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Analysts say Doc McStuffins toys have crossed the gender divide as well. To that point: Nathan Lipschik,in Scarsdale, N.Y.

Chester Higgins Jr. • New York Times,

In toyland, some barriers appear to be coming down

  • Article by: ELIZABETH A. HARRIS and TANZINA VEGA
  • New York Times
  • July 26, 2014 - 7:05 PM

Jade Goss, age 2, looks as if she just stepped out of the popular “Doc McStuffins” cartoon.

“She has the Doc McStuffins sheets. She has the Doc McStuffins doll. She has the Doc McStuffins purse. She has Doc McStuffins clothes,” said Jade’s mother, Melissa Woods, of Lynwood, Calif.

“I think what attracts her is, ‘Hey, I look like her, and she looks like me,’ ” Woods said of the character, a black child who acts as a doctor to her stuffed animals.

With about $500 million in sales last year, Doc McStuffins merchandise seems to be setting a record as the bestselling toy line based on a black character, industry experts say.

Its success reflects, in part, the country’s changing consumer demographics, experts say, with more children from minority backgrounds providing an expanding, less segregated marketplace for shoppers and toymakers.

But what also differentiates Doc — and Dora the Explorer, a Latina character whose toy line has sold $12 billion worth of merchandise over the years, Nickelodeon executives say — is her crossover appeal.

“The kids who are of color see her as an African-American girl, and that’s really big for them,” said Chris Nee, the creator of Doc McStuffins. “And I think a lot of other kids don’t see her color, and that’s wonderful as well.”

Nancy Kanter, general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, which developed “Doc McStuffins,” said Doc’s wide-ranging fan base could be gleaned from a spreadsheet.

“If you look at the numbers on the toy sales, it’s pretty obvious that this isn’t just African-American families buying these toys,” Kanter said. “It’s the broadest demographics possible.”

Industry experts say that children still tend to gravitate toward toys and characters that look like them, with parents clamoring for more nonwhite dolls and protesting when a company like American Girl drops a black and an Asian doll, as it did in May.

Last year, roughly half of all infants in the United States were minorities, and minority children younger than 18 are expected to outnumber non-Hispanic whites of the same ages by 2018.

These days, any toy whose sales reach several hundred million dollars, as Doc’s have, is considered significant, given the toy industry’s estimated $22 billion business nationwide. In the past, none of the toys based on Tiana, a recent black Disney princess; Little Bill, a television series starring a black boy; or even Michael Jackson in the ’80s, have enjoyed such a prosperous shelf life as Doc’s, according to market research.

Margaret Beale Spencer, a professor at the University of Chicago whose research has focused on children, race and identity, said children from all backgrounds derive meaningful lessons from their toys.

“Children’s play is serious business,” Spencer said. “They are getting ideas about who they are from these objects.”At the same time, she notes that children of different races or ethnicities do view some toys differently.

“When little white girls embrace Doc McStuffins, for them Doc McStuffins is a girl, and Doc McStuffins is powerful,” Spencer said. “For a little black girl, it may be all of those things, but also that she’s black.”

© 2014 Star Tribune