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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Toys, Classic Text, Classy Production, December 23, 2009
This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
Previous reviews have aptly and admiringly captured the features of this glorious book that will delight and inform readers of every generation (and viewers, for the illustrations and photography are beautifully selected and rendered). The book's topic, expressed in its subtitle, is "A celebration of the greatest toys of all time." It is hard to conceive of a book better designed to make such a celebration satisfying. I read a book more often than I run my dishwasher, and this one was one of the best I've read in years.

One reason for its success is that the subtitle's implicit claim--that the book has indeed identified which toys are "the greatest"--is reasonably assured. It's published by the Strong Museum of Play, one of the nation's biggest history museums and the premier repository of toys. Under its auspices empaneled experts regularly refine criteria and referee objects for inclusion to Strong's National Toy Hall of Fame. At first glance the overjoyed reader might consider ranking superfluous and methods of selection academic, but ultimately they help insure that the toys treated in "Classic Toys" are the ones most readers will most fondly recall.

The key and related reason for the book's achievement is the author's ability to enhance our recollections by bringing to his treatments of each toy his remarkable understanding of the social, economic, cultural and material contexts within which these toys where invented, evolved, and played with. Because Scott Eberle, vice president for interpretation at Strong, seems sympathetically to intuit the reasons the reader has come to this book and because he imparts his considerable, concealed erudition with exceptional wit and fine writing, the entertained reader scarcely notices she has been gifted with an appreciable education in American social history and the latest scientific insights into the psychology of play. Indeed, while the book's topics are toys, the subject matter is really play--and that is why the book will hold such fascination for the reader.

Don't let the analytical tone of this review deflect your attention from the book's pure delight. When I wasn't smiling as I read, I was laughing out loud. Let me briefly quote, for example, Eberle's treatment of Joseph Merlin's invention of roller skates. Speaking of inventors in general and then of Merlin in particular, the author writes: "Inventors are a quirky lot, no less then than now. If an idea propels them, they'll ignore obstacles and hardships, stopping at nothing to perfect their brainstorm. The problem with Merlin's skates was that they stopped at nothing."

"Classic Toys" is itself a toy, an instrument capable of eliciting endless games of nostalgia and play of memory. Reading Eberle's treatment of the many uses of the Radio Flyer, I recalled my father's recollection of his childhood chore during Prohibition of delivering hooch (his father had been a whiskey blender in the old country) in his little red wagon. And I'll swear the photographic image on page 84 of the circa-1955 Duncan Jeweled Tournament Yo-yo is a picture of my lost treasure, right down to the scuff marks.

The book smells good too.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Toys of All Time!, December 22, 2009
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This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
The next best thing to being a kid again might be recapturing the memories of childhood play through this artfully written and beautifully photographed book. Like the toys it features, there is no right way to enjoy it. Toy narratives are organized by year of induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame but I took my own route, reaching as far back as my memory goes to the rocking horse. As a kid my only goal was to see if I could ride it fast enough to tip it over. In Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame, author Scott Eberle fills me in on the details kids don't need to know. Weaving cultural history with humor, he sets each toy in the context of the time it was developed and traces its story through the years. I learn that my rocking horse is on the same family tree as wooden horses played with by children three-thousand years ago, that it helped me develop balance, and soothed my developmental need for motion. As Eberle points out, whether it's the rocking horse, the skate board, or Tinker Toys, developmental benefits like these are the dividend rather than the object of children's play.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beutifully written, December 22, 2009
This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
I am in the toy business and a National Toy Hall of Fame voter so I was particulalry interested in the book, "Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame." I am, as many of us are, familiar with all of these toys. They are classics.

What delighted me was Scott's writing which is at times poetry. Here is his prose in describing Crayola Crayons: "The blue sky; the yellow sun (with stylized rays radiating); the green grass; the brown horse peeking from its rred barn; all these filled in crayon drawings by countless millions."

Now let's put it in a poetic format:

The blue sky
The yellow sun (with stylized rays radiating)
The green grass
The brown horse peeking from its red barn
All these filled in crayon drawings by countless millions

The pictures are fantastic but with writing like this they are sometimees besides the point.

Wonderful, wonderful job.

Richard Gottlieb
USA Toy Experts
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The coolest toys ever -- and what you never knew about them, December 21, 2009
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This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
Remember the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry feeds his girlfriend turkey and wine every evening so she'll conk out and he can play with her collection of vintage toys? This book gives the rest of us the same chance to rediscover the coolest toys of all time. Baby Boomers in particular will get a rush of joyful nostalgia with every turn of the page in this handsome volume.

Author Scott Eberle showcases dozens of toys that have stood the test of playtime -- all inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame, housed at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York (which is, BTW, one of the most fun places my family and I have ever visited). Eberle's writing mixes history and humor as he traces the evolution of the featured toys alongside photos of older and newer models -- a 1965 box of LEGO bricks next to a robot created from the LEGO 2006 Mindstorm construction set, for example. The photos are a treat, from an 1860 portrait of a little girl with a tiny wooden rocking horse by her side, to the 1960s illustrated box containing the Easy-Pop Corn Popper attachment, WHICH FOR SOME REASON MY PARENTS NEVER BOUGHT FOR MY EASY-BAKE OVEN.

With an emphasis on creativity, fun, and the endless possibilities of play, the book features not just manufactured toys but also the everyday raw materials that generations of kids have transformed into Something Else: empty cardboard boxes and sticks (the latter featured in the delightful chapter "Poking Around"). There are generic toys -- dolls, marbles, jigsaw puzzles, alphabet blocks and checkers -- as well as specific brands, such as Lionel Trains and Crayola Crayons.

But this is not a one-dimensional picture book. Eberle's text is both amusing and insightful. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the invention of the Slinky (created by a nautical engineer), the origins of jacks in ancient Egypt, and the history of the popular game Candy Land, which was created to amuse children recovering from polio. Eberle also evokes the unique sensation of squeezing Play-Doh, "squishy, moist, slightly oily, cool to the touch," describing how "little fists tighten around a Play-Doh ball, and the colorful compound pleasantly extrudes between fingers." (Clearly this is someone who appreciates the properties of a good modeling compound.) He is also refreshingly frank about G.I. Joe's "limited personality" and Barbie's appearance, which "inspires both love and consternation."

If you grew up in the '50s and '60s, you'll find a lot of pleasant memories and just as many chuckles in this book's 264 pages. Cuddle up with your child or grandchild and share the fun.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I still want to be Barbie., December 22, 2009
This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
Ah, to be a kid again. Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame is a page-by-page celebration of what made us happy lo those many years ago...and what still brings us smiles in retrospect. Scott Eberle's winsome text is full of charm and insight and arcane bits of history that delighted me as much as my 1963 Barbie doll and her best friend Midge. More than a nostalgic study, Classic Toys reminds us that even simple toys were never simple and history well-told is always fun. These toys were designed and manufactured to teach us things when our brains and psyches were little sponges. How we imagine, build, dream, share and organize our lives are all lessons steeped in how we played. View-Masters opened our eyes long before Google Earth. The red Radio Flyer got us where we needed to be under our own power (most of the time). Jump ropes were heart-healthy excuses to make new friends. Even Silly Putty gave us the creative lattitude to look at newspapers from a different angle.

Each page is elegantly designed with expressive photos that offset the text as perfectly as a well-played turn in Scrabble. Classic Toys is the must-read book for anyone who wants to hold on to the exquisite feeling that only comes from remembering how good it is to play at life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book Full of Fun, January 26, 2010
This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
You know all about awards programs like the Oscars. You know there is a Baseball Hall of Fame (and maybe you know there are plenty of halls of fame for minor sports like, say, trap-shooting). Did you know there was a hall of fame for toys? Something called the Strong National Museum of Play, located in Rochester, NY, is on a mission of "exploring play to promote learning, creativity, and discovery and to illuminate American cultural history," according to George Rollie Adams, President and CEO of the museum. And it is this museum that is in charge of the National Toy Hall of Fame. Scott G. Eberle, an expert on toys and play, along with the museum itself, has authored _Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame_ (Running Press), a big, colorful book that is bound to bring you a happy sense of nostalgia. You knew these toys, or you knew some kid that had them, or you lusted for them, or you know them because your own kids have had them. The museum houses over 75,000 toys, but only a few get into its Hall of Fame. A toy honoree, says Adams, "must be widely recognized, generally respected, and well-remembered. Its popularity must extend over one generation. And it must foster learning, creativity, or discovery through play." These are the reasons this book is so delightful. These were (and are) really good toys. They made an impression, and the impression is of joy. Over forty toys get their own chapters here, each with photos and a fact filled essay of appreciation by Eberle.

Did you know, for instance, that 90% of American girls own a Barbie doll? Feminists have had a field day for decades criticizing the particular bignesses of this "bigger girl." Barbie's figure, if she were suddenly to be the size of an adult, would be something like 40 - 18 - 32, proportions that, as one commentator noted, "are not found in nature." Mattel has a defense, one that critics think is baloney: tiny doll clothing hangs better on a little doll with an exaggerated shape. The critics are not just feminists; in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the doll was seen as an agent of the West threatening the morality of women. The result has been good for black market sales. Names are important. The Hula Hoop was a sensation; maybe it would not have been if the proposed names Daddy-O or Shazzam-meter had stuck. (And now, three pound "Heavy Hoops" can be found in gyms for a cardiovascular workout.) "Hula Hoop" was an invented name, but regular etymology came up with the name for the ancient game of jacks; "jacks" is short for "jackstones," which is a variant of "chackstones," and "chack" is a variant of "chuck" - as in "to throw." The "Make a Face" toy was given out piece by piece as a cereal premium. It didn't do well, so the manufacturers considered making it as the "Funny Faces for Food" kit. It is hard to imagine any better name, though, than Mr. Potato Head, a silly name that fits perfectly with the silly fun of giving facial expressions to fruit and vegetables. Hasbro did follow up with variants, but who remembers "Pete the Pepper," "Oscar the Orange," "Cooky the Cucumber," or "Katie the Carrot"?

Eberle reels off one interesting fact after another in each of his chapters. The ancient game of marbles has bestowed upon our language three idiomatic phrases: "knuckle down," "playing for keeps," and "having lost his marbles." The inventor of Monopoly offered Parker Brothers the game, but the firm declined because the game broke their rules of what a good game should do, including being played in less than 45 minutes. Parker Brothers only reconsidered when the inventor ordered up 5,000 copies at his own expense and they sold like mad. Play-Doh began as a wallpaper cleaner; Silly Putty was an attempt to make artificial rubber for tires, at which it failed miserably. MIT sophomores used Tinkertoys to make a computer that could play tic-tac-toe. The philosopher John Locke said in 1692 that children should learn by play, and suggested that sport could be made of "dice and playthings with the letters on them to teach children the alphabet by playing." He didn't invent alphabet blocks, but he is the only philosopher quoted here as giving his imprimatur to a toy. When Vietnam became controversial, G. I. Joe turned (for him) hippie: "A groovy Adventure Team medallion and a tamed counterculture beard announced Joe's peaceful intent." The Campbell's Soup Kids, created in 1904, influenced how baby dolls were to be made ever after. Polyurethane wheels slowed roller skates down, but they were just the thing for control on skateboards. Frank Lloyd Wright's son was the inventor of Lincoln Logs. Lionel Trains were such a hit with boys that in 1957 the company thought they'd put out a version for girls, featuring a pink pastel locomotive and coal car, lavender and yellow container cars, and a light blue caboose. It failed; girls who wanted to play with trains wanted to play with _trains_. This is a book about a subject that all of us love, and it is colorful, informative, and (pardon) playful.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent, Santa-quality, Christmas-toy of a book, January 23, 2010
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This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
This is a book worthy of the magnificent toys it describes -- just the kind of thing you want to find under the tree on Christmas morning. I used a Christmas-given gift certificate to buy my copy, and the only thing better would have been if I'd been able to curl up with it on Christmas day.

Considered as a play object, the book is large, handsome, sturdy, and filled with lavish color illustrations.

Indeed, the book is a nostalgia device: just try to read it without traveling back in time to the most idyllic play experiences of your youth. But it's more than that; it goes well beyond just being informative to being genuinely insightful.

Thus, you learn not only the history of each toy, but *why* each toy became such a classic, and how it has captivated and exercised the minds of children through the years. As myself the father of a young girl, it was wonderful to learn more about what she is really doing when she plays.

As the book says, a child loves his/her play not because it's easy but because it's hard. The child mind often learns best by coupling the physical action of the hands with the developing conceptual thinking of the conscious mind. No wonder so many children love the physical reinforcement of Play-Doh, silly putty, and alphabet blocks.

Some of the toys described here were developed by adults with specific developmental agendas in mind -- like the erector set, the Lincoln logs and Candyland. Others become beloved because kids instinctively knew how to play with things adults themselves would not have seen as instructive playthings -- such as the cardboard box and the humble stick.

I loved many of the chapters in this book, but I'll single out a few here for praise: The chapter on Candyland is deeply moving, as it was created during the era of children's polio, a way for housebound, quarantined children to find joy. I'll never look at that box cover -- with its kindly legend of "A sweet little game for sweet little folks" -- quite the same way again.

I also especially loved the chapter on the jack-in-the-box, covering the history of superstitions, rhymes, and self-scaring devices that evolved into the irresistibly unsettling surprise of a toy.

The chapter on the jump-rope is also wonderfully insightful -- reminding us of the rhyming chants and creative cooperative games engendered by the fertile minds of young girls, lending a creative aspect to the play that the object itself seems hardly capable of furnishing.

Other chapters reminded me of the unique qualities of specific toys: for example, the induplicable aroma of Play-Doh, and the wondrously rugged functional detail of the Tonka truck.

All hail the creators of these magnificent toys, and all they've done to enrich our lives. And spare a cheer for the creators of this terrific book as well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Toys tell the story of Childhood, January 16, 2010
This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
I was born and raised in Africa. Throughout my childhood anything I knew about life in America was gleaned from reading the occasional Archie or Superman comic book smuggled into our home by my older, more wordly cousin. At that stage in my life, American kids could have been living on another (albeit very exciting) planet for all I thought we had in common.

I've been in the toy business now for over thirty years (as a board game designer), but even so, it wasn't until reading Scott Eberle's wonderfully informative, funny and evocative book that it dawned on me that my counterparts growing up in America had played and enjoyed a great many of the same toys as we had in Kenya.

Silly-Putty, for example. We LOVED Silly Putty and like most kids had hours of fun `lifting illustrations off the pages of comic books, then stretching the characters out of shape.'

And roller skates. I'm definitely one of those `old-timers who still remember the key that tightened adjustable metal skates to street shoes, the skinned knees and scuffed elbows of summer.' Only in Kenya, it was summer all year round, so our knees were perpetually grazed.

And yo-yos, Slinky, marbles and jacks.

And we skipped with skipping ropes, made and flew kites, turned discarded cardboard boxes into secret hide-outs, and of course poked around with sticks.

In his foreword to this beguiling, beautifully written and beautifully illustrated book, George Rollie Adams of the Strong National Musuem of Play, writes `Toys tell the story of Childhood'

Well, indeed they do, and Scott Eberle tells the greatest stories of those toys that tell the story of everyone's childhood - even that of an English kid who grew up in the African bush!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Perfect but Very Good, June 10, 2010
This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
Did you know that there is a National Toy Hall of Fame? Neither did I but there is and this book celebrates some of the greatest toys of all-time, all of which are enshrined in the Hall, located in Rochester, New York. The Hall was established in 1998 and the book runs down the list of inductees by year from 1998 - 2008.

Among the original inductees in 1998 we have Barbie, Erector Sets, Etch-A-Sketch, Frisbee, Pla-Doh, LEGO, Monopoly and Tinker Toys. Eberle runs down a history of each toy which itself is fascinating because while the history of toys like Barbie and LEGO are well documented, the beginnings of other toys are far less known. Crayola Crayons for instance, got their start in 1903 as a paint-making firm who was trying to come up with a better quality of chalk and wound up with the colorful wax sticks we know today. Crayola had its share of controversy in the 1990s over racially offensive terms such as a red crayon called "Indian Red". This name had nothing to do with Native Americans but rather was named after a pigment which used to be obtained from India...hence the name.

The histories of these toys are worth the price alone because many of them came about by pure accident or in trying to create something else. The Slinky came about originally as the project of a nautical engineer who was trying to find a way to keep sensitive equipment stable at sea during World War II. Mr. Potato Head started out being called "The Make a Face Toy" and was originally included in boxes of cereal In the 60s, Hasbro even tried to expand the line with "Pete the Pepper" and "Cooky the Cucumber" sets but obviously those did not go over very well.

The book includes hundreds of photos of the toys from original versions to present day. The one thing I found utterly amazing is that G.I. Joe was not even inducted until 2004. How does arguably the greatest boy-toy ever take six years to get into the Hall of Fame? Also, some inclusions are a little on the silly side such as the cardboard box and the stick. Now I had my share of fun playing in old refrigerator boxes but I'd stop well short of putting it in the Hall of Fame. At 264 pages and hardcover format, $29.95 is a very reasonable price.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very fun way to re-visit your childhood, January 9, 2010
By 
aRealGuy (Portland, OR) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time! (Hardcover)
I'm a 50-something, and a large fraction of these toys lived in my house growing up. A chance to re-live the memories of play time and learn something about the origin and history of "my toys" is proving to be really great fun. It's not the kind of book that you sit down and read cover to cover, but rather leave it out in a convenient place and pick it up to leaf through a few pages that catch your fancy at odd moments during the week. I guess that makes it the proverbial "coffee table" book, but one which comes with a much more personal connection than most.
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Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: Celebrating the Greatest Toys of All Time!
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