Pick of the Day: Leap Frog Cook & Play Potsy

Leap Frog Cook & Play Potsy

I told Al Roker yesterday that I had a little crush on this toy, to which Al expressed some concern for me – but I really do love this pretend toy! Most concept toys are so boring or they have that same sweet woman’s voice (I think she’s related to the annoyingly perky GPS woman).  The folks at Leap Frog have a male actor saying “open” “shut” or “off” “on” -every time you take the lid off the pot or put it back on. But instead of just saying it the same way…you know the guy has some theater background…the tenor of his voice changes.  It’s just funny and very welcomed.  I do wish that when you put the pieces of food in the pot that the pot recognized them–that would have been very cool, but probably would have made the toy super expensive.  Fill and spill toys are always a hit with sitting up babies and young toddlers–so this toy is right on target without the sound effects.  I’m not in love with the songs it sings…but the open/shut gets me every time. Watch our video. Read our complete review at www.toyportfolio.com.

This morning on the Today Show

It takes a village--right before we went on

I got there at 7:30 even though our segment isn’t until 9:38. There are a few teases that happen before the actual segment, but I like to be there so there’s plenty of time for hair and make-up! This morning was a great day to be in the Green Room.  I assumed that George Clooney and Hillary Swank would be in the upstairs Green Room–but much to the delight of the entire room they were both downstairs. When you hear George speak about humanitarian issues, you just get that he’s more than a great actor. He’s smart and uses his platform and celebrity in a way that should inspire all celebrities.  It’s just real.  Ok, so that’s my take on the thoughts and works of George Clooney …and now I can also say that the man is just incredibly handsome.   To top off the George Clooney experience–he was then hugged by Hillary Swank.  Stunning!  I don’t know either of these people, but they are polite and friendly to everyone that comes through the green room and the hallway.  Sam Rockwell was there as well to promote Conviction (Swank also stars)For trailer, click here. (I’m sure he was nice too–just didn’t get to see him but for a second).  It was a busy Green Room!

Cosmo's Bachelors getting ready to go on

Oh and I almost forget the Cosmo Bachelors! My niece (and assistant extraordinaire) Ali pointed out that they were there last year when we launched our list.  They all look so young to me!

We had so many kids this morning!

Two of my favorite testers (sister Kena & Dehlina) with their Dollie & Me dolls

Matthew and his mom Jessica

Lots of little boys running around the lower concourse before it was time to go up to the studio.  Some of our kids have been on the show before “when they were truly babies” as opposed to just active three and four year olds.

Harper, who did a good part of the my last segment with me, was joined by her little brother  Hannes today!  Alex (pictured with Al and me) was a pro on all things technical and did a great job demonstrating the Tron Zero Gravity RC.  A special thank you to Victor (Matthew’s Dad) for taking all the pictures during the segment!) and to James from Spinmaster –for expertly flying the Air Hogs RC Video Camera Helicopter (something that I would never try in a studio full of high-wattage lighting!).  All in all a good day!

Afterwards: Al Roker, Stephanie Oppenheim and toy tester Alex!

Hannes enjoying the Radio Flyer after we were done

Getting ready for Today Show

Today Show Studio

Just got back from set up. We’re going to have lots of kids on the set–many under three so we’ll see how the segment goes. My little friend Harper, who ran the segment last time is making a return appearance – this time along with her little brother. I’m the opposite of W.C. Fields–I love having kids on the set–it gives new meaning to the concept of “anything goes.”

I’m really happy with the collection of toys we’re showing tomorrow but I always feel terrible about all the other amazing toys on our list that aren’t getting their moment on air.  As usual we’ve packed in as many as we can for four minutes!  Happily this year we have tons of streaming video on almost all of our award winners.

Got uptown this afternoon just in time to catch the last float from the Columbus Day Parade. I’ve lived in NYC for over twenty years and I don’t think I’ve ever really attended this parade so it was fun to see it.

End of the Columbus Day Parade

I know they keep saying the economy is in rough shape–but you’d never know it from the crowds around Rockefeller Center!  The city is full of tourists.  The holidays can’t be too far away when they open the ice skating rink (see below).

Ice Skating Rink at Rockefeller Center

Did you see Harper?

Toy testers Henry and Harper playing with the Water Table

This morning at the Today Show was great fun. You can watch the segment by clicking here. I was worried that I only had two kids coming on the show with me. I usually have between eight and ten kids demonstrating our picks on the set.  I always like the energy of having kids there–their reactions  say volumes more than my talking about the details!  So this morning I had 3 year old Henry and 3 year old Harper.  Both were enjoying the water table on the set–sharing well and doing what kids do at water tables–they explored all the buckets (many with holes) and they got a little wet while they spilled and filled the center post of the toy.

Harper with me, being very quiet while Ann did the news on the otherside of the wall!

Right as the segment started, Harper wanted to see the bug things I was showing to Ann.  And from that moment on — it was really Harper’s segment.  I loved it.  She was really into seeing the bugs and I’m not sure it came through but she wanted everyone to know about a grasshopper she had seen recently.  She then decided to play a little bit with the water table–and then she needed to visit her Dad, the wonderful Art/Set Director for the show…she got a hug and then came back to the set.  Henry continued to play at the water table with his Dad even when Ann crashed the big Titan Airplane right into the table!  No tears–he just kept on playing!

Harper checking out the bugs and magnifiers

While we didn’t get to all of the products I had brought, it was a fun segment thanks to Ann and two really cute three year olds!

For all of the details about the products from this morning, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

TODAY Show today…active and fun

Natalie and Stephanie discussing ride-on toysI headed up to the studio this morning with my intern Daniel — after putting toys together for us all semester, I thought it would be fun for him to see the studio and the end result of so many packages, emails and testing. I tried doing my hair this morning–and emerged from the building looking like a bad 1970s “before” picture.  Happily, the hair and make-up people at the show are so terrific, that I knew it was going to be ok.  I think they were even a little shocked by the sheer volume of hair.  Thanks to high def tv, I also think make up takes longer (not to mention that I’m a little older!) than it used to.  It really is amazing what professionals can do.  Everyone emerges from the hair and makeup area a better, more polished version of themselves.

This morning we had about ten kids.  One family has tested for us since their son was born five years ago.  They moved to Hong Kong in between and as I traveled up to the studio I realized that we had never met–so that was fun!  They now have two kids and I’m so happy they’re back from their adventure and can resume testing for us! Other kids were on with me about a year ago–so to see them now as full preschoolers was fun.  A new group joined us – I have to say this was the most well-behaved group of kids in the green room.  Their parents were really careful to hold off on the delicious donuts and cookies until after the segment. Smart move.

The challenge was to show toys and equipment for active play –indoors!  The YBIKES were a hit and disappeared when we went to talk about them–but I think they got camera time later on. The Kazam Balance Bike – also great was on the pedestal–and may have been blocked a little by the fire truck. You really couldn’t see how amazingly high the Sky Balls bounce in the air–or the 3D bubbles…but trust me – there are fun choices this season.

A very polite "excuse me" in the middle of the segment

Half way through the segment one of our testers very politely asked if she could go play in the playhouse…one of those great real live moments…priceless.

Natalie, Finley and Stephanie...at the end of the segment

Segment over, chocolate donut enjoyed on the car ride home…a good day!

Taking a look at the indoor Hopscotch Rug from Alex

To read the full article about the toys featured, visit www.toyportfolio.com.

Today Show on Monday

I’ll be on the Today Show Monday morning to discuss great toys and equipment to encourage active physical play.  We have kids coming from all over the tri-state area to help me out.  Looking forward to sharing some of our best picks of the season. The article is on our website at www.toyportfolio.com.  We have some really fun new 3D bubbles, ride-ons, retro games…get ready to play!

If you love worms, you’ll love Yucky Worms

Fishing with my Grandpa

I’ve raised two city boys…both completely wigged out by bugs, spiders, worms, etc..  Having grown up in the country, I’m always amused by their reactions.  One of my favorite moments was an early fishing expedition.  “Great, we’ll need to get a cup of worms!” I couldn’t wait to share this experience with them…after all what was better than a cup of worms?    “Gross, no way!” – they both let me know that the worm thing was not going to be part of their fishing ritual.

As a child, getting the cup of worms was part of the day I spent with my grandfather (he’s in the background on his dock). In my mind I’m much more grown-up than the six or seven year old in the picture. He was a man of few words- so I guess the whole be-quiet-while-you-fish concept suited him well.  Looking back, I realized that he put up with my constant chatter about “when do you think we’ll get something?” “we’re going to put it back? right?” (we always put them back), “do you think we’ll ever catch that really big cat fish?”  If I got really bored (almost every time), I would jump into the water and dive for mussels (we were never allowed to eat them)…he never seemed to get upset that I was disturbing his fishing.  It was our time.

My early fond experiences with worms is probably why I love Yucky Worms (Candlewick Press) by Vivian French and beautifully illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg. In this spot-on early science book, it’s the little boy’s Grandma that shows her grandson how useful worms can be in the garden.  The story is full of information without being dull or preachy–and the illustrations of what’s going on above and below the garden are the type of pages children will enjoy poring over.  In addition to the story, there are little factoids throughout the book that will also appeal to kids that love knowing trivia about the world around them.  For a full review of the book, visit www.toyportfolio.com. We have given this title an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Book Award.

Please note that Yucky Worms does not discuss using worms as bait…but because my mother knows of my love of worms, she told me to stop playing with the bubbles today and read this book. I’m glad she did. Great science books for kids are hard to come by…Yucky Worms hits just the right balance of story and information for young readers.

The big cat fish? On our last fishing adventure together (I was now a teenager and rarely joined my Grandpa on the dock), we finally caught it.  I was so scared by the whiskers, the thrashing-that I remember screaming, crying and laughing until my grandfather forcibly got it off the hook and back into the water. I think he was even a little taken aback by the ferociousness of this particular fish.  We sat there for a while – taking in that we had just accomplished,  a goal we had shared for years – even if the whole moment wasn’t exactly what we had had in mind.  We did it. My grandfather died not long after.

What were you doing when you were 13?

Stephanie Oppenheim, Natalie Morales, Deidra Shores, Al Roker

Can you imagine winning a contest as the reporter for the Today Show? Flying to NYC to cover Toy Fair? Interviewing the head of Fisher-Price and Hasbro–and then appearing on the Today Show with Al and Natalie?  That’s exactly what happened to Deidra Shore- a lovely 13 year old from Tennessee.

We meet in the green room this morning…talked about which toys she would demo. Which toys she really loved from toy fair–her favorite, the updated 50th anniversary edition of the Mega Play-Doh Fun Factory.

Stephanie Oppenheim and Deidra Shores before the segment

She did a great job with the remote control Millenium Falcon — which was a huge relief since my track record with flying things in the studio isn’t great.   She handled not only the taped piece–but reading the teleprompter and the live interview like a pro!  Congrats Deidra!!

During the segment

Today Show at 9:16am Friday

Right before set up this afternoon

Just got back from set up at the studio. Always happy when the crew likes the toys we’ve selected.  Segment is full of prototypes–of things we hope will be great toys for 2010.  Hoping that everything that’s supposed to fly, flies and that everything that’s supposed to spin, spins.  I’ll be on with Al, Natalie and Deidra- she won the Today Show Kid Reporter Contest.

A rose by any other name…

Old Names, But New Games. One of the trends for the fall is familiar names (Monopoly, Scrabble, Twister, etc.) being used with all new game play.

U Build Monopoly

The new U-Build Monopoly (Parker Brothers $19.99) looks like an interesting concept, you build the board – allowing you to control how long your game will take. But the traditional game board is completely gone.

Scrabble Flash Cubes

Scrabble Flash Cubes (Hasbro $29.99), one of the coolest games we saw at Toy Fair, has electronic cubes that you use to build words, again no board, no little tiles…no double or triple word points. If you’re a purist about Twister and love the smell and feel of that mat, you may feel sad about Twister Hoopla (Hasbro $19.99) -where your body becomes the mat. We’ll have to see how these test with kids and their parents.  All Available Fall 2010.

Brand new. We did find some new innovative games. Konexi (ZimZala Games $24.99) brings the fun of Jenga and word play together. Here you stack letters to create words-but watch out you don’t want the letters to come falling down. We loved the design and feel of this game – can’t wait to test with kids.

Konexi by ZimZala Games

We suggested that they could make one of games younger so that the age range of 10 plus could come down considerably.  Available Fall 2010.

An anti-technology theme. Appealing to parents that would like the playroom to be more “real” – we found even more organic and recycled products than last year.  A new approach  – classic toys that now require no batteries – saving money, another bonus.   We all grew up with Spin Art – one of my all time personal favorites!   Innovative for this year, Crayola will roll out  Crayola Color Twister Spin Art (Crayola $14.99) which uses an air pump to make the platform spin.  Watch our video.

Crayola Color Twister Spin Art

We only got to to see the prototype–but look forward to testing the real toy later this season. Available July 2010.

LEGO RACER with Air Pump

The same “air” technology is now being used to propel certain LEGO RACERS ($12.99/ Available now).

Pure Whimsy.


Sing-a-ma-jigs (Mattel $12.99 each) may turn out to be one of the hottest toys of the season if the real things work as well as the prototypes.  Be sure to watch my video. Each of the dolls will chatter, sing and even harmonize together. To me they look like claymation characters come to life. We look forward to testing these as soon as they are ready.  First collection available May 2010/ more to come for the holidays.

Hexbug Nanos. You either loves these little bugs that come in test tubes…or they’ll  creep you out. I love them. Rolling out right now are habitats that you can put them in.  Our testers enjoyed the portability of these little bugs that go like crazy!  The bugs are each $9.99, the habitat starter set is $19.99. 

Hexbug Nanos in their Habitat

They are to me the tech answer to Zhu Zhu Hamsters. If you’re shopping for that hard to buy for tween, these will be an interesting novelty. Available Now.

May the Force be with you. As a complete Star Wars fan, it makes me so happy that there is a whole new generation falling in love with the saga– thanks to the Clone Wars cartoon.  For my LEGO builders, the Star Wars sets are always the number one request.

LEGO TIE Defender

LEGO has responded with many new models including the TIE Defender ($49.99). This is the Empire’s most advanced fighter, it comes with 304 pieces and includes two action figures. Available Now.

Star Wars Millenium Falcon

We also can’t wait to test, the Star Wars R/C Millennium Falcon (Hasbro $49.99/ Available Fall 2010) – watch our video; the Star Wars AT-AT (Hasbro $99.99/Available August 2010)- a pretty impressive play setting for your own battles against the Empire.

Star Wars AT-AT

It’s more than 2′ tall and 28″  long, comes with LED lights, sounds and phrases from the movie; the Star Wars General Grievous Lightsaber (Hasbro $34.99/Available August 2010) is fun to spin–with double lightsabers that come apart. The lights and sound effects will appeal to Star Wars fans young and old.  Watch our video.

All of these toys will be tested and full reviews will appear on www.toyportfolio.com

Related videos:

Our video of Sing-a-ma-jigs

Our video of General Grevious Lightsaber

Our video of the Crayola Color Twist Spin Art

Our video of the Star Wars Millenium Falcon