Smart toys for girls that defy the pink aisle. In other words, no princesses, ballerinas or “fashionistas,” whatever career that is.

attatoy-mix-and-match-blocks

This week at Toy Fair, I must say a progressive mama like me had a much harder time than expected scoping out smart toys for girls that defy the pink aisle. In other words, the girl dolls and figures were wearing something beyond princess garb or sparkly pink lace tulle. To be clear, I have no problem at all with ballerinas or fashion design kits or or traditional little baby dolls swathed in pink gingham–we feature plenty of them here But I have always wanted my daughters (and all the boys out there too!) to have choices. And if there are no manufacturers making toys with broader depictions of girls and what they can achieve, let alone retailers willing to carry the toys in the first place, then we’re in a lot of trouble.

To say nothing of the boys browsing the toy aisles too, as gender stereotypes are reinforced with the inordinate number of fighting toys for them. But that’s another post for another day.

So here, I want to salute some of the companies I saw making great toys that incorporate girls the way they really are today: diverse, ambitious, complex, and wonderful, with aspirations ranging from Astronaut Firefighter Veterinarian Fashion Designer to….sure, ballerina.

 

Attatoy Mixmates Blocks | Cool Mom Picks

ATTATOY MIXMATES
They started as a set of printables called Olliblocks, from designer Alma Loveland, and then a successful Kickstarter campaign lead to the creation of these exquisitely crafted mix and match wooden blocks that feature kids of all kinds, doing all the kinds of things that kids should be imagining they can do.

While the fun of the blocks is mixing the faces with the bodies–animals too–the completed girls in the Mixmate Careers blocks include an astronaut, park ranger, pilot, chef, animal rescuer, and college grad. These are going to be huge, and were one of my top 5 toy picks of the entire Toy Fair. In fact, I want some for myself.

Liz Gumbinner of Cool Mom Picks with Alma Loveland of Attatoy

Editor Liz Gumbinner with Attatoys’ Alma Loveland. Yay for great entrepreneurs!

 

LEGO City female police officer | Cool Mom Picks

LEGO SETS
While LEGO has taken some slack for their introduction of LEGO Friends (see our very comprehensive analysis on it here), I stand firmly in the camp that LEGO has tons of building toys for boys and girls, whatever their building style–from the more creative play of Friends, to the licensed building sets from movie franchises, the uber popular City Series (happy to see a lone female cop in there even if there could be more), and of course, the general bricks that let kids build anything at all. And I’m pleased to see that the new Friends sets will have more focus on girls’ adventure, with a cool helicopter for Diego-style animal rescue missions.

I do concede there still could be more female Minifigs in the general sets, besides a token Princess Leia or Hermione Granger or most recently, Wyldstyle. But overall I am noticing more women and girls in their non-Friends sets and I hope they keep going in that direction.

I’ll just say my daughter scored the female scientist Minifig at Christmas, she danced like she had just found Willie Wonka’s Golden Ticket. And now, the scientist exists in an imaginary land (in our living room) side-by-side with Shelob the spider from Lord of the Rings, and Mia’s Magic Tricks. Go make a story about that. She sure does.

 

Build & Imagine Storywalls | Cool Mom Picks

BUILD AND IMAGINE STORY WALLS
Construction and building sets for girls are not limited to LEGOs, and we’re seeing lots more coming out soon which we’ll be featuring here. While these affordable, collapsible Build & Imagine dollhouse sets (another new trend, by the way) aren’t available for another few weeks, I know my kids will love them. It’s great seeing the way the wooden girls are portrayed in sets like my favorite, the Marine Rescue Center, complete with magnetic accessories like microscopes and veterinary tools. Kudos to founder Laurie Peterson whose vision also started as a Kickstarter campaign. Now? My girls are begging, “can we get that?”

 

B Toys firetruck with female firefighter | Cool Mom Picks

B TOYS
It was so refreshing to find the our old friends at B Toys include in their growing collection the Rrrrolll Models Fire Flyer, featuring both a little boy and little girl as firefighters. It’s a fun product for toddlers and preschoolers anyway, but extra nice that girls can see themselves reflected back as they play. And hey! She’s not even blond! Imagine.

 

Lottie Doll Robot Girl | Cool Mom Picks

LOTTIE DOLLS
We loved these European dolls as soon as we discovered them last year; they depict a nine-year-old girl looking pretty much like a nine-year-old-girl, with lots of dress-up options for creative play but more original outfits than we’re used to seeing on dolls. While the Pirate Queen Lottie isn’t quite an aspirational career, it’s still a cool move. And I love seeing Robot Girl Lottie who is “a whiz at science fair” along with martial arts expert Kawaii Karate Lotte. (Though it does make me a little sad that a science-loving doll is still such a rarity; not counting the pink and silver astronaut outfit for America’s favorite curvy blond doll).  Additional sets include lots of sports outfits for a Girls United soccer team, a wetsuit for surfing, and more.

 

A PLEA TO RETAILERS
Please. Pleeeeease. Pretty please stop separating toys  into “girl” and “boy” aisles. At least give kids a choice, by grouping toys by age or building style. Girls like science kits. Boys like dolls. Girls like knights and pirates and Star Wars. Boys like taking care of animals and building treehouses.

LEGO city sets - camper and canoe | Cool Mom Picks

In fact, put a LEGO City set next to a LEGO Friends set and you might be surprised how many girls will choose a prisoner transporter or a Camper Van complete with canoe. Though in my experience, girls can row a mean stern too.

Liz

Liz Gumbinner is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Cool Mom Picks and Cool Mom Tech. This makes her very happy.

5 Comments

  • Reply February 20, 2014

    Lorette Lavine

    Liz, thank you for this post…as a grandparent of a little girl I have noticed that very little has changed in 30 years with regard to girl/boy toys…somewhat sad that the toy industry continues to drive sales in this direction.
    I actually find that less is more when it comes to toys. Children have such an imagination and create their own ways to play princess or pirates whether they are girls or boys.
    When legos are all mixed together it is so interesting to see what children come up with as they construct from their imagination rather than try to copy the picture on the box…not to say there is anything wrong with building a princess palace or a pirate ship!

  • Reply February 20, 2014

    Laurie Peterson

    Liz thanks so much for coming by Build & Imagine and for your enthusiasm! I am glad you like the Marine Rescue Center (don’t tell the other sets / dolls, but it’s my favorite too). ;)

    We won’t be in stores until September, but if your readers would like to sign up for the newsletter on our website or follow us on facebook, we’ll be sure to tell them when it’s available.

    Thanks so much!

  • Reply February 20, 2014

    Lottie dolls

    Dear Liz,

    Thanks so much for the mention – we very much appreciate!
    Just arrived back in London from the New York Toy Fair – what a fantastic show!
    Looking forward to 2014 -

    Kind regards,
    Lucie and Ian

  • Reply February 21, 2014

    Nicole

    I think this a great article, and I will absolutely buy these type of toys for my daughter in the future. But, I have one criticism: princess, fictitious, fashionista, useless…. but ballerina? Two of the words in that list are not real things. But ballerinas are strong, athletic, and tough. They also challenge the typical way that women are expected to use their beauty to get ahead: no matter how you spin it, a ballerina has a rare talent that she has worked hard for. As a dancer and current law student working toward a career in women’s rights (currently taking a break from my paper on feminist theory to write this comment), I’d like to challenge the characterization that if a girl puts on a pink tutu she is somehow leaving her feminist self behind. There are problems that careers in dance creates for women’s body images– and this is a problem that must be addressed (and is slowly improving), but I would be immensely proud of my daughter if she decided to commit her life to ballet: a path that takes dedication, focus, strength, artistry, and the same issues of balancing work and family life that any other demanding career requires. I would suggest removing that word from the title of this piece to make a more effective point. We should continue encouraging our daughters to be artists and athletes as much as we encourage them to be engineers and firefighters.

    Thanks so much for such a thoughtful comment Nicole.

    To be clear, we have no issue with any girls’ creative role play, whether it’s princess or pirate or otherwise. We’re simply advocating for a wider breadth of choices in the toy aisle. Some of our own daughters are dedicated ballet students and we would never suggest (and haven’t) that it is counter to feminist principles to pursue dance as a career or a hobby. But your points also remind us that it would be fantastic to see more emphasis on the athleticism and relentlessly hard work that goes into dance as a profession, and less emphasis on skirts that spin.

    Best of luck with your paper. It really sounds wonderful. -Eds

  • Reply February 21, 2014

    Ann

    My sister gave my 6-year-old daughter Goldiblox, Engineering toys for girls – it was a refreshing change and she loves it!

    Eds: Thanks Ann, they are very popular (and interesting that they combine the notion of princess pageant competitions with engineering). If you like engineering kits, two more we adore are LittleBits electronic kits which our kids love, and MaKey MaKey which turns anything into a computer key. At Toy Fair, we played a “keyboard” full of bananas using their kit!

    Keep an eye on Cool Mom Tech for tons more options like these.

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