Over the years, Barbie has had countless competitors, including Jem and the Holograms, the Disney Princesses, and even Spectra, the chic pink-haired gal from outer space with metallic limbs and eye makeup rivaling the likes of David Bowie. Among the many contenders, none have challenged Barbie quite like the Heart Family, who—ironically—appeared to be the complete opposite of all that Barbie represented.
A few weeks ago, while gathering some toys from The Strong’s collection for a media event, I came across a little infant doll I had never seen before. She sat alone on a shelf in storage, and I would have missed her completely if I hadn’t been looking specifically for dolls depicting African Americans.
Though Bond girls and seductive villainesses have been the most memorable women of the spy genre since Dr. No premiered to American audiences in 1963, not all ladies have found themselves relegated to supporting roles. Surely female characters engaged in espionage have James Bond to thank for sparking the 1960s spy trend and the fantastic toys it generated.
The Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play is a treasure trove of materials devoted to the intellectual, social, and cultural history of play. The library’s collection of more than 140,000 resources—books, periodicals, comic books, audio-visual materials—include more than 18,000 trade catalogs, the majority of which are focused on the toy, game, and recreation industries.
I was born and raised in a small rural town in Western New York. I lived near my mother’s childhood home where I enjoyed many happy hours in the company of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Our families would often gather to play cards, bake, do laundry, or celebrate special occasions. I loved to sit quietly and listen to the grown-ups tell stories of times both present and past. The stories I recall don’t feature faraway places or extraordinary events. They are of ordinary people, of mischief and mishap, often humorous and sometimes sad.
Cinderella has a long history of influencing popular culture and playthings. You might even say that she’s left a big footprint. The popular princess and her glass slipper came to my attention recently as I read an article about the upcoming Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Cinderella. The article focused on the creation of glass slippers—actually polyvinyl-chloride pumps bedecked with 10,000 Swarovski crystals—for the show.
The presents have been unwrapped, the new year celebrated, and the holiday treats devoured. Now what? For many folks, the post-holiday season appears bleak, with only frigid weather and sunless days stretching out over the weeks ahead. But for some, the fun has only begun. If you’re an avid skier, snowboarder, or snowmobiler, you’ve just started enjoying the season and delighting in fresh white blankets of snow. Perhaps you’ve even pulled out your snowshoes or the old Sno Bronco.
In the big picture of play, all toys have a purpose: they teach physical and mental skills, develop young imaginations, and encourage kids to think in new ways. However one category of toys has puzzled me for years: housekeeping toys. The term seems like an oxymoron. I love a well-cooked meal, nicely laundered and pressed clothes, and a thoroughly cleaned house as much as the next neatnik, but housekeeping as play?