Does anyone still need a teddy bear or baby doll?

The short answer is: of course they do.

So yesterday before our Today Show segment I went to say hi to the 20 plus kids that agreed to be “elves” in our toy test on the plaza. They were all really well behaved…and many totally tuned into their phones and ipads. If you have kids you know the drill and

Wobbly Carmel by Bunnies by the Bay

Wobbly Carmel by Bunnies by the Bay

even if you don’t…if you go out to a restaurant and look around…you see kids engaged with their screens. Makes you wonder about more traditional types of play and the toys that will engage this digital generation. While everyone is totally abuzz about today’s kids monopolizing their parents’ smartphones and tablets, the last generation was equally sucked into their handheld players. The notable difference is that while most kids did not get their first Gameboy until they hit the early school years, infants are now part of the swipe-generation.

From a developmental point of view, the answer to my question is a resounding yes. Especially for younger children, we know that they learn best from real life interactions. Language development comes from talking (not just swiping or zapping a fruit ninja). When kids play with their stuffed animals, dolls, castles, dollhouses and other pretend settings – they are at

Calin Naima by Corolle

Calin Naima by Corolle

the center of their play experience. Things happen at their command and as a result of their own imagination not something created or dictated by a toy designer.  Elmo and his friends are fine for novelty appeal…but they do not offer the same open-ended type of pretend play.

Mon Premier Calin by Corolle

Here’s what else you should know about yesterday. The teddy bears and dolls that we brought to the show (but sadly ran out of time to talk about) were loved by the kids. We planned on talking about the wonderful collection of multicultural Calin baby dolls from Corolle (there is also a boy in the collection), the delicious Teddy Bear and Dog from Bunnies by the Bay and the always popular Calico Critters from International Playthings.

Calico Critters by International Playthings

Calico Critters by International Playthings

These toys may seem old-fashioned or boring compared to their high-tech counterparts, but to kids all of these toys are new and able props to their pretend world. And we certainly need our kids to pretend, to dream, to imagine and not just watch a screen.

To read reviews about all  of these wonderful toys, please visit our site. Best Toys of 2012 on NBC’s TODAY Show

We had a fun segment on the Today Show talking about some of our Platinum Award winners. It’s always painful selecting the 10 toys to show (turns out we actually had 11!). As we pulled up to the show, Martin Freeman was already at the door – surrounded by photographers and people looking for autographs. I prayed that as my mother and I climbed out of the very high SUV we would not fall with all of those cameras so near by. We exited the car gracefully. You can watch the segment below.

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Before hand….

While I was getting hair and makeup done, I tweeted that there was a hobbit in the building. Just as I finished, Martin Freeman walked out of his dressing room behind me. I smiled. He returned my smile.  My grandmother always used to tell me “it doesn’t cost anything to smile” – he got the same lesson along the way. He was very friendly to everyone. Until I see The Hobbit next week, to me he is still Watson from the BBC Sherlock series. I’m a huge fan.

Martin Freeman visits the Today Show

We had lots of kids for this particular segment. They all were terrific while they waited for our time in the studio. In fact, we were brought upstairs and then the schedule got moved around a bit. They were amazingly well-behaved and calm as they waited even longer out in the hallway.  Here are some of their pics.  








This was the first time I was doing a segment with Willie Geist, the new host of the 9 o’clock hour. He’s great…and with two young kids, he’s in the toy zone.

Happily we got to talk about some of our favorite toys of the year from Fisher-Price, Wonderworld, Hasbro, North American Bear Co., LEGO, Playmobil, Marbles, The Brain Store, LeapFrog, Silverlit and Mattel. All of our Platinum Award winners are broken down by age with full reviews at

After the segment, Willie took a picture with Joanne (who has been part of the WG fan club from his Morning Joe days).

It was a very good day…and I am forever grateful to my mother for taking a risk and starting the toyportfolio with me. She is the most generous mentor and business partner. Our adventure through toyland together is one of the great gifts of my life.

Willie Geist and Joanne Oppenheim at the TODAY Show


I’m in love with Flying Super Grover 2.0

Flying Super Grover 2.0 from Hasbro

The previews for Toy Fair 2012 ( that officially kicks off on February 12th) , which is a preview of the toys that will be available for the coming year, have begun.  Are you with me?

So far, we haven’t been too blown away with what we’ve seen, but I have already found my toy crush…his name is Flying Super Grover 2.0.

We have only seen a prototype of Flying Super Grover (he’ll be available from Hasbro in the fall).  So this isn’t an official review, but just look at him. The cap, the eyes peeking through, the splash of his yellow lightning bolt on his fury blue chest…and don’t even get me started on his pink nose.  He promises to make appropriate sound effects when he’s flown. He will know when he’s going up and down. He had me at “helloooo every bud-deeeeee!”   In any case, he clearly is going to give Elmo a run for his money.

Watch our video encounter with Grover.

Elmo, The Duggars, and Lisa VanderPump- oh my!

This morning my mother and I headed uptown to do a segment on the Today Show about the season’s hot toys. Let’s Rock Elmo is one of the toys we’re going to talk about. My overriding concern going uptown was the massive zit on my face.  Don’t you think at a certain age that you should get a pass on acne?  My hitting the Halloween candy hard last week probably didn’t help the situation…but still, I do believe that there should be a time limit on the whole adult acne thing.

The good news is that the AMAZING makeup artist Christine waved her magic brushes over my face (in other words spackle was used) and the zit was gone. Seriously–it’s pretty magical. My hair is done–all is good. The kids started arriving for the segment.

The Duggars graciously agreed to let two of their daughters join us. The Duggars were on the Today Show to announce that they were expecting baby #20!  Michelle Duggar and I had a  conversation about our respective cravings during pregnancy. I wondered if they changed over time.  I take my hat off to her–I can’t imagine twenty trips down that road.  She has a very calm core– also necessary to run a household with that many kids!

Our segment was bumped so we were scheduled to post-tape. So we had the kids in the studio, turning the toys on…but then it was decided  to have us back live on Thursday instead-so off we go.

So before we left, I went to the ladies room. And then Lisa VanderPump joined me as I was waiting my turn. She was very friendly.

I’ll own up to it, I am a RHWBH watcher. I don’t want to – but then I can’t stop myself.  It’s the sheer genius of Bravo programming. That’s probably a whole other blog posting. Anyway, I marveled at the seriously high Brian Atwood leopard print pumps she was wearing.  I’ve tried them on (not in the leopard print) –and while I think I look pretty silly in them, they looked great on her.  They make my Jimmy Choo’s look like they’re from the children’s department. For the record, most of these shoes are not in keeping with my feminist roots or my desire not to be crippled, but I also do enjoy being taller. So maybe I’m more a height-ist than a feminist.  I just always wonder whether  anyone finds these shoes comfortable?  In any case, Lisa looked terrific and was on the show to discuss her new book about entertaining.

We then went to visit the wonderful Richard Davies at ABC Radio to talk toys!

So even though I didn’t get to discuss the hot toys of the season on the Today Show yet, it was still a fun day.  The nexus of Michelle Duggar and Lisa Vanderpump–now that’s pretty intense. Tune in Thursday morning in the 9 o’clock hour to see our segment!




Hot Toys for 2011: Watch our segment on TODAY

Tomorrow morning I’ll be sharing some of our award winners that are what the media calls “hot toys.” These toys are often the ones your kids see again and again on tv commercials.  Hot toys tend to be more about novelty than anything else, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with some novelty, it shouldn’t be the only type of toy your child receives for the holiday.  A playroom full of novelty toys will invariably result in a chorus of  “I have nothing to play with” before the Christmas tree is removed from your house.

That said, we always look at the toys that we know will get a great deal of hype. Do they work as well as they do on the commercials?  I remember one year a doll that was supposed to flip and flip — but only really did one flip and that was with a great deal of assistance. Not exactly what the commercial promised. The toys on our “hot” list are products that our toy testers really enjoyed.

Hot toys can take on a life of their own during the holiday season. Many lists are generated by toy retailers – this tends to be more about marketing than full reviews about the toys themselves.  Hot toys provide the perfect “toy story” and is often the first question we’re asked this time of year, “so what’s the hot toy of the season?”

This type of toy frenzy doesn’t always mean the toy is right for your child. Furby, for example, got so much buzz from a Wired Magazine piece even before it hit a single toy store in this country.  And while it was the toy to get, it certainly wasn’t the ideal toy for toddlers who would have been a little frightened by the gremlin-like nature of the toy.  Grown-up collectors can also fan the fire of a toy- this can also lead to ridiculous prices on-line.

While no one toy seems to have taken on the mantel of the “it” toy of the season, there are several that are getting lots of buzz – from the latest Elmo (he now wants to be a rock star) to amazing Star Wars LEGO builds or a remote control flying Shark. If any of these toys are on your child’s wish list, our suggestion is to buy them early. As was the case last year, inventories are not particularly deep.

For full reviews of those we recommend, please visit our website at

And be sure to check out our full list of Platinum, Gold, Blue Chip and SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award winners.


Sing-a-ma-jigs go Symbiotic

The new Sing-a-ma-jigs from Fisher-Price

I loved Sing-a-ma-jigs when I first saw them last year at Toy Fair. To me they look like claymation characters with their little round mouths and big eyes.

Wallace and Gromit

I love that they are able to sing (and even harmonize) together.  This year– the new versions come with a little mini-me attached the larger doll. They sing together. The upside, you don’t need to buy two dolls to have them harmonize.  I’m not sure I love the mini-me aspect.  The smaller doll cannot be removed and somehow the smaller animal looks slighter meaner than the bigger doe-eyed larger being. Kind of reminds me of the character Masterblaster from Mad Max.

To watch a video of the new dolls, click here.

For video of past videos, click here.

Masterblaster from Mad Max

At the Today Show

Right before we went on--I'm not sure what we were looking at!

Yesterday we did our last holiday piece of the season.  The assignment was to feature toys for every budget. With so many toys on our award list, making the selection for this one was really hard. We had just four minutes to highlight toys that we really love. If left to our toy-geek selves, my mother and I could talk about each of these toys for at least that! Since this was more of a gift segment than a piece focusing on the developmental advantages of each toys, we did more toys than usual.

Two best friends getting ready for the segment!

Can you say cutie-pie?

When we got there at 7:30 the green room was already very full. We always want the kids to be there early but it is a really long, long time to wait.  There are donuts — kids eat donuts–kids get a little hyper. It’s all part of the pre-segment experience!  (I on the other hand wait to eat my chocolate donut until after the segment is over). Dustin Hoffman was also there.  Unlike many stars that come through the green room…Dustin smiles at every one.  He’s beloved at the Today Show for being such a nice guy–and you can see it. He looks great–and I guess the word is…happy.  While the Meet the Fockers series just makes me uncomfortable (I guess it’s supposed to) I realize that he is one of those touchstone people that I have grown up with.  Remember Little Big Man?  I remember probably because my folks took us all to see it at the underground theater at Columbus Circle.  As a kid, I thought that was amazingly cool.

Before the segment actual airs there are often teases – which promote what will be coming up on the show in the next half hour.  So the girls did one tease with the dolls from Manhattan Toy and the Nursery Carriage from Corolle.  I then did one with Jay–we played with the 3-D Flash Art from Hasbro.

Jay and I are using the 3-D Flash Art

You can see what the camera is getting from the 3-D Flash Art

After the tease! We did it!

I love this toy–we didn’t do it justice since we couldn’t turn down the lights…but it’s the best spin art toy you’ll ever find.  The blue light changes the images as they spin on the black paper…and in the dark, it’s really special. I also like that you can wipe off the black papers and start over. The process of making the spin art is the thing here–not really the finished product.

The segment went well. The kids had a good time. Al and I were so worried about not getting through to the end that we rushed…and ended up with time to spare. I hate when that happens–but it’s worse not to finish.

The boys playing with the Citiblocs and Planimals

When the segment was over the set gets taken down super quickly to make room for the next segment that involves product. It’s a whirlwind…but definitely fun! (A special thanks to Donna for taking all the pics! Next time I’ll have a zoom!)

After the segment with Al and the boys!

Wharton School to Teddy Bears!

As someone who walked away from a legal career to play with toys (and not regretted it for a moment) – I’m always curious about how other people land in the toy industry.  Of course the toy business is a business–but there is something special about it.  The continued connection to the magic of childhood–sounds sappy but it’s true for anyone really committed to making quality playthings for kids.

Mary Beth Minton

I especially love start up stories and Mary Beth Minton, of Arete LLC, has all of my favorite ingredients…a strong business education (she went to Wharton), a strong business background (she worked at Bankers Trust) and a desire to fill a niche she saw in the toy industry by observing her own kids. The result, The Adventures of Zylie Bear and Shen the Panda…both Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award winners this season.  These high styled bears can travel the world in great fashion.  Read our interview.’s Top Green Toys for 2010

We’ve just posted our list of top green toys.  It’s a fun mix of beautifully crafted wooden toys from companies like Plan Toys,  Wonderworld, Citiblocs, Tegu and Schylling. As well as some plastic toys from recycled materials (Green Toys) and even a nod to a plastic lamp that you crank rather than load with batteries.   We even have two solar powered devices that will appeal to tween and teens.

What we passed on: scratchy organic dolls, dolls that got credit for being organic but were very muted, and in our opinion a little sad looking. We also passed on many solar activity kits that just didn’t work. Nothing like having a solar panel that just doesn’t feel like powering anything.

At the end of the day, I find any labels like Green or Educational to be only part of the story.  If the toy isn’t fun and engaging, it doesn’t matter what great list it should be on. Probably too many negatives there–but you get the point.  It doesn’t make the cut with us unless it’s also something that engages our testers.

Pick of the day: blabla kids Elephants

Blabla Kids Elephants

Delicious!  These blabla kids elephants just make you smile.  We love the whole collection of animals and girl/boy dolls- just right for toddlers and preschoolers (and their parents!). For a complete review and shopping info visit our site by clicking here.