The Year's Best Toys, Games, DVDs and Story CDs for All Ages
As the season of giving approaches, the 2010 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) shares its best gift ideas for children. From 20 years of experience setting the Gold standard for children's products, NAPPA's team of expert judges, parents and child testers proudly present their top picks of products for children's learning and entertainment.
In This Issue:
Toys, Games, DVDs, Story CDs
Books, Music, Software, Websites & Video Games
The Rest of the Best
Find more gifts kids will love among the NAPPA Honors winners featured at www.NAPPA.Parenthood.com. Here, you can download handy shopping lists – by age group – of all the 2010 NAPPA winners!
By Ellen Metrick
Toys allow children to mimic the world and do what the grown-ups do. Today's toys provide "grown-up" technology in durable, kid- and eco-friendly versions with less packaging and more natural elements. Dolls and plush animals continue to provide nurturing play, even as whimsical sounds and soft glows add new life to these classic favorites.
For Infants & Toddlers
Babipouce Activities, Corolle, $50; www.corolle.com; birth to age 3. This perfect first plush doll has soft vinyl hands and face. To lull baby to sleep, press the doll's back for a lullaby and gentle twinkling lights that gradually fade and stop. Machine washable.
"This doll is so precious. My granddaughter immediately settles down when the music plays." – Grandmother of four
Flow 'N' Fill Spout, Yookidoo by International Playthings, $16.99; www.intplay.com; ages 9 months and up. A battery-powered spout suctions to the side of the bathtub and continuously draws bath water up from the tub itself, allowing kids to play with running water without overflowing the tub. Cups are included for exploratory water fun.
"My kids love to play under the running faucet. Now they can without flooding the bathroom!" – Mother of two
Spring Roller, Chicco, $19.99; www.chiccousa.com; ages 6 months and up. This colorful, cylindrical toy invites baby to crawl, as it plays upbeat Caribbean tunes when rolling along the carpet or floor. Encircling the toy are manipulative activities with cause-and-effect buttons to push, and lights and sounds to intrigue.
Hot Dots Jr. – Ace the Talking Teaching Dog, Educational Insights Inc., $39.99; www.educationalinsights.com; ages 3 and up. The electronic dog "Ace" supports learning by pointing to correct answers on cards that focus on fundamental literacy skills. She lights up, gives a verbal "good job" and occasionally vibrates for added kudos. Ace lets kids know when an answer is incorrect, too.
MobiGo Touch Learning System, VTech, $59.99; www.vtechkids.com; ages 3 and up. "Edu-gaming" at its finest! Touch screen and slide-out keyboard accompany a clear voice and excellent video quality. Insert cartridge and start playing and learning. More games can be downloaded from the website.
Sing-a-ma-jigs!, Fisher-Price, $12.99; www.thesingamajigs.com; ages 3 and up. Oozing with personality, these plush characters make you smile and brighten your mood! Push their tummies and they talk and sing in goofy chipmunk-like voices. Each has a different pitch so that they can sing in harmony.
"These little guys are hilarious! Every person I've shown them to laughs and wants to get their hands on one!" – Educator and mother of two
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Zoobies, $40; www.zoobies.com; ages 5 and up. Snuggle up to this beloved bug from Eric Carle's classic tale – while reading! Exquisitely soft, the caterpillar plush toy opens up to a comfy pillow and unzips to reveal what he really ate: a warm, fuzzy blanket!
"This is the perfect gift set! It's familiar and adorable. I'm definitely giving several as holiday presents, and keeping one set for us!" – Mother of two
For Ages 5 & Up
Liv Dolls, Spin Master Ltd., $14.99 each; www.spinmaster.com; ages 5 and up. Glam to the hilt, Liv teenage dolls strut in style. Each of four diverse dolls can be posed and comes with interchangeable wigs and an online code for more games and fashion fun.
Makedo, Makedo/Reeves International Inc., $15; www.makedo.com.au; ages 5 and up. Kids create fun and functional items by using imagination and ordinary household recyclables. Armed with this set of connectors, hinges and multi-purpose tools, young children can saw cardboard and punch holes to make cars, costumes and more.
Real Construction Deluxe Tool Set, JAKKS Pacific Inc., $29.99; www.jakks.com; ages 5 and up. A "must have" for builders who are too old for pretend tools but too young for real ones. Build a garage for toy cars or a dollhouse with lightweight tools. Styrofoam?-like faux wood and screws for solid construction.
"This was my 'wow' find at the New York Toy Fair! I saw a prototype and was amazed! The tools work well, the 'wood' cuts easily and the screws really do hold tight!" – NAPPA Judge
Springfree Trampoline, Springfree Trampoline, Inc., $1,599; www.springfreetrampoline.com; ages 6 and up. Marketed as the safest trampoline, flexible fiberglass rods replace traditional metal springs and are located beneath the jumping surface for a safer and more natural bounce. The FlexiNet enclosure keeps kids safely inside and guides them back to the trampoline's center.
"It's jumpier than regular trampolines and it looks really cool, too!" – Erin, age 9
For Ages 8 & Up
Ground Force Drifter, Razor USA LLC, $299.99; www.razor.com; ages 8 and up. This steel-framed, electric go-kart zips through neighborhoods at speeds of up to 12 mph. Thumb-tab acceleration and a rear-wheel hand break put control in the palm of kids' hands; a high torque motor and Super Slider™ rear tires give the power and precision for spin-outs, fishtails and 360s.
"It's so cool because it's 'batterized'!" – Ben, age 9
Perplexus, PlaSmart Inc., $24.99; www.plasmarttoys.com; ages 6 and up. Methodically rotate and tilt this 3-D labyrinth-like maze, encapsulated in a clear plastic ball, to move a small metal marble through an intricate web of shoots and track. Totally addictive!
Potato Chip Science, Workman Publishing, $17.95; www.workman.com; ages 9 and up. "High in saturated facts," as the package states, this is not your typical science kit. Packaged in a potato chip bag, this set uses potato chip bags, tubes, lids, spuds and chips to conduct experiments with immediate results.
"As an engineer by trade, I enjoy the science behind this kit. As a kid by trade, my son loves the attraction of using potato chips in the experiments."
– Father of one
Board and Card Games
By Peggy Brown, with Kim Vandenbroucke
Games are more popular than ever and for good reason. They pack a lot of entertainment into a box and offer a cost-friendly alternative to movies, sports events and, of course, boredom! A game can also become the centerpiece of good, old-fashioned family togetherness.
The Amazing Alphabotz Superphonic Decoder Cards, Ideopolis LLC, $19.95; www.alphabotz.com; ages 3 and up. These oversized flashcards demystify upper and lowercase letters, the sounds they make, and how they work as a system. Charming and cheerful characters identified for each letter are designed in a new-but-retro style.
For Ages 5 & Up
Can You See What I See? Bingo Link, Gamewright, $15.99; www.gamewright.com; ages 6 and up. Quick! Find the soccer ball! The mitten! The scissors! Identify items and cover them to create a connection across your board. Learn simple strategy and how to be descriptive in the process. The first player to link across the board wins.
Animal Mastermind Towers, Pressman Toy, $11.99; www.pressmantoy.com; ages 5 and up. This problem-solving and deduction game makes you use your noodle to figure out the order of stacked animals on your opponent's tower. It's simple but tricky at the same time; fun to set up and figure out.
For Ages 7 & Up
Spot It!, BlueOrange Games, $11.99; www.blueorangegames.com; ages 8 and up. Four quick-match games come packed in a little round tin box. Magically elegant, each circular card has a series of pictures on it: one (and only one) picture on each card matches one (and only one) on every other card.
Minotaurus, LEGO Systems Inc., $24.99; www.LEGO.com; ages 7 and up. Setting up the game board is as much fun as playing it. A little chance and light strategy can get one of your heroes to the temple without confronting the Minotaur. The "game-scape" can be changed limitlessly for creative and imaginative play.
"Can we play again, except change the board?" – Jack, age 8
For Ages 8 & Up
Dweebies, Gamewright, $10.99; www.gamewright.com; ages 8 and up. Cute and colorful, the appropriately named Dweebies are lovable, laughable and clever characters. Capture them by playing matches at each end of a row to collect the most.
Scrabble Flash, Hasbro Games, $29.99; www.hasbrogames.com; ages 8 and up. Scrabble meets electronics in an unusually fresh way. Five electronic "tiles" have LCD displays and each shows one letter. Players arrange and rearrange the tiles to make words. The tiles magically know rules to three games and track your time.
"This is so much more fun than those unscrambling puzzles in the paper." – Mom of three
Q-bitz, MindWare, $24.95; www.mindware.com; ages 8 and up. Complete visual masterpieces by using cubes with simple graphic elements on each side. Each player has his own tray, which he uses to align his cubes in a race to be the first to match the graphic on the card. Q-bitz includes three games with fun twists.
By Ranny Levy
This year, three KIDS FIRST! senior jurors worked closely with child jurors to winnow the best from a pool of excellent submissions. We saw an exponential up-tick in sophistication and the use of computer-generated graphics and digital recording. The quality of content clearly reflects a commitment to create better programming that both teaches and inspires children.
Big Bird, Little Bird, Sleeveless, 2010; 35 min.; $14.99; www.sarahickman.com; ages 0 to 5. Texas' official State Musician Sara Hickman nurtures babies' transition into tot-hood with this loving, quiet-time video. Gentle, colorful animation brings tender lyrics to life. Everything is pitch perfect as it flows from a cappella renditions to acoustic and string accompaniments. The cover art is also a winner!
"'You Are My Sunshine' brought tears to my eyes – and to my husband's. I had to immediately play it again to sing along with Sara's resonant voice."
– Senior Juror and grandmother of five
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus ... And More Stories by Mo Willems, Scholastic Media/New Video, 2010; 49 min.; $14.95; www.newkideo.com; ages 2 to 5. A hoot! Mo's pigeon uses every imaginable kid ploy to persuade off-screen kids to let him drive, but they don't buy it! Simple graphics and story lines, Woody-Allen-style humor and vaudevillian timing prove that Mo really "gets" kids.
"Frame for frame, this is one of the most original and rewarding kid videos I have ever watched." – Senior Juror and grandmother of five
Look Out World Here I Come! New York, Look Out World LLC, 2010; 30 min.; $19.95; www.lookoutworldhereicome.com; ages 2 to 5. Imaginary travelers Otto, Blink and Casey guide young viewers on a tour of New York City via cleverly mixed animation and real images. An unhurried pace, sing-along tunes and a 36-page activity book encourage fun and interactive learning.
"The packaging alone deserves an award. It includes character passports, taxi games, a NY pizza recipe and more."
– Senior Juror and mother of two
Meet the Sight Words DVD Boxed Set, Preschool Prep Company, 2009; 108 min.; $39.97; www.preschoolprepco.com; ages 2 to 5. "Sight words" are words that are frequently seen but not easily decoded, such as "a," "and," "for," "have," "he" and "I." Using playful approaches with animation, graphics and letter personification, this series helps kids recognize words without having to "figure them out."
"The children testers laughed and shouted and asked for more. Readers and non-readers were equally engaged."
– Senior Juror and mother of two
Wimzie's House – A World of Enchantment, Mill Creek Entertainment, 2010; 4 hrs. 10 min.; $9.98; www.millcreekent.com; ages 2 to 5. When Wimzie opens the door to her enchanting home, we can't resist stepping in ... and all that follows is good. It's puppetry at its three-dimensional best! Superb theatrical sets and engrossing scripts help preschoolers sort through daily challenges.
For Ages 5 & Up
The Wheels on the Bus Sing-Along Travel Kit, Scholastic Media/New Video, 2010; 2 hrs. 12 min.; $24.95; www.newkideo.com; ages 5 to 8. Fifteen brilliantly illustrated musical storybooks on two DVDs keep kids and parents happy on road trips. Together with 13 songs on a music CD and an activity booklet with crayons, children are introduced to good, diverse music and art styles.
For Ages 8 to 12
The Secret of Moonacre, E1 Entertainment, 2010; 103 min.; $24.95; www.E1homevideo.com; ages 8 to 12. Stunning 1900s sets and costumes bring fantasy, history and mystery together in this film about 13-year-old Maria who, once orphaned, must rise to meet her destiny in a magical moonlit world of exotic characters and mythical beasts.
"For those who enjoy the Chronicles of Narnia stories and The Golden Compass, I promise you will not be disappointed by this."
– Senior Juror and grandmother of one
Storytelling & Spoken Word
By Marilyn McPhie
Storytelling has been called the oldest form of human communication. These days, instead of creating cave paintings and campfires as the backdrop for our stories, we pop in a CD and ride to the dentist via an island of wild horses or a sweetly shared imaginary world.
For Younger Children
Guess How Much I Miss You, written by Julia Lobo, illustrated by Rebecca Elliott, Publications International Ltd., 2010; $19.99; www.pubint.com; ages 18 months to 3 years. This board book tells of two bears who miss each other while apart. A concealed panel allows loved ones to record the tale in their own voice so that a child can hear her out-of-town grandparent, mom or dad read a bedtime story.
Perfectly Arugula, written by Sarah Dillard, Sterling Children's Books, 2009; Free; www.listenalongstorybook.com; ages 3 and up. A perfectly cute little hedgehog organizes a perfect party, but everyone is perfectly miserable until an uninvited guest shakes things up ... perfectly. Directions for downloading free audio and streaming audio are provided.
For School-Age Children
The Lost Bicycle, by Cory Hills, Reach Out Kansas Inc., 2010; $12.97; www.coryhills.com, www.reachoutkansas.org; ages 5 to 12. Master percussionist Hills uses marimba, kalimba, water glasses, gong, wood block, cow bell and cymbals to punctuate his stories. This mix of folktales, original and personal tales is snappy and satisfying.
"Delightful!" – Mother of two
Frindle, written by Andrew Clements and read by Keith Nobbs, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2009; $14.99; audio.simonandschuster.com; ages 8 to 12. This classic story – students in a battle of wits and words with a strong-willed teacher over a "frindle" (aka pen) – is funny, fast-paced and heart-warming.
"Great story! One of our all-time favorites." – Mother of six
For Tweens & Teens
Sisters Red, written by Jackson Pearce and read by Erin Moon, Michal Friedman and Suzanne Toren, Hachette Audio, 2010; $22.98; www.jacksonpearce.com, www.hachetteaudio.com; ages 12 and up. Granny's dead, werewolves are on the prowl, and sisters Scarlett and Rosie are out for revenge and blood – literally. The setting is contemporary and gritty; the characters are distinctive. Not your baby sister's Little Red Riding Hood.
"The story grabbed me. I couldn't stop listening. Really, really good."
– Alicia, age 16
For Family Listening
Tales2Go, Tales2Go LLC, 2010; $24.99 annual subscription; www.tales2go.com; ages 3 to 11. Get stories from great storytellers anytime from this on-demand website that offers more than 1,200 audio books and storytelling for under $25/year. (Note: One subscription covers downloads to one iPod, iPad or iPhone device.)