Madeline Celebrates her 70th Birthday!

e4a64438ea1cb87528d9d2806b814a98While most of the attention this week has been about Barbie’s 50th–you may not know that the classic storybook character Madeline is celebrating her 70th birthday! Happily she is also coming back to toy land this year–the new 13 1/2″ doll will be available from Kids Preferred.  Not yet reviewed–but looks promising.

Leave Barbie Alone…

31heojufbdl_sl500_aa280_Many might be surprised that I’m saying this–having spent a good part of my professional life picking on Barbie, but I can’t believe that anyone would introduce legislation trying to ban her.  The Ban Barbie bill is proposed by House Delegate Jeff Eldridge in West Virginia.   We agree that young girls need to have positive role models and have praised Barbie when she takes stock of her brains (when she’s a Vet, a Doctor, a Teacher, even a Celebrity TV Chef!)…but to spend a moment on this issue when I’m sure there are greater issues facing the House of Delegates in West Virginia just seems silly. Besides has he met the Bratz?

Pre-Toy Fair Buzz: Barbie Digital Nail Printer

barbie-digital-nail-printerHard to believe that another toy season is just around the bend.  While most consumers are recovering from the holidays, toy makers are busy at work getting ready to launch their new lines for 2009.  Toy Fair officially begins in mid-Feburary in NYC–but many of the companies have previews to get all of us excited about the new season.

The first toy we “previewed”  was the Barbie Digital Nail Printer.  Now we’re usually not big on nail kits that have fake nails that are intended for your seven year old to glue on…but this is really different and if it works will be a hit with girls (and some not so little girls as well).  You place your finger in the printer and then it hooks up to your PC—you can then select an image (I selected a repeating pattern of pink Barbies)….and it is literally printed on your fingernail. (The software allows you to adjust the image to exact a custom fit of the image.) Thankfully, I had just had a manicure and was good to go for my Barbie overlay.

That’s right you’re basically putting your finger into an ink jet printer. Once the image is printed on, you add a clear top coat and you’re good to go.  If you’re having a sleepover party–or any situation where you have a bunch of girls…this will be a real crowd favorite. We’re looking forward to testing this one!

Top Rated Green Toys

We’ve been bombarded with green marketing this year…some products are well meaning but have really heavy handed messages. With that in mind we looked for toys that represent a more planet friendly agenda in how they are manufactured, as well as toys that do deliver a message but in a child friendly way…Here are our favorites:

1. Parking Garage (Plan Toys)

2. Tonka Lil Gas Pump (Hasbro) – it shows how ethanol is made on the back of the pump.

3. Sprig Vehicles (Sprig)- new line of vehicles made from recycled materials.

4. Gator Golf (Hasbro)- The classic game is now made without batteries.

5. Indoor Gardening Kit (Green Toys)- made from repurposed materials.

6. Think Green Barbie – love that she’s joined this important cause…her motto…”Think Pink, Live Green”

7. National Geographic Kids Animals (International Playthings)- polar bears and snakes–oh my!

8. Cheekeyes Animals (Cheekeyes)- handsomely crafted line of wooden animals – perfect as props for blocks.

9. Recycling Truck (Playmobil)- a fun prop for pretend that reinforces what we all should be doing.

10. Eric Carle Brown Bear Floor Puzzle (Mudpuppy)- a friendly low key way of introducing kids to the creatures we share this planet with…without a heavy message.

Going Green in Toyland: Barbie BCause

barbie-bcause-tote.jpgFirst of all, doesn’t it just sound better that it’s April? The weather has been so rough in much of the country, the promise of spring seems more welcomed than ever.

With Earth Day just around the corner (April 22nd), the roll out of green products has begun. I love that Barbie has gotten into the Green groove. You can buy a Barbie that wears a t-shirt that says “Think Pink, Live Green” (a child size version of the shirt also exists).  Also new is an attractive line of Barbie BCause accessories that are made of  re-purposed Barbie clothing scraps. The accessories include notebooks, bags, diaries, etc. They look a lot like Coach in styling. A really nice concept.

Why I love Hot Wheels

Truth be told, I didn’t play with too many toys as a kid.  I loved my sandbox, and as much as my mother wanted me to love the elaborate (and now I realize) beautiful dollhouse that was given to me, I was really much more into playing with Hot Wheels.  Looking back now, I know that my love of Hot Wheels had much more to do with my brothers.  The youngest of three, I had to work hard to find things I could do with them without being so annoying that I got thrown out of the equation.  I was a great assistant to the elaborate tracks they would put together.

We would go to Davco (the local toy store in Monticello, New York)…I would look at the Barbies — admire the fashions…and then buy another car.  Cars meant entry into the great adventures that went on in our house.  It’s probably  an exaggeration to say that we had enough track to go throughout the house–but we certainly had enough to make the cars down the staircase!  My brothers were pros at making ramps and there was great excitement when the first loops came out.  This year Mattel has new Trick Tracks which has lots of the action we worked so hard to get with pillow and books beneath the tracks.  Somehow, the new tracks seem like a cheat (to a Hot Wheels purist).  We’ll have to see what kids today think! What’s missing from the current line is a track that has lots of length and maybe one or two loops.  The recent batch of closed tracks seem more like one trick ponies– they’re cool to watch but they don’t offer the problem solving that most of us remember from our Hot Wheels days.

This year is the 40th anniversary of Hot Wheels–there’s an anniversary that will make many of us pause.  Even more amazing–this year Mattel reports that they will produce the 4 billionth car!

Toy Trends: USB plugs Dominate Toyland

Last year everyone was talking about magnets.  Everything from toddler toys to construction toys used magnets in some creative way.  This year the buzz is all about “USB” capability.

Traditional toys like Hot Wheels, Barbies, Groovy Girls–now all will have an on-line component where play is just a USB cord away.  Borrowing from the amazing successful Webkinz model, more and more companies  are offering a toy that also “unlocks” a unique play experience on line.  From the response of our toy testers, this seems like a smart move.  School aged kids love collecting toys  (stuff animals, cars, action figures) and this generation is tech savvy — so it’s a perfect combination.  We will be testing these new products with kids in the coming weeks.

Leapfrog also offers the USB cord as a way of uploading/downloading info to their new platforms.  Sprig Toys, a new line of vehicles will also work with action figures that hook up to a USB plug on board the vehicles.  VTech’s new promising art platform, KiddiArt Studio, also uses a USB connection.

Several years back there were toys (mostly dolls) that required parents to “download” information to the toy (your child’s name, birthday, favorite color,etc.) …and we received many complaints that this took too much time and frankly was too complicated for less than tech savvy parents.  Two things have changed–the iTunes interface has made the whole “download” thing much less overwhelming for parents.  Things have changed: the toy/computer interface works better, parents are younger and more techy themselves,  and for slightly older kids, they’ll be doing the plugging in–and let’s face it, they’re really good at it.