News / #toys
While I was designing the Margo toy, colorizing the “Are You Kidding?” storybook, designing the Gardenagerie logo, and even selecting the color of our tote-bag for the fair, I always was wondering, “would a little boy like this?” It’s really important to me that our products are gender neutral. I think it’s just as important that little boys have opportunities to play with toys that foster compassion and nurturing as it is for little girls. There are plenty of toys for girls that promote a princess-like passivity, just as there are plenty of toys for boys that promote aggression and even violence. We like to think of Gardenagerie toys as an alternative to both.
Sometimes when people first see our Margo toy, they’re reminded of “Puppy Surprise.” Originally marketed in the early 90s, this was a plush toy that came with babies inside. The “surprise” element was that each toy came with an unknown number of puppies inside. But another element some people found surprising was the way the puppies were born. There was a pouch inside the plush toy holding the puppies, and this was accessed through a velcroed opening in the belly.
The toys were very popular and have recently become trendy again. There are now a whole line of “surprise” pregnant animals such as puppies, kitties, ponies. But unlike at least some of the original 90s puppies, most of these new plush toys are aggressively feminized. Where the original toys were often brown or tan, like real dogs, most of the new surprise toys are pink, purple, or rainbow-colored, with lots of ribbons, stars, and hearts. There’s even a pink, glittery, unicorn Pony Surprise plush called Starburst, with pink, lilac, and purple babies.
While I’m sure these plush toys bring joy to many of the little girls who receive them, I wonder how many young boys miss the opportunity to play with a toy that gives birth because the toys are just too…glamorous? I also wonder whether these toys misguide children a bit about birth?
Because, in addition to the glitter and rainbows, there’s that velcro caesarian section that the children use to get the babies out of the momma. Is it really necessary to hide from kids how babies actually enter the world? We live on a farm and our kids have all been present for the births of baby animals. They’ve watched kittens, lambs and kids born without being disturbed or traumatized.
I’ve got nothing against caesarians - I’ve had two myself. But on the farm (or even at the Miracle of Birth Center at the State Fair), baby animals come out the end. It’s nature. Although caesarian “surprise” toys might have taught my children how they had actually entered the world, I wanted to keep it closer to what we’ve experienced on the farm. As a homeschooling parent, I think it’s important to teach the facts in an age appropriate way, whenever possible. So it was important that the plush Margo not have a cesarean.
A gardenagerie is a combination of a garden and a menagerie. Even before our family moved from New England back to the upper Midwest several years ago, we were already planning to fill our little hobby farm with dogs, cats, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and a big vegetable garden. Now, Gardenagerie is also the name of our family toy company, bringing a little bit of the small farm experience to kids everywhere.
The idea for the storybook Are You Kidding and the stuffed goat Margo and her kids came from Margo’s first kidding, a couple of years ago. We’ll tell you more about that story in this blog; and also the story of how the idea became a real thing. It became even more real when a truck delivered thirty boxes of toys and books from our contract manufacturer a couple of days ago. Stay tuned for more on that story, too.
In a few days, we’ll be introducing Margo and Are You Kidding online and at the Beltrami County Fair in northern Minnesota. Usually the fair is a chance for us to enter food, crafts, and photos into little competitions. Last year we did pretty well, although our scarecrow came in second. This year, we’re looking forward to introducing Margo – and hoping our scarecrow wins!