WASHINGTON -- Somewhere past the furry, yet faux, zebra-skin pens and the $14.95 binders with the glued-in mirrors, four cooing preteens rushed to a gleaming Powerpuff Girls display in the school supplies section of a Target store in suburban Virginia.
No, it wasn't "Power Rangers," "Star Wars" or Harry Potter. It was the Powerpuff Girls -- a trio of kindergarten sisters turned warriors, girl-power superheroes.
As many parents are learning, they're the big thing for their daughters this school year. The Powerpuff Girls save the world from "evil and mayhem, all before bedtime" every night on the Cartoon Network.
"Oh, look at that!" Julia Nixon, 12, gushed over a pink-and-green Powerpuff pencil box. Her friends giggled, grabbed and jostled in front of each other to get a purple folder illustrated with the "it girls" of school supplies this year.
Suddenly, one friend, Kelly Zagrod, 10, got distracted. She ambled over to another display: Lisa Frank, a brand of supplies decorated with neon, glow-in-the-dark graphics of unicorns and kittens and grasshoppers personified as a preteen and dressed in bell bottoms and flip-flops. When Kelly picked up a lunch tote, eyes rolled.
"Not a good supply," Andrea Nixon, 10, said as she scrunched her nose.
"Don't really like it that much anymore," added her older sister, Julia. "I mean, it's OK."
School supplies were once as mundane as a ruler, a protractor and a No. 2 pencil. Now they've become so important that some students passionately believe their initial reputation on those all-important first days of school can live or die based on the image on their folders, planners and pencil boxes.
"You need the right stuff," said Michelle Pfeiffer, who is turning 12 and entering seventh grade in Fauquier County, Va. She picks a hot-pink lunch box with the three Powerpuff girls soaring through the air beneath the words, "Power Lunch, anyone?"
For the most part, only girls are buying Powerpuff supplies. Boys are sticking with pop band 'N Sync, "Pokemon" and the World Wrestling Federation on their notebooks and book bags.
Until relatively recently, the pressure to have the "right" school supplies was concentrated in the upper elementary grades. Now younger students are being swept up, too.
Tonya Murry, of Forestville, Md., spent nearly an hour after work sifting through Target's supplies to find the right colors, characters and styles for her kindergartener.
"I always had the plain stuff," Murry said of her own school days as she juggled a Powerpuff backpack.
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