Apr 9, 2007
Webkinz toys top lists for kids around countryBy Meghan BarrNWHerald.com

Life’s never been sweeter for a hound dog. In a parallel, online universe, floppy-eared canines – along with cats, monkeys and other critters – soak in hot tubs, lounge about in pink tutus, dine on chocolate pudding and relieve themselves in porcelain toilets.

Welcome to the land of Webkinz, the toy craze that is transforming how children interact with that old classic, the stuffed animal. Each pint-sized creature arrives with a “secret” code that – when punched into the Web site www.webkinz.com – gives birth to a digital alter ego.

Using virtual cash earned through game-playing, kids must make sure the online versions of their pets have food, attention and the requisite creature comforts. (“Mmm to the mmmax!” the virtual version of a cuddly gray elephant, tottering in ballet slippers, says in a cartoon bubble after being fed.)

They’re an early lesson in caregiving, social networking and the ease of online consumerism all wrapped into one. And as with many toy fads, not everyone thinks they’re a good thing. But that apparently isn’t slowing down sales.

“They are truly the hottest things going,” said Tracey Orrico, manager of Blue Tulip, a Wilton, Conn., gift shop. “At first it was like, oh, those are cute stuffed animals. It was overnight – boom – every kid had to have a Webkinz.”

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