For four days each year, New York City’s Javits Center becomes a magical wonderland populated by everyone from toy industry Goliaths like Mattel and Lego to Brooklyn’s artisanal robot cobblers (those would be the Davids). The International Toy Fair sees over 1,000 exhibitors showcasing more than 150,000 products to tens of thousands of retailers and press. These are the best of this year’s — consider this list fair warning of what kids toys your child will be demanding very, very soon.
Best Indie Toy
$20 – $30 | Ages 4+ | Available September 2015
To the jaded adult, Toyish looks like a Solo cup on a 4-wheeled coaster. But it’s endlessly customizable, thanks to interchangeable components and paper “playbooks” that through sketching and coloring help kids change the toy’s theme from “cup” into, say, Roman Gladiator Ballerina. Combining crafts and building while encouraging open play, Toyish cleverly leverages a kid’s natural tendency to make mundane things interesting, at least until that horrible day when they discover what Solo cups are really for.
Best Action Figures
I Am Elemental
$65 | Ages 4+ | Available Now
The most subversive element of these action figures isn’t that they’re all female and designed with realistic body proportions. Rather, it’s the subtle shift from “characters with superpowers” to “characters as superpowers,” which erases a gap between the kid and the toy (not to mention kid and gender), and encourages them to embody what each figure represents — things like bravery, honesty and persistence. So, your kid gets a lesson in self-confidence and a toy that will be perfectly comfortable kicking Boba Fett’s ass while riding a Transformer.
Best STEM Toy
$90 | Ages 1+ | Available Now
Tegu’s block sets combined the aesthetics of handcrafted wood with the secure building capacity of plastic by ingeniously magnetizing each piece. Now it’s selling themed sets like Magnetron, which can be configured into all sorts of weird robots. Bonus points for the ability to blow your kid’s mind by making the robot arms move with a small magnetized block hidden in your hand. Enjoy your time as an all-powerful being!
$50 | Ages 5+ | Available Now
Dinosaurs-With-Glowing-Eyes and Can-I-Be-Your-Friend? robots were everywhere at Toy Fair, but the most interesting of the bunch was the one that looked like a mini R2D2 without the charm. Ozobot isn’t designed to look cool — it’s designed to teach basic programming and robotics through its use of an infrared camera that responds to colors. That means a blank sheet of paper can be turned into a game board, maze, or race track with nothing but a few markers. Once you kids masters the basics, they’ll demand you convert your floors to dry erase boards.
Best Remote-Control Toy Car
$150 | Ages 7+ | Available In September
When Anki’s app-controlled race cars debuted at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in 2013, it was the best example yet of video games colliding with the real world, but the cars were still limited by a relatively small, flat track and basic functionality. Overdrive is the next iteration and features fully customizable tracks (with jumps!), along with expanded weapons and capabilities for the cars. Just don’t let your kids see the track the company built for Toy Fair — you’d need to buy about 30 kits to recreate it.
Best Kids Toy Car
Matchbox Treasure Tracker
$30 | Ages 3+ | Available This Fall
The truck itself is well designed for the sandbox, with oversized wheels and a dump bed that snaps off to become a little shovel. But, by pairing that with a functioning metal detector that hangs off the front, the Treasure Tracker turns pretty much any room with an area rug or a bed with sheets into a next-level scavenger hunt venue. The only downside is that your loose change mug is about to become a no-change mug.
Best Revamp Of An Old School Toy
$30 | Ages 4+ | Available In October
The 76-year-old stereoscopic slide viewer has been paired with Google’s “Cardboard,” a simple apparatus that turns your smartphone into a virtual reality headset. So now, instead of seeing vaguely 3D images of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, your kids will see a vaguely immersive, 360-degree view of Fisherman’s wharf, replete with text overlays and the ability to skip to other San Fran sights, like Alcatraz, with the flick of a switch. If they don’t already have their own phone, you may have to figure out a way to lock yours in your pants.
Starting at $15 | Ages 4+ |Available Now
A series of back-to-basics kits that consist of standard blocks in various shapes and sizes, plus the original supplemental pieces like wheels and doors — there’s enough in even the smallest kit to create cars, airplanes and a lighthouse on the water with a sailboat going by. Not only will they encourage the kind of creativity that comes from building without specific instructions; they’ll also foster an appreciation for a simpler time, when every Lego set didn’t have a brand tie-in and View-Masters didn’t require smartphones to work.
Best Building Toy
Goldieblox Craft-Struction Box
$40 / Ages 5+ / Available This Fall
After Goldieblox blew up Kickstarter in 2013, they dealt with a copyright controversy (sorry, Beastie Boys) and suspicions about the sincerity of its “STEM for Girls” product philosophy (because, princesses). But the product line has become more interesting by incorporating paper crafts and other unusual components into traditional building toys. The new Craft-Struction Box features over 325 pieces, which is more than enough to occupy kids for hours, regardless of their gender or what ’90s hip-hop they listen to.
Best Puzzle Game
Keva Brain Builders Junior
$16 | Ages 5+ | Available Now
Keva Planks are a cool building toy that’s one part Lego, one part Jenga and can be used to create everything from a catapult to a 51-foot tower. Brain Builders teach kids things like spatial awareness, balance and basic engineering skills by presenting simple structures on cards and challenging kids to figure out how they’re built in three dimensions. Keva claims the games use parts of the brain that often go underdeveloped even in adults, so don’t be surprised if your attempts to “let the kid win” succeed with uncomfortable ease.