Dolls for Transgender Children

All children need to play with dolls, no matter their gender identification.

For the youngest children, dolls provide cuddle and comfort. For toddlers, dolls make great ‘security objects’ — that touch of the familiar that they can carry with them as they start to explore the world around them.

But most importantly, dolls help children to learn to nurture; they become your child’s own ‘children’ to love and to care for. It’s one of the first skills a child learns.

Make no mistake — the best mothers and fathers 20 years from now, are the ones learning how to nurture today… by way of doll play.

This is as true for little girls as it is for little boys. Neither nurture nor love is dependent on a child’s ‘gender.’

Fritzi Doll

Fritzi, a gender neutral doll for boys, girls and transgender children.

This is also true for transgender children. Sometimes, God puts the mind and the soul of one gender into the body of the other. Sometimes it is temporary, and you get the ‘tomboy’ girls and the ‘princess’ boys. Sometimes it is permanent and in adulthood they will undertake the transition. But regardless of any label, children need dolls to love and nurture.

Recently we started carrying a new kind of doll. A gender neutral doll. Neither ‘pink aisle’ nor ‘blue aisle,’ Fritzi is the perfect doll for boys, girls, tomboys, princesses, gay, lesbian, or transgender. Whichever gender role that child needs their doll to fill, Fritzi can be that doll. The child can project a gender onto the doll, or leave it ambiguous, or even change it from one to the other as he or she sees fit. The name is gender-neutral, the clothes are gender-neutral, the doll is gender-neutral. Imagination is the key determiner.

Unfortunately, dolls need to be placed in one aisle or another in the toy store. But for the parents who are willing to think outside of the ‘pink aisle is where you find dolls’ mindset, we are happy to present an alternative. A doll that any child can identify as being of the ‘right’ gender.

A Taste of Toy Fair

I’ve written a great deal in past posts about buying dolls for the store, and the process we have to go through to get them.

And I’ve written quite a few times about Toy Fair – the annual industry wide gathering held in New York City where all the toy manufacturers, and store owners (From the very largest like Toys R Us and Walmart to the ‘little guys’ like me) meet to see the new toys.

But it’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like to walk up and down the aisles of booths, looking for the perfect products to carry in our store.

So this year, I took pictures. Here’s one of my favorite booths: Madame Alexander.

Madame Alexander Booth Toy Fair 2015

The booth for the Madame Alexander Doll Company at Toy Fair 2015

Like most manufacturers, Madame Alexander shows all their current, and especially all their new dolls.

One new doll is the 18″  ‘I’m a Pretty Black Girl’, coming out later this year. Here you can see the new doll displayed next to the book she is based on.

The new Madame Alexander 18 inch doll I'm A Pretty Little Black Girl based on the book.

The new Madame Alexander 18 inch doll I’m A Pretty Little Black Girl based on the book.

Fortunately I missed the day when Betty was in the booth signing her books. (Unfortunately I was not as lucky at the GUND booth, as the one and only ‘Grumpy Cat’ was there for a day and there was a line to ‘meet and greet’ him? Her? a mile long!)

Also interesting – at least to me:  My first morning at this year’s Toy Fair, I was down on the lower level looking for the ASTRA hospitality Suite. As a member of ASTRA (American Specialty Toy Retailers Association) I can hang up my coat on the coat racks in the suite for free.

It’s not that I think the regular coat racks are too expensive at $2.00 mind you, it’s that the lines to check it in in the AM, and especially at the end of the day waiting in line to pick it back up when you’re feet already hurt like the dickens can be horrendous!

So I’m walking towards the suite and I see about 200 young men and women in a line in the middle of the hall. And as I get closer I see the sign that tells me why all these young people are lined up there. It’s to get their costumes!

Like this young lady, who was at the Aurora Booth. She was dressed as a ‘Cutie Curls’ doll. In this picture she’s holding her mnamesake Cutie Curl doll (ethnic version).

Notice the polka dot top, the tulle pink dress and of course the bows in her hair. Isn’t she cute? (The doll of course!) ☺

Aurora Model and her namesake doll

I don’t know how much these people make over the four days, but I really feel sorry for them if they have to wear a costume with bad shoes. Can you imagine standing and smiling for 9 hours a day for four days straight?

Of course without actually attending it’s impossible to ever really feel like you’ve been to toy fair, but I hope you’ve gotten a bit of a feel for it from this posting.

Music Box Dolls

I know that everybody has their favorites when it comes to dolls. The most common group of doll lovers are the doll collectors, and they are divided into hundreds of sub groups such as the antique doll collectors and the Barbie® fans. There are doll shows all over the country, each catering to their own audience… Madame Alexander doll collectors for instance, or those who love Reborn Dolls.

The number of paper doll books published each year is amazing as well, many by Dover, with paper dolls representing everything from  Wedding Dresses & Medieval Gowns to Presidential families and Hollywood actresses.

But among my favorites are musical dolls. Not that I can tell you exactly why mind you, it’s one of those “I just do” type of things.

I think part of it might be as part of owning a doll store… it is practically impossible to not fall in love with every doll that we carry. If I kept just one sample of every doll I ever fell in love with, I would not have room in my home for anything else, and I strongly suspect my wife would leave me should I ever become such a doll pack rat! Of all the musical dolls we have carried over the years. I have permitted myself to keep just one.

That special doll is much like the one below… an animated music box doll with a wind-up key on the back, a mechanism that slowly rotates the head while the music plays, beautifully costumed. They are small, maybe 5 or 6 inches tall, and the music box is the old fashioned ‘tinkly’ kind as opposed to the horrendous new ‘digital chip’ electronic music boxes that I absolutely abhor and refuse to carry in my stores.

Here… have a listen…

I assume that  among all of your dolls you too have a favorite. I hope it gives you as much pleasure as my little music box doll gives to me.

Too ‘White? Stacey and Kelie Have the Answer

There is a lot of talk in our industry about ‘where the next generation of toy makers is coming from.’ I’d like to rephrase the question: In an America where more than half of the children born are children of color, where is the diversity in toys, reflective of our children, going to come from?

I thought about this as I walked Toy Fair last month. This is not a criticism, it is an observation: Toy Fair looks pretty ‘White.’

Imagine a Black Mama with three daughters aged 3, 5 and 8. She walks  into any of the big box stores hoping to get three different Black dolls for her daughters. A soft and cuddly Black lovie for her three year old, maybe a cute 12 or 13 inch Black baby doll for her five year old – hopefully with ‘natural’ hair that she can style and play with – and for the oldest, an 18 inch African-American girl doll with a nice selection of fashions.

Yeah… right.

If you don’t know these two names, you should: Stacey McBride-Irby and Kelie Charles. What Madame Alexander and Ruth Handler were to dolls in the 20th century, these two doll makers are to the 21st century. Visionairies. Pioneers. Entrepreneurs. These two women are helping to bring American Doll making into the 21st century.

Prettie Girl Doll Lena

Prettie Girl Doll Lena by Stacey McBride-Irby

When you meet and talk to Stacey and Kelie you learn that they share the same story and the same passion. They’ve identified an itch – the lack of dolls of color, and they are doing their best to scratch it. It isn’t easy starting a new company from nothing more than an idea, but fortunately we live in a time and an America where it is possible.

Zaria Double Dutch Doll

Zaria is one of the Double Dutch Dolls by Kelie Charles

In the course of things it doesn’t really matter so much that I am proud of these women, or that I am proud to carry their dolls. I am but a humble doll merchant. But in an America that is changing from white to ‘of color,’ I want to stand and cheer. This is where the ‘next generation’ of doll makers is coming from.

Book Review: The Doll Shop Downstairs

The Doll Shop Downstairs Cover Image

 

The Doll Shop Downstairs is fiction, but it is loosely based on one of my heroines in the Doll Industry; Beatrice Alexander A.K.A. Madame Alexander.

As an adult, I liked The Doll Shop Downstairs, I also think it’s a nice read aloud story for the 5 and 6 year olds.

Beatrice Alexander and her sisters did in fact grow up above their parent’s store, and that store really did do doll repairs. That’s the truth behind the story. Most of the rest of it is fiction. I had fun when I found this book and tried to trace the connections between fact and fiction.

The Madame Alexander Doll company got its start during WWI, when, because of the embargo of German goods, her parent’s business couldn’t get doll repair parts easily. Worried about her parent’s financial hardship, Beatrice came up with some cloth doll designs, recruited her sisters and family to help her make them, and voila, the Madame Alexander Doll Company was born.

Beatrice Alexander

Beatrice Alexander with her dolls (courtesy Alexander Doll Co.

Madame Alexander made beautiful dolls, and started her own company in an age when women entrepreneurs were few and far between. And to be honest with you, it amazes me that almost a 100 years later, Madame Alexander is still in business and thriving. Very, very few companies last that long!