You could say Brooke Ellis has gone slap happy.
The 8-year-old Rodgers Forge Elementary School student is among the hordes of youngsters helping to turn slap bracelets -- 9-inch cloth-covered metal strips -- into perhaps the hottest fad since the mood ring.
At school cafeterias and playgrounds, it's currently considered cutting edge to run around saying "slap me" or "hit me." Youngsters then tap the bracelets against their (or their friends') wrists and watch as they coil snugly around.
"I wear them all the time," says Brooke, a third-grader and proud owner of two bracelets. "I think they're neat."
The brightly-colored cuffs, which have taken the toy world by storm, are selling out in days at many stores and leaving manufacturers clamoring to meet demand.
But while kids adore them, some parents, school administrators and store owners have begun wondering whether the fashionable accessories are safe. With less expensive models of the bracelets -- which range from 99 cents to $2.49 -- the metal can eventually poke through the fabric, leaving sharp edges exposed.
At least two elementary schools in the country have banned them because of reports of cuts, and a national drug store chain removed them from their shelves.
"Any time a child is going to be slapping something around, it has the potential to be dangerous," says Ray McColgan, principal of Pikesville Middle School, who is currently monitoring the toys.
But in a test conducted last week by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in Bethesda, the bracelets passed the organization's use and abuse tests, according to Anne Pavlich, public affairs specialist.
"We are alerting parents that if the material starts to fray, this is a potential hazard and they should have their kids toss them," she says.
That's exactly the approach Sue Nestor is taking toward the two bracelets she recently purchased for her 10-year-old daughter, Kerry. "I'm keeping my eye on them," says the Parkville mother. "If they start looking worn or if she starts snapping them a lot, they're gone."
The toy was the brainchild of Florida inventor Stuart Anders, a former high school shop teacher, who spent six years trying unsuccessfully to market his idea. In 1989, he teamed up with Main Street Toys, a Simsbury, Conn.-based company. Two months ago, Slap Wraps hit stores including Toys R Us, K mart and CVS drug stores. And today the company has only been able to keep up with half of the 4 million orders received.
"We knew it would be a hot toy, but we didn't know it would be this big," says Deb Baker, vice president of marketing for the company.
Neither did Ben Bard, assistant manager of Kay-Bee Toys in the Owings Mills mall. The store has sold more than a thousand Slap Wraps in the past few weeks.
But shortly after Slap Wraps made their debut, knockoffs began turning up. Ms. Baker says that there have been no reports of injuries with Slap Wraps, which are targeted to 8- to 12-year-olds, and blames the imitators for the injuries. Main Street has a patent pending on their toy and is sending cease and desist letters to competitors.
Walgreen's, a national drug store chain, pulled their stock of knockoff bracelets from 1,550 shops after receiving a call from a parent whose daughter was cut by one. And three weeks ago, two elementary schools in Pelham, N.Y., banned the toys when a child cut her arm with one.
"They were also a nuisance in class," says Joseph Longobardi, principal of the two Pelham schools.
Under the Baltimore city schools' dress code, which forbids bTC metal bracelets, these accessories are not allowed, says spokesperson Brigitte Johnson. In Baltimore County, however, that decision is being left up to each school, says spokesman Rick Bavaria, who had heard of no bannings. There have been no reports of problems in Howard or Anne Arundel county schools either, according to school spokespersons.
At Rodgers Forge Elementary School, Principal Joseph Watkins confesses to being enamored of the toys. "I was kind of fascinated when I first saw them myself," he says. With no reports of misuse, he plans on continuing to allow youngsters to wear them.
That pleases Erin Burns immensely. To this third-grader, the toys are a great stress buster. "Sometimes when you're nervous, you snap them around your wrist, instead of biting your pencils," says the 8-year-old.
Or, if you're Kyle Atkinson, you spend hours perfecting your technique of throwing them in the air and catching them around your wrist. He and his buddies are not self-conscious about wearing what some would call jewelry, he says.
"They're not really like bracelets," the 9-year-old explains. "They're toys."