Elmhurst native and creator of the Go! Go! Sports Girls doll line Jodi Bondi Norgaard had a business breakthrough after attending a seminar on women and toys hosted by Walmart at an industry event in 2013.
When the seminar was finished, she pitched her latest idea – a new spin on her existing characters that incorporated books and reading – to the big box store's buyers.
The product, called the Go! Go! Sports Girls Read and Play series, hits shelves this week.
“To see it come to this is very exciting,” said Kara Douglass Thom, who is Bondi Norgaard's project partner and author.
Bondi Norgaard joined the toy business seven years ago, because she felt many dolls for young girls pigeonholed them by emphasizing appearance and clothing.
In response, she created Dream Big Toy Company and the Go! Go! girls – a line of dolls designed to be relatable and to encourage healthy behavior in elementary schoolers.
Each doll has a featured sport, secret inspirational message, backpack with accessories, athletic uniform and backstory.
The Go! Go! girls have seen their share of success. The first doll – Tennis Girl Gracie, inspired by Bondi Norgaard's now 17-year-old daughter, Grace – launched at the 2008 U.S. Open, where Bondi Norgaard sold 500 toys in six days. Now, the line includes 13 dolls, all of which promote exercise and nutrition.
“It's not about competition,” Bondi Norgaard said. “It's about keeping yourself healthy.”
The brand's new “Read and Play” doll and book sets have been an ongoing project for the past 15 months for Bondi Norgaard, Douglass Thom and illustrator Pamela Seatter.
The idea originated when Douglass Thom, who had purchased several Go! Go! dolls for her daughters and written about them on her blog, reached out to Bondi Norgaard about creating a book series.
So far, six existing dolls have accompanying books, which are written at the third-grade reading level. Douglass Thom said she and Bondi Norgaard have plans to expand on the concept if this week's rollout goes well, with additional book and doll sets, multiple stories per doll and board books for younger children.
The stories are written to be educational and to address issues girls may face in real life. In one book, the heroine discovers her best friend is on an opposing soccer team.
“It brings the dolls to life,” Bondi Norgaard said. “It's an interesting, fun component.”
The books also incorporate facts about each featured sport, as well as healthy eating tips.
The line will launch at 50 Walmart stores in Illinois, including locations in Bloomingdale and Villa Park.
It has also been picked up by Independent Publisher's Group, which will distribute the dolls to bookshops and toy stores nationwide.
Buy the books
To purchase a Go! Go! Sports Girls Read and Play set, go to www.target.com, www.amazon.com or select Walmart locations, including stores in Bloomingdale and Villa Park. Sets retail for $24.99 and books cost $4.99.