Trends from Toyland: Barbie Talk To Me Doll

barbie-talk-to-me-doll-t-shirt-summer-doll.jpgI always count on Barbie being at the edge. You could see her wearing this “Think Pink Live Green” t-shirt when she goes to see Al Gore speak. I love it. Comes with a t-shirt for a child–unfortunately none in adult sizes, yet.

Also in keeping with Barbie’s commitment to the environment, a new line of accessories for girls call Barbie Bcause. These are small bags and notebooks that are made from re-purposed (the catch phrase of the season) scraps from Barbie’s extensive wardrobe. I thought originally that the Barbie was going to be wearing “re-purposed” clothing, but that’s going too far. The accessories are for girls to wear — they are attractive–very much like Coach bags in styling and use of piece worked materials.

We also look to see what new occupations Barbie is into each year. This year she’s Celebrity Chef (complete with her own TV camera and studio work top) and Zoo Doctor Barbie.

Trends from Toyland: Sprig Toys

sprig_group-lores.jpgWe got to meet with the folks from Sprig Toys, a new company that is scheduled to launch a line of action vehicles for the 4 & up crowd.  The vehicles will be chunky and rugged–nothing ground breaking in that department–but what is a huge departure is the method and technology that they will use.  The trucks will be made from re-purposed plastic and wood.  Literally made of saw dust–the vehicles have a strong green component, but not one the company feels is the key to their company–just their way of doing business.  Cool.

The action figures will plug into the vehicles via a USB port built into the vehicles and from there the vehicles can suggest “adventures” for the child to participate in.  From our point of view the directed play mode is not that important since we strongly believe that kids can generate their own adventures. It was clear that the folks from Sprig think so too–and therefore you can turn off the directed play mode.
The lights and sounds are generated by the motion of the vehicle (not batteries).  Also clever. The “electronic base” in each vehicle can also be removed for repair and perhaps, most importantly for smart recycling.  Much like a toner cartridge, you can take this component out of the vehicle and not just send it to the landfill.  All good.

We look forward to testing the vehicles out with kids.  The company is producing the products in Canada–no paint, no phthalates, no lead….They’re off to a very good start.

Trends from Toyland: D-REX

d-rex-v.jpgI got to see D-REX yesterday at Mattel’s showroom. This wireless remote controlled dino will most likely be a huge hit with kids 6 & up. As a little sister, this is just the type of toy that my brothers would have scared me silly with as a kid. With a retail price of $150, D-REX is that big holiday gift. He comes in a clever crate-like box- meant to be his permanent “hang out” when not in use. The remote control is in the shape of the bone. At first we thought that Hasbro’s KOTA and D-REX would be in head to head competition but they’re really quite different in terms of look and appeal. KOTA is much more a preschool, friendly kind of dino. D-REX will be most enjoyed by that older early school years group.

Trends from Toyland: Leapfrog's TAG

tag.jpgFor as many years as I’ve been covering toy fair with my mother, we have had certain gripes that continue from year to year.  One of them has finally been put to rest–thankfully.  Each year we are shown cutting edge technology that is going to teach our kids how to read.  You know the assortment of electronic books and other platforms that have plugged into tvs.  Our gripe: the books were usually poor in quality.  The selections usually include books written in-house by less than inspired authors or a wide selection of licensed characters.  “Where are the good books?”  “Real storybooks?”  we would whine (we own up to it) …. I’m sure at this point many a toy maker would even know what was going to come out our mouths since it was pretty much the same exchange every year.  Until now!

TAG is Leapfrog’s new interactive pen that reads, wait for it….wonderful new and classic storybooks.  The Little Engine That Could, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Olivia…are all part of the library that you can buy for TAG.  Here’s how it works, you buy the book ($13.99 per title) that has been formatted to work with the special TAG pen.  (The pen is $49.99 and comes with one book). You then download the audio off the Internet from the Leapfrog site. The pen can hold the audio for five different books at a time.  The pen can read the story “by the page” or by the word–depending on your child’s preference.  There are also some interactive games that are designed to build reading comprehension skills.  Plug the pen back into the computer and you can track how your child did on these exercises. The whole on-line track-how-your-kid-is-doing is part of the new Leapfrog site and works with many of their new and existing platforms.  Somehow all of this tracking makes me really tense, but I suppose there will be parents who will be into the accountability factor.

Of course none of this replaces reading with  your child–but this is certainly really cool.  We can’t wait to test this one. The product will be available in June.

And again, hats off to Leapfrog for spending the money on quality books.

Trends from Toyland: KOTA

kota.jpgEvery year there is an animal that seems to dominate toy fair. Last year it was hard to find a toy that didn’t have a  penguin on it.  Dinosaurs never really leave toyland…they remain great props for dramatic play…but this year they have come back in a very updated way.  KOTA the Triceratop, from Hasbro ($300), is an oversized dino that your preschooler can even sit on.  Much like the company’s pony, Butterscotch, KOTA is sound and touch activated (there are 11 different touch points).  He will even roar, enjoy chomping on some leaves, and give your child a spring-action ride (he doesn’t move forward).  We look forward to testing him with our testers.

Anniversaries in Toyland

The toys we played with as kids also help define which generation we belong to– they become cultural touchstones. (I knew I was getting a little bit older when the several pr folks told me about their own Cabbage Patch Dolls and My First Ponys.)You may be interested to know that some of  the toys many of us enjoyed as kids, are hitting significant milestones:Lego – 50 yearsCabbage Patch- 25 yearsMy Little Pony – 25 yearsHot Wheels- 40 yearsEasy-Bake Oven- 45 yearsScrabble – 60 yearsTrivial Pursuit- 25 yearsHard to imagine a time when there wasn’t Scrabble!

Update: Complying Companies

Good news! The following companies have sent in verification forms for several of their products.

Edushape, Mudpuppy, Lego Systems, Publications International, Little Tikes, Step 2, Kidsgive, Lisa LeLeu

We hope now that the new toy season in underway that more companies will submit forms!  We are not independently verifiying with a lab, but we are encouraged that these companies have listed their lab and signed off on the form that their products are lead and phthalates free.

Toy Safety: What has changed?

On the upside, there is a great deal of testing going on across the industry.  In part, retailers have increased the pressure on suppliers to verify that their products meet federal regulations.  More testing has meant continued fall out.  Since the beginning of the new year, ten more products have been recalled due to excessive lead content.  While toy industry folks are quick to point out that there are thousands of products on the market, it’s not such a big number–it is important to remember that under current guidelines, companies are not required to recall toys with excessive levels of embedded lead.  The federal guidelines only address surface coated paint that has excessive lead content.

So what has changed?  More testing, yes.  And while there is legislation pending in Congress, nothing has been passed.  The leading toy industry association has indicated that it will release its own recommendations for testing standards but has not done so yet.  Perhaps it will be part of their toy fair media work.

The answer, therefore, is that there is a lot of forward motion, but no touchdown (I oddly miss football this week). The industry remains on its own, the CPSC has not been given additional resources or legislated bite to its enforcement abilities, and the media has lost interest to a large extent.

What’s a parent to do?  Stay on top of the recalls (you can register for email alerts at