Parents

Kids around the world showcase their prized possessions in 'Toy Stories'

Gabriele Galimberti doesn’t have children, but his passion is kid’s play.

The Italian photographer traveled the world to capture young subjects surrounded by their favorite toys, fascinated by the way the playthings provided clues about each child’s personality, home life and economic realities. The images are featured in his new book, “Toy Stories: Photos of Children from Around the World and Their Favorite Things.”

Today
Naya Gutierrez, 3, lives in Managua, Nicaragua, and doesn’t have many toys. She just has few small kitchen items, but she never gets bored playing with them. She uses mud and grass from the garden to pretend she’s cooking some cakes for her older sister. She says that in the future she will manage a restaurant and she’s sure that tourists will love it.

The project started about four years ago when a friend asked Galimberti to take photos of her daughter. When he went to the house — a big farm in the Tuscan countryside — he found the little girl playing with cows and feeding them using her little toys. Inspired by the cute scene, Galimberti asked her to put all the toys on the floor and to pose for him right there, together with the cows.

“I really liked the result,” Galimberti, 36, told TODAY Moms in an email from Brazil, where he was working on assignment.

“I decided… I wanted to take portraits of children with their favorite toys everywhere in the world.”

Today
Julius Meichtry, 3, lives in Lausanne, Switzerland. He loves to play with costumes, including that of Superman, which he got as gift from his parents. He likes to dress like the superhero and run and jump all around the house.

That opportunity came soon after when an Italian magazine asked Galimberti to travel around the globe for more than two years using only Couchsurfing — a service that connects visitors with locals who offer up beds in their homes — for his accommodations.

Galimberti traveled to 58 countries in 30 months, publishing a portrait of each of his hosts every week. That’s how he met the kids he photographed for his book: They’re the hosts’ children, nephews, or simply their neighbors.

Today
Sofia Iris Shonfeld, 4, lives in Bradfort on Avon, UK, in a huge custom-built barn and attends a private school in Bath. Her favorite toys are her doll “babies.” She has several and “feeds” them and pushes them around in buggies.

Galimberti looked for kids 3 to 6 years old and worked with them to arrange all their toys for the photos.

“I was really surprised to see how easy was for children to understand my project,” he said. “It was quite easy to get their confidence. I simply played with them! … I always had my phone with me and I had the photos of the children I photographed before on it.”

As he took pictures of rich kids and poor kids, children of all races and backgrounds and living in all corners of the globe, Galimberti found they had one thing in common: Every child just loved to play. 

Today
Watcharapon Chookaew, 3, was born in Bangkok, Thailand. He loves to play with his helmet and his little motorbikes. Every morning, his father takes the helmet and goes to work with the scooter, so Watcharapon loves to imitate him.

In general, boys loved cars and girls loved dolls. Affluence, or the lack of it, often made a difference in how they behaved, he observed.

“It was easier to work with children in the poorest countries. Rich children tend to be more possessive of what they have, even if they usually have a lot more toys than children in poor countries,” Galimberti said.

His favorite photo is of Maudy Sibanda, a 3-year-old girl who lives in Zambia in a village where there is no electricity, running water “and of course no toy stores!” Galimberti noted. 

Today
Maudy Sibanda, 3, was born in a hut in a small village in Zambia. Just a few children there are lucky to have some toys, but Maudy and her friends found a box full of sunglasses on the street and they became their favorite toys.

It’s almost impossible to find a child with a toy, but he was lucky enough to arrive in the village a couple of days after Maudy found a box full of sunglasses along the main road. The box had likely fallen off a truck, so all the kids of the village were playing with the newfound treasures, Galimberti recalled.

Though he’s not a dad yet himself, he hopes to have children one day.

“I learned more about being a parent than I did about being a child from this whole process,” Galimberti said in his book’s introduction.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Gabriele Galimberti

    Gabriele Galimberti

    Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti traveled the world to capture these striking images of children surrounded by their toys. "At their age, they are pretty much all the same," he said. "They just want to play."

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    Toy Stories -

    Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti spent two years traveling to 58 countries around the world to capture these images of children surrounded by their toys. Despite the striking differences in their locations and cultures, Galimberti says there was a universal quality to the children. "At their age, they are pretty much all the same," he said. "They just want to play."

    Reanya Velaithan, 5, Malaysia
    Reanya was born in Kuala Lumpur, but now lives in a big, new house built in one of the many satellite cities around the capital. Her family shares the house with her uncle's family, in a neighborhood that looks like an American suburb, where all the houses are very similar. Her parents give Reanya a lot of different toys, but she love bears the best.

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    Alessia Pellegrini, 5 - Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy -

    Alessia was born and raised in the country; her family owns one of the largest farms in the city. She loves to play with animals and helps her grandfather with the work of the farm.

    This was the photo that started it all, Galimberti told TODAY. "She's the child of one of my best friends," he said. "My friend asked me to photograph her child, so I went to their house and she was playing with the cows. I thought that situation was really nice...and some months later, when I had the possibility to start my trip around the world, I decided to take the same kind of photo in every country that I was going to visit."

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    Arafa and Aisha Saleh Aman, 4 - Bububu, Zanzibar -

    Arafa and Aisha are twins. They sleep in the same bed, have the same clothes, go to school together and share the same toys. They live in a two-room house in which both of the rooms are bedrooms, and the kitchen and restroom are outside. The big photo above the closet is a portrait of the formal president of Zanzibar.

    As Galimberti traveled the world, he couchsurfed from country to country, and asked his hosts to help him connect with children to photograph.

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    Pavel Denisov, 5 - Kiev, Ukraine -

    Pavel doesn’t have any doubts: he wants to be a police man. He loves guns and plays with them all the time. His younger brother is always under "Pavel’s arrest." Pavel handcuffs him, questions him and accuses him of stealing cars. Sometimes he lets his brother be the police man, but only when other friends come over and become the "bad people" Pavel wants to arrest!

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    Allenah Lajallab, 4 - El Nido, Philippines -

    Allenah Lajallab was born and raised in El Nido, a small town north of Palawan in the Philippines. In El Nido there weren't hospitals and she was born at home. She has a lot of stuffed animals, and her favorite is the orange one because she loves the color. She doesn't like the white stuffed animal as much, because it gets dirty too easily.

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    Abel Sientes Armas, 4 - Nopaltepec, Mexico -

    Abel, the third of five children, was born and raised in the small town of Nopaltepec, about an hour southeast of Mexico City. In this photo he's posing with all of his games. He loves to race with his toy cars, and sometimes plays with them with his younger sister.

    Galimberti said the biggest surprise of the project was finding that children in the poorest countries were the most generous with their toys. "In the richest countries, the children are a lot more possessive," he said.

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    Samantha, 3 - Port-au-Prince, Haiti -

    Samantha used to live in a house in the center of the city, but after the 2010 earthquake she and her family moved into a tent because they lost the house. She doesn't have many toys, just two little dolls.

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    Stella Pantini, 4 - Italy -

    Stella was born in Italy to an Italian father and Australian mother. They live in the countryside of a small city in Tuscany. She loves to play with dolls and dress them up like princesses, and she also loves to dress up like a princess. Her favorite toy is the small pink pig behind her.

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    Niko Sulczynski, 5 - Homer, Alaska -

    Niko was born in a small town in the mountains of Alaska in the Kenai peninsula. His father is a fisherman and his mother is a teacher. Niko loves to play with Legos and similar games. He built a small Lego spaceship and likes to imagine he's bringing little men up to space.

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    Puput Aprimiputri, 4 - Bali, Indonesia -

    Puput was born at home in Ubud, Bali. She never met her father, who died when her mother was five months pregnant. Her mother works as a cook in a little restaurant just 200 yards from their house. Puput doesn't have many toys, but plays with these plastic balls like bowling pins, placing them on the ground in a triangle and rolling the rubber ball at them.

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    Noel Hawthorne, 5 - South Dallas, Texas -

    "Noel is 100% Texan!" Galimberti writes. "He has very clear ideas already, he wants to be a pilot!" Noel plays primarily with airplanes and a flight simulator, and he also loves to play with Legos.

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    Maudy Sibanda, 3 - Kalulushi, Zambia -

    Maudy was born in a hut in a small village close to Kalulushi, in Zambia. She grew up playing in the street with the other children in the village, who all attend the same school, where students ages 3 to 10 years old are in the same class. The village has no shops, restaurants or hotels, and just a few children are lucky enough to have toys. Maudy and her friends found a box full of sunglasses on the street, which quickly became their favorite toys.

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    Enea Schicchi, 4 - Colorado, USA -

    Enea was born in Tuscany to an Italian father and an American mother, but now lives in Colorado. His uncle is a musician and Enea loves to imitate him. He often plays with his small musical instruments, trying to play the theme songs from “Batman” and “SpiderMan.” Sometimes he plays with his older sister Anita, and they pretend to have a band.

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    Cun Zi Yi, 3 - Chongquing, China -

    Cun Zi Yi just turned 3, and received a lot of gifts for her birthday. She plays with everything and can’t choose her favorite toy. Her parents say that she’s really good at painting, and will be an artist when she grows up.

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    Botlhe Mohutsiwa, 4 - Maun, Botswana -

    Botlhe has a lot of friends, and all of them live really close by to the small house where she lives with her family in a residential complex. In the complex, there is one toilet for every four families. Botlhe has only one toy, the monkey, but she almost never plays with it because she prefers to go out with friends and play with them.

    After completing the project, Galimberti said he learned more about the parents than the kids he photographed. "Now I'm ready to have a child, maybe!"

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    Julius, 3 - Lausanne, Switzerland -

    Julius lives in a small house with his parents in the center of Lausanne. From his window he can see the whole lake Léman. He loves to play with costumes, including that of Superman, which he got as gift from his parents. He likes to dress like the superhero and run and jump all around the house.

    Riverboom/INSTITUTE / Riverboom/INSTITUTE
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    Henry, 5 - Berkeley, California -

    Henry loves to play with cars. He usually plays with them together with his older brothers and they like to race them all around the big house where they live with their parents in the high part of Berkeley.

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    Watcharapon, 4 - Bangkok, Thailand -

    Watcharapon was born almost 4 years ago in Bangkok. He loves to play with his helmet and his little motorbikes. Every morning his father takes the helmet and goes to work with the scooter, so Watcharapon love to imitate him.

    Riverboom/INSTITUTE / Riverboom/INSTITUTE
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    Naya, 3 - Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica -

    Naya doesn’t have many toys – she just has few small kitchen items, but she never gets bored playing with them. She uses mud and grass from the garden to pretend she’s cooking some cakes for her older sister. She says that in the future she will manage a restaurant and she’s sure that tourists will love it.

    Riverboom/INSTITUTE / Riverboom/INSTITUTE
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    Sofia Iris Shonfeld, 4 - Bradfort on Avon, UK -

    Sofia lives in a huge custom-built barn and attends a private school in Bath. Her favorite toys are her doll “babies.” She has several and “feeds” them and pushes them around in buggies.

    Riverboom/INSTITUTE / Riverboom/INSTITUTE
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    Shotaro, 5 - Tokyo, Japan -

    Shotaro lives in a big house with his parents and grandparents. He has a little sister but he says: "Unfortunately, I can't play with her, she's only 1 years old!" Shotaro loves baseball and he dreams of becoming a professional player in the future.

    Riverboom/INSTITUTE / Riverboom/INSTITUTE

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