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Beyond Superheroes: Mom Creates Realistic Character Toys for Boys

Toys for boys are largely dominated by superheroes, but mom Laura Hale and her company Generation Grit want to change that by creating more realistic toy characters and companion books in which characters experience adventures, triumphs and yes, even commit the occasional mistake.

Courtesy Generation Grit

Can there be too much magic in a child’s life? If you think the answer is “no,” consider the story of Laura Hale and her son Jack. The two used to read the Harry Potter books together and one day, Hale asked her son, then 9, what he thought that the main character, boy wizard Harry, might do to get out of his latest jam.

Jack’s reply was far from enthusiastic. “Mom, he’s going to whip out his wand and he’s going to be fine,” he said in a “dejected voice,” Hale remembers.

And that’s when she realized — from wizards to superheroes, boys today have plenty of fictional characters in their lives, but they’re not always relatable or even inspirational.

“I was so hopeful that Harry’s struggle would be encouraging to Jack. It’s OK and normal to struggle! Instead, it made him feel ‘less-than,” Hale said. “He didn’t have a wand or a special powers to bring to the table. The strong stereotype we feed boys shows muscles and wands, but there are so many other ways for real boys to be strong. I love superheroes, but they shouldn’t be the only option.”

That’s why Hale is hard at work on introducing a new option: a line of books and action figures featuring regular boys having extraordinary adventures and experiencing both success and, yes, sometimes failure.

“What’s baked into our adventure stories is the message that boys are enough just as they are,” Hale said. “They are worthy of living an adventure. That it’s OK to fail, OK to try something, to fail and learn and grow, which I think is a really different message than what boys hear that it means to be masculine today.”

Hale’s company, Generation Grit, is currently raising money through a Kickstarter campaign to manufacture their first action figure, Mac Mason, a 14-year-old living in California during World War II. Accessories for Mac include a bedroll, radio and leather-like jacket while a corresponding book tells the story of how Mac and his British cousin “uncover clues to a fraudulent rations ring (and) have to figure out how to work together to save a friend from being falsely accused.”

While the book, targeted at readers 8 to 12, ” revolves around Mac’s adventures and the ration mystery, it also walks through important issues of friendship, ego, and courage,” according to a Generation Grit description.

Hale emphasizes the books and toys’ retro appeal — you won’t find Mac and his friends running around in an app on your iPad or in a video game.

Physically playing with the Mac figure “encourages imaginative play” in a way that screen-based activities don’t, Hale said. And experts agree that play — specifically old-fashioned play that kids initiate themselves as opposed to what happens with screen-based diversions — is critical to developing social and intellectual skills, as The New York Times reported in 2011.

Hale plans to develop a line of characters from a variety of backgrounds and time periods — essentially, they would be the boys’ answer to today’s immensely popular American Girl series.

Hale is very familiar with the American Girl collection and other inspirational toys targeting girls. While her oldest child is a boy, she also has three daughters.

“For me, definitely part of it is there are so many options that my girls have loved that are encouraging to them or inspiring to them. There are not so many for boys.”

Giving boys access to empowering toys, she said, is ultimately good for both genders.

Feminist moms, she said, want “to raise strong, healthy boys who are comfortable with strong girls and have healthy ideas of masculinity.”

If you like Hale’s vision and want your own Mac Mason action figure and book, check out her Kickstarter page.

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