COMMENTARY: Taking Plush to the Next Level

Gone are the days when plush was simply a category of stagnant stuffed toys. Kids today can enjoy plush items that sing, dance, play music, light up, talk, and more. With technology moving ever forward, the plush category is seeing new ways to integrate interactive elements into soft products. While mechanized toys aren’t a brand new concept, many companies are producing new items that utilize today’s technologies in ways never seen before.

I’ll be honest—I wasn’t much for animated plush when I was a kid. Maybe it was the fact that interactive items didn’t really do anything cool enough to warrant sacrificing the softness and squeezability of a traditional stuffed animal. Or maybe I didn’t like the fact that you have to change the batteries. Whatever my reasons, I think I would have felt differently about interactive plush if I’d had some of the toys available today.

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 1.50.19 PMPeek-A-Boo Elmo, a licensed Sesame Street item from Gund, holds a cozy blue blanket to play peek-a-boo with kids ages 18 months and up. When kids press Elmo’s foot, he lifts his blanket over his face while saying phrases such as, “Where are you?” and “There you are!” One of the nicest things about Peek-A-Boo Elmo for parents is that by pressing his foot again, he turns off. I also love that he moves his arms up and down fairly quickly, enhancing the surprise factor for little ones. Elmo’s mouth also moves consistently with what he’s saying. Peek-A-Boo Elmo is programmed to say 13 phrases. [Read more...]

Cardinal Industries Turns 70

cardinalIn 1944, a young Les Berger, the founder of Cardinal Industries, started the company in Brooklyn. With his knowledge of plastics, Berger began manufacturing dominoes poker chip racks, hula hoops, and Mah Jongg sets.

Seventy years later, Cardinal has grown to become one of America’s top signature board game and puzzle companies offering more than 400 items including traditional games such as dominoes, checkers, and poker sets, as well as an extensive line of licensed games and lenticular, wood, and basic puzzles. With a worldwide reach Cardinal products can be found throughout North America, Europe, and Austraila. Cardinal has excelled in the licensed puzzle and game arena working with Disney, Marvel, Nickelodeon, Sanrio, Twentieth Century Fox, NBS, Warner Bros, Sesame Street, HIT Entertainment, Lucas, Mattel, and Hasbro, among others.

Animal Alphabet Singers Teaches Children Letters A to Z

Think Smart GamesThink Smart Games has launched Animal Alphabet Singers, an app for kids ages 2 to 6 for iOS. The fully interactive app teaches children the alphabet using animal association, visual and audio hints, and world-class animation.

The developmental team behind Animal Alphabet Singers includes experts such as Grammy and Emmy-award winner Christopher Cerf, best known for his work on Sesame Street and Between the Lions. The educational team was lead by educational professionals, and experts including Marilyn Jager Adams, Ph. D. and Jane Aaron. Performers from children’s shows such as Sesame Street, The Muppets, and more also have entertaining voice performances in the app.

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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Warner Bros., Sesame Workshop Release Sesame Street: Fairytale Fun DVD

Sesame StreetWarner Bros. Home Entertainment and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, have released Sesame Street: Fairytale Fun on DVD. Now kids can join Elmo and Abby on their educational adventure through fairytales, such as Hansel and Gretel and nursery rhymes with Mother Goose.

The two-hour DVD includes a CinderElmo bonus feature and everyone’s favorite Sesame Street monsters such as Oscar the Grouch. Now in its 44th season, Sesame Street is the longest-running program in kids’ TV and this new addition to the program’s collection of DVDs will be just as fun and educational. The Sesame Street: Fairytale Fun release is also available for digital download.

COMMENTARY: Musical Toys

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of watching a live jazz band play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The musicians seemed to thoroughly enjoy the set, and everyone in the audience was having a blast. Remembering my own days in the school band and piano recitals, I thought about how kids can be influenced early on by musical toys and instruments. Here are some of my favorites:

The Recorder

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Stripe Recorder, from Sassafras

A classic. I can almost hear “Hot Cross Buns” just by looking at one. Recorders, while often a symbol of fourth-grade music class, can actually be a gateway into other instruments for kids. While the standard plastic, beige soprano recorder reigns supreme among young players, there are alternatives, such as Melissa and Doug’s Makin’ Music wooden recorder, Sassafras’ Stripe Recorder, or colorful recorders from 1stNote. Alfred Music Publishing offers songbooks featuring tunes from The Wizard of Oz, Looney Tunes, and others.

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30 Key Fancy Baby Grand, from Schoenhut

The Piano

FirstAct offers a Dora the Explorer electronic keyboard for kids to explore music and try out different sound effects. Kids that want a more classical experience can enjoy Schoenhut’s 30 Key Fancy Baby Grand toy piano. For the youngest pianists, Hasbro offers the Sesame Street Let’s Rock Cookie Monster keyboard, featuring one octave of wide, easy-to-press keys.

The Drums

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Learn To Play Electronic Keyboard, from Discovery Kids

Kids that are more rhythmically inclined will enjoy Discovery Kids’ Learn To Play Electronic Drumpad. The battery-operated drumpad features drum sticks and adjustable tempo. Kids can follow the light patterns to play any of eight different rhythms. Union’s Toy Drum set features a bass drum, crash cymbal, and snare drum for little drummers to rock and roll. For a more laid-back beat, Remo’s Kids Bongo lets kids bang it out in colorful style, and are pitched high and low.

What are your kids’ favorite instruments? Let us know in the comment section!

For more commentary from Christine, 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!

Qualcomm, Sesame Workshop Collaboration Uses Cutting-Edge Mobile Technology

Qualcomm and Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, are collaborating on innovative mobile learning applications to revolutionize early childhood education. As part of the agreement, Qualcomm will perform research and development activities with Sesame Workshop to create and deliver new innovations in mobile educational content.

The collaboration between two global pioneers brings together Qualcomm’s cutting-edge mobile technologies, Sesame Workshop’s expertise in early childhood education, and mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to create engaging and inspiring learning experiences that will prepare young children for school.

The first applications planned through this collaboration are being demonstrated in the Qualcomm booth as part of the 2013 Consumer Electronics ShowAbby’s Fairy Rock and Big Bird’s Words will include the very earliest examples of never-before-imagined content and hints at the possibilities to come. [Read more...]

Sesame Workshop Partners with Qualcomm for Augmented Reality Prototype

Qualcomm Incorporated and Sesame Workshop have joined forces to explore augmented reality experiences for children by creating a prototype play set that brings physical toys to life. An application is being demonstrated at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), running January 10-13.

The collaborative project explores the use of a tablet with a traditional play set, aiming to make children’s’ playtime more fun and educational. The prototype play set includes traditional elements such as common household objects and figurines of classic Sesame Street characters Cookie Monster, Bert, and Ernie. Additionally, the demo includes a tablet and an application that uses Qualcomm’s newly branded Vuforia augmented reality platform. When the tablet is pointed at the play set, the pieces and the play environment come alive through the tablet’s camera, transforming the play set into an interactive experience.

Qualcomm is exhibiting at Booth No. 30313 in South Hall 3 at CES.

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Sesame Street Airs Special on Food Hunger

Lily, a new Sesame Street Muppet whose family struggles with food hunger

Last Sunday, Sesame Street premiered Growing Hope Against Hunger, a one-hour primetime PBS television special produced by Sesame Workshop. The special included documentary films by Academy-Award winning director and filmmaker Cynthia Wade and starred Brad Paisley, Kimberly Williams Paisley, and the Sesame Street Muppets.

The special, supported by Walmart, presented families’ personal stories to raise awareness of the widespread issue of hunger in the U.S., as well as strategies that have helped these families find resources and grow stronger together. Growing Hope Against Hunger also introduced a new Muppet named Lily whose family has an ongoing struggle with hunger. A Spanish version of the special will air on October 22 on Univision and on October 23 on Telefutura. All materials are available online at sesamestreet.org/food.

First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden Visit Sesame Street

In this photo handout from Sesame Workshop, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden visit Sesame Street on Monday, April 18, as part of the White House’s “Joining Forces” Initiative and Sesame’s military families project, to tape Public Service Announcements asking all Americans to support our military families.

Photo by Richard Termine