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Smart dolls for smarter play

Trolls, those short, pudgy, wide-nosed, wild-haired dolls, were one of the biggest fads in the 1960s, but when they were revamped in 2005 for a new generation, they were barely recognizable. The new Trollz, five teenage girls, were taller than their forefathers and looked as if they had nose jobs and liposuction.

In recent years, other popular dolls have turned into tarted-up 21st-century versions of themselves, but as far as trends go, the extreme makeover for dolls may be coming to an end. This year, one of the biggest toy trends is “smart play” toys, says Ashlee Neuman, toy trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association. Dolls are big business, with $2.3 billion in sales last year, according to NPD Group, and in keeping with the new trend, the offerings increasingly include dolls that have diverse ethnicities, interests and abilities.

“Dolls in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) space encourage kids to see what it would be like to learn STEM subjects and strive for those careers, but also dolls of other ethnicities help children learn how to empathize and relate to other children and navigate social situations,” Neuman said. As parents have become more aware of the importance of play in children’s development, they have demanded more options for dolls, and toymakers have responded. Here are some of the newest dolls that support smart play for girls and boys.

EmpowerGirl: Available in spring 2016, these 11-inch dolls are made of eco-friendly fabric and have brightly colored hair. The dolls feature multiethnic skin tones, and all of them wear school uniforms to emphasize the importance of education for girls. Priced at $25, they are designed for ages birth and up and will be sold at EmpowerGirl.com. For each doll purchased, one is given to a girl in need.

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Lottie: Created in 2012 after almost two years of research, Lottie dolls have the body proportions of an actual 9-year-old girl (the heads are larger for hair play) and do not wear jewelry or makeup. The dolls are ethnically diverse, wear age-appropriate clothing, have bendable knees and can stand on their own. Lottie’s interests include soccer and body boarding, and there is even a superhero outfit. A special STEM selection features four different dolls interested in topics such as astronomy and archaeology as well as a robot buddy. Lottie dolls are suited for ages 3-9 and start at $20, accessories start at $9.95 at www.lottie.com.

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Prettie Girls Tween Scene: Stacey McBride-Irby achieved her dream when she became a Barbie doll designer for Mattel, but after creating a line of African-American Barbie dolls, she felt she needed to do more. Prettie Girls Tween Scene from One World Doll Project is a line of multicultural dolls that reflect the world we live in today, she said. “I am bringing the wholesome doll back that kids can relate to,” McBride-Irby said. Each doll has a story such as Dhara, who is South Asian and loves to rescue animals, or Valencia, who is Hispanic and a left-handed softball player. Best for ages 3 and up, the dolls cost about $30 and will hit Wal-Mart shelves in October.

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Project Mc2: This spy-themed Netflix series for tweens, which debuted last month, also includes a line of fashion dolls equipped with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) experiment kits. Project Mc2 was created to inspire girls to engage in STEAM-based activities and promote the idea that smart is cool. The dolls represent real girls with a unique cultural history and distinct physical characteristics. They are best for ages 6-10 and are available for about $15 and up at retailers including Target, Toys R Us and Amazon.

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