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Fab Gear: Toy Insider Names Best in Play for 2016

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Adventure Publication’s Laurie Schacht and the Toy Insider team gave Holiday of Play attendees the lowdown on the latest & greatest modes of play.

Andy and Pete Say…
Once again it was our pleasure to join The Toy Insider team for the annual reveal of their choices for best toys for the holiday season lists. The HoliDAY of Play event highlights products in three categories, Hot 20 Toys, 12 Best Tech Toys, and 10 Best S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Toys.

You probably know “Toy Insider Mom” Laurie Schacht from her numerous television appearances demonstrating the operation of those products. The Toy Insider 2016 Catalog can be found nested inside the current issue of Family Circle Magazine, and you can get comprehensive details on each item at the Toy Insider Website link above.

Things to Make and Do….
There is probably no greater satisfaction for youngsters, really for anyone, than building something that works. That appeared to be the major theme this year at The HoliDAY of Play event. As we’ve seen in the past, from Lincoln Logs to LEGOS, the honing of dexterity skills, deciphering of instructions, assimilation of concepts, peaking of imagination and recovering from missteps, all make the final product a very personal thrill. The accomplishment makes the object all the more valuable to the builder.
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How Suite It Is: 2015 Toy Insider Event Grows in Scope

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New York City’s Chelsea Pier complex was the site for the 2015 Sweet Suite event designed to alert traditional press outlets and the exponentially expanding blogger community to the play industry’s newest goodies. This season’s gathering, mounted by the folks at Adventure Publishing Group (APG) (Toy Insider, The Toy Book, The Licensing Book) was the biggest ever, encompassing the wares of almost 100 vendor/sponsors. See the link loaded list of participants on the Sweet Suite Sponsor List.

Sweet Suite 15 was a sensory riot with so many wonderful items vying for deserved attention. To document the afternoon APG president and Toy Insider Mom Laurie Schacht conducted on-site interviews with the industry sponsors and attendees were banging out Tweets, Instagram pictures and videos posts by the hundreds (thousands?) It was especially cool to find The Verve Pipe’s Brian Vander Ark providing the live soundtrack performing songs from the group’s Are We There Yet album.

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Toy Insider’s Laurie Schacht meets a brace of WowWee Rev’s gesture controlled MiPosaurs.


As an information gathering excursion co-editor Adriana “Andy” Melendez and I have found the invitation-only opportunity to be invaluable, often leading to months worth of pre-holiday roll-out features about the newest toys.

It’s also a perfect platform to explore new products and have an easy-going tet a tet with their creators. Heck, I got so “toy-tipsy” I was even cajoled into donning an “Amy Poehler” wig for the gals at the Goldie Blox booth. Do blondes have more fun? I can’t say for sure but it likely beats being a balding 60 year old guy in a baseball cap.

What caught our collective eye? I know Andy was particularly taken with the I Am Elemental action figures and their empowering message for young ladies. I zoned in on Crayola’s “Color Alive” Easy Animation Studio and Hexbugs’ newest Vex Robotics kits (including an operational Zoetrope). Both were still in early development when first spied at the New York International Toy Association Fair last February.

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Just a few of the new items Andy and Pete will be reporting on in depth. I Am Elemental Action Figures (left,) HexBugs’ Zoetrope (top right,) Crayola’s Easy Animation Studio (bottom right.)


I also enjoyed a thorough demo and up close look at the eye-popping next-gen graphics of Activision’s Skylanders SuperChargers multi-platform game. Anki Overdrive’s track hugging robotic race cars promise to be an exciting experience, and Madame Alexander Doll’s mirthful Muppets will be available just in time for ABC’s Muppet TV relaunch.

Also ready to launch in the vanguard of inevitable Stars Wars mania is Build-A-Bear Workshop‘s Darth Vader and Chewbaca bears.

Expect us to be reporting on those items and many other products in depth as they reach their release dates in the coming weeks. In the meantime enjoy this teaser gallery of pictures from the event.

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Color My World : Crayola’s Diverse Universe

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Crayola Classic 64 Box flanked by new 3D printed figures.

During a recent walk through a local Staples office supply store my wife and I happened upon a colorful surprise. A section of a merchandise isle dedicated solely to products from the Crayola Company. I had already been somewhat aware of the diversity of Crayola items seen at a pre-holiday event held by The Big Toy Book, but didn’t fully grasp just how expansive the selection was. Needless to say Crayola’s Toy Fair 2015 booth was one of my main objectives while covering the Toy Industry Association (TIA) event and the tour of goodies did not disappoint.

Starting as the Binney & Smith Company, selling industrial pigments, Crayola has been in business for well over 100 years putting art supplies in the hands of one generation after another. The current product line perfectly embraces a two fold vision. There is a tried and true allegiance to standard crayon-in-hand creativity that blossoms in connection with technology both old and new.

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Crayola’s Sketch Wizard offers ancient art technology in a kid friendly package.


Drawing on History…
For instance, the Sketch Wizard is a colorful spin on the camera obscura, an ancient optical device that essentially allows you to trace your subject via it’s projected image. It is widely posited that many artists throughout history used this method to properly render perspective and foreshortening on the 2 dimensional page or canvas. My niece, whose parents were fascinated by Tim’s Vermeer, the recent film documenting the recreation of a Johannes Vermeer style painting by a non-artist using this method, found this one was under the Xmas tree last December.

Also in old school tech mode is the hand pumped Crayola Air Brush, which turns your markers into spray brushes, giving you a perfect way to create delicate stenciled art or misty backgrounds for your characters to inhabit.

Dimension Extension…
The Color Alive products, what Crayola calls a “4D” experience, feature traditional looking coloring books and crayons that allow image capture into your tablet environment. Once visually pulled into the downloadable app your character comes to life in the colors you chose, and against a selection of backgrounds, including the real world image of whatever you point your device’s camera at. I was treated to a fire-breathing dragon dancing on my head with nary a tipple, I swear. The product range currently includes some very popular licenses from Mattel’s Barbie to the Activision’s Skylanders universe. Specialty crayon colors in each package add active nuances like flames and sparkles to the on screen art.

Additionally, 3D Systems in partnership with Crayola can print up a unique collector statue from your 2D Color Alive art. That option should arrive in April 2015.

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Caryola’s Animation Studio software will capture mannequin moves and translate them to your tablet screen character.

‘Tweening for ‘Tweens…
As someone who dabbled in stop-motion animation during my pre and early teens I found the most impressive demo to be the Color Alive Easy Animation Studio. In my day I enlisted my full size Hasbro G.I. Joe’s to be the stars of my films, often covering them in clay to resemble the creatures in my favorite Ray Harryhausen epics like Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. My “G. I. Cyclops” got a lot of screen time.

Set for July 2015 release, Crayola’s stop motion animation package includes an articulated figure, book with 10 characters to customize and a software application. You simply move the figure into the main positions you prefer, photograph each with your device and the motion capture app does the “tweening,” giving you smooth transitions between the moves. I was pretty amazed by the finished look based on a few simple moves.

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Crayola’s Crayon Carver allows you to personalize those favorite colors.


I Am Curious (UnMellow Yellow)…
Several newly announced Crayola kits including the Cling Creator to make gummy window and mirror adornments and The Crayon Carver, an engraver that let’s kids personalize their colors of choice, will be worth your attention. Each would make an interesting “activity station” at a birthday party or family gathering, with something self created to go home with. Others like the Paint Maker and Marker Maker kits give kids a hands-on experience creating their own artist’s tools and colors. Paint Maker was TIA’s Activity Toy of the Year Winner for 2015.

SkeletonPete Says…
As a professional photographer with a fascination for stop motion animation, the Sketch Wizard and Animation Studio are my two favorites. They hit my historical and technological sweet spots for those two disciplines.

I suggest you make the Crayola kiosk a destination next time you’re shopping to get the full experience. The company has kept the price range very moderate, with kits running from approximately $17.00 – $30.00 USD and expansion and refill packages not prohibitive.

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Toying with Success: 2015 Toy of the Year Winners

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The Toy Industry Association‘s 112th North American International Toy Fair 2015 (#NYTF15) got it’s official start with a ribbon cutting event at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center on Saturday February 14, but it launched with advance festivities at the Association’s annual Toy of the Year Awards ceremony the evening before. I’m glad to see several that caught our eye this season took top honors.

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Spin Master’s Zoomer Dino wins TOTY Best Boy Toy of 2015.


Spin Master’s Zoomer Dino, the remote controlled “Boomer,” was voted Best Boy Toy. Its sleek design caught my eye when I first encountered it at the Big Toy Book 2014 Holiday of PLAY event.

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Hasbro’s Rebelle Dolphina Bow SuperSoaker


Co-editor Adriana “Andy” Melendez (Sylverwhisper) was particularly fond of Hasbro’s Nerf Rebelle archery sets, allowing young ladies to channel their inner Katniss Everdeen in backyard Hunger Games or rival Marvel Avenger Hawkeye for his accuracy. One of the Rebelle line, the super soaker Dolphina Water Bow, took Best Outdoor Toy honors.
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Crayola Paint Maker Kit takes 2015 Activity Toy of the Year Award.


The Crayola Paint Maker won Activity Toy of the Year division. It’s a toy we gifted to my niece this year. Crayola’s complete line of classic to digital creative sets is impressive. I still covet my childhood box of 64 crayons, replete with sharpener but I’m looking forward to reporting on Crayola’s other products, including their interesting camera obscura style drawing apparatus.
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Elsa is Everywhere…
It would seem that Princess Elsa is celebrating her TOTY award by putting NYC in a deep freeze for the next several days. The ubiquitous franchise Disney’s Frozen deservedly won for Property of the Year.

The Complete List…
The Toy Industry Association’s press release offers the complete rundown of winners with an explanation of their voting process.

“TOTY Award winners were selected with the input of consumers (on ToyAwards.org), retailers (mass and specialty), media and members of the toy industry. The five ballots were weighted and used to determine the category winners, with the exception of the “People’s Choice” award, which was selected exclusively by consumers.”

Recognizing an outstanding toy that inspires creative play through various forms of activity, the Activity Toy of the Year was presented to Crayola Paint Maker (Crayola)

Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for boys of any age, the Boy Toy of the Year was presented to ZOOMER DINO™ (Spin Master)

Recognizing an app-cessory or other physical toy that interacts with a smartphone, tablet or gaming device, the
e-Connected Toy of the Year was presented to LEGO® FUSION (LEGO Systems, Inc.)

Recognizing an outstanding toy that helps children develop special skills and knowledge through play, the
Educational Toy of the Year was presented to LEGO® Technic (LEGO Systems, Inc.)

Recognizing an outstanding children’s board, card, CD-ROM or electronic game, the Game of the Year was presented to Simon Swipe™ (Hasbro, Inc.)

Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for girls of any age, the Girl Toy of the Year was presented to Shopkins™ Small Mart Playset (Moose Toys)

Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for infants and toddlers up to 36 months, the Infant/Toddler Toy of the Year was presented to Go! Go! Smart Animals™ Zoo Explorers Playset™ (VTech®)

Recognizing an outstanding toy that combines innovation and play value, the Innovative Toy of the Year was presented to MiP ™ (WowWee)

Recognizing an outstanding toy that is designed for outdoor play, the Outdoor Toy of the Year was presented to Nerf Rebelle Dolphina Bow (Hasbro, Inc.)

Recognizing an outstanding toy developed for preschool-aged children (ages 3-5), the Preschool Toy of the Year was presented to LEGO® Juniors (LEGO Systems, Inc.)

Recognizing a property that has had the greatest success spreading its brand throughout the industry, the
Property of the Year was presented to Disney’s Frozen (The Walt Disney Company)

Recognizing an outstanding toy that is distributed primarily through specialty toy retailers, the
Specialty Toy of the Year was presented to Gravity Maze™ (ThinkFun, Inc.)

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Toy Insider Kicks Off 2014 Gifting Season

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Pete & Andy’s Play Date…
On a gorgeous late October afternoon co-editor Adriana “Andy” Melendez (@sylverwhisper) and I joined other members of the press and blogger community on the 44th floor of New York City’s Hearst Building for a grand event to kick off the coming gift giving season presented by the folks at The Big Toy Book.Com, in partnership with The Toy Insider and Woman’s Day Magazine. Dubbed “The HoliDAY of PLAY” the gathering was aimed at affording social media and online reporters a jump on building buzz for the best toy options of late 2014.

Top Toy Tips…
Attendees enjoyed a couple of hours of hands-on experience and information gathering directly from manufacturers with a focus on the annual Toy Insider Hot 20 and Top Tech 12 lists. These lists (broken into age appropriate categories) and the entire 2014 Gift Guide can be found in the November issue of Woman’s Day magazine, as well as at Toy Insider online.

Following an introductory period of play and networking Big Toy Book Founder Laurie Schacht (@toyinsidermom) addressed the group. She delineated emerging trends in the toy industry using onsite vendors’ wares as examples punctuated by a video featuring highlights from last summer’s Sweet Suite event and soundtracked by my favorite EchoSmith tune “Cool Kids.”

HoliDAY of PLAY Attendees Got First Hand Info from Toy Vendors, and Spun Up 16 Million Twitter Impressions.

HoliDAY of PLAY Attendees Got First Hand Info from Toy Vendors, and Spun Up 16 Million Twitter Impressions.


Big Toy Book Founder Laurie Schacht Hoists a Bag-O-Swag for a Lucky Winner.

Big Toy Book Founder Laurie Schacht Hoists a Bag-O-Swag for a Lucky Winner.

Laurie called up several brave volunteers to participate in a couple of only mildly embarrassing competitions, one of which had participants emote their best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle “Cowabunga Dude!” Winners walked away with nicely filled swag bags. She also treated attendees to the first announcement of the 2015 Blogger Bash and Sweet Suite, which will be held on July 16 and 17 at Pier Sixty in New York City. In a little over 3 hours attendees managed to spin up 16 million Twitter impressions for the #HotToys14 hashtag and hundreds of Instagram images.

SkeletonPete & Andy Say…
It’s an anything goes marketplace, with tech and retro play products holding equal footing. We saw choices ranging from the robotics of the constantly expanding HEXBUG line to the return of the much loved 1980’s Pound Puppies from Funrise. LeapFrog offers the movement motivating immersive screenplay of their new console system, while creative stalwart Crayola straddles the classic vs. digital worlds with their Virtual Designer Pro kits.

Those only represent a smattering of the multitude of possibilities which is why the helpful guidance of the annual Woman’s Day/Toy Insider supplement and Toy Insider is so valuable.

Below is a list of the vendors who presented their wares at the event, with live links to their respective websites – you’re welcome. 🙂

Andy and I will be giving you a closer look at some of our favorites in the coming weeks.

Featured Manufacturer’s Sites

Battat
Build-A-Bear
ChizzComm
(representing Tech 4 Kids, Aliquantum International, Bravo Sports Corp. and Zuru Toys)
Cloud b
Crayola
Funrise Toys
Hasbro
HEXBUG
Jakks Pacific
Jazwares
Laser Pegs
LeapFrog
Little Scholar
Makey Makey
Rubie’s Costume Company
Spaghetti Headz
Thames and Kosmos
Toca Boca
Tomy
VTech

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