That’s what the Wild Republic exhibitor at the 111th American International Toy Fair told me about the frog plush display — part of an imaginative booth space set up like a home, with a boy’s room, girl’s room, and kitchen, filled with Wild Republic plush animals. The frogs are popular, he explained, because amphibians have been documented as an ecosystem marker and are quick to change, indicating an imbalance in nature. Each frog plush sold comes with a Frogwatch USA brochure, educating its young owner about amphibians’ role in the ecosystem.
As I walked the Toy Fair exhibit hall this week at New York City’s Javits Center, I couldn’t help but be awed by the dazzling variety of toys, crafts, games, puzzles, dolls, books, kites, (as well as jungle of plush animals), on display in one magical booth after another — in a record-breaking 400,000-plus net square feet of space. I pushed down the tug of melancholy (how did my daughters grow up so fast?) and decided to focus instead on the kid in me. I had just stepped into the biggest and best toy store in the world.
As I squished a weird consistency of indoor sand mix between my fingers at one display — sort of like a mix between playdough and wet sand, but without any residue — my adult persona kicked in. Straighten up, I told myself, and start looking at this exhibit hall more like an industry observer. The exhibition industry is a serious business. Toys are a serious business — worldwide toy and game sales are expected to reach $95 billion by 2016. Buyers from more than 100 countries were scouting the aisles for trends and new products, and here I was getting lost in one creative play space (aka booth) after another.
In the end, after an hour or so, I decided that was okay. Every exhibit hall is meant to transport you to a world of possibilities. Too bad they can’t all be as fun as the Toy Fair.