Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Parents' Choice Awards : Books : Non-Fiction
The Playmakers: Amazing Origins of Timeless Toys

The Playmakers: Amazing Origins of Timeless Toys

Fall 2004 Non-Fiction
Ages: 15 & Up
By: Tim Walsh
Publisher: Keys Publishing
ISBN: 0964697343
Hardcover Price: $50.00
Open this book to any page, and you'll be drawn into the world of Magic 8 Ball, Lincoln Logs, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Etch A Sketch, Ant Farm, Wiffle Ball -- and all the memories of childhood play that those names evoke. But author Tim Walsh has an even greater gift for you: the behind-the-scenes stories of 58 timeless toys of the Twentieth Century, from the Flexible Flyer sled in 1900 to Beanie Babies in 1993.

In order to be included, a toy had to have been on the market for at least ten years and to have sold at least ten million copies. It also had to be invented by an identifiable person unaffiliated with a major toy company. (Would-be game and toy inventors can take heart from the fact that so many popular toys were created by industry outsiders.)

Rarely is a single person completely responsible for any toy, as you will learn. Monopoly, generally attributed to Charles Darrow, was descended from an earlier game named "The Landlord's Game," which had been created as a practical example of the immorality of rent gouging. After several other people had produced variations of the game over a period of thirty years, Darrow's contribution was to create the look that now represents the game of Monopoly.

Surprising bits of trivia emerge. The average child uses 730 Crayola crayons by the age of ten. The Radio Flyer name was inspired by the relatively new (in 1927) invention of radio and by Lindbergh's non-stop transatlantic flight.

The book is lavishly illustrated; every page has at least one picture, some as many as five. Pictures include both the original and current packaging, and occasionally several versions in between; advertisements; and portraits of people closely identified with the toys. Endpapers show Patent Office application drawings, including the Clue game floor plan, Spirograph, Slinky, Twister, and the inner workings of Etch A Sketch, Super Soaker, G.I. Joe, and the Pez dispenser.

Walsh has done a prodigious research job. The bibliography includes 79 books; 74 magazines, newspapers, and Internet citations; plus several miscellaneous media. He lists 150 interviews with 88 people, and identifies them as telephone, e-mail, or personal interviews. Every chapter starts with a timeline of toy-related events during a particular era.

Despite the academic-thesis quality of the research, Walsh's writing style is as inviting as a novel. Chapters on a child's favorite toys would make good bedtime stories.

Previews and excerpts can be viewed at

Ruth B. Roufberg   ©2004 Parents' Choice

Look for this product at:
Keys Publishing

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