China Toy Fair


COMMENTARY: Yogarilla Gets Kids Active

yogarillaToday nearly one in three children are overweight, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, emphasizing the importance of getting kids moving and active. It’s one of the reasons First Lady Michelle Obama launched her Let’s Move campaign and also a good reason to take a look at our picks for physical and active toys in our newly launched 2013 Spring & Summer Toy Insider.

As a registered yoga teacher, I’m a big advocate for the benefits kids can receive by practicing yogic postures, exercises, and breathing. Yoga for kids is incredibly popular, with whole yoga studios, such as New York City’s Yogi Beans and Karma Kids, offering an array of kids’ classes. Thankfully, you don’t have to be in NYC or have a trained yoga teacher on hand in order to practice. Super Duper Publications has released its Yogarilla Exercises and Activities, a set of 55 flash cards featuring traditional and original yoga poses taught by an incredibly agile and funny gorilla, OTis.

According to master yoga teacher Stephanie Adams, who developed one of the first kids’ yoga teacher trainings in the country, children enter the world as natural yogis—they have naturally pliable joints and flexible muscles. “Yoga encourages kids to explore their natural flexibility and to become stronger through natural and functional physical movement using their own body weight,” she says.

Yogarilla exercises will help kids to build strength and fitness, hone their balance, increase range of motion, develop fine motor skills, build body awareness, and even develop language skills. It’s a holistic approach to getting active.

The Yogarilla cards feature 55 traditional and original yoga poses sorted by starting position and color-coded for easy identification. It includes 10 standing, 10 seated, 10 prone, 10 supine, and 10 hands-and-knees poses, along with three partner poses and two breathing exercises. Kids will love the creative names for the traditional poses. Instead of complicated Sanskrit names like Natarajasana or Virabhadrasana, kids get fun names like Dancer, or Surfer, or Flat Flamingo.

OTis, who acts as kids’ guide to yoga, gives full directions on getting into poses safely, along with additional challenges if kids are mastering poses quickly, or adaptations for kids with special needs or just needing a little extra help.

The cards, which come in a handy carrying case, also feature activities and suggestions for mixing and matching cards to create a full practice. Teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and even parents will like some of the practice suggestions to help kids develop skills, such as rhythm, interpersonal skills, verbal skills, and vocabulary. Yogarilla is appropriate for kids 3 and up.

Check out our listing of Yogarilla, along with other active toys, in our Spring & Summer Toy Insider.

For more commentary from Loren, 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: Critics Say No Bueno to Mexico Barbie

mexicobarbie

Mexico Barbie, from Mattel

Mexico Barbie, part of Mattel’s Dolls of the World collection, is causing a stir on the interwebs, with some not-so-happy consumers saying the passport-carrying, Chihuahua-loving brunette is playing to cultural stereotypes.

Sporting an olive tan and wearing a pink ruffled dress, critics believe Mattel may have gone too far in its line of dolls that introduces girls to the world’s various cultures.

Of main concern is her passport. Some say during a time when immigration is causing hot debate, and with states like Arizona passing “papers, please” legislation requiring suspected illegal immigrants to show their documents, that giving Mexico Barbie a passport fans the flames of a very sensitive fire. I’d be tempted to agree with the argument if all the other Dolls of the World didn’t come with passports of their own, but they do.

Same with the Chihuahua criticism. Sure, not all Mexican families own a Chihuahua, but thanks to Taco Bell and other pop culture references, the little dog has become synonymous with all things Mexican. Again, if all the Dolls of the World didn’t come with their own animal, and if the Chihuahua wasn’t native to Mexico (Chihuahua is a state in Mexico, FYI), it might be reason to feel offended. To me, it just seems silly.

For the record, I’m part Mexican. I was raised by a Hawaiian-Portuguese grandmother and Mexican grandfather. Having grown up in Hawaii, one of the most diverse places in the world, cultural sensitivity is in my blood. Yet, I feel mostly unoffended by Mattel’s choices, even though the company seems to leave no stereotype unturned.

HawaiiBarbie

Hawaii Barbie, from Mattel

Hawaii Barbie, for instance, wears a bikini top and a grass skirt and comes with a sea turtle. Having lived in Hawaii my whole life, I can tell you, no one is walking around in grass skirts. You’ll possibly encounter them at a tourist-filled Waikiki luau, or the prestigious Merry Monarch Hula Festival, but that’s about it. And the sea turtle, or honu, is considered an ’aumakua, or spirit guide—no one would dare be caught walking around with a sea turtle under the arm. Still, the doll is specific to Hawaii. You’ve got to give it to Mattel, for that.

Many other choices seem equally stereotypical, but harmless. China Barbie cradles a little panda bear, a monkey clings to the arm of India Barbie, and a koala hitches a ride on Australia Barbie’s arm.

Dolls of the World, and Mexico Barbie included, seem to serve the purpose of introducing kids to cultures they’d likely not encounter on their own. Mattel seems to make some typical—maybe even stereotypical—choices, sure. But I also think it’s incredibly difficult to boil down complex cultures into a few pieces of clothing and accessories on a doll. In that sense, Mattel succeeds. They’re giving us the world, whether you like or not.

For more commentary from Loren, 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: Bronies, Rejoice!

My Little Pony is everywhere lately, which might be cause for Bronies—adult male fans of the magical, flowing mane ponies—to rejoice. These unlikely fans of the mainly children’s, mainly girl’s property find themselves addicted to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on The Hub TV Network and fawning over toys and plush tucked away in pink aisles of Toys “R” Us.

I, myself, am not a member of this ilk. But I very well could be. As a kid in the 80s, I begged my mom to buy me a Care Bear—Grumpy Bear, to be exact—even though my dad disapproved. I coveted my sister’s Strawberry Shortcake bed set and would watch—and pretend to dislike—Rainbow Bright. If I don’t have Brony potential, I don’t know who does.

So, in the spirit of embracing the Brony in all of us, I’ve pulled together some cool new My Little Pony toys and plush that we have to look forward to.

My Little Pony Plush, from Aurora

aurora_2Aurora, in partnership with Hasbro, will initially release 18 My Little Pony styles, including 12 small, 6-inch ponies each with a personalized carrying bag, and six soft plush ponies about 10 inches in size. My Little Pony plush will be available for purchase in both the U.S. and Canada in Aurora’s retail channel of more than 25,000 specialty stores and gift shops as well as online at shop.auroragift.com.

Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, from Build-A-Bear Workshop

buildabear_5In Build-A-Bear Workshop retail stores and online this month, fans of My Little Pony can customize their own Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash plush. Customers can dress their pony in their favorite My Little Pony fashions. Pinkie Pie has signature pink locks, and Rainbow Dash has a multi-colored mane that can be brushed, combed, and braided. Customers can dress Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash in their signature capes or a variety of other fashions.

My Little Pony Walkin’ Talkin’ Pinkie Pie, from Hasbro

7209FB2550569047F50D477617E8C75BHasbro introduces the Walkin’ Talkin’ Pinkie Pie, which walks forward, speaks silly pony phrases, and sings songs as she trots. Gently press the balloons on her cutie mark and watch her go. The figure wears an adorable headband with two yellow stars that bobble as she walks. This version of Pinkie Pie is available at most major toy retailers nationwide and on HasbroToyShop.com.

If your inner Brony is jonsing for a quick pony fix, Hasbro.com has a number of online games, including the My Little Pony Crystal Match game. You’re welcome.

For more commentary from Loren, check back each Wednesday 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: FirstBIKE Offers Safe Balance Biking

firstbike-blueGrowing up, I loved my little red tricycle. But kids nowadays have something way cooler: balance bikes. Similar to regular bicycles, but without the pedals, these feet-powered bikes teach kids balance and motor skills. Because they look like regular bikes, little kids can feel like they’re on a big-kid ride.

Balance bikes have enjoyed several years of popularity in Europe, but only recently did the pedal-less ride make its way here to the U.S. Unfortunately, the balance bike market in the U.S. consists mostly of wooden models, which may not withstand wet weather, and metal frames, which may not provide preschoolers with the level of safety parents desire. Most also lack brakes, adding another question of safety to the mix. [Read more...]

Toys “R” Us Withdraws Proposal for IPO

Toys “R” Us has withdrawn its proposal for an initial public offering, according to filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The big box toy retailer originally filed plans for an IPO on May 28, 2010 with the SEC. The company pulled the IPO on Friday due to “unfavorable market conditions, and the company’s recently announced executive leadership transition,” according to a news release.

The company had postponed its IPO in 2011 due to weak market conditions, and it has continued to struggle with weak sales. Last month, Gerald Storch announced he would step down as the Toys “R” Us CEO, while remaining as chairman of the board, after joining the company in 2006 following an acquisition by investment group Bain Capital Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., and Vornado Realty Trust.

On Friday the company released its fourth quarter and full year financial results for 2012. In the fourth quarter, net sales were $5.8 billion, a decrease of $155 million compared to the prior year. For the full year, net sales were $3.5 billion, a decrease of 2.1 percent versus the prior year, driven by a comparable store net sales decline of 4.5 percent.

Build-A-Bear Workshop Partners with Hasbro for My Little Pony Plush

buildabear_5Build-A-Bear Workshop will bring the My Little Pony brand to store shelves with a collection of characters under license from Hasbro Inc. Arriving April 1, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash will be available at Build-A-Bear Workshop stores throughout North America and online at Buildabear.com. The first ever make-your-own My Little Pony plush allows customers to personalize the characters.

Build-A-Bear Workshop stores nationwide will hold a series of special events from April 1 through April 7. Customers and associates will be encouraged to dress up in their favorite My Little Pony fashions. Additionally, while making a My Little Pony friend, guests can take a pony personality quiz, recite the pony promise, and learn how to style their pony’s hair with a special hair care brochure. Pinkie Pie has signature pink locks, and Rainbow Dash has a multi-colored mane that can be brushed, combed, and braided. Guests can dress Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash in their signature capes or a variety of other fashions.

Mattel’s UNO Game to Become Television Game Show

Mattel and The Gurin Co. have partnered to create UNO: the Game Show, a fast-paced, high-stakes show based on the classic card game. UNO: the Game Show transforms the popular card game into a game show in which players match colors, numbers, and wits for a shot at a cash prize. The format will be available as a half-hour daily game show with a $100,000 jackpot and an hour-long primetime version in which players compete for $1 million. The Gurin Co. has secured worldwide television rights to the game and will be distributing the format for the first time at MIPTV in Cannes, France.

UNO: the Game Show was created by Caleb Nelson and Tim Sheridan and developed for TV by Phil Gurin. It will be produced by The Gurin Co. in association with Mattel Inc.

COMMENTARY: Construction Toys Capitalize on Upcoming Blockbusters

Lego Metropolis Showdown, based on Man of Steel film

Lego Metropolis Showdown, based on the upcoming Man of Steel film

I’m a huge sucker for blockbuster films. I also love construction toys. So you can image my excitement at the American International Toy Fair last month when I discovered that many of this year’s big films will also make their way to the construction toy aisle.

Construction is one of the healthiest categories in the toy industry right now. According to the NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service, building sets saw a 23 percent increase in sales from 2011 to 2012. The next closest category of growth (and it’s not even that close) was arts and crafts with 8 percent. A lot of this, of course, had to do with the success of Lego Friends last year. I think it’s safe to say we can expect Lego’s competitors—Mega Brands and Hasbro—to attempt to capitalize on this new boon.

Here are a few of the construction toys I’m excited about that are based on or capitalizing on upcoming films:

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Kre-O G.I. Joe Ninja Temple Battle Construction Set

Kre-O G.I. Joe Ninja Temple Battle

In theaters tomorrow, G.I. Joe: Retaliation finds the G.I. Joes framed as enemy traitors and fighting for their survival against a shadow U.S. President. Channing Tatum (Duke) and Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) are reprising their roles from the first film, while new cast members such as Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson (Roadblock) and Bruce Willis (Gen. Colton) will add some extra star power. Hasbro’s Kre-O brand last month launched a whole line of G.I. Joe construction sets and micro-figures based on Hasbro’s own G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero property. While not based on the new film, it’s particularly well-timed. The Kre-O G.I. Joe Cobra Armored Assault Construction Set features a buildable tank and a 4×4 vehicle along with three Cobra figures. I’m a big Storm Shadow fan, so I’m also stoked about the Kre-O G.I. Joe Ninja Temple Battle Construction Set.

The Smurfs 2

Smurfette's House

Smurfette’s House

Set for release this summer, The Smurfs 2 will introduce several new characters including some not-so-nice Smurf-like creatures known as the Naughties. The little blue guys find Smurfette has been kidnapped in a plot to turn the evil Naughties into real Smurfs. Christina Ricci lends her voice as Vexy, one of the Naughties. And Katy Perry (yes, that Katy Perry) reprises her role as Smurfette. Mega Brands will release building sets and adorable figures based on the classic The Smurfs property this spring. While not based on the film, these toys seem well-timed. Smurfette’s House is a fully buildable mushroom house playset. The pink and violet two-story mushroom house includes a buildable bed, a makeup table with mirror, and a living room set. I’m stoked on the Racin’ Smurfs set, which includes two buildable racing cars, two Smurfs, obstacles, and a winner’s podium.

The Lone Ranger

Lego Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape

Lego Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape

While Lego has some great DC Universe building sets just in time for the upcoming Man of Steel film, I’m more excited about Lego’s The Lone Ranger sets tied to the new Disney film, The Lone Ranger. Johnny Depp will play the Native American warrior Tonto, and Lego nails it with its Tonto micro-figure—it has Johnny Depp smeared all over it. The Lego Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape features a buildable Western stagecoach with horses and micro-figures (yes, Tonto is included). Word among the Lego folks at Toy Fair was that Disney loved the Lego stagecoach designs so much that they wrote a stagecoach chase into the film just so the item could be part of the line. It’s that awesome.

For more commentary from Loren, check back each Wednesday 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: The Time Tribe Offers Interactive Storytelling, Tactile Experience

loren.march20As a kid, my favorite educational experiences involved some sort of tactile learning—digging for fossils with my fellow Boy Scouts, trudging through muddy lo’i patches to harvest taro (an edible Hawaiian root), and slicing open frogs and fetal pigs in Biology class. I’m the classic have-to-touch-everything personality, a practical nightmare for museum staffs everywhere.

Considering this, I wasn’t much of a gamer, except maybe a brief fascination with the Legend of Zelda. Imagine my surprise when I came across a new online game, The Time Tribe, from Thundersnow Media, at the recent Digital Kids Conference here in New York City. The Time Tribe can be a classic gaming experience (it’s also free), but with a subscription the adventure game can become a tactile experience with monthly mailings, including letters written by characters in the game, mysterious wax-sealed envelopes, a wearable “timekey” from each time travel adventure, and pages from journals. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Cooperative Games Foster Altruism and Community in Kids

Photo by Gabriele Galimbert, from Toy Stories

Photo by Gabriele Galimberti, from his photo essay Toy Stories

Our increasingly secular and wealth-driven culture might have an unforeseen consequence on our children’s—and our own—behavior: selfishness. My fellow assistant editor here at The Toy Book, Marissa DiBartolo, discovered an interesting photo essay by Gabriele Galimberti, Toy Stories, which chronicles children across the world and their toys. His finding? Children from wealthier countries were more possessive of their playthings, while poorer children were more apt to share.

I’m not sure I find his observations all that surprising. Cultures like our own, driven by accumulation and a winners-versus-losers mentality, are probably more likely to teach children that fancy material possessions are important and winning must be had at all costs. Ever played a game of Monopoly as a kid and wanted to cry after your sister or brother wiped the board with you? I have. Ever wondered where that emotion comes from? [Read more...]