COMMENTARY: Back to Basics: Sketch, Doodle, Paint, and Play

TF14Logo-cityDatesAfter Toy Fair 2013, the words “and there’s an app!” were ringing in my ears for weeks. This year, however, appcessories seemed more like a taboo than anything else, with most companies shying away from toys with app-enhanced features or reliability. Honestly, it was less than disappointing. I think keeping screen time and toy time separate is perfectly acceptable, and apparently, what kids and toy buyers prefer.

This year will truly mark a return to traditional play patterns. Rainbow Loom, a simple bracelet-making kit for kids, was huge in 2013, eventually snagging four Toy of the Year (TOTY) awards, including the overall Toy of the Year. That said, Toy Fair 2014 brought tons of cool innovations in the activities category, with companies fighting to be the next big thing once the Rainbow Loom craze comes to an end. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Lighting Up Imaginative Play: Light-Up Toys Provide Magical Fun For Kids

When I attended Fall Toy Preview in October, I had a conversation with a few industry executives about how when companies expand their line to include glow-in-the-dark or light-up SKUs, it often signals the end of the brand. They referred to glow-in-the-dark and light-up products as a “last resort,” and said it typically means that there are no other possible innovations for the product line.

However, I know a certain 4-year-old boy who would absolutely disagree with this idea, along with his 8-year-old sister (aka my niece and nephew!). LED lights have a strange magic to them—especially for kids. The bright colors they provide, just like glow-in-the-dark effects, seem like something out of a fantasy story that kids go crazy over—no matter how simple the technology actually is. There are some great new products hitting the market that reflect how great glow can be, here are some of my favorites:

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Tracer Racers, from Skullduggery, utilize Light Trail Technology as they blaze streaks of light on the glow-in-the-dark track. That’s right—LEDs AND glow play patterns. Lights galore! Magic frenzy!—and there’s more! Each Tracer Racer beams down purple light rays from its undercarriage onto the track, which is specially engineered to emit glow remnants only after the racer has passed. The new Tracer Racer drag racing sets include a 10-foot single lane set including one racer, an 8-foot double lane set with two racers, and a 12-foot double lane loop set with a light-up finish gate and two racers. The company will also introduce trucks to the line this year. Kids ages 6 and up are sure to enjoy all of the amazing light-up elements in this toy. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The (Other!) Reason for the Season

While I understand and respect that the holiday season has religious roots, toys, gifts, and giving have become a huge part of American tradition—and I don’t think this is such a bad thing. As frustrating as it can be to deal with 600 impossible twist ties and Hefty bags full of plastic packaging on Christmas morning, toys bring families together. After mom and dad (or in this case, Aunt Marissa!) get to see their elated kids (or super adorable nieces and nephew!) open exactly what they’ve wanted all year long, the first thing they want to do is start playing.

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

My niece Courtney can’t even get through unwrapping her mountain of presents before saying “Can I open this one?!” And that’s where the fun comes in: When Dad arrives wielding his trusty screwdriver and a Tupperware container full of batteries (and this super awesome plastic package ripper thingy that if you don’t have you need to go out and buy RIGHT now!), Mom stands by tossing wrapping paper into garbage bags (and putting everyone’s coffee mugs on coasters, thanks Mom!), and there I sit cross-legged on the floor, instruction booklet diligently in hand, reading glasses securely fastened. Even if Santa gets all of the Christmas glory, it’s the gift-givers who get the toy out of the package, insert the batteries, and help teach kids how to play. It’s the gift-givers who get to see the excitement on their kids’ faces, who get the big fat thank you hug, and who get to watch kids enjoy their Christmas prizes. It’s really just one giant bonding experience (with maybe a few “how do you turn the damn thing on?!” and “It’s like they don’t WANT you to open it!” comments thrown in between all of the sap-fest family time). [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Nightmarish Christmas Gifts Delight Burton Fans This Season

While my folks are tuning into the Hallmark channel for the sappy Christmas movies that make them cry year after year, and my niece and nephew obsess over Buddy from Elf, I’m still stuck on a classic Christmas favorite that is often misappropriated by Halloween: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie isn’t called A Dream Before Halloween. For me, that’s enough reasoning to say it is, in fact—no matter how creepy—a Christmas movie.

Nightmare Before Christmas MonopolyUSAopoly will bring this cult classic into homes this holiday season in a whole new way with Monopoly: The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector’s Edition. Players can buy, sell, and trade iconic movie locations, such as Jack’s Tower, Oogie Boogie’s Casino, Sally’s Alley, Dr. Finkelstein’s Laboratory, Town Square Fountain, and (my favorite) Spiral Hill. This completely customized game features imagery of all the greatest characters from the film, with Jack and Sally front and center, as well as six collectible pewter tokens, including Jack’s Skull, Sally, the Mayor’s Hearse, Oogie Boogi, Zombie Duck, and Evil Teddy. Just like the classic, this game is designed for two to six players ages 8 and up and is sure to please all Nightmare fans. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: 1996: The Best Christmas Ever

1996. It was the year of the New York Yankees, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys. It was the year of Jerry Maguire and the Macarena. It was the year of Bill Clinton’s reelection. But most importantly, 1996 marked the best Christmas ever, with toy companies cranking out some of kids’ favorite toys of all time.

Cabbage Patch Snacktime KidWho could forget the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids dolls, from Mattel? Those pudgy-faced, yarn-haired little cuties each had a motorized mouth, and kids could feed their doll a french fry, a pretzel stick, a banana, and other yummy snacks. This was one of the toys my mom admits to pushing other moms out of the way for at Toys “R” Us on Black Friday morning. The food, which the dolls realistically chewed when kids inserted it into their mouths, fell into a backpack on the doll’s back, so kids could feed them over and over again. Of course, this beacon of glory was shortly recalled after the holiday season, as kids were getting their hair, skin, and fingers stuck in the doll’s mouth (as you can imagine, this resulted in many unhappy parents and kids with bald spots). While I made sure my hair was secured tightly in a ponytail while playing, my Snacktime Kid remained one of my favorite toys through ’97.

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COMMENTARY: Easing Kids’ Nighttime Fears One Toy at a Time

It’s 9 p.m.—already well past bedtime—and your little one is still buzzing about the house in his or her favorite footie pajamas begging to play with just one more toy for just five more minutes. Whether it’s because they are restless or afraid of the dark, looming shadows in their room, getting kids down at the end of a long day can be a challenge. While you’d probably like the toy box to stay shut so you can get them off to bed, there are actually some great toys on the market that can assist you in this (often) headache-inducing process.

DinoRoar.Baby'sFirst.GoldbergerPart of the Baby’s First line, from Goldberger Toys, Dino Roar is great for kids who get scared when bedtime rolls around. The adorable baby doll is dressed in a pink or blue dinosaur costume, so both boys and girls can enjoy the security Dino provides. Little ones can press Dino’s belly for a “roar” sound that’s sure to intimidate any scary monsters lingering in the closet or under the bed. Dino’s glowing face and soft feel give kids ages 18 months and up security while falling asleep.

StarShineWatchdogs.KellytoyFor kids a bit older, Starshine Watchdogs, from Kellytoy USA, are ready to protect and serve at bedtime. Orion (blue) and Skye (pink) are cuddly plush puppies. They each say reassuring phrases, such as “don’t worry, I’m here,” and “all secure, sleep tight.” By pressing Orion or Skye’s right paw, the included Star Light nightlight illuminates the room, but automatically shuts off after a few minutes. Parents can even purchase additional Star Lights for other areas of the house, in case kids need to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or get a glass of water. The bright star on the puppies’ chest also glows when kids press their left paw. These pups are great for travel.

Hello Kitty Lullalight, from Tech 4 Kids

Hello Kitty Lullalight, from Tech 4 Kids

Night lights are great for kids who have trouble with the dark, but throwing their favorite characters into the mix can make them feel even more secure at night. Spot Lite is a line of light-up character-based products from Tech 4 Kids. Including in the line are Lullalights, which are dome-shaped nightlights that glow and play lullabies. Featuring characters including the Smurfs, Hello Kitty, and Moshi Monsters, Lullalights project a colorful character image on the bedroom ceiling. Nite Friends are shaped nightlights also featuring kids’ favorite characters. They have an auto shut-off and are wireless, making them great for travel.

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Wall Friends, from Uncle Milton, not only serve as a nightlight, but as a piece of room décor. Available in multiple popular characters including Doc McStuffins, Cinderella, Jake the Pirate, Lightning McQueen, Minnie, and Mickey, Wall Friends easily adhere to bedroom walls. Each Wall Friends includes a remote, so kids can interact with them and hear their favorite characters say familiar phrases without getting out of bed. Wall Friends even feature two brightness settings and an auto shut-off.

All of these innovative products provide parents with an easy way to get their kids safely settled into bed at night. Easing their fears in a fun way with plush, dolls, or their favorite characters will make them stop begging to sleep in mom and dad’s room, and keep them better rested for the busy day on the horizon.

For more commentary from Marissa, 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: Ease Your Walking Dead #zombiebrain with Licensed Products

Along with more than 8 million other Americans, I’ve taken to spending my Sunday nights biting my nails watching Rick, Carl, Daryl, and Michonne slice through zombie skulls on AMC’s The Walking Dead. Needless to say, thoughts of the zombie apocalypse have now pretty much overrun my life. I’m dubbing this obsession #zombiebrain. If, like me, you or someone you love suffers from #zombiebrain, here are some awesome toys and games to feed your addiction.

Monopoly.WalkingDead.USAopMonopoly: The Walking Dead Survival Edition, from USAopoly brings everyone’s favorite board game into the world of the (un)dead. Based on The Walking Dead comic from Robert Kirkman, the game challenges players to fight for their own property and avoid zombies at all costs. Monopoly: The Walking Dead Survival Edition delivers classic Monopoly wheeling and dealing game play—but this time, players must fight for their survival. Everything about the game screams “WALKERS!” Properties correspond with the series landmarks, such as the prison cells, the Greene Family farm house, and Woodbury, while game tokens resemble key items from the series such as Rick’s sheriff hat, a bucket of body parts, the telephone, Dale’s R.V. (RIP Dale!), the Katana (aka Michonne’s awesome sword), and Lucille (aka a ridiculously effective baseball bat wrapped with barbed wire). Instead of using money to purchase property, players must trade essential supplies, such as food, ammo, and fuel to gain more territory on the board or to place a guard tower or wall (instead of the standard houses and hotels) to secure their safe haven from Walker attacks. The game is recommended for two to six players ages 13 and up and is now available at comic book specialty shops. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Big Rewards for a Little Bit of Cash

Sometimes kids deserve a special little treat—whether they refrain from crying at the dentist, got an extra star on their homework assignment, or behaved well on a long shopping trip, it’s nice to reward them for good behavior. Candy is a cheap, instant, and enjoyable treat, but we all know kids can do with a little less sugar (and, in turn, fewer painful dentist visits!).  There are some great inexpensive toys with lots of play value that will help reward kids for good behavior without breaking the bank or causing cavities.

ABSW Telepods Jedi vs Sith Multi-PacksAngry Birds Star Wars Telepods, from Hasbro, are sold in two-figure packs for less than $10. Kids can teleport the collectible figures right into the Angry Birds Star Wars II app, from Rovio Entertainment, on iOS and Android devices. Each figure has a unique QR code on the bottom, so kids can distinguish their characters from their friends’, even if they have the same ones. With more than 30 figures to collect, Hasbro also has compatible play sets at higher price points. With both virtual and physical play, Telepods is a great choice for a quick treat that will keep kids engaged for a long time. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Kids Getting Older Younger—Or Younger Older?

Everyone always talks about how kids are getting older younger. Kids as young as 8 years old are swapping their Barbie dolls and Transformers for iPods and tablets—but this isn’t the case for everyone. There are big kids everywhere, and toys have a funny little habit of bringing an adult’s inner-child giggling wildly to the surface.

Nostalgia is a huge trend in toys today—classic properties such as The Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pac-Man have resurfaced and are engaging a whole new generation. Traditional toys, such as Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven, Kahootz’s Spirograph, and POOF-Slinky’s Slinky, all still appeal to young kids the same way they did decades ago. However, adults and older kids will find just as much fun in new products primarily targeted toward youngsters, too.

RainbowLoom.Butterfly Blossom braceletThis weekend, I was loomed. A family friend’s daughter, Karli, had her wrist covered in the colorful rubber bracelets that are a product of Rainbow Loom, from Choon’s Designs. A huge craze among kids, I was enamored by the bracelets and begged her to teach me how to make one. She did, and of course, hers came out better. I’ve been staring at it on my wrist every day since she made it for me, and I was extremely tempted to purchase my own loom when I went into a Michael’s craft store and saw the enormous display (but I thought to myself: “You’re 23 years old, Marissa! Taking home product samples is one thing, but you cannot justify BUYING a toy!”).

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COMMENTARY: Shaping Moral Values Through Play

Photographer Dennis Di Laura Stylist Xu Job# 1249680A retouch: Peter Kaye

Toys are so much more than just playthings. All children learn through play, and aside from basic skill building, toys can teach kids moral values and help them enhance and embrace their individuality. Being “different” is often shunned at the grade school level, especially with increased bullying in schools and on the Internet. Kids need to learn how to love what makes them unique and build their self-esteem, and there are many toys on the market that help them do exactly that.

Consumers are often critical of Barbie, from Mattel, arguing that her appearance is unrealistic and leads girls to feel self-conscious about their less-than perfect bodies. However, let’s not forget that first and foremost, Barbie teaches girls that they can be anything they want, including a chef, a scientist, a doctor, and a veterinarian. Though she may love her mascara, she is a power woman at heart and she gives kids the confidence they need to pursue their dreams. In the July/August edition of The Toy Book, we featured dolls of all shapes and sizes, and many of them teach kids important moral values, including nurturing techniques, celebration of individuality, and the importance of environmental conservation. Check out the full dolls showcase on page 31.

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