By Sarah Vander Schaaff
I had a good hand. A couple of giraffes, some elephants. My six-year-old opponent was going down in this game of animal rummy. I played my hand, went out, and then she showed me her cards.
“Oh,” I said, looking at the cards she’d squirreled away and not wanted to part with.
“Actually, you won,” I told her.
And so it goes when you play with the foxes. And sheep. And fish for that matter, when each animal is beautifully painted as they are in a deck of eeBoo animal rummy. If one has to lose, at least it can be done with great art.
Mia Galison started the unique company eeBoo 18 years ago when she had, in her own way, a full deck: a one-year-old and a set of infant twins. I asked how the name eeBoo originated, and the closest definitive answer I got was that it sounds a bit like the French word for owl, “hibou.”
But, of course.
The goal, when Galison started the business in a basement apartment, was to create what she describes as “wonderful children’s products” and spend time with her family.
These days, Galison’s husband, Saxton Freyman, still writes most of the text for the eeBoo games, which go well beyond cards to include board games, cooperative games, and ones for literacy and storytelling, among others. They also have a collection of crafts, flashcards, journals, and the most beautiful pipe cleaners you’ve probably ever seen.
The artwork within these games, and even on their packs of pencils, is a distinctive feature of eeBoo. It’s commissioned, tapping the talent and depth of many recognized illustrators in children’s literature including Melissa Sweet, Lizzy Rockwell, and Kevin Hawkes.
Recently, my family played eeBoo’s Spanish Bingo and their What Do You Know Bingo. The age range of players was 6 to 65. My youngest loved the unusual animals and plants depicted in What Do You Know; my parents studied the artwork; my nine-year-old enjoyed displaying her superior knowledge of Spanish; and I was happy to play something that didn’t involve SpongeBob.
When my kids were younger, it seemed you couldn’t go to a playdate without seeing the eeBoo memory and matching game, I Never Forget A Face.
“My heart belongs to this simple, beautiful and useful game,” she said via email. “It was one of our first products, and we made it when we were first going to war after September 11th. I thought it was good for people to be reminded that there are children all over the world, not just here, and especially to think of those in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We get letters from customers who thank us for giving them a starting place for talking to their own children about cultural diversity.”
Galison now has a company of 18, joined, by two dogs, Augie and Boom Boom. They occupy a two-story space on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that before World War II was a Japanese tea parlor.
Inspiration for their Tea Party Game? Perhaps. But more than that was needed to make their full collection, which has earned more than 200 Oppenheim Toy Awards, including 16 SNAP, or Special Needs Adaptable.
When I was pregnant with my now nine-year-old, I walked into a small toyshop in town and bought a pack of eeBoo Fairies in the Garden alphabet cards. Each card had a letter and flower with a cleverly hidden fairy, and was printed on cardstock about 8×10 in size.
The set was designed to be wall art, but I had to figure out a way to get it on the wall. I found some wooden plaques online and ordered them. I searched around more sites and finally got up to 26.
After they all arrived, I set up shop in my driveway, laid down a tarp, and painted each plaque. I was pregnant, so I decided I hated the color I’d chosen and repainted all 26. I then decoupaged each card onto the dry, wooden plaques.
Those alphabet cards hung in my oldest daughter’s room until she was ready to give them to her little sister. Just a few months ago, I took them down from my youngest daughter’s wall and carefully wrapped them in newspaper and put them in a box.
Are they keepsake quality?
I hope so.
In our digital, disposable age, there is not much of my children’s younger years that I can hold onto.
Disclosure: Over the years, I’ve bought or been given a lot of eeBoo games, but the Spanish Bingo and What do You Know Bingo were given to me by eeBoo after the Toy Fair. As they say on their website, the dogs in the office usually one eat one or two orders a year. Clearly, my games got out of the office without becoming chew toys.
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