Lantern Press

Gift Shop Plus Fall 2023
Let’s play: The latest trends in toys, games and puzzles By Carly McFadden

Kid-centric products that inspire creativity and family time are on the rise.

Playtime is an important form of self care for kids, as well as a source of learning and development.

 Grocery Shoppin’ Time Puzzle. Mud Pie.
Grocery Shoppin’ Time Puzzle. Mud Pie.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, at minimum, children have an hour per day of free, unstructured play, along with at least 30 minutes of active, adult-led, structured play. Playtime is crucial to children’s brain development as well as social-emotional development.

Toys that can be enjoyed between generations, puzzles and tried-and-true classics are all thriving in the toy market today.


Nothing is better than family time, and puzzles are gaining popularity as they offer an activity for families to bond and enjoy time together.

Busy Board Puzzles. Mud Pie.
Busy Board Puzzles. Mud Pie.

“Anything interactive that parents and kids can do together is trending,” said Marcia Miller, founder and CEO of Mud Pie. “Toys and games are inherently interactive, but we’ve tried to take puzzles to the next level by adding a make-believe component to them.”

Mud Pie offers several puzzles that combine traditional pieces with interactive scenes. For example, its grocery store puzzle comes with a felt grocery bag, fake credit card and money, and a conveyor belt.

“Parents and children can dream up a scene and play together endlessly,” Miller said.

The company has also debuted puzzles that include magnets, touch-and-feel components, sound chips and peek-a-boo mirrors.

“Puzzles are one of our top-trending categories at the moment,” Miller said. “Retailers have especially reacted to the sound chip puzzles that come with storage cases for travel.”

Wholesaler Lantern Press has experienced a similarly high demand for its puzzles since the pandemic.

Playtime is crucial to children's brain development. Photo courtesy of Wikki Stix.
Playtime is crucial to children’s brain development. Photo courtesy of Wikki Stix.

“They’re a great vehicle for our unique artwork and are enjoyed by a wide spectrum of people for gifts, souvenirs, quiet social time, or a sense of personal accomplishment and creativity,” said Justin Yeck, vice president of sales at Lantern Press. “The stay-at- home era of the pandemic introduced many people to the joy of a jigsaw puzzle, and they continue to be a strong product for us.”

Lantern Press looks to innovate with new artwork and product styles. Its Firelight Mini Puzzle features shaped borders, foil accents and optimistic artwork that tells a story. Its National Parks Mini Puzzles are also popular gifts, as well as its 1,000-piece puzzles that feature eco-friendly packaging.

“We continue to add to the crossroads of complexity and artistry,” Yeck said. “Our puzzles are beautiful [enough] to be framed, and some are unique shapes that enhance the puzzling experience. Ultimately, they’re pieces of art you experience, not just look at. It’s easy to go to a mass marketer and purchase an average puzzle, but Lantern Press lives at the intersection of amazing art and puzzle enjoyment.”


While added bells and whistles make for unique toys, there is something to be said for classic games that have proven popular over decades. In fact, plenty of classic toys are rising in popularity as parents increasingly prioritize keeping their children’s screen time to a minimum.

“Wooden toys have had a resurgence in popularity over the past several years because of their durability, keepsake value and the fact that they are a great non- screen-time option,” Miller said.

Toy company Wikki Stix has found success with a timeless product. Wikki Stix are colorful, bendable and unbreakable fidget sticks. Kids can create endless designs from their Wikki Stix, which adhere to each other, and place those designs virtually anywhere, as they stick without glue and don’t leave residue.

Kem Clark, president of Wikki Stix, purchased the patent for the product 33 years ago. Today, the Wikki Stix in their original form are still popular, and the company offers a variety of books and kits to help inspire creative uses and designs for the product.

 Toys that can be used across generations are in demand. Photo courtesy of Wikki Stix.
Toys that can be used across generations are in demand. Photo courtesy of Wikki Stix.

“It has so much versatility that it wears well over the years with whatever the trend is,” Clark said. “For example, when unicorns were just the hottest thing, you could make a darling fun, colorful unicorn — either a flat design on paper or a three-dimensional unicorn out of Wikki Stix. You can make an action figure if you’re looking to make some kind of a dramatic soldier. So whatever is trending, we seem to be able to become a part of it and go with the flow. That makes our product a nice evergreen because we just keep plugging along with whatever is topical at the moment.”

Clark also has witnessed a rising interest for toys or activities that are cross-generational.

“I’m seeing increased demand for toys that span a broader age range and aren’t necessarily identified for 4-year-olds or 10-year-olds or whatever it may be,” Clark said. “I’m seeing also — and I think a lot of this has grown out of the pandemic — products that can be used as family involvement activities.”

Meanwhile, Yeck foresees puzzle demand remaining high in the gifting world for all ages.

“We continue to see complexity being a huge want for puzzle connoisseurs,” he said. “Luckily, we create our own art, so we are able to create detailed, interesting images and unique shapes that really get our puzzle partners going.”


Toys that spark storytelling and children’s imaginations are among the top-selling gifts for kids this year.

“From a gifting standpoint, doll houses, fire trucks and types of toys that tell a story are very popular,” Miller said. “The gifter enjoys seeing the child’s imagination run wild, and the toys often prompt playtime interactions with other children or adults.”

Doll House Set. Mud Pie.
Doll House Set. Mud Pie.

Mud Pie sees toys with added features becoming popular gifts, and toys that mimic their parents’ behavior, such as golf sets or cleaning kits.

“The addition of lights and sounds to toys, games and puzzles has been a favorite for retailers over the past year,” Miller said. “Why pick up a plain car if you can have one that honks and flashes its lights?”

The toy market is unlikely to dwindle anytime soon as gifting for kids continues to grow, Miller explained.

“The gift industry has embraced toys, games and puzzles because they are perfect for both special occasions and everyday play,” she said. “Because our culture highly values gifting to babies and children, I feel that this category will only grow year over year. We are certainly seeing that trend at Mud Pie.”

Featured photo: Firelight Puzzle. Lantern Press.

Carly McFadden

Carly McFadden is the editorial director of Gift Shop Plus, Stationery Trends and Lawn & Garden Retailer.

Social Connections

Gift Shop Plus Spring 2024 cover
Get one year of Gift Shop Plus in both print and digital editions for just $16.

Interested in reading the print edition of Gift Shop Plus?

Subscribe Today »

website development by deyo designs