This year, twelve toys were finalists for induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, NY. Five thousand suggestions had been submitted. The three winners were announced in early November.

Since I run the nation’s original storybook theme park, operate a gift store focusing on kids’ toys, and am a mother, I feel empowered to give my unsolicited opinion on the final choices that were made by the National Museum of Play. Children’s Fairyland carries only two of the finalists in our store (rubber ducks is one), and one has been part of our park—every day we’ve been open– since 1951.

The finalists included chess, Clue, Fisher-Price Little People, the Magic 8 Ball, My Little Pony, Nerf toys, Pac-Man, scooter, the rubber duck and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The winners: Rubik’s Cube, little green army men, and a Fairyland favorite: bubbles.

No one has documented the first use of soap bubbles for pure fun. We do know that a Chicago company called Chemtoy began selling bubble solution in the 1940s, and Fairyland’s original architect, William Russell Everritt, designed our Oswald the Bubble Elf one year after the park opened in 1950. No one has any idea where the name Oswald came from, but it stuck.

On a plaque beside the bubble elf is a quote from Oscar Wilde: “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.” Bubbles definitely do the trick, we’ve discovered.

Oakland brothers Tom and Frank Winston were leaving for the military, and before they departed they wanted to leave a gift for the children of their community. They combined their savings, and worked with Everritt and the Park Department to give Fairyland its first elfin creature.

Who can say how many millions of bubbles have been blown—and chased—since Oswald made his debut? I have observed countless numbers of kids spending a great deal of time joyfully running down a bubble. It’s one of my go-to places in the park when I’ve been behind the computer for too long.

Fairyland’s store specializes in toys that encourage creative play; think costumes, puppets, and bubbles. Lots of bubbles. We have bubble wands, touchable bubbles, a big bubble set, Squee-Z-Bubbles with animal faces, a magic bubble bear, mini touchable bubbles and Wonder Bubbles. One of our best-selling items of years past, a bubble sword, was discontinued by its maker some time ago.

What is it about bubbles that makes them so magical? The fact that they’re perfectly spherical, that they’re amazingly fragile and fleeting, that their swirling colors make them as distinct from each other as snowflakes? Or that beautiful bubbles can be created with inexpensive store-bought solutions or easily made at home for next to nothing?

On the other hand, Rubik’s cube is unattractive, frustrating and a total turn-off to those of us who aren’t able to easily process in three dimensions. Accidentally stepping on a little green army man in the dark is not pleasant; the Magic 8 ball is creepy (“Outlook not so good”) even though its creators tell us that it allows children to “flirt harmlessly with fortune-telling”; chess doesn’t seem like a toy at all; My Little Pony features prominently in the infamous “pink aisle” in the toy store; and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have become a whirlwind of merchandising and media that now qualify them as more of a global phenomenon than a toy.

I loved the fact that at one point, ”pots and pans” was a serious contender for one of the top spots. I would add dirt, sticks and water as well: the classics.

Now that we’re officially in the holiday season, why not shop locally for some of the toys that the experts at Children’s Fairyland have put in our hall of fame? Come on down for puppets, hula hoops, magic wands, sidewalk chalk, kits featuring magic, science and art, juggling balls, jump ropes, Silly Putty, tiny trucks and balls. You don’t even need to bring a kid for entry to the store. Oh, yes, and we also stock some extra strength Tylenol. Is the holiday season upon us? As the Magic 8 Ball might say: “Signs point to yes.”


Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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One Response

  1. Tom Noddy

    Yeah, imagine that … a company named Chemtoy. It might not go over well in the marketplace today but they made some really good bubble juice and they sold it cheap.

    They were eventually bought up by a toy giant called Strombecker Corp. (makers of Tootsietoys cars and trucks) and they changed the Chemtoy name of Wonder Bubbles to Mr Bubbles but when Woolworths closed their doors in America Mr Bubbles and, ultimately, Strombecker Corp. never recovered. They disappeared.

    But, of course, soap bubbles as a toy predated and postdated that one company. There are Dutch paintings from the1600s that feature children blowing bubbles and after that there were many wherein small cherubs and skulls and mirrors and other symbols of the passing nature of the earth’s vanities shared the canvas with painted soap bubbles.

    In the early 1970s I created an act that has since seen me on television shows all over the world (including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show three times and once on David Letterman’s Late Night Show) and I did so with that same inexpensive store bought toy from Chemtoy (I’ve had to adapt since they went out of business). Mine was the only bubble show in those days but now I have a friend who keeps an eye on such things and he estimates that we are about to have a thousand people on the planet who are making their living by following those footsteps and doing bubble shows.

    You do a great service by continuing to make this toy available. I can do a Bubble Cube or Dodecahedron Bubble or a spinning Carousel but I assure you that there is nothing more lovely than the easily made round bubbles that float on the breeze eluding the outstretched hands of delighted children.


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