The trees and icycle lights and glittery ornaments and candy cane street lamp decor come out earlier and earlier with each passing year. With turkey carving and Black Friday only hours away, I figured I would add to the holiday commotion by taking you behind the scenes of Babytalk's 2009 Toys of the Year.
Remember Big, that documentary about the kid from Long Island who gets turned into Tom Hanks by a Zoltar machine? And then gets a job at McMillan Toys? Give that guy a Macbook Pro and a deadline and that's what it was like to work on this story. We invited all the manufacturers we could think of - big and small - to submit their best toys of calendar year 2009. More than 100 items were entered into competition. The initial vetting was up to me. There were co-workers who walked by the Babytalk storage room only to see me pushing a wooden tractor along the floor, making the b-r-r-r-r-um noise with my lips. I played with a multi-lingual car, squished organic dolls, and listened to ring tones on a stuffed phone. It was a blast. The only down side was I couldn't come home and complain to my wife about a hard day at the office. "Man oh man, those magic blocks just wouldn't stay together."
Then came the tiny toy testers. We rounded up a bunch of two-, three-, and four-year-olds and set them loose with these toys in our secret laboratory (aka an available space near our office). As the date neared, I knew I had to gain some credibility as a researcher in a short amount of time, otherwise our toy testers wouldn't listen to me. So instead of getting a Ph.D., I bought a lab coat from a costume shop. When playtime was over, the place looked like a hurricane had passed over Carrot Top's house. The floor was strewn with plastic cupcakes, miniature barbells, a lion made in Peru and a dragon speaking French. In the end, 21 toys were chosen as winners. For their time and effort, our testers were given goldfish and juice boxes.
Make no mistake, we took this story very seriously: we were keen on selecting toys that promoted hand-eye coordination, motor skills, musicality, multi-sensory interaction, and most importantly imagination. I learned something very valuable as well: I want to do this again next year. Oooh can I can I?