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Mar 3, 2010 9:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village toy designer brings new plush toys to market

Mar 3, 2010 9:41 AM

Life is like a box of toys for Southampton’s Penny Ekstein-Lieberman: chockablock with fun and boundless imagination.

The toy designer who brought the popular Pillow People—a collection of rectangular, character-themed pillows such as the stardust-sprinkling Mr. Sandman—to children’s bedrooms in the 1980s and 1990s, is set to unveil her two newest lines of toys, Peek-a-Boo Baby and Peek-a-Boo Zoo, which are expected to hit the market later this month.

Peek-a-Boo Baby, a smiling, pillowy doll with long arms and a slightly larger-than-proportional head, is intended for children 3 years old and younger as a first toy.

“Today, everything is very edgy,” Ms. Ekstein-Liberman said of the doll’s design. “People are attracted to that look that’s a fun, whimsical kind of cute.”

The light- and motion-sensitive, battery-operated doll utters two phrases: “Peek-a-Boo, I see you” and “Peek-a-boo, I love you.”

In another nod to technology reaching into the toy chest, Peek-a-Boo Baby’s cheeks light up and it sings lullabies when tapped on the foot.

The doll, which comes in male and female versions, two sizes and a variety of ethnicities, is being distributed by the Manhattan-based Goldberger Toy Company, Inc.

Its counterpart, Peek-a-Boo Zoo, includes a menagerie of animals, including a hippopotamus, panda, lion, monkey and tiger, to start. A distribution deal for that line is still in the works.

The toys, which are manufactured in China, will be stocked by such big-box retail chains as Toys “R” Us, Walmart, Target, Kmart and Kohl’s.

Both toys fit snugly into Ms. Ekstein-Lieberman’s philosophy of developing soft, comforting toys that help children navigate the darkness and uncertainty of bedtime.

“It teaches a valuable lesson: that parents and the world don’t disappear when a baby closes his or her eyes,” explained Ms. Ekstein-Lieberman, a native of Malverne in Nassau County who now splits her time between Southampton Village and Manhattan, where the company that she founded and leads, Toot Sweet Toys, Inc. is based. “When I originally started designing, I saw so much violence in toys—army and war game products and guns.”

The former therapist with a background in psychology, art education, graphic design and advertising, turns to non-violence and educational toys to supplant the age-old security blanket.

Two additional products that Ms. Ekstein-Lieberman hopes will hit the market by Christmas are Rock-a-Muffins, a set of ragdolls that live in healthful muffins to encourage sound nutrition, and DreamBabies, cushiony toys similar to Pillow People.

“I love children,” gushed Ms. Ekstein-Lieberman, whose favorite childhood toys were dolls. “I think there’s a child in everyone and when you lose that, I think you lose your lust for life.”

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