Toys, Movies and Stories... Oh my!
Just in time for holiday giving, the National Parenting Publications Awards bring you the best gift ideas for children. For the past 18 years, NAPPA has set the gold standard in evaluating children’s products, with its team of expert judges and family testers highlighting the cream of the crop in children’s entertainment and learning.
ToysBy Ellen Metrick
This year’s NAPPA Gold Award-winning toys encourage children to understand their world, from basic skill-building and effective personal interactions to the environment and cutting-edge technology.
For Infants & Toddlers
Crayola Beginnings Washable Triangular Paint Brushes, Crayola, $4.99; www.crayola.com; ages 2 and up. These four plastic paintbrushes already contain the paint, thus eliminating spills. Their design helps kids learn the grasp needed later for handwriting.
Illumination Station, Sassy, $7.99; www.sassybaby.com; ages 6 months and up. This rotating rattle has attached shapes that spin and motion-sensor lights. The rattle can be secured on its suction cup base or hand-held.
Musical Motion Activity Jumper, Disney Baby Einstein, $79.99; www.babyeinstein.com; ages 6 months and up. Children nestle in the swivel seat of this stationary learning center, surrounded by four engaging activity areas. Favorite toys can also be attached on two sides to refresh play.
smart-e-bear, Intellitoys, $79.99; www.intellitoys.com; ages 2 and up. This soft, cuddly bear recites up to four hours of songs and stories, and plays games such as “Simon Says” – thanks to internal electronics. The bear’s responses can be customized for a child’s name, favorite music and stories using the included software (PC and Mac) and USB port. Additional songs and stories in a variety of languages can be purchased online.
Swap ’n’ Go Snail, International Playthings, $36.99; www.intplay.com; ages 6 months and up. This friendly snail rolls to a toe-tappin’ tune while beads spin and clank with its motion. Two shells can be played with independently or placed on the snail’s back. Press on his tail and he slowly rolls, encouraging babies to crawl after him.
Animal Scramble, Wild Planet, $19.99-$29.99; www.wildplanet.com; ages 3 and up. An electronic, hand-held giraffe “tagger” names toy animals that kids then run to and tag. For more advanced play, the giraffe asks, “Who has stripes?” or “Who roars?”
Curious Bonz Band, Curious Toys, $26; www.curioustoys.com; ages 3 and up. Children combine construction with music as they build their own goofy band creatures with shaker claws, clicking arms and rattling body. An included CD provides the beat.
Disney Pix Jr. – Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Digital Blue, $49.99; www.digiblue.com; ages 3 and up. This rugged camera’s simple design and buttons make it easy to use. It yields impressive picture quality, and its “Magic Wand” button allows kids to place a Disney character on the screen along with the subject. Windows software included; batteries sold separately.
TOP PICK! Ezyroller, Ezyroller LLC, $99-$119; www.ezyroller.com; ages 3 and up. Children sit low to the ground and propel forward by alternating leg extensions on the push bar of this unique ride-on toy. A simple brake lever makes stopping easy. The movement is snake-like, fast and fun.
KidKraft Pink Retro Kitchen & Refrigerator, KidKraft, $270; www.kidkraft.com; ages 3 and up. This well-constructed toy kitchen could be made by a kitchen design firm! It looks like the real thing!
ZinkoTek, ZinkoTek, $350; www.zinkotek.com; ages 3 and up. This oversized building set inspires kids to stretch their imaginations indoors and out. Multishaped pieces connect to create tabletop structures or life-size playhouses, rockets, lemonade stands and puppet theaters. Complexity of the structures can increase as kids mature.
For Ages 5 & Up
BEST BANG for the BUCK Crayola Digital Camcorder, Sakar International, $59.99; www.sakar.com; ages 5 and up. Kids can record video or take photos with the push of a button on this child-size camcorder. They can play back video on the built-in screen, on a TV or a computer monitor. It’s easy and the quality is surprisingly good. An SD memory card (sold separately) is needed. Accompanying software adds special effects and music. A great value for the price!
Face-Off Frenzy PowerBand Hockey, FunSlides Toys and Games, $39.99; www.funslides.com; ages 6 and up. An easy gliding puck makes for air hockey-style fun on a carpet, the floor or a table top.
Karito Kids World Collection: Piper Whelan Doll and Book, KidsGive, $99.99; www.KidsGive.com; ages 6 and up. This impeccably designed 21-inch doll represents a fictional young environmentalist from Australia. She has exquisite hair to style and extraordinary facial features. A story book is also included.
Paradise Horses and Barn Buddies, Paradise Kids, $49.99 (horses), $19.99 (buddies); www.paradise-horses.com; ages 5 and up. Young horse enthusiasts will relish equestrian play with these show-quality horses and poseable figures.
Royal Rescue, Educational Insights, $24.99; www.educationalinsights.com; ages 5 and up. Pictorial puzzles show the starting positions of a knight and princess along with the building blocks needed to create the route to reunite the royal pair. Four levels of play help children advance their logical thinking through skill-building fun.
Triker Rocker, Q-Int B.V., $199; www.q-int.com; ages 6 and up. This three-wheeled low-rider gives kids the power to turn using their own bodies (lean left and it turns left). The pedals extend in front for a recumbent position, the inner-tube tires make for a smooth ride and coaster brakes provide simple stopping. The solidly built frame is coated steel.
For Ages 7 & Up
Air Hogs Zero Gravity Micro, Spin Master, $29.99; www.spinmaster.com; ages 8 and up. This amazing remote-control car can drive up a wall or even on a ceiling! High-speed air flowing under the car creates a suction effect, while the remote control directs the car forward, backward or in circles.
ArtLab Car Design Studio, SmartLab Toys, $22.99; www.smartlabtoys.com; ages 7 and up. Accessorize six acetate car bodies with spoilers, rims, etc. Place your design on the mini light table, trace and color. An instructional book gives tips on how to create an awesome auto.
FAMILY FUN Boochie, Gamewright, $34.99; www.gamewright.com; ages 8 and up. This fun twist on bocce is played by throwing a multi-sided ball and aiming bean balls and hoops to land the closest to the target ball. A wrist-mounted scorekeeper gives directions on “how” to throw (standing on one leg, rolling it off your head, tossing with eyes closed, etc.).
EyeClops Night Vision, Jakks Pacific, $79.99; www.jakks.com; ages 8 and up. Become a super sleuth and find anybody or anything in the dark of night! This headset, worn like goggles, uses infrared technology and an LCD screen to reveal details in total darkness up to 50 feet away.
Uberstix Scavenger Series Pirate Ship & UFO and Uberstix Scavenger Series Landshark & Dragster, Uberstix, $14.99 each; www.uberstix.com; ages 7 and up. These ingeniously designed building pieces require kids to use recyclable household items – such as plastic bottles, Popsicle sticks, straws and paper clips – to build their structures. The Uberstix also work well with other major building systems, such as LEGO or K’NEX. Kids get to unleash their imaginations and explore ways to play with more than one toy or brand at a time.
There’s No Boredom with These Board GamesPeggy Brown
Board games have an uncanny ability to spark the imagination, bring people together and teach new skills and information to players of all ages.
Pengoloo, The Fun South Pole Eggspedition!, Blue Orange Games, $29.99; www.blueorangegames.com; ages 4 and up. This memory game adds a 3-D element and quality wood components to classic play. More challenging rules can be added as your child grows.
For Ages 5 & Up
Kingka, Kingka, $24.99; www.kingkagames.com; ages 5 and up. It’s a game, a puzzle and a teaching tool all in one! Kingka can be played as a memory, matching or bingo game. Players of varying ages can play together and begin learning Chinese, too!
For Ages 7 & Up
TOP PICK! Flibbix, Merillian, $39.99; www.merillian.com; ages 7 and up. Imagination is the key as players make up the rules and build the game themselves using magnetic game parts and inspiration gleaned from the included guide.
BEST BANG for the BUCK Captain Clueless, Gamewright, $19.99; www.gamewright.com; ages 8 and up. You’re Captain Clueless, so teammates tell you which way to go as you navigate the map of the Caribbean – while blindfolded! Try not to run into islands and mermaids with your dry-erase marker. Silly fun.
Set Cubed, Set Enterprises, $20; www.setgame.com; ages 8 and up. This twist on the card game Set adds the chance of dice and the consideration of dominoes while maintaining the challenge of the original game.
Note: All NAPPA-winning products have, to the best of our ability, been judged to be safe and well-constructed. They have been checked against the most recent government safety recall lists. However, we do not warrant their safety or appropriateness for your child and we are not liable for any injuries that may result from their use.
By Ellen Metrick
This year’s DVD winners are the finest batch yet. Every title is one that you can happily add to your collection and enjoy sharing with the children in your life.
For Infants & Toddlers
Baby Einstein: 10th Anniversary Special Edition Baby Mozart, The Baby Einstein Co., 2008; 28 min.; $19.99; www.babyeinstein.com; ages 1 to 3. Colorful images of moving objects hold babies’ attention and the classical music appeals to babies and parents.
INDIE Little Laureate’s My World Colors, Little Laureate, 2008; 30 min.; $24.99; www.littlelaureate.com; ages 1 to 3. This gem introduces toddlers to colors, using images of animals, children, food, classical paintings and scenes from around the world. Comes with a classical music CD and a guide to raising creative children.
For Preschoolers & Up
Abby in Wonderland, Genius Products, 2008; 42 min.; $14.93; www.geniusproducts.com; ages 2 to 5. Sesame Street’s delightful takeoff on the classic tale has Muppets playing the characters. Early learning skills (letter sounds, counting and reading) are cleverly entwined throughout.
Elmo’s World: Summer Vacation, Genius Products, 2008; 51 min.; $12.93; www.geniusproducts.com; ages 2 to 5. Elmo and his friends cover almost everything you need to prepare for a beach vacation, such as how to take care of your skin – or fur, if you are a monster!
INDIE The Biscuit Brothers: Go Make Music! Vol. 2, Biscuit Biz, 2007; 144 min.; $14.99; www.biscuitbrothers.com; ages 2 to 5. The music, storytelling and messages are delightful and meaningful. The Brothers embed a bit of stealth music education into their performance.
For Ages 5 & Up
Gustafer Yellowgold’s Have You Never Been Yellow?, Apple-Eye Productions, 2007; 60 min.; $19.99;www.gustaferyellowgold.com; ages 5 to 8. Pop tunes with silly lyrics and social conscientiousness explore a range of tempos and styles. Each song portrays some aspect of an animated alien’s life. This title encourages you to slow down and tap into your feelings. An audio CD is also included.
Jane and the Dragon: A Dragon’s Tale, Shout! Factory, 2008; 120 min.; $13.99;www.shoutfactory.com; ages 5 and up. This animated series features an adolescent girl who serves as an apprentice knight. She and her dragon friend get into all sorts of scrapes and end up learning about integrity, loyalty, friendship and courage.
My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super Sleuth Christmas Movie, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, 2007; 44 min.; $19.99; http://homedisney.go.com/shopping; ages 5 to 8. Santa needs the help of Tigger and friends when his sack of presents disappears on Christmas Eve. Classic Pooh lovers may dislike the new CGI-animation, but the characters are as appealing as ever and kids enjoy it.
Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics, Scholastic/New Video, 2008; about 15 hours; $99.95;www.newvideo.com/scholastic.html; ages 3 to 8. This is a superb collection of 100 classic children’s stories, such as Where the Wild Things Are, Curious George Rides a Bike, Good Night Gorilla, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Harold and the Purple Crayon.
VeggieTales: Tomato Sawyer and Huckleberry Larry’s Big River Rescue, Big Idea, 2008; 50 min.; $14.99; www.bigidea.com; ages 5 to 8. This creative series uses animated vegetables as characters in stories that teach history, social values and a bit of religion, in a way that will still be enjoyed by all. In this tale, Tomato Sawyer and Huckleberry Larry are homesteading along the Mississippi when they run into Big Jim, who is on the run, and they risk losing everything to help him.
For Ages 8 & Up
Ballet Shoes, KOCH Entertainment, 2008; 85 min.; $24.98; www.kochvision.com; ages 8 to 12. Emma Watson (Harry Potter films) stars in this beautiful story about three orphan girls in 1930s England who are adopted by an eccentric explorer and raised as sisters. The girls vow to rise above their situation to pursue their dreams, providing great role models.
Nim’s Island, Fox Home Entertainment, 2008; 96 min.; $29.98; www.nimsisland.com; ages 8 to 12. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Jodi Foster and Gerald Butler star in this tropical adventure that will have every kid wanting a zip line installed in their back yard. Nim, 11, and her scientist father live on a secluded South Pacific island, where her best friends are a lizard, a sea lion and a pelican. When her dad disappears in a storm, Nim reaches across the Internet to the writer of her favorite adventure novels for help.
BEST BANG for the BUCK Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre: The Complete Series, KOCH Entertainment, 2008; 23 hours; $99.98;www.kochvision.com; ages 8 to 12. This re-release of a classic TV show brings to life 26 of the most well-known fairy tales. Directed by masters of cinema such as Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola, and starring A-list talent such as Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, James Earl Jones, Christopher Reeve and Susan Sarandon, this collection belongs in every family’s collection.
Unstable Fables: 3 Pigs and a Baby, The Jim Henson Co., 2008; 80 min.; $19.97; www.unstablefables.com; ages 8 to 12. This animated feature is a fun twist on the Three Little Pigs that older kids will appreciate. The animation is bright, the story is clever and there is lots of action. Note: This could be scary for kids under 7.
For Ages 12 & Up
INDIE Viva Cuba, Film Movement, 2007; 80 min.; $19.98;www.filmmovement.com; ages 12 and up. This modern-day Romeo and Juliet tale shows how families who dislike each other can bond when faced with tough situations. It offers a glimpse into Cuban life and culture with superb music and exquisite scenery. Note: There is limited profanity and mock violence.
Storytelling & Spoken-Word
By Marilyn McPhie
They’re not like your typical rock stars, but many of today’s storytellers and spoken-word artists do attract a strong following. It’s easy to be a fan of these NAPPA Gold winners.
For Younger Children
TOP PICK! Music Tales, Musicians Out of the Box, 2006; $14.99; www.MusiciansOutoftheBox.com. This is fun, fresh and witty proof that even the youngest kids enjoy classic tales and classical music. These thought-provoking pairings juxtapose Goldilocks with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms; Goodnight, Moon with Clair de Lune; and original ethereal music with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
U Tell A Tale: Stories Told Through-U, Cygnus Storytelling/National Institute on Media and the Family, 2008; $15; www.mediawise.org. A fable from Aesop, a classic fairy tale, a rapping riff on another tale and a true personal story all provide reasons to share a story with your kids.
For Elementary Students
TOP PICK! Tell Me A Story 2: Animal Magic, written by Amy Friedman, read by various artists; D & F Productions, 2007; $18.95; www.mythsandtales.com. This engrossing anthology of animal tales includes stories from Nigeria, China, Australia, the East Indies, Guatemala, Canada and Native American culture.
Tipingee, Brer Rabbit and the Mouse that Barked: Tales of Love and Laughter, LuAnn Adams, 2007; $15; www.luannadamsstoryteller.com. An infectiously cheery voice delivers rollicking fun with tales from places such as Cuba and Haiti. If your family is ready for something new, this mix of traditional tales, true stories and fractured tales is a must hear.
For Tweens & Teens
Trouble (Audiobook), written by Gary D. Schmidt and read by Jason Culp; Scholastic Media, 2008; $34.95 (nine CDs); www.scholastic.com. Henry’s father always said, “If you build your house far enough away from Trouble, then Trouble will never find you.” But trouble – big trouble – does find Henry. Great delivery of the twists of plot make for spellbinding listening. Mature, gritty themes will evoke discussions on culture, race,
values, status and more.
Women of Vision, Susan Danoff, 2008; $15; www.susandanoff.com. Danoff’s soft, dreamy voice weaves sophisticated and enchanting fairy tales drawn from traditional Korean, Hindu, Native American and French sources.
Books, Music & Video Games
Check out this year's NAPPA Honors winners at www.NAPPAparenthood.com
The NAPPA JudgesToys & Games – Ellen Metrick has more than 20 years of experience in the toy industry. As a toy specialist and manager for the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit focusing on accessible play for kids of all abilities, she promotes the development and evaluation of high-quality toys. NAPPA’s new judge of board games, Peggy Brown, has worked for many of the world’s biggest toy companies as an inventor, designer and more. She has done creative development for hundreds of games and written children’s activity books that promote curiosity and creativity.
DVDs – Ranny Levy, the founder and president of the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media/KIDS FIRST!, has been an advocate for quality children’s media since 1989. KIDS FIRST! evaluates children’s programming, trains children to become critical media users and produces KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals nationwide. Additional judges from KIDS FIRST! this year included Diane Clark, Monique Kogan, Chris Pollock and Terry Solowey.
Storytelling & Spoken-Word – Marilyn McPhie has been a professional storyteller for more than 20 years. She is a state liaison for the National Storytelling Network and has presented at national and regional conferences. She writes about storytelling and performs for audiences ranging from preschoolers to adults.