Growing interest in science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) was one of the overriding themes across the show floor at last week’s New York Toy Fair. The number of toys rooted in STEAM and STEM has been rising for several years and seemed to be higher than ever in 2018. Products such as coding robots, augmented-reality circuitry kits, and chemistry labs for creating slime or cosmetics were featured up and down the aisles, and exhibitors reported high interest from toy, gift, teachers’ supply, and other retail buyers attending Toy Fair.
Publishers were part of the trend. “Science is definitely having a moment,” said Heidi Weiland, director of trade sales at Sourcebooks. She reported strong interest from buyers in the company’s Baby University line by Chris Ferrie, which comprises titles such as Quantum Physics for Babies and Rocket Science for Babies and is billed as “STEM for the youngest among us.”
“A lot of the buyers here are asking for books about nature,” reported Janie Crone, v-p of Educational Development Corp. “That category is perfect for us.” The company has long offered educational books in STEM fields and this year was showing Scientist Academy, the latest title in its Academy series, which also includes Architect Academy, Astronaut Academy, and others. EDC was displaying other STEAM titles as well, including four books on coding, a hot category across Toy Fair for the past couple of years.
National Geographic Kids, which has always been rooted in STEM learning, saw interest in titles such as Weird but True Animals, the latest in its Weird but True series; the new YA version of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk; and Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret, the first in a seven-book series and the inaugural title of its new fiction imprint, Under the Stars.
Quarto Publishing was promoting a STEAM initiative that pulls together 200 titles from the company’s backlist, across imprints, in 23 STEAM categories. Though it was created for schools and libraries, the hope is to branch into retail stores and museum shops, according to account executive Daniel Tushaj. The titles were generating interest from some of the gift and toy buyers at Toy Fair, he said, citing a gift store in Tennessee that signed on as a new account due to customer interest in the STEAM program.
Books by and about female scientists and mathematicians were a mini-trend within the broader STEAM arena. Quarto’s biography series Little People, Big Dreams covers scientists and mathematicians such as Marie Curie and Ada Lovelace, an English mathematician known for her work on an early computer in the 19th century, as well as notable figures in other fields, including Agatha Christie, Coco Chanel, and Ella Fitzgerald. The line was prominently displayed and was catching the eye of buyers roaming Toy Fair. “Little People, Big Dreams is our showstopper,” Quarto’s Tushaj said.
Other books by and about female scientists included National Geographic’s Dr. E’s Super Stellar Solar System, by Bethany Ehlmann, a planetary geologist and member of the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity mission, and Sourcebooks’ picture book biography Shark Lady by Jess Keating, which is about late marine biologist Eugenie Clark.
Publishers with divisions for book-plus products and hands-on kits, including Quarto’s SmartLab and Scholastic’s Klutz, were among a raft of exhibitors with STEAM- and maker-themed activity kits. Klutz was putting the focus on its Klutz Maker Lab, a series of four book-based activity kits for kids eight and up that made its debut at Toy Fair. Gumball Machine and Circuit Games will debut this spring, followed by Air Blast Cannon and Wire Remote Race Car in the fall.
Educational products in general, beyond STEAM, are always a strong component of Toy Fair, and this year was no exception. Highlights for Children’s book division, a third-year exhibitor, was featuring its new learning line, which launched last year with pre-K and kindergarten titles. Books for second graders were added this year.
The learning program is a key initiative for the company, which plans an aggressive publishing program, including a bridge line for summer study. Highlights also oversees a brand-licensing program that encompasses Hot Dots Jr. educational kits from Educational Insights and educational toys from Haba, which were on display in their respective licensees’ booths. Monica Jankauskas, retail marketing manager for Highlights, reported particularly strong interest in the learning books, along with Highlights’ popular Hidden Pictures books, based on the magazine feature. “I was surprised that we’ve had so many people asking about the learning line,” Jankauskas said.