We hang everything/on our Christmas tree/Ornaments big and bright/and all these sparkling icicles/and twirling balls of white… Eloise at Christmastime- Kay Thompson
Daughters and sons, nieces and nephews, godchildren, best friends’ kids, toys for your kids to give their friends…the list goes on. Some gifts need to be mailed long before the holiday in order to arrive in time. In other cases, it’s a matter of decisions, decisions, decisions. No one, and I mean no one wants to be shopping that last week. Herein some of the best this year has to offer, many thoughtfully tested by my consultant, 11 year-old Chloe Raizner and one by her friend Santiago Parra.
Fire Rescue Set- I mean look at it, could you get more complete? A 3-level building with helipad and helicopter, ambulance and fire truck; 3 firefighters and 22 pieces of furniture. (Some assembly required) Enough open space so two can play without territorial issues. Encourages playing out exciting, altruistic scenarios instead of war games. 31” x 17” x 24” $129.00
Lights and Sound Fire Helmet- to complete the package. Adjustable helmet lights up and makes siren sounds at the flip of a switch. Battery included. $12.00 Both chasing-fireflies.com
The FLIP-O-SAURUS flip format book (and its unseen brother, FLIP-O-STORIC) helps kids create endless ridiculous looking, prehistoric sounding animals by mixing and matching heads, bodies and tails. If he’s into dinosaurs-and at some point almost all of them are- he’ll love this. Suggest new names and habitats for each invented creature. Create real historical lives! @ $16.00 chasing-fireflies.com
And How Do Dinosaurs say I Love You? By Jane Yolen- Even when little dinosaurs are naughty, it’s important to let them know they’re loved. Kids compare their own mischief with that of these creatures inevitably feeling they’re better behaved. Everything ends in hugs and kisses, of course. $9.00 amazon.com
Fashion! Always popular.
Above Left: Designed By You Fashion Studio. Ages 9+. This is the absolute most complete set we found for actually learning to make clothes as well as design them. Manuel dexterity, patience, learning what goes into the creation of clothes, creative decisions…FIT here we come! (The Fashion Institute of Technology). I met a 20 year old this year who’s had his own fashion business for 5 years! One never knows. Set includes a velvet mannequin, 6 yards of fabric, faux fur, a sketch book, fabric swatches, a satin dress (to embellish,) garment bag and hanger, decorative trims and sewing essentials. $34.98 hearthsong.com
Above Right: Fashion Design Sketch Portfolio & Artist Set ages 8+. For those into the look rather than actual sewing, this set provides everything needed to experiment without having to be an artist. More than 100 plastic stencils offer shapes to combine and trace onto model sketch pages. Included pencils are then used to color and create print pattern. Save your fashion magazines for inspiration. 14.25” x 9.75” $12.99 fashionangels.com
The Orbeez Soothing Spa- Soak the “wet and wacky, soft and squishy” Orbeez balls and watch them grow more than 100 times the volume. Chloe says “I loved it, loved it, loved it…after the balls grow (a few hours) and the spa is ready, it’s amazing to put your feet in and wiggle your toes in Orbeez, especially after a long day at school or playing sports. All my friends wanted to try it. The light and glow when it’s on makes it really nice to look at. It’s a definite hit!” Balls are washable after each use to keep things sanitary. Toe nail polish party? Contains: 1 soothing spa, 3500 Orbeez, small perfume bottle, 16 page instruction and activity booklet $33.21 amazon.com
Above Left: Is there a budding scientist in your midst…always asking questions you can’t answer, curious about how natural things evolve and function? The 62-piece Student Microscope Set (with carrying case) ages 8+ will introduce a child to the organic world by providing the opportunity for first hand exploration instead of just reading something online. Includes: quality beginner microscope (approx. 18 “) with die-cast metal body and object lenses with 100x, 450x, and 900x magnification; 12 each of blank slides, slide covers, cover glasses, and blank labels, plus 4 collecting vials, 2 pipettes, a stir rod, a petri dish, a hatchery, a magnifier, a screwdriver, spare bulb, a micro-science databank card, and an instruction manual (thank God). At least you know he won’t blow up his bedroom. (Or hers) $49.98 hearthsong.com
Above Right: Moon in my Room- This 10” shaped and textured lunar light will cycle through its 12 phases by remote control, or can be set to automatically change with the phases of the real moon. While package appearance is deceptively flat, when lit in the dark it’s like capturing a part of space for one’s very own. One mother told me she intends to use it as a nightlight in her son’s room. Another suggested her child’s interest in astronomy made this a perfect gift. If you’ve been to the Planetarium more than once this year, watched the film Apollo 13 together, or are pelted with questions about what’s in the sky, take the moon home. Comes with a 15 minute audio CD about the moon. $29.98 hearthsong.com
Hero Capes- Ages 3+. “Able to stop boredom in a single day.” Not big enough to be a spy, how about a Super Hero? Interestingly that statement makes sense to kids. Watch them tear into the garden (or playroom) to rescue the neighbor’s cat or a sibling about to be in distress! Next: the world!!! (We could use it) Get rescued yourself (always a nice feeling.) Four inner pockets for carrying small toys. Clear vinyl backpack-use one of three enclosed insert shields or let the child make his/her own. Make up a name and a power together. Satin construction with 2-sided fastener. Blue, red, or pink. $40.00@ landofnod.com
Two of the most terrifically creative books you’ll find! No spoon feeding here.
Above Left: My Even More Wonderful World of Fashion Book by Nina Chakrabarti- This great looking, thick volume is the perfect gift for any young aspiring designer and functional fashionista. There are imaginative things to create and then color on every page: Two polka dot bows come with the request to “design shoes for the bows,” a mask needs to be finished by adding feathers. There are bangles and dress forms to embellish, a coat to design beneath a collar, hairstyles to create on top of heads. References to fashion through the ages provide soft learning. $20.00 chasing-fireflies.com
Right: F nish Th s B k (Finish This Book) by Keri Smith and ____(his or her name) is perfect for the precocious child.. It begins “Sit down with this book and start reading. Wait! Stop! Before you start, you should make a sign to hang nearby and it should say something like : Do not disturb! I am finishing my book. Signed, your name…” Don’t you love it already? How about: “Create your own small imaginary world out of whatever you have lying around. Place it in a natural setting.” “Leave a trail of some kind of purpose…” “…is it possible to blend into the landscape?” This is a collection of suggestions/assignments requiring original thinking, problem solving, and choices. If you own a creative business I’d suggest handing it out to all your product development people or designers to stimulate out of the box thinking. $15.00 chasing-fireflies.com
Remember the first time a relative pulled a coin from your ear? I do! How about the wonder of seeing something disappear on stage- it has to be on stage, tv is tricky. The International Brotherhood of Magicians Magic, ages 7+, is the ultimate set for learning how to astonish friends and relatives, developing confidence in performance, and keeping secrets. An especially great gift for shy children. Contains more than 300 classic tricks; includes magic apparatus such as custom cards, a wand, Chinese sticks…to perform a variety of coin, card, handkerchief, escape, rope and wand tricks. Set includes a put-together box that can be used as a presentation platform and a 90 minute DVD with rare footage of real master magicians. Lifetime Guarantee. Box 19 ½” x 15” $49.95 hammacher.com
Paper Jamz Pro Series Guitars- Ages 8+ (note: we reviewed the original last year). Chloe says “This guitar is definitely better than the previous model. The sound is really good and once you’ve adjusted the mode button you can play along with any song you download. (MP3 compatible- and there are hundreds of specially formatted downloads available from the Paper Jamz Download Library.) It doesn’t play like a real guitar, but it will give any kid hours of fun.” Real chords, 14 fret sensors, vibrato effects and whammy bar. $39.99 tru.com
Disney Pixar Cars 2 TV Games- Plug directly into the TV, turn the key and start. A gear is used to slow down or speed up. There’s even a horn. Drivers race against other’s Cars characters on the screen. Santi says “I won every race, even when I bumped into other cars many times and had to be “repaired” in the pits. I loved how the settings in each game were different. (scenery and difficulty changes.) You can also slow down other cars by throwing traps (impediments in the road.) This game is for really young children.” (Where familiar repetition is an attraction rather than an issue and the child isn’t already conditioned to sophisticated Wii) $39.99 tru.com, target.com
Paint-Your-Own-Tea Set- Are you raising a little lady who serves high tea to her friends, her dolls and animals, you? How much more fun to beam proudly when the table is set with her own unique dishes. Baking is next, of course. After a hard day of playing, toys can get particularly hungry. Comes in sturdy suitcase with 10 paint colors. Decorate and bake to set the paint and make the dishes food safe. Teapot, sugar bowl, creamer and 4 place settings; 50 page booklet of tea ideas and recipes. $20.00 chasing-fireflies.com
Jakks Pacific Spy Net Video Watch with Night Vision- Every generation has secret agent heroes. James Bond never dies. Endless film and television series show guys (and girls) who face high risk situations with more agility, cleverness, bravery and gadgets than their predecessors. Secretly acquiring information has always been a thrill. (Just read the newspapers) Chloe says, “This is an amazing product. I played with it for hours, secretly taping my mom (the watch face looks like a watch during this), making it check for bugs in the bathroom (the face shows scanning.) The lie detector wasn’t really correct but I knew that (you speak into the mike and it rates accuracy) …it made me feel like a spy for awhile.” Chloe found the watch too thick to wear so, consider a slightly older or more masculine arm. Records up to 20 minutes of slightly grainy but accurate video or over 3 hours of audio or takes 2000 photos – even in complete darkness. $49.99 Toysrus.com
I always hang a star on top/With angels in between/ Here’s how many lights we have —? Thirty-seven and sixteen… Eloise at Christmastime