Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ahead for the Year!

It might annoy you to know, but I have now written more posts this year than I wrote all of last year. So quantity is up... now, about the quality...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Diffendoofer Day

Standardized testing starts at many local schools today. Test preparation is good business for the Golden Apple, that doesn't mean we have to like it. We remember when the dubious end didn't justify the means in education. So at the Golden Apple we say "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day" and celebrate the Seuss/Prelutsky book that shows what can happen when standardization trumps creativity:

His teacher, Miss Bonkers, is "as bouncy as a flea,/I'm not certain what she teaches,/But I'm glad she teaches me." Diffendoofer School is a happy place, full of energetic teachers and eager students, all joyfully working in unorthodox ways on the next unlikely assignment. The only sourpuss in the building is the principal, Mr. Lowe, who announces the message he fears most -- standardized testing for the entire school. Failure will mean that the Diffendoofer School will close and all students will go to the miserable Flobbertown, where gray monotony abounds. Miss Bonkers assures the students that all will go well, and it does, for "we've taught you how to think." When the test results confirm her belief, Diffendoofer Day is declared by Mr. Lowe, and the children celebrate with, you guessed it, a pizza party!

Celebrate your ability to think!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Hole is to Dig

Tomorrow is Old Time Storytime again. I'm really looking forward to it. Afternoon storytime feels more right, and I get to read stories I like, and I know the kids will like, because 40 million kids have already liked them. Up next: A Hole is to Dig" by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Jan Brett

I was adding Sight Word materials to our online store last night when I came across Jan Brett's website. Jan has always been a great resource for parents, teachers, and bookstores - I think the enthusiasm that shines through in her books and illustrations radiates in every direction. She likes to share. I found that Jan has illustrated some pages of the basic dolch words, and provides them as pdfs for downloading. I wish these were something we could offer in the store, but they are here for free, so have at them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Make Your Brain Hurt

Set is one of those stealth "education" games a teacher loves. It's also a game that it helps to have a kid around to explain to you. While the name Set describes the play, it also describes the way my brain feels when I play - as in "Set" in concrete. I won't try to explain how to play here, but it's easy and devilish hard at the same time. We sell the card game and the new family game Set Cubed. The makers of Set have a daily challenge on their site - you can also test your time against others at DEBlog where I lifted this nifty badge - I didn't win it mind you, it's merely for illustration purposes!

Friday, April 24, 2009

ASTRA Chooses Toys

ASTRA is the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association, and the Golden Apple is proud to be a member of this great organization. Being a member of ASTRA provides many benefits to the Golden Apple, but it also provides benefits to Golden Apple customers. ASTRA helps us find the great toys that you love. Of course we take the credit when customers rave about our selection of educational and fun toys, most of which cannot be found at other stores. But some of the credit belongs to specialty toy store owners all across the country. This blog purports to take you behind the scenes at the Golden Apple, so here it is: The real story! Some of our great toys come directly from a list that ASTRA provides to us. ASTRA creates the guidelines, and members choose the toys. This process is going on right now, and the criteria for choosing a great toy might give you some insight into how we decide what toys arrive on our shelves. I would love to hear your comments on the Good Toy Criteria. Anything you might add?

Criteria for Best Toys For Kids List selection process

To ensure that the toys chosen are worthy of the ASTRA seal, we will ask all participants to make their selections based on the following Good Toy criteria:

* Does it Engage the Child? A good toy should encourage open-ended play, invite exploration, and engage a child's interest beyond a short sitting.
* Does it Expand the Child? A good toy with play value benefits the child at a particular stage by introducing and reinforcing age-specific skills. A great toy grows with the child, helping him/her advance from one developmental stage to the next.
* Is it Age Appropriate? The play activity should developmentally suit the child's age.
* Is it Safe? A good toy must meet or exceed all 2009 federal safety standards and specifically be compliant with August 2009 CPSIA regulations.
* Is it Fun? Most of all, a good toy is fun to play with. Dull and boring, regardless of benefit, have no place in a Good Toy Box.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Save Our Schools

The Golden Apple has waded into local politics. Measure G is on the Pleasanton ballot this June, and we are helping the effort to boost funding for our schools by hosting a fundraiser. Every school and every teacher needs more support, coast to coast. We have the opportunity to act locally on this issue, so on Tuesday April 28th we are donating a percentage of our sales to support Measure G. Some day I will rant about the fact that the Pleasanton School District hasn't spent a dime in my store in 5 years, but this issue is about the teachers, not the district. Teachers have been the backbone of our store and they deserve everything the community can afford.
On a related note, here's a nice post from a local blog, thanking a few local teachers.
Candid Cameron: A Dozen Dedications: Why I Love Teachers

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Old Fashioned Story Time is Back

To be honest, I missed doing Story Time. Since I work the late shift, our morning story time was out, and we have cut way back on the new children's picture books we order, so introducing new stories wasn't a priority. But I still like doing story time, so we're turning the whole thing on it's head - we're only reading classics, and we're doing it in late afternoon. It's actually kind of exciting to be able to crack open the old stuff - I'm looking forward to reading Blueberries for Sal now that the copyright dispute is settled. If you're in the area - join us starting May 6th.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


While I am convinced of my singular authority on toys and toy-related topics, you might think otherwise. Starting today, I'm going to post update links to a random few other toy blogs I follow and what's shaking with them:

Pufferbellies has been invaded by a host of bacteria, microbes and disease... but in a good way.

Guest Blogger in Residence Mary at Kazoodles updates us on Earthday

Joe at YoYoJoes calls out Ty for shockingly crass business practices (remember Beanie Babies?)

And Peapods is updating you on the Handmade Toy Alliance... coincidence?

Do You Feel Safer?

My Congressman writes:

I share your desire to ensure that consumer products, whether produced domestically or abroad, are safe for American families. I have supported several measures to protect the integrity of food, toys and other goods.

Now who wouldn't be for that? This is my fourth letter from Mr. McNerney, and to date he has assured me he is proud of protecting America's children four times! Meanwhile, my customers are spending an extra 10-15% for products that were already safe before congress solved the problem. And say goodbye to the toy companies that produce wonderful toys in Europe, but can't afford to spend the extra money to comply with pointless US testing rules. The issue is complicated, and as stated above, Mr. McNerney and I share a desire to ensure toys are safe. To find out more about the issue, make a visit to the Handmade Toy Alliance. Here's a quote from their site:

If this law had been applied to the food industry, every farmers market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.

Stupid laws can be worse than no laws. Write your congressperson and urge them to ammend the CPSIA in a way that is fair to small businesses and small toy companies.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I don't like to spend too much time writing about new products on this blog - that's what is all about. Just the really special stuff. Iwako erasers are little gems from Japan that seem to be driving kids crazy. Today we unpacked a new shipment. Unlike crazes from the past, when a new shipment of Iwako erasers arrives it comes in one small box. We fight over who gets to check that one box in! (I win) Today I unpacked a new shipment - cake slices, helicopters, pandas, flowers and watering cans, sea critters and hamsters. On a spring fever Saturday when everyone is outside doing anything but shopping, it made me happy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bill Harley Has a Blog!

One of my favorite songwriter/storytellers Bill Harley has started writing a blog about writing and storytelling. You can check it out here, or find it down on our bloglist in the right hand column. The picture is from one of Bill's visits to our store!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Summer Learning Gets a Plug

NY Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column today on how to change our IQ. It was a "big picture" column, but it included this little plug for our summer workbook program:

"Good schooling correlates particularly closely to higher I.Q.’s. One indication of the importance of school is that children’s I.Q.’s drop or stagnate over the summer months when they are on vacation (particularly for kids whose parents don’t inflict books or summer programs on them)."

Shop early for your summer workbooks!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

The President reads a story - I could give him a few pointers - (he breaks the flow of the story by pointing out details in the illustrations for pete's sake!) but not a bad choice - it beats reading a Lynn Cheney book.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Day the Music Died

I'm starting to question the value of the in-store music we play at the Golden Apple. I decided many years ago that our "shopping music" wouldn't be muzak, or the easy listening station, mainly because I couldn't stand hearing vapid music for 8+ hours a day. So I opted for playing the music we sold. This was a challenge for many reasons. First, because once upon a time, all music was on record albums, and we had a player in the back room, and someone had to go back and change the record every 30 minutes. Second, this was pre-Putumayo and pre-random shuffle, and some children's music doesn't stand up to constant play, as many a parent can testify. But I was determined, and no employee actually cited the music as a reason for quitting, though I wouldn't have been surprised! The benefits were: we were forced to seek good music that adults could endure, and we knew almost every song on every record. When customers asked for the song about the slippery fish that their preschooler loved, we knew it was by Charlotte Diamond, from 10 Carrot Diamond.
Now we have all our music programmed into Itunes on one of our Macs. It shuffles the 48 hrs of music and plays a lively variety of music from all over the world, (including Putumayo). We have all the Trout Fishing in America; all the Lauri Berkner; a really fun CD by Susie Tallman called "Let's Go"; an old favorite, the soundtrack from the show "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" and lots of Putumayo Kids, including my current favorite "Hawaiian Playground".
Here's the problem- I don't think anyone hears it. Are people so used to tuning out that these really catchy, really well-crafted songs just turn in to background murmur? I've heard every one of these songs 100 times, and I still think they are little gems. I mentioned Susie Tallman above. Her CD knocks me out. She gave it to me at the NY Toy show a year ago. I have yet to have a customer ask me about it, even though it has been playing constantly for a year now. It could be that everyone's getting their music online, and our music department will fade away like music stores are fading away. I think we still have a great selection of music, but we've lost touch with what drives people to buy music for their kids. Maybe if it isn't endorsed by Disney, or on Noggin it doesn't exist. I hope it's not time to tune in that lite rock station.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Go Outside and Play!

This week we are checking in a new line of outdoor toys from Melissa & Doug. The line is called Sunny Patch, and it is designed by David Kirk, of Miss Spider Fame. We carried his original line of toys many many years ago, and I still have them in my toy museum at home. These bright colored gems are wonderful and include some great stuff to get out and wear in that new vegetable garden the President wants you to plant. My one regret is, the fashion-forward rain gear arrived at the end of the rainy season. The rest of the line is great for Spring, and there is more to come - it's a perfect Easter gift!
I love this little bucket/Easter basket. We grabbed it immediately for our display, a little Easter grass, a bunny and some egg was a perfect image of Spring!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Playstation Boutique Closes

Sadly, our Playstation Boutique did not meet our expectations, and we had to clear it out. This allowed us extra space to expand our "Tiny Toys" department, which is huge. Our first "Tiny Toys" shopper was thrilled with the change, and immediately ran amok with his tiny new cart from Melissa and Doug. These carts are perfect little copies of big carts and made by the same process, so they are tough. We would love to use them as our regular carts, but sales would likely sink lower than results for the Playstation Boutique.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Playstation at the Golden Apple!

The Golden Apple has always been about creative play and quality toys. In this challenging retail climate, that only goes so far! Today we are rolling out our Playstation Boutique! Find a full range of great games like MassMurderV, KillerCar-Theft6, CivilianSniper and God of Human Destruction at competitive prices. We've cleared out some of the wasted space we had for books and board games to offer these mind-blowing games to a demanding public. Get on down here and check it out!