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2012 Award
LEGO Friends Olivia's House
( Lego Systems, Inc. $69.99 Score: )

Olivia's House with a bright raspberry pink roof is the big set in a new line called Friends, designed to attract girls to construction play. We had to check with LEGO to find out who is who in the back story.
There are three play figures named Peter, with a beard, Anna who is mowing the lawn and wearing a longish skirt; and Olivia in a miniskirt. Who are these people? Are they room mates? No, they are not Friends in the style of a TV sit-com. Indeed, it turns out Peter is the Dad and Anna is the Mom.
That said, we note Dad is sitting in an easy chair while mom is in the kitchen cooking. Olivia is pictured upstairs, maybe that is a computer in her lap. Our first reaction to this gender specific product was negative.
         After a lot of reflection, it's still not our preference, but we have to share that our testers generally loved the kits. The most important piece of feedback we received, is that girls that were not building (many had left LEGO behind after DUPLO) were now building, enjoying the experience and asking for more sets. So if pink is the only way to get girls building then--bring it on. Girls have traditionally been left behind in fields that involve spatial relationships and math; concepts that are built in to toys for boys who typically play with building sets. We still think that girls could build with the same primary colored bricks that boys use, but if this will encourage them, we would rather have them building than not. At least LEGO has tried to expand on ideas of what will interest school-aged girls by offering a vet set, an inventor's kit and a cafe. It's not about the mall and shopping which was the emphasis of  "girl's building kits" in the '90s.

       If you want all the friends, you will have to bring them home in their own separate kits. There is Emma who runs a fashion design studio--she's not just aspiring to be a model; Olivia has an invention workshop with robots; Stephanie has a Pet Patrol; and Andrea is in show biz. These 79-81piece sets ($9.99) would make good birthday gifts for party-goers. If you want something smaller, each comes in a mini 42-piece set with a smaller setting. The good news is that the settings mostly involve less stereotypical activities. Yes, there is a beauty shop that we would skip.  Our tester liked all the details in a setting called Heartlake Vet with Mia and Sophie working together ($39.99) It's a 343-piece set complete with office and stables and animal figures. We were confused as to Sophie's hat that looked more like an old time nurse's hat than a vet. Mia is also found at the Heartlake Dog Show ($19.99 ) 183 pieces with two pooches, grooming tools and TV cameras among other accessories.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.


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