COMMENTARY: Friendly Monsters Come to Life with The Horndribbles

imageAdventures of the Horndribbles: Zapp and the Oogah-Oogah Nut, by Herbert Joel and published by Explorers’ Playground Inc., is the tale of four creature friends that work together to save one of their own when he finds himself in potential danger. The Horndribbles live on—you guessed it—Horndribble Island, a fantastical land with lakes, forests, mountains, and beaches with names such as “Waka Forest,” “Rumblethump,” “Pinball Rapids,” “Willy Nilly Waterway,” “Namby Pamby Creek,” and “Gadzooks Glacier Range,” just to name a few.

My favorite part of the book is the map of Horndribble Island, printed on the inside front cover. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: AllerMates Help Keep Kids with Allergies Safe

As the mother of a preschooler with a newly discovered sesame allergy, I am somewhat unfamiliar to the world of epi-pens and the importance of teaching a young child to speak up for themselves in a potentially lethal—but seemingly innocent—situation. It’s scary to be told your child has a serious allergy, and that the next seed to cross her lips could cause her throat to close up. While nut allergies are a known condition that can trigger anaphylaxis with tongue swelling and the inability to breathe, sesame allergies are a somewhat new, albeit growing phenomenon. As a parent, it’s my job to keep my children safe, and to make sure that no matter where my daughter is or whose care she is in, she will not be in danger.

allermates.wristbandMy daughter’s pediatrician recently stressed to me the importance of teaching Lena to always ask whether there is sesame in any food she is given, and to always ask a parent or teacher if it’s okay for her to eat. However, she is 4 years old, and new to this allergy herself. She does not understand the potential consequences of eating sesame, and it is extremely difficult for her to remember and be held responsible for something so serious.

allermates.medcaseThis is why I was so enthusiastic when I was contacted by AllerMates, and introduced to the company’s expanding line of products for kids with food allergies. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Not a Barbie Girl!

Barbie just celebrated her 55th birthday, and to commemorate the occasion, made a splash on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Wearing a skimpy, and quite-controversial, neutral-toned swimsuit, Barbie caused quite a stir. Many argue that it may be time for Barbie to finally step down as the queen of the children’s doll world. Nickolay Lamm, creator of the new Lammily doll, would certainly agree that there is a new girl in town: the “average is beautiful”-promoting Lammily doll.

Lamm claims that Lammily is the world’s first normal-sized doll. Last year, Lamm designed images of what he dubbed, “normal Barbie,” in an attempt to make the doll reflect the proportions of real female bodies. He used the measurements of the average 19-year-old woman from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and molded them into a 3-D model of Barbie.

lammilyBarbie’s unrealistic proportions have long been criticized by feminist campaigns. Although her waist was expanded and her bust made smaller in 1998, her figure remains significantly out of proportion and unrealistic for the average teenager. Studies show that if transformed into a real woman, Barbie’s 16-inch waist would be four inches thinner than her head. She would be required to walk on her hands and feet, as her 6-inch ankles and vast, missing areas of body would not be able to hold her upright. Studies also show that body image issues in young girls may be related, in part, to Barbie and dolls of the like, and that more than 50 percent of girls ages 9 to 10 claim to be, “on a diet.” This is deeply unsettling, and it seems that while no one thing can be blamed for this warped sense of body image in young girls, Barbie’s unrealistic figure can’t be helping.

Lammily represents something new. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Animation Has Long Been a Promotional Vehicle for Toys

BrandonEngel1by Brandon Engel

You’ve likely heard about the massive success of The Lego Movie, and maybe you were even one of the millions worldwide who have gone to see it. Despite its financial success, some have blasted the film for essentially being a glorified, expensive commercial for Legos. I don’t think that anyone can deny that The Lego Movie is obviously commercially motivated, but does that make it wrong? Is it all that different from children’s movies selling toys based on the film?

BrandonEngel2Last Christmas, the Frozen Castle Playset and matching Barbie dolls from the Disney film Frozen were at the top of many children’s lists for Santa. Every time a commercial appeared for the movie or the toy, they advertised each other. Is The Lego Movie any different just because the toy existed before the movie? Here is the bigger question: In an age where almost no image is spared licensing of some form, where does the line get drawn between entertainment and commercial? [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Let Kids Play With What They Want!

Every so often, I babysit my cousin’s two kids, one boy age 5 and one girl age 6. During one particular instance, we ended up saving a city on the brink of destruction while playing with a police construction set accompanied by a fire truck and superhero action figures. That’s when Alex asked his sister why she wanted to play with us when we were playing with “boy” toys.

“Because it’s fun,” she casually replied in a heartbeat, adding a quick shrug. And it was as simple as that. But what would make Alex question why his sister wanted to play with him even though there were no female characters involved in the story?

Maddie.March7While some toys in the industry are truly gender neutral, others are “reverse gendered.” Gender neutral toys, such as certain board games and Play-Doh, do not intentionally appeal to the divide between girls and boys. Reverse gendered toys don’t exactly have the opposite purpose, but the companies attempt to reach a broader audience. A manufacturer will make changes to a previously gender-specific toy to make the opposite gender drawn towards it. The most common way this is done is having the exact same product produced in two different color palettes. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Marble Runs Are on a Roll!

During Toy Fair last month, I saw quite a few marble runs on display, which is not at all surprising. This particular toy has been around since my own childhood and never seemed to go away for any prolonged span of time. Meanwhile, one of the vendors I spoke to said marble runs have actually increased in popularity over the past year, thanks to the growth of the construction toy category. He also said that many customers opt for larger sets—or else buy multiple small ones of the same brand—and that the ability to combine sets to build ever-larger runs makes for exceptional toy value in their eyes.

Personally, I think marble runs are a thing of beauty: You drop in your fateful spheroid and watch as it winds its way toward its ultimate destiny, guided only by physics and skilled engineering. For young builders, they are a terrific means of developing an understanding of cause and effect, not to mention patience–as any seasoned vet can tell you, it can take repeated tries and multiple setbacks before a marble run is put together perfectly. But it’s worth it: A well-built run can have a downright pacifying effect, as watching the marble traveling along can put the mind in a focused, relaxed state.

Despite what they may have in common collectively, marble runs come in a range of different shapes, materials, and styles. Here are a few of my favorite companies currently producing them, but by no means should it be considered a definitive list. The breadth and scope of these toys is certainly worthy of a longer discussion; I’m just here to get the proverbial ball–or marble–rolling:

Phil.2.28.Pic2Hape is known [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Plush Manufacturers Show Off Awesome New Plush at Toy Fair

Toy Fair 14 was a spectacular, four-day event held at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City from February 16 to 19. Manufacturers from across the country gathered to debut new items, display classics, and make connections with retailers, buyers, and the press. We here at The Toy Book took the opportunity to forge new professional relationships, engage companies with whom we have established relationships, and discover new companies. As I walked the floors checking out the plush items, I saw dozens of great designs that I loved. Big, small, fat, tall—you name it, it was at Toy Fair. Some plush is cute, some is realistic, some is abstract, some is sculptural. While I appreciate all plush, there were some pieces in particular that really caught my eye.

toothpickToothpick, from GUND, was my hands-down, No. 1, absolute favorite plush at the show. I was already “aww!”-ing at the other bears on the wall in the GUND booth when my eyes landed on Toothpick’s skinny little body with his big, cute head and brown corduroy nose. His body is surprisingly sturdy, letting him sit up easily, but is still soft and cuddly. The material that GUND used for Toothpick’s fur is also super-soft, and has an almost curly sort of look to it. He is just adorable. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: It’s All About the Robots

Earlier this week, Senior Editor Marissa DiBartolo wrote about how the floor of the American International Toy Fair 2014 was lacking in the realm of appcessories, and that many companies were heading back to the classic play patterns, especially in the activities category. I also noticed an emerging trend that does not heavily rely on app technology, but does not veer from the idea of incorporating tech into playtime: robots.

As I walked the floor, I saw a bunch of different robotic products that really displayed where the category is heading—and a lot of that was not app-reliant. Of course, most of these robots can be controlled with or used with smart devices, but gone are the days where “and it has an app!” was a suitable enough novelty to convince consumers to purchase the toy.

Ali.Feb27First, let me introduce you to MiP. MiP, which is short for Mobile Inverted Pendulum, is WowWee’s latest innovation in association with the University of California at San Diego’s Coordinated Robots Lab. MiP has unique dual wheel balancing (thanks to that inverted pendulum science!) and is a fully interactive robot. MiP is able to navigate his surroundings while being controlled by hand gestures or through a Bluetooth link to a smart device. MiP also has a personality that is communicated through motion, sounds, and his LED eyes. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Plush With a Purpose

Last week at Toy Fair, I was incredibly moved and encouraged to see so many toy companies giving from their compassionate hearts. When I was younger, I wanted to write about cancer research or world hunger. This week, Toy Fair reminded me that the toy business is an incredible outlet to make a huge difference, and these toy makers are using the toy industry to teach kids the importance of giving, love, and compassion. I’ve fallen in love with a handful of toy makers who are using their platform to make a real difference. Toys may seem trivial, but aren’t kids the ones in whom we delegate our future? [Read more...]

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...]