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

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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...]

COMMENTARY: Construction Toys Capitalize on Upcoming Blockbusters

Lego Metropolis Showdown, based on Man of Steel film

Lego Metropolis Showdown, based on the upcoming Man of Steel film

I’m a huge sucker for blockbuster films. I also love construction toys. So you can image my excitement at the American International Toy Fair last month when I discovered that many of this year’s big films will also make their way to the construction toy aisle.

Construction is one of the healthiest categories in the toy industry right now. According to the NPD Group’s Retail Tracking Service, building sets saw a 23 percent increase in sales from 2011 to 2012. The next closest category of growth (and it’s not even that close) was arts and crafts with 8 percent. A lot of this, of course, had to do with the success of Lego Friends last year. I think it’s safe to say we can expect Lego’s competitors—Mega Brands and Hasbro—to attempt to capitalize on this new boon.

Here are a few of the construction toys I’m excited about that are based on or capitalizing on upcoming films:

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Kre-O G.I. Joe Ninja Temple Battle Construction Set

Kre-O G.I. Joe Ninja Temple Battle

In theaters tomorrow, G.I. Joe: Retaliation finds the G.I. Joes framed as enemy traitors and fighting for their survival against a shadow U.S. President. Channing Tatum (Duke) and Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) are reprising their roles from the first film, while new cast members such as Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson (Roadblock) and Bruce Willis (Gen. Colton) will add some extra star power. Hasbro’s Kre-O brand last month launched a whole line of G.I. Joe construction sets and micro-figures based on Hasbro’s own G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero property. While not based on the new film, it’s particularly well-timed. The Kre-O G.I. Joe Cobra Armored Assault Construction Set features a buildable tank and a 4×4 vehicle along with three Cobra figures. I’m a big Storm Shadow fan, so I’m also stoked about the Kre-O G.I. Joe Ninja Temple Battle Construction Set.

The Smurfs 2

Smurfette's House

Smurfette’s House

Set for release this summer, The Smurfs 2 will introduce several new characters including some not-so-nice Smurf-like creatures known as the Naughties. The little blue guys find Smurfette has been kidnapped in a plot to turn the evil Naughties into real Smurfs. Christina Ricci lends her voice as Vexy, one of the Naughties. And Katy Perry (yes, that Katy Perry) reprises her role as Smurfette. Mega Brands will release building sets and adorable figures based on the classic The Smurfs property this spring. While not based on the film, these toys seem well-timed. Smurfette’s House is a fully buildable mushroom house playset. The pink and violet two-story mushroom house includes a buildable bed, a makeup table with mirror, and a living room set. I’m stoked on the Racin’ Smurfs set, which includes two buildable racing cars, two Smurfs, obstacles, and a winner’s podium.

The Lone Ranger

Lego Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape

Lego Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape

While Lego has some great DC Universe building sets just in time for the upcoming Man of Steel film, I’m more excited about Lego’s The Lone Ranger sets tied to the new Disney film, The Lone Ranger. Johnny Depp will play the Native American warrior Tonto, and Lego nails it with its Tonto micro-figure—it has Johnny Depp smeared all over it. The Lego Lone Ranger Stagecoach Escape features a buildable Western stagecoach with horses and micro-figures (yes, Tonto is included). Word among the Lego folks at Toy Fair was that Disney loved the Lego stagecoach designs so much that they wrote a stagecoach chase into the film just so the item could be part of the line. It’s that awesome.

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: Discover With Dr. Cool’s Treasure Hunt Kits are a Hit

Discover With Dr. Cool provides kids the opportunity to excavate for dinosaur bones, break open geodes, or dig for gold—all from the safety and comfort of home.

These kinds of toys are exciting and educational for kids, which parents can appreciate as well. I like the way the kits require kids to work for their “prize,” whether it is a piece of “fool’s gold,” a shark’s tooth, or a bug encased in amber, giving the child the feeling of having really found something valuable. As a kid, I  remember digging in the backyard looking for fossils and shrieking with excitement thinking I had found marble veins in the rocks along the Jamestown, R.I. coast. I would have loved these kits.

New to the Discover With Dr. Cool lineup this year is the Learn How to Pan For Gold! set. Mining tools, an adventure guide, and an activity booklet accompany the pan, “pay dirt,” and pyrite (hidden in the dirt). Kids learn how to pan for gold and can practice in a real stream or river with their tools. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Battling Robots Pack a Punch

Radio-controlled “battles” have traditionally been thought of as races in which people compete to see whose car, plane, or helicopter can go faster. However, a new sort of battle is making it’s way to the R/C category: the battling robot.

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Tomy’s Battroborg robot

This shift in the competitive nature of R/C toys is very cool to me. Two of my favorite battling robot products this year were Tomy International’s Battroborg line and Wow! Stuff’s Combat Creatures Attacknids. The Battroborg line was like R/C Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Battroborg is the first battling micro robot brand of its kind, which two-handed motion-controlled nunchucks that let the opponents control the robot’s motion with their own jabs. The Battroborg robots register hits and indicate when the ultimate battling champion has been victorious.

Whether you’re battling one-on-one, or in a battle royale of up to 10 robots in the three-in-one Battle arena, the Battroborg robots get the player to be more active with the R/C. It may be my competitive nature, but the brief battle has the fighter racing with quick jabs, trying to avoid hits with their whole arms, as opposed to just the thumbs with a traditional R/C controller. Battling robot lines get the player more involved in the “race.”

BLACK DOOM RAZOR-HI-RES

Wow! Stuff’s Combat Creatures Attacknid

The Attacknids are six-legged battling machines and the first in Wow! Stuff’s new Combat Creatures line of battling robotics. The Attacknids are 10 inches tall and move with realistic spider-like movements. Their Battle Head rotates a full 360 degrees. Their Bolt ‘N Battle Combat Armor explodes off when hit and their interchangeable blasters fire up to 30 feet and can be raised or lowered. The Attacknids’ weapon system includes three different rapid repeat blasters, which clip on an off in seconds and include Dissector Discs, Snyper Darts, and Destroyer Spheres.

Controlled by a wireless R/C handset with 2.4 Ghz chip technology, thousands of robots can battle at one time. Multiple Attacknids can also be controlled from the same handset. These creatures were incredible to see in action and were different from the usual R/C vehicles I saw up and down the aisles at Toy Fair.

For more commentary from Ali, check back each Thursday 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: Appreciating Plush

Everyone has something that they never really grow out of. For some, it might be Disney movies; for others, maybe it’s remote-control vehicles. In my case, it’s plush.

Although I’ve always had an appreciation for stuffed animals, I oddly never had one as a comfort object. I liked collecting, naming, and arranging them on my bed. As an adult, I appreciate plush as art—a form of sculpture, if you will. Walking the floors of the Jacob Javitz Center for Toy Fair, I had the pleasure of seeing all kinds of plush—realistic, abstract, soft, fuzzy, big, and small.

Christine.March19_2

Cate and Levi Animal Plaque: Moose

My favorite pieces are the abstract ones. They just seem to draw me in like a magnet. This is how I discovered Cate and Levi, a company that creates adorable creatures from reclaimed wool. Not only do they make animals and puppets, they’ve gone beyond toys and created plush animal plaques as home décor. Sweatertoys, a small, Brooklyn-based  company, makes beautiful plush animals from recycled sweaters and recycled polyfil, enhanced with vintage patterned fabric accents. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Manufacturers Are Shifting Gender Roles in the Toy Space

The blurring of gender roles is a trend that I’ve been noticing more and more, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it’s silly to try and reinvent the wheel—let’s be honest, toys that are pink, sparkly, or doll-related attract girls, while Super Heroes, cars, and trucks attract boys (this is, of course, generally speaking)—and what’s wrong with that? On the other hand, there are some toys that are shifting to neutral territory that I think are not only appropriate, but smart on the part of the manufacturers.

neutral easy bake ovenHasbro’s Easy Bake Oven is a great example of this. Introduced in the 1960s, the Easy Bake Oven has always been seen as a girls’ toy. Recently, a young girl contacted the company and asked for a gender-neutral version of the toy. Her younger brother had an interest in cooking, but Easy Bake Ovens were only available in “girly” colors, such as purple and pink. Hasbro agreed and has created a black and silver oven that looks more realistic and appeals to all young chefs. Male chefs are certainly not a revolutionary concept, especially with the range of current TV shows featuring men in the kitchen—think Top Chef, Chopped, Cake Boss, America’s Test Kitchen. I expect that this new look will attract a lot of boys when it becomes available this fall. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: DuneCraft’s Whimsical Growing Kits Get Kids Enthusiastic About Plants

Christine.March5

With spring right around the corner, garden centers, hardware stores, and nurseries have already begun stocking seeds, supplies, and everything necessary for those with a green thumb to plant a garden. As an avid gardener and plant enthusiast, I’ve already joined the ranks and gathered enough seeds to plant a small farm in my back yard.

So it was no surprise that I was looking forward to visiting the DuneCraft booth at the recent American International Toy Fair. DuneCraft makes more than 350 different growing kits for kids. Kits are themed. The Sensory Dome includes five types of plants, one for each of the senses; the Carnivorous Creatures kit features the infamous Venus Fly Trap and sundews—the list goes on. Not only do the kits let kids grow cool plants or foods, the packaging is whimsical and fun, similar to the idea behind Sea Monkeys. [Read more...]