I 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...]
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.
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...]
It’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...]
The thing that I like most about Disney’s Frozen was that it played with the idea of a typical Disney Princess movie. It touches on the idea of falling in love and being engaged within hours of meeting each other and changes the way the audience thinks about typical princesses and princes. There is, of course, a curse that’s lifted by “an act of true love,” but this act comes from (spoiler alert!) one of sisterly love rather than romantic love. A lot of the plot is focuses on the two royal sisters, Anna and Elsa, and the animation is so spectacular as it brings this truly magical story to life.
To go along with this great movie, Mattel has introduced an entire line of toys that capture the lively, magical spirit of Frozen. With quirky characters (Olaf!), Frozen quickly becomes a new Disney favorite, and the toys are sure to have the same effect on any toy box.
One of my favorite toys from this line is the Disney Frozen Musical Magic Elsa and Anna Dolls. These dolls feature glittery and glamorous gowns, but I think also do a fantastic job of capturing the familial bonds that are so important to the movie’s story. When kids hold the dolls hands, the dolls hold each other’s hands, OR you create a circle of humans and dolls holding hands, Anna and Elsa magically light up and play enchanting music. [Read more...]
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, brave the malls, trim the tree, visit family—and if you’re a kid, it’s time to get serious about that Christmas list.
As we get older, our wish lists shift to more practical items, or fewer (and often more expensive) indulgences. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that my list included such fantasies as a horse like the one from the Billy and Blaze book series, an RV (a real one), a ride-on car, and other obnoxious requests.
Not everything was ridiculous or out of my parents’ price range, however. One Christmas I was delighted when Santa brought me a coveted doll that I’d had my eye on for months. Another year, Barbie’s shoe store made it down the chimney, to much jumping around and “YESSSS!!!”-ing. And the year that presents filled a shiny new Radio Flyer red wagon and overflowed all over the floor goes down as one of the most memorable of all.
Times have changed, and so have the requests of kids as they add, edit, erase, and perfect what may be the most important document of the year before carefully addressing it to the North Pole and sending it off to the big man himself. Here are a few gifts, old and new, that are sure to excite and delight the kids of today as they did us kids of yesteryear.
The red wagon from my Christmas past was a simple, classic steel wagon that I thought was just the best ever. Now, Radio Flyer’s Build-a-Wagon offers customers the chance to design their wagon to their own unique specifications. Through the website, users can choose from the classic steel-and-wood design or modern plastic, quiet-ride or rugged rubber tires, and accessories including canopies, umbrellas, seat pads, and an MP3 player. [Read more...]
This holiday season Tegu offers gift options that bring back unscripted play for kids through a variety of construction sets and accessories. Tegu is putting a spin on its Toy of the Year-nominated magnetic, wooden,“click-clacking” blocks that will offer children new building possibilities using safe and durable materials.
Tegu’s designs encourage learning and imaginative play that’s considered to be one of the best forms of learning by childhood development experts. Tegu also plans to spread holiday cheer by giving back to people in need with the Tegu Holiday Elf. From now until December 20, via #TeguElf on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, the Tegu Holiday Elf will randomly grant “wishes” by offering consumers items such as gift cards to local restaurants or coffee shops, and by helping people to “pay it forward” by making donations to local charities.
Holiday shoppers can visit Tegu’s Facebook for #TeguElf holiday promotions, giveaways, and discounts. The Tegu Elf also will be randomly sneaking in extra Tegu Products and surprises to orders fulfilled by Tegu now through Christmas.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Sherry Gunther-Shugarman, CEO of Popstar Club, which is the manufacturer of the fresh, new doll line, The Beatrix Girls. Sherry gave me an overview of what makes her doll line so unique, and why girls are going to be clamoring for them this holiday season.
Where did you get the idea for Beatrix Girls?
The Beatrix Girls came out of the idea of tying music and dolls together. Ultimately the approach to this was to create a multiplatform brand that really reaches kids everywhere that they are, recognizing that kids are not just watching TV and they’re not just playing with dolls or toys, they’re not just online playing games or being social, they’re doing all of the above. A forward-thinking property really needed to have presence in all of those mediums and to have an integration between all of those formats ingrained in its DNA.
The webisodes are done in a very unique way. How did you come about using that style?
It’s interesting because the natural for me was to go with animation as I spent over 20 years in animation, but there were a lot of things that attracted me to doing it this way, creating webisodes that have the dolls featured interacting in real life. It comes out of the fact that the concept itself has the girls as real. So they’re real and they interact in our world. They’re a real pop star band, we’re creating real music, not composed music like we would for a toy property or an animated show, but real, credible, pop music written by a platinum-winning writer/producer, mixed by a Grammy-winning engineer, so this is really relevant, today, great music and so we really want to sell them as true pop stars.
Animation oftentimes, especially when doing them based on a product or especially dolls, skews a little bit younger, and we really wanted to have the cool factor and have these be edgier. The medium that we used felt so much more current and fresh and innovative and YouTube generation-like and it felt much more fitting to the brand itself. It gives the dolls the credibility of being real in our world. They have a real human manager, they perform in real venues, so it allows us to play up that real factor for them. And then the scale gives us a lot of humor opportunities for 12-inch dolls interacting in a life-size world.
The really nice side effect that we found is that girls are really responding to the fact that they can relate to the way it was done because it was shot on purpose with hands showing and manipulating the dolls. The idea was that kids could really relate to it and feel like I can do that, I can get four dolls and with my friends create a scene and a scenario.
For some reason it reminds me of Mr. Bill, the old SNL skit.
That’s kind of what we were going for. We were going for rather than just sort of just straight, weak, almost too young-skewing animation. We wanted it to be edgier and quirky and fun and hilarious and this medium allowed us to do that, to have that feel to it.
Spin Master Ltd. has launched the Tenkai Knights toy line. Tenkai Knights is the first franchise to launch under the Ionix construction brand, a revolutionary new construction system featuring shape-shifting building bricks. Ionix bricks are fully compatible with other construction sets, which allows kids to build whatever their imagination can create. Tenkai Knights by Ionix is available at Toys “R” Us and Target, and will be available at Walmart on December 1.
Kids of all ages will be able to bring the Tenkai Knight’s world to life by unleashing the Tenkai power inside each unique construction brick. The building bricks are packed with surprises and infused with a special kind of shape-shifting Ionix magic that will allow kids worldwide to experience classic construction play in a brand new way. The toys bring the characters and the world of the Tenkai Knights animated TV series to life.
The Tenkai Knights TV Show, which airs Saturday mornings on Cartoon Network, is a U.S. and Japanese co-production. The Spin Master entertainment team worked with production company, Shogakukan-Shueisha (ShoPro), to create the series. Tenkai Knights has a unique style, mixing traditional 2-D animation with CGI, creating a distinct look that separates Tenkai Knights from other series.
This year, for the first time ever, the Toy Insider released a list of top tech toys for the holiday season in its gift guide called the Top Tech 12. This list promotes the belief that we have here about a “well-balanced toy box.” In a world that has new technology each day—and tons of digital, innovative toys for kids—it’s easy to get caught up in buying the newest, most glamorous toys out there without really knowing if it’s the right toy for your kid. The Toy Insider’s goal with this list is to help shoppers sift through all of the options out there for forward-thinking and impressive tech-based toys that incorporate the latest in digital play, creativity, and innovation.
Shameless self-promotion aside, tech toys are becoming harder and harder to sift through, so finding the perfect one for every kid can be difficult. Of course, many in the industry, wandering the shopping aisles, and generally existing around toys know about Skylanders Swap Force and Disney Infinity, two new innovative video game platforms that mix digital and physical play, but they aren’t the only toys out there with exciting new technology. All of the toys on our Top Tech 12 list are great, but I picked a few favorites that are not only great technology innovations, but they also give kids other options of physical play—so they aren’t glued to a screen all day.
Zoomer, from Spin Master, is a trainable robotic dog that is the perfect option for kids that want a pet and parents that want a clean house. Zoomer can be trained to respond to a bunch of different commands and tricks in three different languages (English, Spanish, and French). Zoomer learns kids’ voices and how to respond to these commands. He is adorably cute and lifelike. Left to his own devices, he’ll wander around the room, just like a real puppy. Zoomer’s LED lights blink and react making him seem more alive than your typical robots. [Read more...]
“Our theme underscores that the specialty toy industry is serious about our business and serious about working together to maximize our success,” said Kathleen McHugh, president of ASTRA. “We are planning a fun and productive event that will help specialty toy and children’s products retailers have an extraordinary fourth quarter in 2014.”
With more than 1,400 members, ASTRA is the largest association for companies in the toy and children’s products arenas.