Learning Express Toys

  • LIVE BLOG: Toy Fair 2013 American Girl Saige

    Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers! 

    To kick off Toy Fair 2013, Learning Express owners from around the country have gathered at the LearningLearning Express Owners gathered at tables for American Girl BreakfastExpress hospitality suite in the Javitts center in New York City.

    We can’t wait to get out on the floor, but right now we’re enjoying a really yummy breakfast sponsored by American Girl. Our favorite part of the annual American Girl breakfast at Toy Fair is learning more about the brand new American Girl.  We were excited to learn that the 2013 American Girl is Saige Copeland.

    Here's what American Girl had to say about their newest girl: "Saige loves the arts and her horses. But when both of her passions are threatened, she turns to her creative side. With imaginative solutions, she proves that one girl can make a difference."

    American Girl is also holding a Soar with Saige Sweepstakes and will give ten lucky girls a Saige doll as well as her hot air balloon. To enter, children just need to download the hot air balloon template and entry form, then use their creativity—and any combination of colored markers and pencils—to create a unique design.

    American Girl Saige: Little girl in pink dress with hot air balloons in background. Text reads: Who she is: A spirited girl whose passions inspire action. Where she lives: Albuquerque, New Mexico, the hot air balloon capital of the world. Favorite activities: Being at her grandma Mimi's ranch, painting in the studio or riding Picasso the horse. Best friends: Texas, a musician, and the new girl, Gabi, who knows how to train animals. Fun Fact: She can draw horses that really look like horses. What changes her life: Entering the fourth grade school year with no arts classes. What she discovers: You can use you imagination to create artwork and inspire action. How can you use your talents to inspire others?

    We hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about Saige. We’ll have more updates for you once we’re out on the floor!

    Kathryn

  • BLOG: Happy Birthday, Amelia Bedelia!

    Greetings, Learning Expresssions Readers!

    “I guess I love mischief as much as Amelia Bedelia. I simply enjoy laughing at life.” – Peggy Parish

    Happy (belated) Amelia Bedelia Day!!! For those of you that who don’t know, Tuesday was the 50th Amelia Bedelia book cover  birthday of the loveable, literal-minded housekeeper. Back in 1963, Peggy Parish’s delightful tale first made its way onto bookstore shelves and into the hearts of children everywhere. 50 years later, the book has been enjoyed by generations of young readers and sold over 35 million copies in the US alone. But how did Amelia come to be? And how has she grown and changed over her 50 years in print? That’s what we set out to find out for you today!

    Author Peggy Parish was a South Carolina native, though she later moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, and eventually New York City to pursue teaching. While teaching the third grade, Parish was struck by the funny mix ups her young students often had with their vocabulary. The English language is a famously difficult one to master (why do noses run and feet smell?) and Parish would often chuckle over her students’ struggles to master its strange, elusive inconsistencies. Sharing these chuckle-inducing anecdotes with her editor, Parish was inspired to create a character equally puzzled by the vagaries of English. And so the character of Amelia Bedelia was born! Parish partnered with editor Susan Hirschman and illustrator Fritz Seibel to bring Amelia and her antics to life.

    This week on the blog we are giving away the newly released commemorative 50th anniversary copy of  Amelia Bedelia—to win a copy just post a comment at the end of this post! We love this beautiful edition because it features the original jacket and artwork from the 1963 release. It also includes pages at the back with archival photographs, sketches, and anecdotes about the book. We’ve included the picture of the original draft of Amelia Bedelia below, featuring editor notes and the taped in manuscript. Pretty cool, right?

    Original draft of Amelia Bedelia featuring editor notes and the taped-in manuscript.

    50 Years of Amelia Bedelia Timeline showing differences in illustration from 1963-2013Peggy Parish wrote a total of 12 Amelia Bedelia books during her lifetime. After she passed away in1988, children wrote to Parish’s nieces and nephew to find out if Amelia Bedelia would be having other adventures. Nephew Herman Parish decided to give it a go—but change things up a bit. “I gave myself a year, since I wanted to study my aunt’s books and how they worked, but I didn’t want to copy them,” he told Publishers Weekly. “She used the brilliant device of having Amelia being given a list of things to do, but then being left alone to interpret it literally and run amuck. I decided I wanted to have her have face-to-face misunderstandings instead.” Mr. Parish has been writing Amelia Bedelia tales and carrying on his Aunt’s legacy for the last 15 years. And he doesn’t think he’ll be running out of Amelia Bedeliaisms anytime soon, commenting, “Life supplies so many literalisms and idioms, and I’m always hearing things that I want to find a way for Amelia Bedelia to use.” Amelia Bedelia books also come in an I Can Read format, and the collection now includes stories about the young Amelia Bedelia. Check out the graphic to see Amelia change over the years!

    In honor of Amelia Bedelia (in all of her iterations) we want to share some of our very favorite Amelia Bedeliaisms with you!

    • During her first day of work, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers leave Amelia Bedelia at their house with a list of chores. Amelia’s first task is to change the towels. Being the obedient worker she is, Amelia gets a pair of scissors and cuts the towels until they’ve been sufficiently changed.
    • Amelia’s list of chores also includes preparing dinner. Her dinner preparations involve trimming the fat on some steak and dressing the chicken. Amelia Bedelia trims the fat with lace and bits of ribbon and dresses the chicken in an adorable pair of overalls.
    • In Calling Doctor, Amelia Bedelia, our absent-minded protagonist is in charge of answering the phones. While this task would be easy for anybody else, Amelia Bedelia has some difficulties. When one patient calls the doctor’s office to say she’s “caught a bug,” Amelia kindly suggests that she let it go.
    • In Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia our heroine is tasked with teaching a class of children for the day. On the agenda? Calling the roll. Amelia finds a roll of bread and calls for it to come to her, much to the amusement of her students.
    • In Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia, the Rogers family is preparing for a Christmas celebration. Amelia Bedelia decides to help her employers welcome their houseguests with carols. When Aunt Myra stops by for a visit, she is surprised to find Amelia Bedelia at the door with three children. Amelia explains that the three children are Carol Lee, Carol Green, and Carol Lake.
    • Amelia Bedelia is a surprisingly clever business professional. In Amelia Bedelia Means Business, young Amelia struggles desperately to afford a new bicycle. As Amelia describes the bike to her parents, her mother estimates that a bike so special must cost an arm and a leg. Amelia Bedelia responds, “I’d never pay that much. You need both your arms to steer a bike like that and both legs to pedal it.”

    And, finally, who can’t help but love the ameliorating power of Amelia’s famous lemon-meringue pie? Parish closes her first Amelia Bedelia book with, “Mrs. Rogers learned to say undust the furniture, unlight the lights, close the drapes, and things like that. Mr. Rogers didn’t care if Amelia Bedelia trimmed all of his steaks with lace. All he cared about was having her there to make lemon-meringue pie.” That must have been one delicious pie!

    We hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about the history of Amelia Bedelia. Don’t forget to leave us a comment so you can enter to win your very own 50th anniversary edition of Amelia Bedelia!

    Thanks for reading, talk to you again soon!

    Kathryn

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  • Exploring Kidventions on Kid Inventors Day

    Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!

    It’s January 17—and do you know what that means? It’s Kid Inventors Day! That’s right, today’s the day we celebrate the amazing imagination and innovation of children. You may not be aware, but some of the items you use and enjoy every day were actually invented by kids. Today we want to share with you a few of our classic favorites. Enjoy!

    Earmuffs: Maine can be a chilly place, and that was certainly true in 1873 when 15 year old Chester United Stated Patent Office: Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine. Improvement in ear-mufflers. Ear Muffs illustration and signaturesGreenwood invented the earmuffs. While ice skating on a local pond, Greenwood’s ears became cold—and his scarf just wasn’t doing the trick. So Chester went home and constructed two ear shaped wire loops, and asked his grandmother to sew some fur into them for him. It worked like a charm. Four years later, a steel band was added to the design and Greenwood's Champion Ear Protectors were patented. Greenwood also set up Greenwood's Ear Protector Factory and made a great deal of money selling earmuffs to soldiers in World War I. To this day, Farmington Maine is the earmuff capital of the world. If you head there on the first Saturday of December, you’ll also be able to catch the Chester Greenwood parade. Even the school buses and police cruisers will be wearing earmuffs!

    Braille: French born Louis Braille was only three years old when he was blinded in an accident in his father’s leather workshop, while trying to use a leather piercing instrument called an awl. Young Braille was bright and smart, and at age Louis Braille portraitten he was sent to the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris. The children were taught using the Huay system, which consisted of tracing the outlines of Latin letters with one’s fingers. Needless to say, Braille found the system cumbersome and limiting. In 1821, Braille first heard of “night writing”—developed by Captain Charles Barbier so that soldiers on the battlefield could share messages in the dark without speaking. The writing consisted of dots and dashes that were indented onto thick paper. The system was too difficult for the kind of usage Braille wanted to put it to, so for the next three years Louis Braille developed his own system. In a strange twist of fate, he used an awl (the tool that originally blinded him) to create the raised dots for his system. By the time he was fifteen, it was largely completed. The system was published five years later, in 1829, and later modified in 1837. A universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932 and is still in use today.

    The Popsicle: In 1905 11 year old Frank Epperson invented the Popsicle. On a cold San Francisco evening he accidentally left a glass of homemade soda outside on his porch with a stirring stick in it. The next morning the drink had frozen, and he pulled it out by the stirring stick and found he had a delicious frozen treat! Fast forward 17 years and Epperson began to sell his frozen confections at an amusement park in California. By 1924 he realized just how popular his invention was becoming, and applied for a patent for The Epsicle Ice Pop. He went on to sell his patent and royalty rights after the stock market crash in 1929.

    The Trampoline: This kid favorite was invented in 1930 by 16 year old gymnast George Nissen. While George Nissen on Trampolinewatching trapeze artists at the circus (and seeing how they bounced off the netting at the end of their routines) Nissen was convinced that something similar should be created for gymnasts. When he finished high school George worked tirelessly in his parents’ garage to create what he called a “bouncing apparatus.” He salvaged steel materials from junk yards to create a frame and then stretched canvas across it.

    After finishing up at the University of Iowa, Nissen began travelling the country with two friends and his bouncing apparatus. Their group was called The Three Leonardos and they travelled all over the country performing their act. When performing in Mexico George Nissen learned that the Spanish word for diving board was ‘el trampolin’—and so his homemade bouncing apparatus became the Trampoline. Nissen went on to create the Nissen Trampoline Corporation and married a dutch acrobat named Annie. He continued inventing throughout his life, and passed away in 2010.

    Water Skis: In 1922, 18 year old Ralph Samuelson invented water skis in Lake City, Minnesota. Though he technically wasn’t a kid any more we think his story is just too interesting not to share! An avid skier thanks to all the Minnesota snow, Samuelson was convinced that skiing could also be done on the water. He tested out his snow skis behind a boat, but they were no good. Next, he took some 8 foot x 9 inch wide pine boards and curved the end of each one before attaching leather foot straps. He then purchased 100 feet of cord and had a blacksmith make him a ring which he turned into a handle. After a few failed attempts he was skiing on water! Unsurprisingly, Samuelson’s antics became the talk of his small town. As he developed daring new tricks the crowds began to gather and he hosted weekend waterskiing exhibitions. Samuelson’s daredevil tricks included jumps, slalom skiing, and even being pulled behind a plane.

    Vintage photo of man jumping on Water SkisAfter breaking his back in 1927, Samuelson hung up his skis and wasn’t heard of for a number of decades. Not until a young journalist named Margaret Mason came to the area and found Samuelson’s old skis hung up in a local bathhouse in 1963. She wrote an open letter in her news column entitled “YOUR OLD WATER SKIS ARE GREAT, MR. SAMUELSON—MR. SAMUELSON?” in which she wrote, "Where are you now, Mr. Samuelson? I wish I knew. So do Simons and a lot of other Lake Cityites who are proud of their native son." Ralph and his wife were living on a small island outside of Lake City, and a delighted Mr. Samuelson read the article and shared his story with the young journalist. For many years Samuelson was overlooked as the father of water skiing, since Fred Waller of Huntington, N.Y. patented them in 1924.  After discovering Samuelson through Margaret Mason’s pieces on him, the American Water Ski Association acknowledged Ralph Samuelson as “the fairy godmother of water skiing" and he is now recognized as their rightful inventor.

    Pretty impressive what kids can come up with, right? If you want to learn more about what kidventors are up to these days, you can also check out our kids in the toy business feature from from one of our prior blogs.

    Thanks for reading, talk to you again soon!

    Kathryn

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  • Welcome to Learning Express Toys of Shreveport, LA and Wayne, NJ

    Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!

    We’ve spent much of the last few months sharing our very favorite toys with you. Today, however, I won’t be introducing you to a brand new toy…instead we’ll be introducing you to some brand new store owners! Back in November we had Learning Express Toys open up in both Wayne, NJ and Shreveport, LA.

    Introducing the new store owners of Learning Express of Shreveport, LA

    Local residents Brandy and Robert Stroud kicked off their grand opening celebrations the weekend of Shreveport Storeowners pose in their storeNovember 2, and the festivities included hourly prize drawings, balloon animals, and special visits from Elmo and Abrakadoodle Face Painting.

    “As the parents of six children, we understand how important it is to provide the young people in our community with the very best toys, books, and games on the market. And beyond that, we want Learning Express Toys of Shreveport to be that special place where kids can go and just be kids,” Brandy told us. “We want it to be interactive and memorable—we want kids to walk through the door and feel like our store is a place made just for them.  Growing up, I can remember walking into a toy store and having it feel so magical. That’s what we aim to create at Learning Express.”

    The holiday season was a busy one for Brandy and Robert, and even included a special visit from the Elf on the Shelf! January is shaping up to be no less exciting: Shreveport is hosting weekly story times, Rainbow Loom classes, and offering a special 20% discount on all puzzles to celebrate National Puzzle Day on January 29. Shreveport also has an active Facebook presence, so be sure to connect with them there if you want to find out more!

    Introducing the new store owners of Learning Express of Wayne, NJ

    Wayne Storeowners and son pose with wrapped giftsOn November 30, Learning Express re-opened its doors under new ownership in Wayne, NJ. Longtime customers of the Wayne store, Hana and Peter Farewege were disappointed to hear their favorite toy store was closing. “We were so sorry when the former owner retired but it turned out to be an ‘aha’ moment for us,” said Hana.

    The Fareweges are no strangers to the world of retail.  Peter’s family owned and operated a retail furniture center for 75 years, and Hana has over 25 years of experience in the business. “When I was a child, my father owned a toy store,” Hanna told us. “Owning a Learning Express allows us to replicate the charm and customer-centric focus of the neighborhood toy stores of yesteryear. Our goal is to delight children with educational and stimulating toys, while providing a convenient, hassle-free shopping experience for customers.”

    Grand opening weekend at Wayne was a big success, and included raffles, free glitter tattoos, and aWayne Ribbon Ceremony in front of storevisit from Spiderman and a Princess. Mayor Vergano was in attendance and officially opened the doors (and cut the ribbon!) at the ribbon cutting.  Residents of Wayne were clearly pleased to have Learning Express back in the community, with one Facebook fan commenting, “So glad to have Learning Express Back in Wayne!!! Thanks for coming back just in time for the holidays!!”

    The holidays were hectic at the store, and both the Grinch and the Elf on the Shelf managed to stop by. Be sure to connect with them on Facebook if you want to learn more about Learning Express of Wayne!

    We hope you’ll join us in welcoming the Strouds and the Fareweges to the Learning Express family. We are so delighted to have them on board.

    Talk to you again soon!

    Kathryn

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  • Learning Express Exclusives: Interview with Our Product Developer

    Greetings, Learning Expressions Readers!

    I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your family and friends. It seems hard to believe that it’s 2013 already—and a whole 361 days until next Christmas! Though it might surprise you to hear this, it’s not all that long after the holidays that we start thinking about what hot new toys will find their way into our catalogs (and onto kid’s wish lists!) next year.

    In February, Learning Express owners from around the country will gather in New York City to attend Toy Fair. At Toy Fair, vendors from around the world debut and demo the latest and greatest toys and games—and our store owners and Home Office buyers scout the 350,000 square feet for products they think kids will love. If you got a chance to check out our list of Hot Holiday Toys from 2012, you will have noticed it included some of our favorite Toy Fair finds (like the Boogie Board) as well as some “Exclusive” Learning Express products. You probably already know you can find these products only at our stores, but I’m guessing what you don’t know yet is how they come into being. So today I thought I’d share that with you!

    Well, it all starts with Sandie Paradiso who is a Home Office buyer as well as our chief developer-o- Sandie Paradiso headshot exclusives. Sandie has worked at Learning Express for 18 years now (including several years working in one of our stores). This week, I took some time to sit down with Sandie and find out more about how she goes about developing some of our exclusive products.

    Kathryn: Thanks for chatting with me today, Sandie!

    Sandie: Not a problem!

    Kathryn: So tell us. How exactly does a Learning Express exclusive get developed?

    Sandie: Well, we partner with vendors such as The Orb Factory, Creativity For Kids, and Alex for many of our exclusive products. To get things rolling, I usually approach them with a story board of ideas I’ve come up with and we decide together which ones we should collaborate on. They definitely take a leap of faith on these ideas, so I really commend them for working with us and being willing to try out our different ideas.

    Kathryn: Well we’re certainly glad they do! What was the first exclusive you ever developed for Learning Express?

    Exclusive Groovy Girl Lexa dollSandie: One of the first products I developed was a Groovy Girl named Lexa. We came up with the idea that Lexa watched over children while they slept, so she came ready for bed in her pajamas and slippers. Lexa also had a little pillow that worked as a pouch. If kids had any worries or wishes, the idea was that they would write them down and tuck them inside the pillow—and Lexa would take care of them while they slept. This was something I did with my daughter Hayley while she was growing up so I liked the idea of incorporating that into Lexa’s story.

    Kathryn: Do you find that your exclusive products often stem from your experiences as a parent, or even as a kid?

    Sandie: Absolutely. I really draw inspiration from my kids and my own childhood when I develop these products. When I was a kid I always folded gum wrappers into chains and created jewelry and accessories with them to make a unique, fun fashion statement; years later I found myself developing a Candy Wrapper Jewelry Kit for Learning Express. A few years ago I also got an idea for one of my favorite kits from my son, Nick. In middle school he and his friends played a game that involved soda tabs and the initial of your future girlfriend, which for him was the letter “K”—and today his fiancé’s name is Kelly! He always kept that soda tab, and when they started dating he created a bracelet incorporating that soda tab in it…hence my inspiration for the Soda Tab Jewelry Kit.

    Kathryn: That’s adorable. So do all your ideas for these kits come from your life experiences?

    Sandie: Sometimes, but not always. I spend a lot of time looking at various trends, as well as experimenting with different materials. While doing some home improvement I was playing with electrical wire and came up with the idea for Get Wired. I try and think outside of the box and use materials that you don’t usually find in an arts and crafts kit, like the Tyvek you’ll find in our Wonder Wallet Art Kits this year.

    Kathryn: And do you have a favorite Exclusive?

    Sandie:  I love them all, but if I had to pick a couple of favorites it’s got to be the Get Wired Jewelry Kit and the All Duct Out Kit.

    (See below for the original story board for Get Wired!)

    Exclusive Get Wired Kit graphics showing mechanism, jewelry made with kit, contents and packaging. Text reads "225 Herring Cove Road Halifax NS Canada B3P 1L3 66925 Imaginista Get Wired! Retail Cost $19.99 Play Concept: Use colorful telephone wire and the Wire Styler and Get Wired! Create your own unique earrings, pendants, necklaces, bracelets, and rings. Telephone wire is easy to use and can be reused if you make a mistake. Included in kit: 35 yards of telephone wire, 1 wire styler, 2 coiling rods

    Kathryn: Excellent. And what’s your favorite part of developing exclusives?

    Sandie: It’s definitely getting to see the finished product. I get so nervous when they hit the shelves in our stores—it almost feels like sending your kids off to school for the first time! I enjoy the process from start to finish, but hearing that kids (or even our bloggers!) loved creating one of the exclusives I’ve developed is one of the best feelings in the world.

    Kathryn: So can you tell us what exclusives you’re working on for this year?

    Sandie: No, Kathryn! But what I can tell you is that this year we will have exclusive products released in our May catalog. In years past, we’ve only been able to release exclusive products in our fourth quarter catalogs, so this is an exciting opportunity to get new toys into the hands of our customers earlier in the year.  And I can give you a little hint. This spring you’re guaranteed to get soaked, reach new heights, find your sporty style, and flip (flop) out for our latest kits.

    Kathryn: Well I’m definitely intrigued! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Sandie.

    Sandie: You bet!

    So there you have it readers! Next time you see an “Only Available at Learning Express” sign in our stores you’ll know how (and by whom!) those products were developed. And as soon as we have our new exclusives in May, we’ll be sure to review them for you on here.

    Happy New Year!

    Kathryn

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