Oaklanders Create a Toy-Book Combo for Kids

Industrial designer Erin Fong and writer and illustrator Kayla Taron introduce the Thingamatink and hope kids love it despite a lackluster TV debut.


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Industrial designer Erin Fong and writer and illustrator Kayla Gong hope their pairing is a hit.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto

What is a Thingamatink? A boat, a blanket, a flying fish? A designer object? A specialty toy? The answer is yes, and so much more. The brainchild of industrial designer Erin Fong and writer and illustrator Kayla Taron, Oakland residents who are also housemates, Thingamatink is a book-and-toy pairing that inspires kids of all ages to face fear through creativity.

Fong’s origami-inspired blanket is handmade with locally sourced materials and can be snapped, zipped, and folded into numerous shapes. Paired with Taron’s illustrated book about a young inventor who takes the blanket on an adventure of mishap and triumph, Thingamatink explores what it looks like to take a chance at bravery.

This fall, Fong and Taron took a chance of their own when they competed against some 50 other toymakers on ABC’s The Toy Box, a reality TV show that offers one winner the chance to have his product produced by Mattel and sold by Toys R Us.

“It’s just one of those things you never expect to happen,” said Fong. She and Taron, who had been working on the idea for less than three years, were contacted by The Toy Box because of their 2015 Kickstarter project.

Along with six other toys, Thingamatink was featured on the first episode of the show’s second season. Though the episode suggested that the blanket was a bit of a flop, Taron and Fond said that had more to do with creative cutting than the actual experience of the judges or the toymakers.

“We did have to operate under certain criteria,” said Fong. “The biggest one was that we couldn’t share the book ... which carries a lot of the heart of our message.” Taron’s book, which is full of colorful hand-painted illustrations, follows a young inventor who must invent and reinvent with her thingamatink blanket, just like the story’s intended audience. Another challenge was time. Whether or not there is a narrative to accompany it, Thingamatink is a process toy. It intentionally takes time to figure out.

“They did get it,” Fong said of the juvenile judges, who spent more time interacting with and enjoying Thingamatink than the episode suggested. “The part that’s off the air was very sweet to us. That’s when the toy came to life.”

“They cut in a very specific way to tell a certain story,” said Taron. “But our actual interaction with the kids was really positive. I mean, I had fun.”

Fong and Taron describe Thingamatink as a transitional toy that grows with kids from infancy through childhood. In combination with the hand-illustrated story, it is a gateway to emotional, rational, and creative development.

“It’s about slowing down and looking at instructions and pictures,” said Fong, who recently took the toy to a classroom and was impressed by the students’ ability to collaborate and try. “You see kids really come together,” she said.

Thingamatink has been a collaborative effort for its inventors as well, who are not only business partners and roommates, but also members of the same social community, which was key to the project’s creation.

“It was really slow to start, but we started inviting our friends into the process, and that helped us stay motivated,” said Taron. She and Fong hosted numerous feedback sessions with members of their community when they were first starting work on their project.

“I don’t think I’d ever experienced bringing someone else into my work where I’m just so vulnerable,” echoed Fong. “There’s a lot of beauty in it. It’s also scary at the same time. Bringing people in was a huge part in making it become what it is.”

Fong and Taron viewed their experience on The Toy Box in much the same way. “I don’t think either of us have regrets about doing it, regardless of how they cut it,” said Fong. “I’m glad it’s something we tried and experienced.”

 

You can find Thingamatink online at

Thingamatink.com/shop-online. The book and toy can also be purchased together or separately. Books start at $15; the toy starts at $90. Check for holiday sales and promotions.

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