Oh man. It seems most of my kid’s toys have evolved defense mechanisms to inflict maximum pain when stepped on. They employ the injurious principle of either a) the banana peel, or b) Punji spikes.
Then there’re the toys that subsist on batteries. They squawk so relentlessly that I may as well be married to Gilbert Gottfried. My son has a toy train that I swear to God does not have an off switch. Like a naval mine it has buttons on all sides so that any incidental contact triggers a cacophony of train whistles and chug-a-chuggas.
Accordingly, I regard all toys with wary disdain. Some end up charming my pants off. But I have never felt brand loyalty or affection for a company’s entire line. Until now. B. toys has been around only two years. But they are well on their way to establishing themselves as this generation’s Fisher-Price.
B. toys first showed up on my radar with their doctor kit. After a few meltdowns at the pediatrician’s, we thought Fox’s disposition might improve with some toy doctor’s instruments. I happen to love the Fisher-Price Medical Kit, but it’s not recommended for kids younger than three. B. toys makes one for 18 months, and it was
just what the doctor ordered and it was a shot in the arm and it was really, really great. After a few pretend check-ups, Fox stopped freaking out at the sight of his actual pediatrician’s otoscope.
Some months later when our son’s bath toys were feeling stale, we procured the Fish & Splish. On the outside it’s a big-ass tug boat. Below deck is an impressive assortment of nautical knickknacks. Floating in the bath they’re pleasingly evocative of the jumbled flotsam from the trash compactor scene in Star Wars.
The fishing rod is Fox’s current fixation. To snag a fish he must combine motor skills with practice, patience, and delayed gratification. Not a bad trick for a toy.
More recently we got the Woofer, which is a hybrid guitar-synthesizer. We sort of jumped the gun with this, since it’s for ages 2-6. (Fox is 20 months.) He just presses buttons in an entirely random fashion. But the guitar responds with quirky noises and fun songs. As he grows, he’ll no doubt appreciate that you can actually strum the guitar strings and orchestrate riffs.
The buttons are placed so as to invite discovery. Will it foster a musical curiosity to play guitar? Don’t know/don’t care. My son can’t even hold it correctly, preferring instead to lay it on the floor like he’s about to douse it with lighter fluid and burn it as tribute to Jimi. But the Woofer is packed with good tunes, tight instrumentation, and the right amount of whimsy.
All of B. toys’ products are free of phthalates and lead. I have no idea what phthalates are, and in fact I’m not 100% sure how to pronounce phthalates. But I’m pretty confident they’re bad news. All I know is that their toys are well conceived, well received, and encourage constructive play.
B. toys is out of Montreal. As French Canadian exports go, they are up there with Cirque du Soleil and maple syrup. If Quebec can produce just one more thing that’s awesome, we may forgive them for giving us Celine Dion. Maybe.
Dr. Doctor Pros: Comes in a big-ass tackle box that could store a picnic. Lead-free. (In 2007 Fisher-Price had a recall for lead content in their blood-pressure cuff. It’s unclear whether they’ve disavowed lead or just keep it to legally permissible levels.) For nine bucks more, I’ll go with the company that makes 100% lead-free toys. Cons: The “playability” could be better. E.g. no working stethoscope. The syringe pieces don’t make a tight seal. And the blood-pressure pump requires superhuman strength to squeeze (but will develop a firm handshake). Granted, none of this matters to a toddler whose age is measured in months. $22, ages 18 months – 5 years
Fish and Splish Pros: The boat is seaworthy and packs an arkful of fun. Stacking cups, captain and life-preserver, fishing rod and fish all have a great feel and encourage discovering the properties of water. Con: You’ll need space (or a towel) to dry the boat. Worth it. $31, ages 6 months – 3 years
Woofer Pros: Totally funkadelic form factor. Versatile with lots of modes, buttons, and groovy sounds. Volume control and overall high quality make this toy perfectly tolerable as background noise. Cons: None so far. $23, ages 2 – 6 years