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2007 Gift Guide

Kids’ Stuff

From the new to the nostalgic—fun toys that cultivate learning and creativity



My niece, while still in preschool, created an impromptu game one night to amuse herself amid a gaggle of grown-ups. When I knelt down beside her and asked how to play, she threw her arms over her head and said in a magical voice, “You use your maaaagination!” Imagination is childhood’s greatest gift—a tool for play, for learning, for compassion. But just like any other skill, the imagination needs to be nurtured. In a year fraught with toy terror, here are some suggestions for toys that are not only safe but will promote learning, creativity, and laughter.

One of this year’s multi-award-winning mega-hits, having enthralled toy testers and kids alike, is the EyeClops ($49.99, ages 6 and up) by Jakks Pacific. This handheld “bionic eye” is actually a microscope that plugs directly into your television. Point it at the family dog, the couch, your ham sandwich, the carpet, or your scabby knee and EyeClops magnifies the object 200 times, using your television as a view screen. The eye also comes with a stand for hands-free operation and a viewing tray for examining small objects and liquids. According to parents, kids will scrounge around, indoors and out, looking for new things to examine. According to kids, “It’s totally awesome, dude!”

Joan Miró meets Dr. Seuss meets Tim Burton for endless “playsculpture” possibilities with Zolo A-Go-Go ($32.00, ages 5 and up), one of the all-time zaniest building sets on the market. With 48 wonderfully whimsical pieces and no instruction book, kids can build just about anything their little minds dream up. Zolo also makes the 67-piece Zolotopia ($42, ages 5 and up), which includes a ZoWeeeeLo spinner for four imaginative building games, and the all-wood Pre Zolo ($48, ages 3 and up), with nice big pieces for tiny hands.

For the littlest tykes, and their nostalgic parents, Sababa has rereleased a number of Fisher Price Classic pull toys. The Buzzy Bee ($14.99) looks just like the 1950 original. The Snoop n’ Sniff ($31.99) brings the same giggles it did in 1938. The Chatter Telephone ($14.99) is available again in its endearing blocky wooden form from ’61. Dr. Duck ($23.99), the Tiny Teddy Xylophone ($14.99), the Pull A Tune Xylophone ($24.99), and the Two Tune Music Box TV ($26.89), are also back on the shelves again, just as you remember them. These classics (recommended for ages 12 months and up) have endured for generations because of their timeless ability to engage the littlest learners as they explore how their actions affect their world.

Another longtime favorite celebrates a classic return this year. Mr. Potato Head turns 55, and Hasbro has released the 55th Birthday Collectors Edition Mr. Potato Head ($14.99, ages 2 and up). With the 17 original parts and accessories, this guy is as familiar as he is fun. Also, Melissa and Doug have brought that famous feature-switching concept to their Make-Your-Own Monster Puppet ($19.99, ages 3 and up). This simple hand puppet comes with 30 Velcro pieces—arms, teeth, eyes, horns, noses, fur—that kids can rearrange to create plenty of crazy characters. The bold colors and shaggy brows give the puppets a Muppet quality, and the whole bundle comes packed in a handy storage bag so that you won’t find a googly antenna stuck to your sweater during an early morning meeting.

Find It ($19.95 ages 5 and up) is an amazingly simple and versatile treasure. This self-contained “I Spy” game consists of a large, capped tube full of recycled plastic pellets. Forty-seven trinkets are hidden in the haystack—a rubber band, a penny, a pearl—and players shake, twist, and twirl the tube in a race to find them. Called “the child silencer” by some toy testers, the ever- changing puzzle can be played alone or in groups, and it can even be thrown in your bag to play on-the-go. Mesmerizing, even for adults, Find It comes in a variety of styles and difficulty levels.

When I was a kid, my home was a regular publishing house. We turned out an impressive collection of staple-bound, construction-paper-and-crayon classics. The award winning Illustory ($19.99, ages 5 and up) from Creations by You, lets child authors/illustrators create a professional-looking volume. The kit includes 10 markers, 20 layout pages, an order form, and a prepaid mailer. Kids write and illustrate their own story on the special pages, you mail out the completed “manuscript,” and Illustory sends back a professionally typeset hardcover book, complete with a title page, a dedication, and an author’s bio. Additional copies can be ordered for friends and family ($18.95). Make Illustory an annual tradition, and you’ll have a set of volumes that tracks your child’s creative development. What better heirloom than a catalog of imagination?

—Kathryn Lange


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