Toy Fairs are cropping up all over the world, but New York really takes it to the extreme. We asked one of our roving reporters, New Yorker Johanna Gorelick to cover the New York Toy Fair for us and bring us the latest in what’s cool. Johanna lives and works in New York and is mother to two twin girls.
The below freezing temperatures of New York were nowhere to be experienced in the International Toy Fair that takes place each year in mid-February. The Javits Convention Center was in full bloom with brightly colored toys and activities for children of all ages. Some of this year’s standouts included beautifully designed and crafted toys that any parent would love to own; a host of brain challengers; activities for do-it-yourselfers; and of course, tried-and-true toys and games that have endured the test of time. As a parent who grew up in the ‘70s I was particularly partial tonon-electronic, battery-free and (mostly) unisex toys. Here are my top picks:
1) The company T.S. Shure recently launched their “archiquest” line of wooden building blocks. Several sets including the “world fusion architecture,” “exotic Eastern architecture” and “Classical European architecture” are much more refined and elegant versions of the wooden blocks of yore. Each box of blocks, in an array of beautiful colors, are nearly too pretty to remove from their packages. The sets include illustrated books that teach about key architectural components and terminology relating to each specific style. These sets are great for boys and girls alike, ages 3+.
ArchiQuest Master Builder Wooden Blocks
2) Among the several eco friendly products on view, the “Designed by You” doll house from Maxim Enterprise stood out. The home can be constructed from six wooden modular rooms that can be arranged in a variety of configurations. This set includes over 30 accessories, including a bookshelf, lamp, tables, chairs and beds and two figures.
3) The 4-D Sealife puzzles produced by the science focused toy manufacturer TedCo Toys are so beautifully designed that one would want to piece them together quickly and put them on display. The fine detail on these small (3”) puzzles reminds one of early scientific illustrations. The Clambered Nautilius and Lion Fish are exceptionally realistic. Each puzzle includes information about the creature’s scientific name, habitat and diet. The palm-size puzzles each have 15 – 25 tiny pieces. Ages 6+.
4) Winning Moves Games, which produces classical American board games including Boggle, Scrabble and Monopoly, showcased their brand new game for young children, ages 5+, Fish, Fish Squish. Children will love molding their own playing pieces (fish) from colored dough. This is a simple card game, similar to Go Fish, that requires players to turn over face-down cards to find a series of three cards. The objective is to “squish” opponents’ fish until all five of their pieces are flattened. 2 – 4 players.
5) One of the most colorful and attractive displays at the Toy Fair was Ann Williams Craft-tastic line. It features do-it-yourself kits for tweens who like to work with textiles. This year they unveiled a new version of their popular string art kit. The kit includes foam canvases, push pins and three patterns – a rocket, planet and star. Kids who prefer free form art projects can forego the patterns and create their own designs. (The newest version of this line is not on their website yet.)
6) Budding scientists can have hours of fun with the 16 science themed project kits designed as part of the Geek & Co series from Thames & Kosmos. New additions to the series this year include Space Farm, Rubber band Racers, and Geek Speaker Lab. In the recently launched Chocolate Science Lab children learn about heat, temperature and the phases of matter as they mold different shaped chocolates. The kit comes with wrappers, labels and gift boxes. Hint to all mothers: give this gift to your children a few days before your birthday!
7) Buildex Systems designs beautifully crafted wood toys and furniture that can be assembled without the use of glue or tools (Ikea eat your heart out!). Their Animalia features highly articulated creatures. Both the model cars and the ride-on vehicles have natural suspension; the ride-on versions have functional steering. One of the most compelling aspects of Buildex products? They can be quickly disassembled and stored. What parent wouldn’t want that?
8) Kid O makes beautifully fashioned plastic toys for young tykes. The water toys are comprised of several interlocking parts that can be pulled apart. The Pour and Spin Submarine, for example, includes a periscope that doubles as a straw for blowing bubbles. Alphabuild, for older toddlers, is a set of 20 magnitized blocks of different sizes designed to snap together to form letters of the alphabet. They can also be configured in as many ways as the imagination allows.
By Johanna Gorelick