by Laurie Schacht, Toy Insider Mom

bighugsI’ve loved Elmo for as long as I can remember … and I’m not alone! He spans generations of boys, girls, kids, and adults. And while one might be able to argue that Mickey Mouse has the same appeal (and in many ways he does), every year there’s a brand new Elmo for a brand new group of kids to bring home and to love. But be warned, not all Elmo’s are alike.

When my kids were toddlers Elmo came in the form of a simple stuffed animal. He was cherished by all my girls, but especially my oldest, now 23. Today, she still adores him. I’ve actually had my ups and downs with Elmo (though my true love for him never really falters) as he has engaged in the world of technology.

Every holiday season I’m asked, “What’s the new Tickle Me Elmo this year?” and I think to myself, “I hope there isn’t one.”  Yes, Tickle Me Elmo, from Fisher-Price, was a retailer’s and a manufacturer’s dream toy—a toy retailers couldn’t keep in stock because demand was so high, and at the time, no one had ever seen such innovation in plush. Add the Elmo factor and it was a solid hit (followed by a few more, such as the extreme version). But while it was sold out everywhere, sold for huge markups by individuals, and fought over in stores—and as cool as the innovation was—this was not my favorite Elmo. I could never watch Elmo laugh or roll over on the floor, pounding the floor and laughing, without full out laughing myself. The problem was that I was just watching.

Over the last few years we have seen versions of Elmo that engage, but none quite so much as this year’s Big Hugs Elmo, from Playskool.  This Elmo only works if he is being played with, or simply loved. With a push of Elmo’s belly, he comes to life and speaks to kids. When they hug him, he hugs them back … really.

But he also engages in pretend play. Squeeze his foot and he will ask you to pretend with him. He will say “let’s be ponies,” and if you and Elmo gallop together, he will make the galloping noise. Turn him upside down, and he knows, turn him right side up, and he will thank you. And best of all, he’s soft! There is a hard box in his belly, but there is so much Elmo to love (22 inches of him, in fact) that he feels mostly like a soft plush.

So why do I  love Elmo so much this year? Easy—he loves me back!

Laurie Schacht, the Toy Insider Mom, scours the toy aisles all year to find the best toys for the holiday season to make shopping easier! Every year, the Toy Insider releases a Holiday Gift Guide with the top toys of the season. To learn more, check out!