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18 Hottest Toys of 2011

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Toy sales are expected to strengthen in 2011 as toymakers bet on new plush toys, digital updates to old classics and the return of an iconic relationship.

Toy sales grew 2% in 2010 to $21.87 billion , according to the NPD Group, with online toy sales buoying results with a 22% surge. The strongest category was plush toys, which saw sales climb 18%, followed by building sets, which spiked 13%. Dolls and preschool toy sales increased 6%.

Toymaker Mattel (MAT - Get Report) is banking on the ever-successful Barbie line of dolls and accessories, especially now that Ken is officially back in her life. Digital video recorders were added to Hot Wheels to rev up that line of cars. The release of the Cars 2 movie, complete with twice the number of characters and an international spy theme should also help boost sales.


For Hasbro (HAS - Get Report), the latest movie in the Transformers series is likely to be a boon. Older toy lines like Strawberry Shortcake were reinvigorated by the success of their affiliated television shows on the new kid network, The Hub, and toys, dolls and accessories are expected to benefit from renewed consumer awareness.

Many of the hottest toys of the year won't appear on the market till the fall, just in time for the holiday shopping season. Click through this slideshow to get a sneak peak at this year's must-have toys , some of which won't hit store shelves for several more months...

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