Wed, 08/24/2011 - 03:33 — amywickstrom
New ideas brewing…? If I told you I’d have to kill you?
Just B. You: A Peek into the Amazing World of B. Toys
Speaking with B. toymaker, Gisela Voss, was like a breath of fresh air. No pretense. No rushed conversation. A real person with a real life, and honest about it.
Her perspective on toys and play almost seem counter-cultural. Unlike Hasbro and other major toy manufacturers that typically generate toys with the question, “What will sell?” in mind, Gisela and those at B. toys seem to create toys with a different question in mind: “What will captivate a child’s imagination and draw them countless hours of meaningful play?”
In this interview, she shares some of the magical moments of her childhood, as well as her own perspective on toys, play, and parenting. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
You’re doing this interview in honor of your 9-year old niece, who is in the process of recovering from a stroke. Would you be willing to tell us about her?
Of course. Anastasia (aka Ana Banana) is one of my heros. Imagine going to bed one night a normal little girl after a day of cartwheels, dollplay, and giggles, and then waking up the next morning unable to move an entire side of your body, unable to lift your head, and unable to speak.
Anastasia has made enormous strides through sheer grit and determination. She is a girl who taught herself to ride a bike without training wheels long before anyone imagined she could. She could drive her toy-powered-Jeep in reverse around the cul-de-sac, and she ran and ran and ran and ran nonstop all day long. That same girl is channeling all that energy into countless therapy sessions. Hours in the car. Hours with PT and OT and SpeechT. A veritable alphabet soup of work. Hard work.
She can walk now. She’s gone from paralyzed to a wheelchair to walking with a brace. It’s extraordinary and miraculous — and yet when I watch her with my other nieces and nephews and I remember what she could do before… my heart swells in wonder at how far she’s come, and breaks at how much she’s lost.
Talking is harder. Short staccato sentences. A few. The jibber jabber of little girls is lost, for now. We miss it and we can’t wait to hear it again.
Childhood is full of magical moments, many of which are related to playing with toys. How do your memories of playing as a child influence the toys you design?
I had a bit of a gypsy childhood in many countries, but what I remember most about playing is not my toys. It’s a completely open-ended imaginative existence in which little boxes became constructions and my sister and I swam and ran and pretended she was SnowWhite and I was Cinderella. No playdates scheduled weeks in advance with start and stop times. No electronic gizmos. I design toys always remembering that children do not NEED toys. The more open-ended, the better. So I focus on making the playthings beautiful and tactile. The imagination is in every child’s mind, I hope.
Has a particular toy from your own childhood influenced your work as a toy maker?
Hmmmm this one’s tough. I loved my German wooden animals. I crocheted. I made potato prints. I embroidered . I still love to play Legos with my 6-year old- he’s got a gargantuan collection handed down from my cousin, then my 19 year old, and now his. And yet even Legos were better when they did not make a finite licensed thing. Oh yeah! I thought of one. Looooved Spirograph!!
Your toys are unique in so many ways. For example, you include adorable gift tags and children’s quotes on every toy. How do you come up with these ideas? Do you have any new ones brewing that you would be willing to share?
In all we do we try to B. good — to kids, all kids, their moms, and our planet. So even the tiniest decision is made this way. The gift tags and reversible packaging came from a desire to make it super easy for a busy mom to run into a store and come out with something ready to go to the party. The tiny gift “orbs” as we call them came to life from a lot of creative collaboration and our liking non-linear, non boxed things. It’s a team effort around here. And I dare say no one on team B. likes coloring inside the lines. So why would we make little square gift tags? We made little lung shapes instead ☺
The quotes came from my lifelong love for quotes. I have a notebook of magazine/book clippings of quotes famous people say (or even folks in a restaurant) that inspire me or spark an idea. When I had kids, I realized the biggest treasure trove of quotes in my life was in their minds and hearts. Little people, unjaded by political correctness or propriety, open-hearted to what they feel without filter, say the most wonderful —and wonder-filled— things! And we make toys for KIDS. We wanted to wrap the toys in that wonder, to give the moms a giggle - rather than a cross sell advertisement - inside the toy box, and to invite them to share their own wee ones’ wisdom in our Quote-Maker.
New ideas brewing…? If I told you I’d have to kill you?
Seriously. They brew for years sometimes. B. has been cooking in my mind for a decade.
How did B. come to be?
We dreamt it. After decades of making toys, a team of designer-friends at DoodleDo, in partnership with family-run manufacturer Battat, decided it was time for toys that made a difference to the world and the children in it.
As parents, we hold the opportunity of a lifetime, literally, in our hands. The formation of little humans is our legacy, our gift to the world. Who those children become happens in the daily decisions, in the fleeting moments of everyday life. Even in what toys kids play with.
At the end of the day, we all buy toys to help us raise our kids. Good and happy kids. Fair. Honest. Kind. Good. Happy. Hence our toys. With the one-letter name. Creative, intelligent, delightful. And much more important, generous –– the way we want our kids to B.
Did you ever think your toys would be used to help children with their social and emotional development? Is this a niche you might pursue more in the future?
I always have a soft spot in my heart for someone in need. But no… honestly, I never officially set out to make toys that helped kids with “special needs” — just to make toys that would encourage imaginative and emotional and HAPPY growth and exploration in all children.
Turns out that doing this does, in fact, help a LOT of children who need an extra boost in certain areas of development. We are hugely proud to announce that Able Play™ has rated 14 of our toys as very highly for children with special needs: http://www.ableplay.org/content/b-toys
And this brings me right back around to Anastasia. It’s one of those serendipitous paths in life that brought me to a point where toys I work on are highly rated for kids with special needs… just at the point when I now dearly love a child with special needs. I will never ever again be able to design a toy and not remember this.
Thank you, Gisela, for sharing the heart and mind behind your wonderful line of toys. We can’t wait to see what B. has in store for the years ahead!
Source: Amy Wickstrom, PhD, Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor. The play therapy blog at More Than a Toy (www.morethanatoy.com/blog)