December 1, 2009
In seasons past, ELMO is the toy we get all the calls for -someone in desperate need for the latest version of the original Tickle Me Elmo Doll. We have particular fondness for the original – Joanne brought Elmo on the TODAY Show – Bryant Gumbel loved it–and played with it for the entire show.
This season, ELMO is being completely ignored. A smaller, perhaps cuter critter has grabbed the imagination of children and media outlets everywhere -even though ELMO tells jokes this year as well as any Borscht Belt comedian. Oh and yes, he’s still throwing kisses…it could break your heart. Watch our video.
July 13, 2009
As we all enjoy summer, there are so many people working on the 2009 Holiday Season. As toy reviewers, we are in that group–and when we used to do the annual book, we were always a year ahead. Our annual book was always designed for the next year—so at any given point in time, I had great confusion as to which year we were actually in. I told my kids that if I ended up in a ER someplace and was being given an exam that included naming the date…please don’t have them be alarmed if I was off a bit. (Morbid…a little I guess.)
I have to say our new web-based system (new and improved website coming for fall)…has improved our general spirits here considerably. For the 15 years we did the book, we had to be done writing by July 4th- no joke or we wouldn’t make the printer deadline. The next week would be filled with the copy-editor’s notes and then a round of inserts for toys that arrived just in time. We reserved space and copy for things we thought would be terrific…and then adjust them accordingly before we went to print. The last book we did never saw the light of day due to the lead issues. Painful that we did all of that work – it was a good edition.
The web has allowed us to write longer reviews and to be less concerned about hard and fast dates.
The lack of such an extreme deadline has also meant that my mother and I no longer have our annual June fight–where we’d start arguing over some book or some toy…that of course had nothing to do with any specific product but just the tension of getting a book out with so many details that had to be fact-checked. Our working relationship has been one of the treasured experiences of my adult life. We still laugh when a really ridiculous product comes across our desk–and we still marvel at a toy that seems to get it just right.
June 17, 2009
Hard to believe that we are thinking about our holiday award list…but this is when we start looking at our tentative lists…looking at the feedback, checking our list..you get the idea. When we first started we had twenty toys on our top list–now it’s close to 50 with all the ties. It has more to do with us not wanting to fight it out anymore. We have both relaxed a bit…but only a bit. Today, as I was going through all the press materials to make sure that we weren’t missing anything–my mother was reviewing children’s books. Hearing her running commentary is always really entertaining—it’s peppered with “this is charming” to “you have to be kidding, you have to read this!”
We have so many water toys that need testing…but it hasn’t been warm enough here to ask anyone to get wet! This whole “let’s pretend we live in Seattle thing” is getting a little tired.
June 9, 2009
Ok–so was a little cranky. It’s raining….again. We’ve been listening to audio all morning…painful. My mother just came in and handed me the new Dumb Bunnies book to read. I said “no”….so she started reading it to us. Complete with all of the voices she always uses when she reads out loud. It’s one of those moments when I realize how lucky I am that I have a mom who will still reads to me….
April 12, 2009
Now that Bo has happily arrived at the White House…here are some of favorite toy dogs just in case bringing home the real thing isn’t in the cards…
Biscuit was on our Platinum List last year and still keeps us company in the office. He’s extremely sweet but still pretty pricey.
New for Spring, from the same Furreal line is a smaller and much more affordable Lil’ Patter Pup. If the Gabor sisters were going to have a toy dog, this would be it…of course that dates me…so if you’re Paris Hilton…you get the idea. There is a Shih-Tsu and a Pomeranian…both bark and unlike Biscuit, they do walk! At $29.99 they are a good buy.
We also still love Lucky–who is bigger than Lil’ Patter Pup and does many of the same tricks as Biscuit. Lucky is from Zizzle.
And if a low tech pup will do the trick, we love the new Spot from Kids Preferred. This oversized delicious doll is $29.99.
And if you’re looking for a great book on dogs…I’m biased but I highly recommend my mom’s Have You Seen Dogs?
March 11, 2009
My mother is giving a speech today at the University of Maryland for her new book, Stanley Hayami: Nisei Son…go mom. Apart from writing 50 plus children’s books and parenting books, my amazing mother has written this book–based on the diary of a young man who was sent ( along with 120,000 other Americans of Japanese descent ) to internment camps during World War II. Stanley then served in the Army–and died serving his country. My mother has taken this primary source and brought his story to life with such clarity and emotion, that people are moved to tears when they “meet” Stanley. I recently heard her speak at NYU–and again I marveled at how my mother is such a gifted story teller. I also highly recommend Dear Miss Breed–the story of a dedicated librarian who became an incredible and consistent source of support to so many children and their families sent to camps during WWII.
All of this is by way of my saying that my mother and I usually play with window markers and crayons together. So I’m proud that she’s off giving another speech–but I miss that she’s not here. I have just tried out Crayola’s new Window Crayons. At first I felt a little awkward coloring on our office windows by myself–but I’ve loosened up…and have created a garden of flowers and grass. Try it, it’s liberating.
If you’re ok with kids drawing on windows/sliding doors–this is a REALLY FUN activity. At only $4.99–it’s a great buy. Comes with five colors.
December 1, 2008
If you’re looking for the perfect picturebook to bring home for the holidays, consider my favorite book, The Prince’s Bedtime. In the interest of full disclosure, my mother wrote this book…for me!
I never wanted to go to sleep…I milked it for all it was worth–one more bedtime story, a drink, one last special hug and kiss good night. In any case, my mother tried out many of her picturebook scripts on me. In fact, I could often get more time if I would listen to something she was working on. This new edition from Barefoot is wonderfully illustrated by Miriam Latimer and tells the story about a little Prince who just couldn’t go to sleep–no matter what his royal parents tried! If going to bed is an issue in your house, everyone will see the humor of the prince and the elaborate lengths his parents use.
Some people talk about their mother’s cooking, their chocolate chip cookies…for me it’s my mother’s ability to rhyme without effort that always floors me. In fact I can always make her laugh (hysterically really) if I try to rhyme…a gift that most unfortunately completely skipped me!
November 14, 2008
We have a long history with Elmo. When my mother was doing the TODAY Show the year Tickle Me Elmo first arrived on the scene we were in the green room as Bryant Gumbel was examining Elmo. We could see him on the screen–he was making faces at Elmo — until he heard the giggle–and then Bryant just starting laughing. He played with Elmo at almost every break–helping to fuel the Tickle Me Elmo craze that year.
The same year we were also invited on the Maury Povich show. Nothing against the show, but it wasn’t our regular type of gig. We were assured it would be a very wholesome show–a cooking segment, gadgets and us. So we went. We should have been tipped off to the fact that we weren’t in Kansas anymore — when the green room had plastic chairs, a window opened up to a creepy air vent and signs warning guest to be considerate of each other. We then went to the bathroom where we found a young woman washing her hair in the sink (really).
We then went up to hair and make up where the hair person told me that my hair color was the worst ever (it was my own natural color) — such a confidence builder before you go on national television. I looked at my mother – not happy but we pressed on. We were taken back stage where they put the mics on you and we meet the guests for the cooking segment. Two women who had written a book called something like “How to Cook for Your Man so He Looks Good Naked”…at this point my mother and I were both laughing and horrified. How to ruin our reputation in five minutes–but we were mic’d — we couldn’t really back out. Did I mention that both women were wearing the equivalent of tube dresses?
Maury made a kind of off color remark about how Elmo vibrates. And oh yes, the woman who washed her hair in the bathroom–she got a close up as an audience member. She was happy.
So over the years–we have eagerly waited for the new version of Elmo. The original Tickle Me Elmo did so well because it was also a very huggable doll–you could make him giggle–but he could also just be Elmo. Most later versions of him (the latest included) do more tricks and therefore have harder bodies–reducing dramatically the huggability factor. There is the wow-wee how does he do that factor–but again it’s more about watching and short lived novelty. Our favorite Elmo of recent years–Elmo Goes Potty–he was right on target about the whole potty training experiences (accidents happen). Check Up Elmo was also very polite and engaging.
The current Elmo Live talks alot, tells stories, jokes—can put his arm up in the air (that’s pretty cute). Our two year old testers were a bit overwhelmed by him and moved on pretty quickly.