Astoria schoolgirl wins prestigious prize for invention

By Bill Parry

When she accepted the TAGIE award for Young Inventor of the Year in Chicago’s historic Navy Pier Grand Ballroom last week, Astoria’s Lyla Black stunned the crowd of 400 toy and game industry insiders from 23 countries.

She’s only 8 years old.

“She made an absolutely stunning speech, very articulate for such a young person” Chicago Toy & Game Group Founder Mary Couzin said. “That’s a very special kid. She’s got a very bright future ahead of her.”

Speaking to such a large crowd could have overwhelmed Lyla, but she fought through the jitters.

“I was excited to win, but nervous to give my speech in front of so many people,” she said. “I am happy I won the award because it means more people will know about Lyla Tov Monsters and buy them so more children will have a good night’s sleep.”

The TAGIE Awards are the most prestigious toy and game awards program in the country and she won for inventing Lyla Tov Monsters, the “guardians of a good night’s sleep.” Lyla designed her first plush toy as a holiday gift for her father Eric when she was just 3 years old.

She drew the picture and asked her mother to get some fabric and help to “make it real.”

Erin Black, a two-time Emmy Award-winning costume designer for her work on “Sesame Street,” made it real. She also turned it into a family project.

“We made a dozen of them for a local craft fare in Sunnyside Gardens and they were pretty popular,” she said.

Father Eric, who worked extensively in children’s television productions, both for the Jim Henson Company and most recently Scholastic Media, got involved with fund-raising.

“Last year we did a Kickstarter campaign and it was a great success,” he said. “We managed to get 130 percent of our goal. We were able to manufacture our first two Limited Edition Monsters, Charlotte and Forest. Since we met our stretch goal, we also made an illustrated book, Billy & Dak.”

The campaign allowed the Blacks to begin mass marketing and the family business, which includes siblings Quinn and Tessa, expanded beyond just their online store. Hundreds of Lyla Tov Monsters are now available at the gift shop at the Jewish Museum, at 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

They are also available at shops such as Raising Astoria, at 26-11 23rd Ave., and at both Tiny You children’s boutiques: one in Sunnyside Gardens at 46-21 Skillman Ave,. and the other at 10-50 Jackson Ave., in Long Island City.

“I first met Lyla four years ago and she won a design contest at my shop in Sunnyside Gardens,” Tiny You Owner Jill Callan said. “Then they did a book reading at my Long Island City store and now I carry the Monsters in both of my shops.”

Lyla Tov means “Good night” in Hebrew and the dolls are designed to be protectors of a good night’s sleep. A single snuggle from the plush toy will ward off the most frightening of dreams and make a child safe and secure, the family says.

Erin adds that a significant portion of the proceeds are donated to a children’s charity of Lyla’s choice. “It’s a great learning experience for all my kids,” she said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr‌y@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.