About 30 publishers exhibited at the 2012 New York International Toy Fair, which began on Sunday and concluded on Wednesday at the Javits Center. The aisles were full, with attendance up an estimated 4% to 34,000, and the mood positive, despite the fact that retail sales of toys and games in the U.S. fell 2% last year to $21.18 billion, according to the NPD Group.

Exhibitors included coloring and activity publishers such as Bendon and the newly merged Kappa and Modern, educational workbook specialists such as School Zone, book-plus and novelty houses such as Klutz and InnovativeKids, and trade publishers such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. In addition to publishers, many of the other 1,000 exhibitors at the show, including arts and crafts, doll, and plush makers, showed books as part of their broader product lines.

Representatives at publishers’ booths almost universally described the show as well attended, and most said they were writing orders, meeting new customers, and having good meetings with retailers, licensors, and other partners. Many publishers exhibit in an aisle devoted to children’s books, and the crowds in this section improved this year, thanks to the relocation of the area from its longtime position against an outside wall to a more central spot.

Among the companies exhibiting this year for the first time was Beaver Books, a Canadian publisher of educational activity and workbooks founded in 2004 that sells through crafting and home décor chains such as Jo-Ann and Garden Ridge, and in grocery and drug stores. This year it hired a former Bendon employee as a full-time U.S. rep. It attended Toy Fair for the first time, and plans to show at BEA, to support that effort, according to president George Papp, who noted he had met a number of potential new customers at the show.

Supplemental educational publisher Creative Teaching Press returned to Toy Fair this year, for the first time in many years, highlighting a new brand, Stick Kids. CTP’s core workbooks are sold largely through educational supply channels, but “this brings us back into specialty retail,” says Chris Campeau, international sales manager/new business development.

Around the show floor, “apps” and “augmented reality” were the buzzwords, with companies of all types introducing dolls, puzzles, blasters, and other playthings that work hand-in-hand with iPads or other handheld devices.

Toy Fair is always a place to gauge which licensed properties toy companies are betting on for the coming year. No single licensed property dominated the show floor, although Disney Princess, Star Wars, Hello Kitty, Marvel and DC Comics, and a number of mobile apps, such as Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, were prominent.

Book properties also had a strong presence; in fact, a number of authors were among the celebrities making appearances at the show. They attracted good crowds to signings promoting their books and associated licensed products.

See next week's issue of Children's Bookshelf for more Toy Fair coverage.