come inside because it was getting dark out, and nothing could keep me still for very long. In a world where touch screens have replaced backyard swings, remote controllers have replaced running, and headphones have replaced jump ropes, it’s so important to get kids up and moving.

YgliderYvolution’s objective phrase is “Life through motion,” and with the Y Fliker and the Y Glider, kids can do just that. These scooters combine an innovative, extremely mobile design to the classic wheeled toy. The Y Fliker is a three-wheeled scooter that will get kids up and active, and there is no kicking the pavement for movement anymore. Riders move their hips from side to side to take off and use their own body movement to keep going. The self-propelled scooter has performance-rated wheels that allow the free-style scooter to perform carving and drifting actions, so that kids will never lose interest. There’s also a hand brake for increased control. The Flikr comes in four styles for different age ranges, so there is three-wheeled mobile fun for everyone. The Y Glider is perfect for first-timers; it’s a kid-powered mini scooter with a “lean to steer” movement method for kids in the developmental stages. The Glider also helps develop balance and coordination skills—something I certainly could of used a lot more of as a kid. The Glider has soft rubber handgrips and features the same three-wheeled design as the Flikr, so youngsters will feel just like the big kids. This Glider does, however, have a wider deck for a more stable ride, PU casted wheels for durability, and an easy-touch, rear safety brake for quick stopping. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Girls and Boys Just Wanna Have Fun!

My poor brother grew up in a family full of nothing-but-girls. I’m convinced that this is the reason that he ended up with all of the cool toys. In true oldest sibling fashion, I wasn’t stopped by the sharpie-engraved “Jesse” label on the toys that cluttered his bedroom. I had to test every toy that came through our house, girl- or boy-intended; it made no difference to me. It wasn’t lost on me that all of Jesse’s toys were made to go fast or flaunt tricks, while my sister and I played with stationary toys, dolls, and Easy-Bake Ovens. The phrase that frequently exited my adolescent mouth comes to mind: “But it’s not fair!” The speedy and daring toys are just as fun for girls as they are for boys, and here are some current toys to prove it:6474_300_300

The Hot Wheels cars frequented our home quite often, and many Christmas lists as well. Any time we went to the mall, somehow Jesse managed to make sure he was leaving with one. Mattel‘s well-loved brand that is synonymous with speed just released its Triple Track Twister. With three tracks, two controllers and one huge crash zone, it is multi-car mayhem. Kids can hit the red diverter to send cars on a collision course, or blast through the blue tunnel to take on a new track. The coolest thing about this toy is that it includes an iPad stand and Action Capture app that brings the track to life. My brother and I would have loved this Hot Wheels racetrack with equal measure.

BF40F27550569047F5155E7CBCF0B0D4Another name that has been helping little boys and girls create speed and wreak havoc in good fun is Nerf, from Hasbro. The Nerf Rapidstrike CS-18 is the new streamlined lightweight blaster that has serious firepower and shoots up to 75 feet. The blaster’s acceleration trigger powers up the motor for super-speed firing. The clip holds all 18 of the included darts, and it’s see-through for instant firepower checks.

For more commentary from Kara, 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: Adrenaline Lovers Welcome a New Razor Thrill Ride

Ali Kermani is no stranger to adrenaline. A thrill-junkie and lover of skate- and snowboards, he had landed a job inventing and demonstrating scooter tricks with Razor when Carlton Calvin, president of Razor, was in the crowd at a skateboard demo and immediately saw his skateboarding talent. While testing for Razor, Kermani came up with an idea for a product that was similar to a go-kart but had the capabilities of his skateboard, a drift cart. For years, he worked to perfect the product and finally partnered with Toys “R” Us to release the Razor Crazy Cart this week. This cart really does allow kids to drift and turn in any direction, and on a dime too!pTRU1-15815449reg

This new ride brings out the kid in me. I feel like I’m 10-years-old again, on my very first go-kart; only this time, I’m 24-years-old with a toy that revives the adrenaline I once felt. That is something! The Crazy Cart is a 100-percent electric vehicle that takes the visual shape and control layout of more traditional go-karts, but drives itself with a single front-wheel mounted electric motor. The Crazy Cart is built to drift with a drift bar that lets the cart pivot and spin in place for the tightest of turns. Razor calls it “the ultimate drifting machine.” [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The Best of Both Worlds

My fondest childhood memories always involve some sort of book. Roald Dahl, Dr. Seuss, and the Baby-Sitters Club series played a huge role in my adolescence, and I still feel the pang of sweet nostalgia when I see these titles today. Part of my job is to round up toys, mobile apps, games, music, and books to feature in Toy Insider, but in recent months I find myself frantically searching for books to include while games, toys, and especially apps appear in abundance. I am a bit resistant to change, as I still prefer to hold a book in my hand to a Kindle or Nook, so the decline of printed books had me bogged down a bit. As I began searching for books to feature, I realized that reading is reading, and anything that brings a child to find his or her inner bibliophile is A-OK with me. There are so many new platforms for reading that don’t leave out books but take them to a new level, and we have to keep up!

8341295_0_9999_med_v1_m56577569853114439I am fascinated by the LeapReader Read & Write System by LeapFrog. This company is known for its kid-friendly tablets, but this new product has the coolest gadgets and gizmos that should make any child excited about story time. Starting with the very basics, the LeapReader Read & Write books will help your child learn to read and write by sounding out words and guiding letter strokes interactively. The set includes the LeapReader Reading and Writing System, an activity sampler book, one learning paper writing sheet, and free downloads of one audio book bundle, one music album, and one trivia fun pack. I think the coolest part is that interactive handwriting guidance helps children learn to write stroke-by-stroke on mess-free, no ink LeapFrog learning paper—which is also ecofriendly! There are more than 150 books and audiobooks available to add to the set, of which my personal favorite is Learn to Write Letters with Mr. Pencil. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Keeping Babies Busy

It seems that I have passed the stage in life that requires bridesmaid dresses galore and into the phase where diapers and pacifiers are abundant. There was a two-year period when it seemed I received that special “We’re engaged” phone call every weekend; now it’s the weekday “We’re having a baby!” I cry after every single announcement—I tell you, there is just something about a baby that brings forth the waterworks in me. Three particularly close friends just welcomed their first children into the world, and my cousin did as well. In the last three months, three very close friends called with the exciting news that they are expecting. Being across the country is difficult when there are new babies to hold in Alabama! I’m missing baby showers, delivery rooms, and those sweet babies.

The distance brought on the decision that I’m going to make sure to be the cool “aunt” that sends toys, books, games, etc. all the way from New York City. And after meeting these precious babies for the first time, I only want to send more. I did, however, want to give gifts that will set me apart from all of the other adoring friends and family members, and luckily, my job in the toy industry gives me the inside scoop on the neatest and newest play things for babies. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Help! Kids Should Know the Beatles Too

BEATLES1ddbf99abcd2b683fbad28c2186c2e36

The Fab Four: George, Ringo, Paul, and John

I was commuting to work yesterday, minding my own business, when I heard a teenager telling her friend that her strawberry-themed bracelet symbolized her favorite song “Strawberry Fields” by Twintapes. Now as a rule of thumb, I normally tune out every single thing that I hear on the subway, but this particular statement stopped me in my tracks. To say that I am an avid Beatles fan is like saying that the band was “a little popular.” I have obsessed over their music for as long as I can remember, and I will stop there because I could go on and on for days on the topic. The band changed my life and made me fall in love with rock ‘n roll at a very young age, and it breaks my heart to know that teenagers and kids are being robbed of the tunes that made me love music.

The Beatles Yellow Submarine, released in 1999

The Beatles Yellow Submarine, released in 1999

This Beatles-oblivious teenager could not possibly go on thinking that one of the greatest songs of all time was written and recorded by the Twintapes, and this problem should be addressed in the future—for all our sakes. Presently, I have seven girlfriends expecting babies and a brand-new nephew—I know, there is something in that Alabama water—so I feel that it’s my duty to make sure that they are brought up listening to “Come Together,” “Revolution,” “Hey Jude,” and “She Loves You.” I want them to recognize the phrase, “We all live in a yellow submarine,” and I want them to know who wrote “Strawberry Fields Forever.” I took it upon myself to find kid-appropriate methods of Beatles introduction. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Disney Princesses Evolve with the Modern Woman

Princess2Since Disney’s first princess, Snow White, made her debut in 1937, Disney’s “princess criteria” has continued to evolve with the conventions of each generation. The brand has received a lot of negative commentary on the overly feminine, submissive nature of all of its earliest princesses. I would argue, however, that Disney has done a phenomenal job of representing the women of each generation. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, when Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora reigned supreme, but still appeared—I will admit—a bit overly “damsel in distress,” this was the average woman of the early 1900s. Like it or not, many women of this time married for security or relied on men to do things that they did not realize they were capable of doing. In our day and age, Cinderella would take a trip to Century 21 and find something much trendier than that glass slipper, Aurora would wake up and smell the coffee, and Belle would text her dad to come pick her up from Beast’s castle.

You’ll notice that Disney did very little else with princesses after a few damsel films; then, in 1989, Ariel the underwater princess, was introduced. Since then, the princess craze has taken over a little at a time. I find that it’s because there’s a princess for every girl and every personality. While our generation has seen many women take a stand against oppression and inequality, Disney’s representation of women has changed as well. The brand presented its first women of color, Pocahantas, Mulan, and now Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. Today’s princess is a do-it-yourself girl like Merida, from Brave, who refuses to marry her betrothed and faces her fair share of adversity with, well, bravery. Jasmine stands up to her father and says she will only marry for love; Ariel goes after her man instead of waiting on him. Many parents fear that little girls are consumed with this idea of being a “royal highness,” but I think it’s healthy for children, especially now with the recent additions, to see this representation of bravery, courage, class, and elegance. And let’s be fair: every girl loves to play dress-up, whether it’s Snow White, Mulan, or Merida. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Candy Land Makeover Causing Controversy Across the Board Games

Great attention is paid to that fine line between self-expression and growing up far too fast when it comes to children, tweens, and teenagers. It seems as though self-esteem issues and body-image obsessions are stemming from less-obvious outlets though, namely Candy Land, a board game we all know and love. A wasp-waisted, more-suggestive Queen Frostine has replaced the original Princess, Grandma Nutt found a plastic surgeon, and Mr. Mint’s biceps have tripled in size. The irony lies in the doubled portions of ice cream and candy; the board is now covered in sweets, while the peanuts and plums have been removed from the 1980s version. So, the real question is: How is Queen Frostine maintaining that figure?

540136_10200923579191139_1857708566_n Candyland-1980s

Left: Candy Land as it appears in stores today. Right: Candy Land as it appeared during my generation: the 80s and 90s. 

Related topics have been discussed for decades, maybe centuries: too-revealing clothing, unfortunate celebrity role models, and the struggle with self-esteem. Writers like Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate my Daughter, and Rachel Marie Stone, author of Eat With Joy, tackle issues regarding Princess-culture and GI-Joe repercussions, while many argue that the rhetoric is overly sensitive and dramatized. Are toys and games taken at face value, or are they sending messages that are affecting the esteem of youngsters? Stone points out that research has proven that from a young age, boys and girls struggle with self-image due to the damage left by media and societal expectations.

Orenstein states, “When our kids play with toys that we played with, we assume that they are the same toys. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that it’s not the same at all. It just has the same name. And the images our kids are exposed to from the youngest ages are so distorted.”

Candy Land is not the only nostalgic toy taking heat for putting child-like figures on a diet. Lately, Barbie, Rainbow-Brite, Strawberry Shortcake, Dora, My Little Ponies, and even Care Bears have taken on drastic transformations. In defense of toymakers everywhere, it may be argued that they are simply following the trends of toy sale demographics. This is a sticky subject, and it’s difficult to decipher where the problem lies. Are we being too sensitive, or are we glorifying unrealistic expectations for children?

For more commentary from Kara, 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!