The 15th annual Young Inventor Challenge is just around the corner in November, hosted by People of Play (POP), formerly the Chicago Toy & Game Group (CHITAG). The event offers children and young adults from around the world the opportunity to develop and pitch original toy and game ideas to toy industry professionals.
Many winning inventions from previous years have been licensed by toy manufacturers. Winning entries tend to share a common thread: the stories behind the inventions are as compelling as the ideas themselves. It’s a wonderful event to engage kids in toys, games, and the power of imagination.
That’s exactly what one of my favorite books does, too. Toys! Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions by Don Wulffson, is written for kids ages 8-12 but has a permanent place on my bookshelf.
“Behind every toy there is a story”, Wulffson writes in the book’s introduction. He and illustrator Laurie Keller fill the next 144 pages with witty and humorous tales of two-dozen classic and popular toy inventions. Readers learn about the macabre use of the see-saw by the Romans, the original use for Play-Doh (spoiler alert: it was used for cleaning wallpaper), and the touching story behind why the Raggedy Ann doll has a red heart on her chest that says, “I Love You”.
Kids already love toys and games and the Young Inventor Challenge and Wulffson’s book offer ways to build on that spark of interest. Wullfson engages kids in reading and critical thinking about toys, while the challenge invites them to think of their own playful ideas as capable of making a mark in the world.
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.