China Toy Fair


COMMENTARY: Go! Go! Sports Girls Promote a Healthy Image for Girls

After struggling with self-image for many, many years, I feel that relaying the importance of confidence to a younger generation of girls is of the utmost importance. Young girls see and hear older women discussing hatred toward their bodies and the latest on fad diets; it’s such an unhealthy message to send. In a world where most “girl” action figures and dolls are stick-thin, and every famous tween girl looks ill-fed, a break in this trend is always quite refreshing. Go! Go! Sports Girl products offer girls products with a positive image to encourage healthy minds and bodies. The line was created after Jodi Norgaard had a disappointing shopping experience with her 9-year-old daughter, unable to find anything “stylish” that didn’t bare a stomach or involve high heels. Norgaard’s company, Dream Big Toy Co., aims to empower young girls with its motto “Dream Big and Go for It.” It seems that similar specialty toy companies have started to take notice, creating lines with a related approach.

ellaDream Big Toy Co. created Go! Go! Sports Girls as a fun and educational way to promote self-appreciation and the benefits of daily exercise, healthy eating and sleeping habits, self-esteem, and overall healthy life skills among girls ages 3 to 12, regardless of race and socioeconomic class. The Sports Girls are age and size appropriate, and most importantly, they do not encourage an older or overly mature image. The image is innocent with a strong message to girls about appreciating and being true to yourself. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Inspirational Young Girls Can Change the World

American Girl has this wonderful program where they release a Girl of the Year doll, who comes along with stories, games, and activities that “celebrate what it means to be a girl today.” There’s a lot of dolls out there on the market that are providing great, positive messages to girls worldwide. Whether they are promoting positive body image, confidence, the drive to dream big, STEM education, or all of the above and more, girls have their pick of the litter when they are searching for a doll that is, in a sense, just like who they are or who they strive to be. American Girl announced their 2014 Girl of the Year on January 1: Isabelle, “an inspired dancer that finds her own way to shine.”

But some girls aren’t able to find that doll that would really make them feel special—and brave 10-year-old Melissa Shang has spoken out (adorably and politely) requesting that her favorite doll company, American Girl, make the 2015 Girl of the Year doll that is more like her.

Shang has Charcot-Marie-Tooth, a debilitating form of muscular dystrophy, and is leading one of the fastest-growing petitions right now on change.org for American Girl to create a Girl of the Year doll with a disability. Shang is truly an inspiration. In just over 72 hours of her starting the petition, more than 15,000 people have joined the campaign she has launched. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Indie Video Games Are More Than Just Minecraft

Video games come in all shapes and sizes, and blockbuster series such as Activision Publishing’s Call of Duty and Rockstar GamesGrand Theft Auto can be fun in their own elaborate ways. But on the flip side is independent, or “indie” video games, in which each title is often the brainchild of one or a few talented persons at most. While these games don’t always provide a high degree of spectacle, all feature interesting ideas or idiosyncratic touches, making them unique and unlike much of what’s available in the mainstream.

Phil.Jan2.MinecraftThis past weekend, I got to immerse myself in indie video games, courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, N.Y. Together with IndieCade, an international festival that promotes video games as a vehicle for artistic expression, the museum is hosting an exhibition, Indie Essentials: 25 Must-Play Video Games, that shows off a variety of games that have been developed outside the major publishers. Among those displayed was Mojang’s Minecraft, which began life as a Swedish programmer’s side project, but has since grown into a cultural and commercial juggernaut.

(I could wax poetic all day about Minecraft, which allows users to build and share amazing homemade structures in a geometric sandbox world. But better yet, check out our recent Minecraft commentary, written by our outstanding editorial assistant Kara Faulk, for a more in-depth look at the hit game.)

The Minecraft installation drew its share of spectators, but there were plenty of other cool games on-hand for visitors to both play and experience. Many have been available on home consoles through the PlayStation Network and other download services. Here’s some of my favorites from the exhibition, but please note, this is in no way a comprehensive list, and anyone curious about the full roster of IndieCade games should check out Museum of the Moving Image’s event web site. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: #SantaCame!

Early Wednesday morning, the posts started. My Facebook and Instagram feeds were filled with images of friends and family’s kids tearing into presents, digging through stockings, and excitedly displaying their treasures for the camera. As I scrolled through the photos, I noticed several items that showed up over and over again. Having dedicated the last few months to the hottest toys on the market, it was neat to see them finally end up under Christmas trees around the country.

leappadI’d say the most common recurring toy in my feed was the LeapPad Ultra. Each time it showed up, the caption described how the kid who received it loved it and wouldn’t put it down. The LeapPad Ultra is a great introduction to tablets for kids, and lets them fully utilize its contents safely. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Minecraft Brings A Whole New World

CARSONI admittedly didn’t know very much about the Minecraft toy and game selection until Halloween, when my uncle sent a photo of the costume that he had made for his son; who am I kidding—I knew nothing until then! My cousin Carson is a 5 year-old obsessed with the stuff! At the time, all I knew was that Carson could make anything look adorable, and that he had clearly moved on from trains and into this world where players can build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3-D generated world. I can’t even begin to understand all of the insider ins-and-outs of Minecraft, and it seems as though the name represents an entity of games and licensed products. I do, though, like to get as involved as I can with Carson, as I am much more aware of the favorites of his sister, Kennedy, since they were the same as mine: all things pink. Man, girls are simple! In time for the holidays, I took the game home to see what this Minecraft business is all about, so I can get those ever-elusive little kid “brownie points” while I’m home for Christmas. [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: USAopoly Gives Classic Games a Licensed Twist

You may love Monopoly, but it’s okay to admit that sometimes you get a little tired of playing the same game over and over again. Games become classics because they span generations, and they’re well-designed and challenging. In a way, they can become timeless. But you can only force your grandma to mortgage all of her properties and hand over all her piles of pastel-colored money so many times before enough is enough. Her little thimble token—and your interest and passion for the game—has been defeated.

USAopoly has solved this problem by taking our favorite classic games and slapping a license or five on them, making each edition more appealing and unique to the players. Properties include The Smurfs, The Wizard of Oz, My Little Pony, and many, many more, to appeal to all generations, collectors, and fans. The great thing about these licensed games is that they give your traditional family favorites a big twist—and turn it into a whole new game! So if you’re tiring of the same old games in your closet, these would be some great additions to your next family game night.

drwho_mn_3dbt_webI’m not one who’s all about sci-fi shows and aliens and such, but I have to admit that I find BBC‘s Doctor Who series highly addicting—and The Doctor has quite the cult following that will back me up on that. Now fans can travel through time and space with their favorite Doctor with USAopoly’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of Monopoly.  Two to six plays ages 8 and up can buy, sell, and trade iconic episodes, spaceships, and landmarks, spanning billions of years across the Doctor Who universe. The Poison Sky, A Good Man Goes to War, The Daleks, and the Arc of Infinity are all able to be purchased by time travelers. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Cardboard Playhouses Help Kids Think Inside the Box

It’s almost Christmas, and for me, that means logging onto Netflix and making sure that a DVD of the 2004 film, Millions, is in the mail in time to reach me by next Wednesday. If you’ve never seen Millions, you should totally make it part of your holiday viewing, as it is a wonderful movie. Directed by Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire fame), it’s not a saccharine-fest like a lot of other Christmas-themed fare; however, it is set around Christmas and packs messages about the importance of charity and human kindness, and of the power of familial love. Watching it reminds you of what the holidays can, and should, be about.

Millions is also a celebration of a child’s imagination, and one of my favorite parts of the film is near the beginning, when one of the main protagonists, 7-year-old Damian, is sitting in his backyard kingdom that’s made out of discarded cardboard boxes. Thanks to Boyle’s whimsical direction, the viewer gets to experience how something as simple as a box fort can become a source of great play potential: At one point, Damian’s entire universe trembles as a nearby train thunders by. He also has one-on-one chats with various Catholic saints, who drop by for darkly humorous interactions, and to relay messages about the boy’s recently deceased mom.

Calafant, Cardboard playhouseIt was because of Millions that I wanted to put together a list of cardboard playhouse toys. Now if you’re like me, you got your first taste of them when you were younger, shortly after a new refrigerator, TV, or bathroom fixture was unpacked at your family home. Today, anyone can still acquire a large box from pretty much anywhere and use it for playhouse-building; however, clean surfaces, such as the ones on the following products, do present an advantage for decorating. There’s another reason why I chose them: They all utilize recycled cardboard, meaning they take something that might otherwise end up in a dump and turn it into a item that creates enjoyment. Since it’s the holidays, if you’re going to give a present that encourages a child’s creativity, why not one that’s friendlier for the whole planet, which serves as every kid’s playhouse? [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Life-Size Plush Seems Like the Real Deal

Everything seems bigger when you’re a kid. Rooms, yards, playground equipment—it all just seemed so much larger back then. Revisiting childhood places and beloved toys of yesteryear can often be as amusing as it is perplexing, when making the comparison between how you perceived the same thing as a child versus now as an adult. I think that’s one of the things that makes childhood so special: It’s a finite amount of time to see the world from below and feel tiny. One of my great desires as a kid was to have a life-sized stuffed animal. Not a life-sized cat, bird, or bunny. I’m talking a life-sized elephant, lion, bear, camel—something enormous. I just wanted to be able to curl up on it and be engulfed. I’m sure I wasn’t the only kid either. Here are some great, life-sized plush products that will not only make kids feel like they’re up close and personal with nature, but will make an awesome Christmas morning scene under the tree.

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Melissa and Doug actually has a “giant stuffed animals” section online, featuring animals including a cheetah, a lion, an elephant, dogs, a penguin, and my favorite: the giraffe. The giraffe stands more than 4 feet tall, towering over kids with realistic markings and authentic facial features. Even as kids get older, this giraffe can transition into a decorative element of a bedroom without taking up much space. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: So Long Spice Girls–Introducing The Beatrix Girls

There were the Dixie Chicks, the Spice Girls, and even The Pussy Cat Dolls. But now, there’s an all-new girls’ band with its sight set on taking over the world—The Beatrix Girls. If you haven’t heard of this 12-inch fashion doll phenomenon (similar to the likes of Monster High dolls and Barbie), it’s a line of collectable pop star dolls that create, sing, and play their own original music.

The Beatrix Girls BandLark, the fiery redhead and bassist of the band, loves extreme sports like surfing and snowboarding, but most of all she loves making music with her best friends, The Beatrix Girls. As all of the girls flaunt their own style, Lark loves to be dressed up in ripped jeans, combat boots, and pretty much anything that’s not pink. She is, for many reasons, my favorite, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that she was my inspiration in dying my hair red—or would I? [Read more...]