April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

By the Dozen at Toy Fair: Top Library Picks

The familiar faces of beloved book characters Madeline, George, and Eloise greeted visitors at the 110th Toy Fair at the Javits Convention Center in New York City this month, an industry-exclusive event showcasing toys and technology from thousands of companies around the world. I attended on behalf of School Library Journal to find some of the best new items this year for children’s librarians and educators to incorporate into their programs. Below are my top dozen picks.

Book Characters
This year marks the seventieth anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and YOTTOY are prepared.  HMH has a special 70th Anniversary Edition of the book ($24.99) that includes an audio version read by Academy Award nominee Viggo Mortensen, while YOTTOY has created a character doll just in time for the celebration later this year.

After decades of preparation, MerryMakers is introducing this spring Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter ($18) from the much-loved series. It will also have a Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site doll ($25.00).

The 90-year-old Madame Alexander Company is not just for collectible dolls. I was delighted to find a wide selection of washable character dolls, including some for the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz film. For those of you who like to plan ahead, there is also a Fancy Nancy doll ($79.00) to coincide with the April publication of Fancy Nancy: Fanciest Doll in the Universe (HarperCollins, 2013).

Apps & Technology
By the next school year, Romo will help you bring robotics into your school or library for $150. This Kickstarter-funded company’s smart phone robot that children can train was the talk of the fair. A curious robot creature, Romo comes to life when you plug an iDevice into its rover base. It fits in with STEM initiatives and will encourage the sharing of individually created programs on their website.  This will provide an exciting way for kids to interact with kids as their learn about robotics.

Want to bring interactive e-books to storytime? Eco-Bonk may be an interesting way to combine the two. Eco-Bonk is an inflatable bop bag toy ($59.95) that features lovable wildlife characters, each of which is accompanied by an e-story. The toy has interchangeable character covers ($32.95) and the e-stories, easily downloadable from iTunes ($3.99), are designed to teach life skills. In addition, the company is eco-friendly and a portion of each sale goes to a wildlife charity.

Crayola isn’t just crayons and chalk! In July it will release a digital photo app, Photo Mix Ups ($19.99).  Kids will be able to smash, morph, and mash their photos creating collages that would be applicable to digital design classes. You may want to have this in your collection and share it with your art department. Photo Mix–Ups will be available for Apple IOS and on select touch Windows tablets.

Fun Stuff

Looking for a way to attract kids to your books on presidents or literary figures? Check out Royal Bobbles for its wide range of figures, including Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and the founding fathers.

Kids of all ages have always enjoyed Highlights magazine’s Hidden Picture. Find It is joining with Highlights to incorporate the search fun in its shake-and-find cylinders. At $20, these thematic games can be left around a library for individual and group fun.
What better way to start a conversation about body organs and body parts than to have plush one on handI Heart Guts creates hearts, brains, eyes, and many other parts that sell for $20.

Smart Games offers an array of mind-challenging games for ages 2 to adult, priced from $10 to $25. The neatly packaged IQ Link, IQ Fit, and IQ Twist games will keep kid’s minds and hands busy while they wait for a free computer work station at the library.
Although the next presidential election is four years off, the games aren’t over. The Presidential Game ($35), based on the classic board game Risk, helps teach the workings of the electoral college. A roll of the dice takes on new meaning when trying to swing an election.

Exercise and board games don’t seem to go together but Flip 2 B Fit ($35) gets children moving and exercising in order to win a game. This is a good addition for days when you have indoor recess.

Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.



  1. Rocco, I enjoyed reading this. I remember always looking forward to Highlights magazine’s Hidden Picture. I think Find It offers a nice spin on this. It amazes me how far technology has come. I can’t believe they are using an iPhone to create a robot with Romo.
    Who would have thought they could make running for an election into a board game? The Presidential looks like an excellent idea for a board game.