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.
It 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?
Calafant specializes in cardboard structures made of recycled plus new material, resulting in a toy that’s both eco-friendly and durable. Currently, the German company has a variety of products across different tiers, ranging from small paper vehicles to items far more elaborate—for example, there’s even a 3-D robot. As far as playhouses, Calafant’s Calacasa provides an ideal sanctuary for kids: Along with an actual roof, it has double-sided walls and pillars at all four corners for sturdiness. The pieces attach using a slot-and-groove system, so the house requires no potentially toxic glue to build.
Like other Calafant toys, there are blank walls, which kids can paint or otherwise decorate however they want. They can also just crawl inside via the swinging front door, if what’s wanted is a place to quietly indulge the imagination. These products are suitable for kids ages 3 and up.
A kid’s home should be their castle, and perhaps the opposite holds true, too, if that castle is Box Creations‘ Medieval Castle Playhouse, which is large enough to accommodate up to three kids at play. There are ground-level windows to look out of, a drawbridge that can lower across pretend moats, and even a tower for keeping an eye out for invading Visigoths or grinches. The castle exterior is mostly clear, but does feature pre-printed line work for coloring, and markers are included for shading the walls however one sees fit. I recommend a festive red and green for the Christmas season!
Box Creations has a number of other playhouses, such as a cottage, a princess carriage, and Noah’s Ark.
Not everyone has a big backyard, but everyone should have a chance to indulge in a customizable cardboard toy. The Mod House, from Urban Canvas, may not be spacious enough to crawl into, but like the other items mentioned, kids can use it to be creative and express themselves. It’s actually reminiscent of a construction toy, with modular connectors and four different types of walls. Kids ages 6 and up can build all sorts of cardboard structures once they get the hang of the process—which doesn’t take very long at all—and the set also comes with paper furniture, four characters, and a set of crayons.
In theory, kids can utilize existing or homemade toys with the Mod House as well. Either way, there’s hours upon hours of fun to be had, and there’s nothing wrong with kids losing themselves in the holiday season for as long as possible.
For more commentary from Phil, 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!