China Toy Fair


COMMENTARY: Bath Time Is Play Time in My House

I’m a lucky mom (for many reasons), but in the context of this post I’m lucky because my kids love taking baths. It’s one less thing to fight about. However, the reason they don’t mind cleaning up is that it’s fun. It’s not the getting clean part they enjoy (Lena has tried to make me forget about that portion of the experience many times), but the playing. Entertaining a 4-year-old in the tub is very different from distracting an 8-month-old, but bath toys have come a long way since I was a kid (plastic cup and Dawn dish soap, anyone?), and I’ve got a whole array of toys to get the job done. [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...]

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: Monkeez (and Others) Help Kids Make A Difference

monkeezIt’s the season of toys and giving, as the holidays are quickly approaching. December’s cheerful spirit is evident throughout the city, on social media, and in toy stores worldwide. Christmas lights are hanging everywhere, department stores are adorned with pops of red and green, and children are on their best behavior, hoping to fall on the right side of the naughty-or-nice list. Santa is taking last-minute requests from children who will surely receive their prizes for being good girls and boys all year long.

When I was a kid, my parents always took part in Operation Christmas Child, an organization that collects shoeboxes full of toys and non-perishable items to be given to children who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas gift to open, during this time of year. I loved getting to help put toys together to send to kids around the world, though I didn’t really understand exactly what it meant. Now, I see kids crying in department stores wanting their toys now, and I see lists of toys growing longer and longer. I’m all for it—‘tis the season—but I think it’s important that kids learn to receive with a grateful attitude, rather than an expectant one.

The older I get, the more bittersweet the holidays become. The music, ice-skating, tacky sweater parties, and family time are wonderful, but the receiving of gifts isn’t as satisfying as it was when Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets filled my Christmas wish list. It’s now apparent to me that so many kids spend Christmas without basic necessities, and certainly without gifts to open. I started researching major toy companies and realized that there are so many that donate to this cause in various ways. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Keeping It Fresh for Kids Sends Them Running to the Store

So many toys and video games are introduced each year. Many of them succeed at selling in and selling through, others flop, but manufacturers who have the wherewithal to get involved with their customers have the opportunity to draw in more customers, and to get their currently satisfied customers talking about their purchase and even send them running back to buy more.

disney-infinity-figurines-300x229One company that I’ve recently noticed to be doing an excellent job at this is Disney Interactive, with its Disney Infinity lineup. Disney Infinity, in case you’re somehow unaware, is a video game with a physical toy component. The toys are figures of favorite Disney characters. When a gamer owns a character’s figure, they can transport that character into their game, unlocking new worlds and ways to play.

Kids love collecting, so they are going to want to collect all the figures, and at $13.99 for one figure or $30.99 for a three pack, it’s not unreasonable for gift givers to purchase them as a birthday or holiday gift. What’s brilliant, however, is letting kids have some ownership. The tagline “Play in Their Worlds or Create Your Own” might sound a bit intimidating to the average adult. “Create my own world? I don’t know anything about video game coding!” To a kid, it sounds like magic, and it kind of is. Kids can easily create their own world—called a Toy Box—and then show their friends, who can bring over their own figures and they can play together in this newly created Toy Box. Even more amazing, they can share their new Toy Box with players all over the world. A bit heady for a kid, no?

Fantastic, but here’s the really brilliant part. Disney Interactive issues challenges to players to create their own Toy Boxes with a certain theme, for example, the recent Contraption Challenge, where players were tasked to create “crazy, unique and exciting contraptions that perform simple tasks.” The top five submissions were showcased on a Disney Infinity Toy Box Top Five Countdown webisode and will no doubt be downloaded by thousands of kids around the world. Now that’s exciting.

Each Thursday a new challenge is issued, so gamers are continuously being engaged and made to feel like part of a community. Parents are happy because their child is not only making their purchase worthwhile by continuing to play with it, but they are being creative while doing so. That in turn, yields more sales. Because when kids then ask for more figures to enhance their game play experience, parents are more likely to buy.

Check back regularly for more toy industry commentary from Jackie. 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: Preparing for Baby, Part 3

We recently featured Kids Preferred’s Bunnies by the Bay Buddy Blankets on the cover of Specialty Toys & Gifts’ June issue. (In case you’re unaware, Specialty Toys & Gifts is our NEW TEMPLATEmagazine for specialty toy retailers, and it runs within every issue of The Toy Book.) Bunnies by the Bay is a super sweet line of high-end toys, plush, apparel, and books for infants and toddlers. They even have adorable mini plush backpacks that are perfect for taking toddler essentials (books, snacks, small toys) on the go.

I recently wrote about the Mamas & PapasBaby Snug with Activity Tray. Mamas and Papas is another company that tends toward the high end with its products. They recently introduced me to their soon-to-be-released Bobbin Rocking Horse. At $199 it’s a bit on the pricey side, mamas__papas__bobbin_rocking_horsebut it’s a classic item that will last for many years. It features soft chunky corduroy fabric and solid wood handles for easy gripping, and has a soft and tactile rope mane and tail. Its frame is made of solid wood. It has a classic but modern look in neutral colors that parents won’t mind keeping out on display.

To move away from toys just for a moment, I’ve been noticing the company Boon Inc. quite a bit lately as Boon.GrassI’ve been preparing for baby. They do a super modern take on baby necessities, such as bottle warmers, feeding products, bath time, and storage. The company’s Grass Countertop Drying Rack and accessories are a lot of fun and would really brighten up a countertop rather than giving off the typical “I have a baby therefore my countertop is always cluttered with bottle parts” vibe.

Check back regularly for more baby product reviews from Jackie. 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: Playmobil Brings Summer to the Construction Aisle

Construction toy company Playmobil has a number of new offerings that will enhance any kid’s summer play experience. Growing up in Hawaii, my summers (or any season, for that matter) were spent outdoors—on the beach, hiking a valley trail, or in a park. I was also into construction toys, so I’m stoked to see Playmobil combining outdoor play with my favorite play pattern. The new Fire Flyer and the Deep Sea Submarine with Underwater Motor will take kids from the air to the water.

PLAY 8755 32 #The Playmobil Fire Flyer, for kids ages 6 and up, is a light-weight, hand-launched glider in black, red, and yellow with flame detailing on the side. The glider, designed for outdoor play, includes a pilot mini figure that kids can sit in the cockpit. It also comes with a golden pilot badge kids can wear, which I love (or would’ve loved as a kid, considering I was obsessed with collecting wings from flight attendants on all our family trips). The glider is made from an ultra-light material making it safe for kids to play a game of catch on the beach or in the park. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Critics Say No Bueno to Mexico Barbie

mexicobarbie

Mexico Barbie, from Mattel

Mexico Barbie, part of Mattel’s Dolls of the World collection, is causing a stir on the interwebs, with some not-so-happy consumers saying the passport-carrying, Chihuahua-loving brunette is playing to cultural stereotypes.

Sporting an olive tan and wearing a pink ruffled dress, critics believe Mattel may have gone too far in its line of dolls that introduces girls to the world’s various cultures.

Of main concern is her passport. Some say during a time when immigration is causing hot debate, and with states like Arizona passing “papers, please” legislation requiring suspected illegal immigrants to show their documents, that giving Mexico Barbie a passport fans the flames of a very sensitive fire. I’d be tempted to agree with the argument if all the other Dolls of the World didn’t come with passports of their own, but they do.

Same with the Chihuahua criticism. Sure, not all Mexican families own a Chihuahua, but thanks to Taco Bell and other pop culture references, the little dog has become synonymous with all things Mexican. Again, if all the Dolls of the World didn’t come with their own animal, and if the Chihuahua wasn’t native to Mexico (Chihuahua is a state in Mexico, FYI), it might be reason to feel offended. To me, it just seems silly.

For the record, I’m part Mexican. I was raised by a Hawaiian-Portuguese grandmother and Mexican grandfather. Having grown up in Hawaii, one of the most diverse places in the world, cultural sensitivity is in my blood. Yet, I feel mostly unoffended by Mattel’s choices, even though the company seems to leave no stereotype unturned.

HawaiiBarbie

Hawaii Barbie, from Mattel

Hawaii Barbie, for instance, wears a bikini top and a grass skirt and comes with a sea turtle. Having lived in Hawaii my whole life, I can tell you, no one is walking around in grass skirts. You’ll possibly encounter them at a tourist-filled Waikiki luau, or the prestigious Merry Monarch Hula Festival, but that’s about it. And the sea turtle, or honu, is considered an ’aumakua, or spirit guide—no one would dare be caught walking around with a sea turtle under the arm. Still, the doll is specific to Hawaii. You’ve got to give it to Mattel, for that.

Many other choices seem equally stereotypical, but harmless. China Barbie cradles a little panda bear, a monkey clings to the arm of India Barbie, and a koala hitches a ride on Australia Barbie’s arm.

Dolls of the World, and Mexico Barbie included, seem to serve the purpose of introducing kids to cultures they’d likely not encounter on their own. Mattel seems to make some typical—maybe even stereotypical—choices, sure. But I also think it’s incredibly difficult to boil down complex cultures into a few pieces of clothing and accessories on a doll. In that sense, Mattel succeeds. They’re giving us the world, whether you like or not.

For more commentary from Loren, 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: Bronies, Rejoice!

My Little Pony is everywhere lately, which might be cause for Bronies—adult male fans of the magical, flowing mane ponies—to rejoice. These unlikely fans of the mainly children’s, mainly girl’s property find themselves addicted to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on The Hub TV Network and fawning over toys and plush tucked away in pink aisles of Toys “R” Us.

I, myself, am not a member of this ilk. But I very well could be. As a kid in the 80s, I begged my mom to buy me a Care Bear—Grumpy Bear, to be exact—even though my dad disapproved. I coveted my sister’s Strawberry Shortcake bed set and would watch—and pretend to dislike—Rainbow Bright. If I don’t have Brony potential, I don’t know who does.

So, in the spirit of embracing the Brony in all of us, I’ve pulled together some cool new My Little Pony toys and plush that we have to look forward to.

My Little Pony Plush, from Aurora

aurora_2Aurora, in partnership with Hasbro, will initially release 18 My Little Pony styles, including 12 small, 6-inch ponies each with a personalized carrying bag, and six soft plush ponies about 10 inches in size. My Little Pony plush will be available for purchase in both the U.S. and Canada in Aurora’s retail channel of more than 25,000 specialty stores and gift shops as well as online at shop.auroragift.com.

Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, from Build-A-Bear Workshop

buildabear_5In Build-A-Bear Workshop retail stores and online this month, fans of My Little Pony can customize their own Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash plush. Customers can dress their pony in their favorite My Little Pony fashions. Pinkie Pie has signature pink locks, and Rainbow Dash has a multi-colored mane that can be brushed, combed, and braided. Customers can dress Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash in their signature capes or a variety of other fashions.

My Little Pony Walkin’ Talkin’ Pinkie Pie, from Hasbro

7209FB2550569047F50D477617E8C75BHasbro introduces the Walkin’ Talkin’ Pinkie Pie, which walks forward, speaks silly pony phrases, and sings songs as she trots. Gently press the balloons on her cutie mark and watch her go. The figure wears an adorable headband with two yellow stars that bobble as she walks. This version of Pinkie Pie is available at most major toy retailers nationwide and on HasbroToyShop.com.

If your inner Brony is jonsing for a quick pony fix, Hasbro.com has a number of online games, including the My Little Pony Crystal Match game. You’re welcome.

For more commentary from Loren, check back each Wednesday afternoon. 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: FirstBIKE Offers Safe Balance Biking

firstbike-blueGrowing up, I loved my little red tricycle. But kids nowadays have something way cooler: balance bikes. Similar to regular bicycles, but without the pedals, these feet-powered bikes teach kids balance and motor skills. Because they look like regular bikes, little kids can feel like they’re on a big-kid ride.

Balance bikes have enjoyed several years of popularity in Europe, but only recently did the pedal-less ride make its way here to the U.S. Unfortunately, the balance bike market in the U.S. consists mostly of wooden models, which may not withstand wet weather, and metal frames, which may not provide preschoolers with the level of safety parents desire. Most also lack brakes, adding another question of safety to the mix. [Read more...]