Best Bubble Toys

As we’re wading through all of the new toys that will be vying for your toy dollar come December, I was just thinking how much fun blowing bubbles can be.  I’m not sure why I keep focusing on bubbles, but for the past few days, I’ve really wanted to play with some bubbles.

When you’re really little there’s the excitement of watching bubbles being blown by others and chasing them down–and as you get a bit older there’s the ultimate satisfaction of making your own bubbles. Now I find it really pleasing because it is such a pure play experience-no batteries, no instructions…you’re good to go.   Come to think of it, that’s probably why it’s on my mind so much–many of the toys we’ve been looking at this week are very high tech. Not that there’s anything wrong with high tech toys–but none of them deliver what bubbles do.  You make something so beautiful and then, in a matter of moments, watch it as it floats away….lovely really.

I loved the pink and blue plastic jars of bubbles –with the wand. Remember those?   The way the bubble solution always found it’s way to my hands…it was just fun- unless of course I knocked it over…and then there were tears! The picture below is from one of my birthday parties (my brother James is on the left). That is not me in the background, but I do remember that ride-on.


For this new generation, bubbles are a whole new experience–thanks in large part to the folks at Little Kids–the inventors of the No Spill Bubble Tumbler…no more tears from an accidential spill.  No more sticky fingers from trying to get the wand out of the solution.71PYT3BV15L._SL160_They have them now in all sizes–the little ones make  great party favors!

Now for super big bubbles–I’m a huge fan of the BeeBoo Big Bubble Mix Kit from Extreme Bubbles, Inc. You can watch my demo on the TODAY SHOW last year.  I’ve also noticed that it doesn’t matter how old people are–they love trying this toy out. Even my most reserved teen age (and mostly retired) toy testers love this product.


Baby Chicks…thoughts?

We just got a game where each player sits on their seven eggs…literally you sit on the egg cards.  Each player takes a turn rolling the dice–to see which kind of chick has been hatched…yellow, white or red.  Each player then removed a piece from under them and if it matches they place the egg on their nest in front of them.  One of my problems is tha the red chick really isn’t too red…but we’re all sitting here wondering if we really want to be sitting on eggs?

A long day playing with toys…

As we all enjoy summer, there are so many people working on the 2009 Holiday Season.  As toy reviewers, we are in that group–and when we used to do the annual book, we were always a year ahead. Our annual book was always designed for the next year—so at any given point in time, I had great confusion as to which year we were actually in. I told my kids that if I ended up in a ER someplace and was being given an exam that included naming the date…please don’t have them be alarmed if I was off a bit. (Morbid…a little I guess.)

I have to say our new web-based system (new and improved website coming for fall)…has improved our general spirits here considerably.  For the 15 years we did the book, we had to be done writing by July 4th- no joke or we wouldn’t make the printer deadline.   The next week would be filled with the copy-editor’s notes and then a round of inserts for toys that arrived just in time.  We reserved space and copy for things we thought would be terrific…and then adjust them accordingly before we went to print.  The last book we did never saw the light of day due to the lead issues.  Painful that we did all of that work – it was a good edition.

The web has allowed us to write longer reviews and to be less concerned about hard and fast dates.

The lack of such an extreme deadline has also meant that my mother and I no longer have our annual June fight–where we’d start arguing over some book or some toy…that of course had nothing to do with any specific product but just the tension of getting a book out with so many details that had to be fact-checked.  Our working relationship has been one of the treasured experiences of my adult life. We still laugh when a really ridiculous product comes across our desk–and we still marvel at a toy that seems to get it just right.

Crissy Dolls

crissy Thank you to Susan for reminding me that the name of the doll that I enjoyed so much was the Crissy Doll. Of course, just like Strawberry Shortcake, the dolls we play with date us and give us a collective play experience.   Most of the pr folks I’ve been in touch with this year are from the Strawberry Shortcake camp–which means they grew up in the 80s.  The Crissy doll was from Ideal –and I’m happy to report it was a multi-cultural collection long before it was expected.  Here’s a great site with a complete  history of the doll.  As I discussed yesterday–when you pushed the button in the back, her hair GROWS….I thought this meant it really grew.  So I kept cutting….you get the idea.

G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra

gijoe If the toys are any indication, G.I. JOE has some seriously bad ass opponents in the upcoming movie. Snake Eyes Ninja Commando scares me –even in his packaging.  By my count he comes complete with seven weapons.  Wait! …According to the box he trains the G.I. Joe team…that’s a relief, he’s on our side? His preferred weapon is the “Hand-Forged Steel Heirloom Katana Sword”…do you think the elves from Lord of the Rings helped him out with the forging?

Oh yes–according to the packaging this toy is not recommended for kids under 3. For more G.I. Joe vs. Cobra games and items, you can visit

Sign of the times: Cabbage Patch Kids now have Hair Extensions

I guess it was bound to happen– hair extensions are not just for celebrities anymore. While pricey extensions used to be a well-kept secret, celebrities are now even talking openly about using them.  (On a side note, I found it interesting that hair extensions also get  “color”– makes sense that your extensions should match your own hair color–but still it was an eye-opening sight to see such locks on a head form in the VIP room at the Rita Hazan Salon in NYC. I also wondered if you had to belong to a VIP head, to get your extensions their own appointment in the VIP room…but I digress).

But yet I was still surprised when the latest Cabbage Patch Kid arrived this morning…it’s called the Pop ‘N Style Kid with three differently styled hair extensions that just pop in. The doll is now made by Jakks Pacific. cabbagepatch

I didn’t play with too many dolls as I kid but I do remember I had a doll where if you pushed a button in her back and yanked on her hair–it would grow. I just asked my mother the name…she can’t recall either but reminded me that I had several of them because I just couldn’t get the concept that if you cut the doll’s hair it wouldn’t grow back.  In my own defense, I recall the commercial kept repeating “it grows hair!”

I have a sense that our testers are going to enjoy these dolls–stay tuned.

Can you smell it? : Strawberry Shortcake

strawberryshortcakeOne of my assistant toy testers this summer commented that the box he was opening really smelled…there was pink tissue paper…I didn’t even need to cross the room to know what the box contained.  For a generation of moms that grew up with Strawberry Shortcake, they can now share the smelly play experience with their kids. The new line from Hasbro offers a wide variety of large play settings like the Berry Cafe…to miniature dolls (move over Polly Pockets)…all with that strawberriest of smells.

I missed the Strawberry Shortcake scene–and truth be told even if I had been of that generation, I wasn’t big on doll play.

Let me know your thoughts–and memories….

How I got to read Blaze Ginsberg's Episodes

Facebook has been an odd experience for most people that didn’t grow up on it. I’ve happily connected with some long lost friends and marvel how having not seen many of these folks for decades– we now have a glimpse at each other’s daily routines.

One such connection is Debra Ginsberg. I grew up in a very small community where many of us knew each other since preschool.  There was also a good chance that our parents went to school together as well.  So when anyone new arrived – it was a big deal.  I can’t even remember now when Debra arrived  — but I recall that she was smart, enjoyed our English teacher (Mrs. Skolnick)…it was good to have a fresh perspective.

So when one of our classmates suggested  I  “friend” Debra– I was game.  “Wow, Debra…what happened to her?” I asked my husband — who gave me an appropriately blank look and remains somewhat suspect of all things FB.  The last years of high school for me are now a blur.  While some recall their high school year’s with great fondness, truth be told, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  What I’ve discovered in the last few weeks, is that Debra is a gifted writer, one of my favorite people to follow on FB (her posts are funny and thankfully go beyond the inane minutiae that clutters so much of cyberspace).

Debra’s acclaimed book Raising Blaze: A Mother and Son’s Long, Strange Journey into Autism images-1 has been called  an  “extraordinary view of rearing and education a child with special needs” (Publisher Weekly) and Library Journal  concluded the book is a “poignant and compelling story of raising a child with undefinable disability centering on emotional/behavioral issues.”

Debra mentioned that Blaze, now in his 20s, has written his own book, Episodes: My Life as I See It (to be published this September by Roaring Brook Press). images-1 The book sat next to my computer for weeks – there was the momentary panic that I perhaps misplaced the book (this is also the time of year when every new picturebook for fall arrives for consideration).  Happily I found it and put it in my July 4th reading pile.  Finally the sun came out in the Northeast, I got to read Episodes.  Blaze sees the world as “episodes” with a cast of characters, notable quotes…I loved the concept and enjoyed getting to know Blaze and how he navigates  his way through school, friendships, crushes, and his relationship with his extended (and clearly very supportive) family.

While this is targeted as a YA book, I have a sense the audience for this book will also include parents. While I was reading Blaze’s book, I had…count them…five teenage boys in my house. I grew up with boys and raising my own has been such a wonderful adventure…but it’s clear that they are wired differently. As I was getting to read Blaze’s inner thoughts…my exchanges with my sons, their friend, and my nephews just made me want to see their own internal dialogues. My 13 year old nephew Noah is very quite–and yet you know there’s so much going on there.  I started having my own “pop up bubble” moments where I was imagining what each boy was thinking–especially as I was playing the role of “annoying mom” nagging about abandoned dirty plates, wet towels on the sofas…

I kept thinking there was going to be a major trauma in Episodes…some huge conflict, disaster…but the truth is Bluze is making his way in the world just fine…finding his way.  I’m happy I got to know Blaze–and enjoyed his takes on life. I love that he is able to articulate what he wants: to be treated no differently…and oh yes..he really wants a girlfriend (don’t they all?)

To visit with Blaze, visit his website,…where he is wonderfully interviewed by Debra.   I found these video clips to be extremely satisifying…getting to put a face and voice to the young man we meet in Episodes.  I’m now eager, of course,  to see what the next episodes will bring!

Planning a Birthday Party? – Let Jean Marzollo show you the way

Visit for really helpful information about planning birthday parties for kids…I especially like the list entitled “What Makes the Birthday Child Cry”.

My folks made wonderful parties for us. Themes were always big–pirates, cowboys ruled the day for my brothers.   I just remember the day being so special–the candy necklaces when I was smaller– and the elaborate origami party my Dad ran for my 10th birthday.  Many of my hometown facebook buddies still remember that one!

With my brother Tony and my new Steiff pony

With my brother Tony and my new Steiff pony

This from my 4th birthday–I wish I still had that pony (and that color hair!)