CJ Hirschfield: Toys For Our Times

2 min

C.J. Hirschfield is checking the new nominees for the toy hall of fame, and finds two well-suited to the times we’re living in.

For some reason, I’ve become obsessed with what toys get inducted each year into the National Museum of Play’s Hall of Fame. I think it says a lot about our culture; what we value, and what we consider healthy and creative play. Well, the 12 finalists were just announced, and I would argue that two are well-suited to recognize and honor in the times we’re living in.

First, there’s sidewalk chalk. Historians believe that the earliest people played with chalk— throughout the world. The museum says that so many images “all dance together on the tip of a piece of chalk, waiting to be freed by a child’s whim.”

Defined as “a capricious or eccentric and often sudden idea or turn of the mind,” I’ve found that during COVID, I appreciate the value of acting on whims.

On long daily walks in my Oakland neighborhood, I see sidewalk chalk drawings everywhere. Adults have created some artistic masterpieces; there are Black Lives Matter messages, a pledge of love to someone named Renata, and even a creative ad for a local dog walking business. But it’s the kids’ works that are magical: hopscotch and tic-tac-toe outlines, hellos to specific friends, squiggly lines that go on past many houses, flowers, abstracts, doodles. And all in glorious color. My favorite was a list of what one child was doing under lockdown: “read a book, watched TV, played a game, ate lunch.” What other finalist could possibly match sidewalk chalk?

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Baby Nancy. In 1968 Shindana Toys launched a baby doll with a dark complexion and textured hair. The popularity of Baby Nancy exposed a long-standing demand for ethnically correct Black dolls that the mainstream market had previously failed to deliver.

Last on my list? Tamagotchi, the digital pet that requires constant attention. It’s needy, and beeps nonstop when its demands aren’t being met. Sound like fun right about now?

Naw. Give kids some chalk and/or a baby doll to love, and we’ll all get through this.

With a Perspective, I’m C.J. Hirschfield

C.J. Hirschfield is an Oakland writer.