Our site has moved to: familytimescny.com


38 Gifts Your Kids Will Love

Jump-start your holiday shopping with these winners from the 2009 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) competition. With 19 years of experience selecting the top children’s products, NAPPA’s team of expert judges—with help from parent and child testers—present you with their top picks, setting the gold standard in children’s learning and entertainment.

Next month:
Books, Music, Software, Web Sites & Video Games
Check out this year's NAPPA Honors winners at www.NAPPAparenthood.com


By Ellen Metrick

For virtually every category and age group, toy companies have used their ingenuity to make good toys even better. This year’s winners reflect an evolution from traditional playthings to impressive, exciting tools for broadening knowledge, honing high-tech skills, and experiencing both challenge and delight. We proudly present the toy manufacturers’ freshest and most inventive work.

For Infants & Toddlers

Baby Einstein™ Animal Exploration Tunnel, The Baby Einstein Company, $39.95; www.BabyEinstein.com; age 6 months and up. Children and adults can crawl through this mesh-sided play tunnel, decorated with photos of real jungle animals and cartoon counterparts. The 4-foot, see-through hideaway has a padded mat and overhead rings for hanging toys.

Elmo Tickle Hands
, Fisher-Price, $30; www.ticklehands.com; age 18 months and up. Elmo’s contagious laughter accompanies the vibrating tickle of furry red paws. When children don Elmoesque hands to tickle others, they feel vibration themselves. One glove has the electronic tickle component; the other is purely kid-charged.

Flutterby Teether
, Sassy Inc., $3.99; www.sassybaby.com; age 3 months and up. Bold buggy eyes and curled antennae capture baby’s attention, while the Flutterby’s water-filled wings soothe teething discomfort. A second set of rubber-nubbed wings further stimulates baby’s mouth and encourages grasping.

If the Shape Fits eebee
, Every Baby Co., $32; www.eebee.com; infants and up. This plush pal engages little ones with simple childlike charm. It comes with four cushy, colorful shapes that can be stacked, tossed or attached to baby’s arms and legs to increase interaction, exploration and discovery.

For Preschoolers

Adorable Kinders Rag Doll Alise, Granza Inc., $59.99; www.adorablekinders.com; age 3 and up. Cuddly rag dolls come with a key-code to access online fun and games that follow school standards. Lessons are introduced by grade level, from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Dolphin Explorer Boat and Dino Adventure Rig
, Sprig Toys, $29.99 each; www.sprigtoys.com; age 3 and up. Simple designs and faceless characters put imagination back into play with these two charming adventure playsets. Both prehistoric and aquatic sets are constructed from Sprigwood™—an eco-friendly material composed of recycled plastics and reclaimed sawdust.

Kidizoom™ Digital Camera Plus, VTech Electronics, $59.99; www.vtechkids.com; age 3 and up. Budding photographers can take up to 2,000 pictures and 10 minutes of video, then embellish them with stamps, frames, distortion effects, voice messages and animation. View images on the camera’s LCD screen, or a computer or TV screen.

Make Your Own Animal Puppets
, Creativity for Kids, $17.99; www.creativityforkids.com; age 3 and up. Adorn these three chenille-soft socks with self-sticking felt shapes, wiggly eyes and fuzzy fur. Fun accessories and animal body parts, such as ears and snouts, adhere extraordinarily well during the puppet show that’s sure to follow!

Rainbow River Stones, Wee Blossom, $151; www.weeblossom.com; age 3 and up. These step-on molded plastic stone shapes have non-skid patterns that add texture and grip. Stones can be placed individually or stacked, so that stepping from one to the next is even more challenging.

“It’s fun to pretend there are sharks and alligators and yucky seaweed in the river and we have to jump across without falling in and getting eaten. But if you do fall in, you have to eat the seaweed!”
—Child tester, a 6-year-old boy

For Ages 5 & Up

Digital Blue SNAP Video Camera, Digital Blue, $79.99; www.digiblue.com; age 5 and up. This video camera captures up to 30 minutes of viewing pleasure with one simple button. The 2-inch LCD screen is crystal clear and the video is a high-resolution stunner that can be easily uploaded to Facebook or YouTube.

TOP PICK! Razor® Rip Rider™ 360; Razor USA, LLC; $129.99; www.razor.com; age 5 and up. Like the familiar “Big Wheel” bike, the Rip Rider sits low and has a back-support seat, handle bars and pedals. But every ride brings roller-coaster excitement as the Rider’s highly responsive casters help kids zip, swirl and make 360-degree turns!

“This ride-on created quite a stir from kids and parents alike. Every child who rode it wanted it, and every adult who watched needed to know where to get it and wished they were small enough to take a turn! It is hands-down one of the best ride-on toys we’ve seen.”
—NAPPA judge

Swinxs BV, $150; www.swinxs.com; age 4 and up. This screen-less game console has 10 preinstalled games, with more free downloads. The get-up-and-keep-moving games range from timed relay races to charades. The unit gives verbal directions and identifies players by scanning their colored wristbands.

For Ages 7 & Up

LEGO® Mindstorms® NXT 2.0,
LEGO Systems Inc., $279.99; www.LEGO.com; age 10 and up. Mindstorms enables kids to build and program their own robots, using a PC or Mac computer. Use a USB cable or Bluetooth technology to transfer the programs to the robot and control it remotely with a cell phone or PDA!

Ridemakerz, $10 and up for cars, $2 and up for accessories; www.ridemakerz.com; age 8 and up. Kids create customized cars by choosing a body style and then picking out wheels, rims, spoilers, running boards and sound chips to trick out their ride. Free-wheel or remote-control options are available.

The Shred Sled, Skyking Worldwide, $119.99; www.theshredsled.com; age 8 and up. This new-generation skateboard gives a faster-paced, smoother ride on four in-line casters. The unique dual platform is more responsive to movement and constantly tests the rider’s agility.

“This is the coolest; it turns really easily! One of my kids is definitely getting one for Christmas—just so I can ride it!”

—Adult tester, a father of three

Board and Card Games

By Peggy Brown

As families get back to basics, games are among the best basic entertainment around. Board games bring friends and loved ones face-to-face better than TV, movies and video games do—and the price is right, even in tough times. Put game night on the schedule, zap some popcorn and play, because games make you learn and laugh. They can be the glue that pieces family time back together.

For Preschoolers

Counting Rainbows, Dowling Magnets, $19.95; www.dowlingmagnets.com; age 4 and up. Practice counting by moving various colored rainbow, sun, bluebird, squirrel and pot-of-gold magnet pieces on the magnetic board (included) or even the kitchen fridge. High-quality pieces offer a fun and charming introduction to computation.

Age 5 & Up

Ticks Tacks Toes, Educational Insights, $24.99; www.educationalinsights.com; age 6 and up. This tricky twist on the traditional tic-tac-toe game uses funny playing pieces that look like actual ticks (bugs), tacks (pushpins) and toes (toes)! Take turns placing your piece on the grid to get ticks, tacks and toes in rows.

Gobblet Gobblers, Blue Orange Games, $19.99; www.blueorangegames.com; age 5 and up. Tic-tac-toe meets the dog-eat-dog world. Your play pieces, depending on their sizes, can be gobbled up by your opponent’s play piece—or you can gobble his! Played in pairs, children easily grasp the simple and fun strategy.

Playroom Entertainment, $10; www.playrooment.com; age 5 and up. In this clever update to standard memory games, cards are laid in a circular pattern and dictate the direction in which Sherlock moves. The Sherlock card itself indicates what you need to remember, which makes deduction “Elementary!”

“I never played cards this way before. It’s cool.”

—Child tester, age 9

Age 7 & Up

Exago, Goliath Games, $29.99; www.goliathgames.us; age 7 and up. This game combines abstract strategy with a blissfully simple goal: Get four hexagonal tiles in a row on the honeycomb-like game board. You’ll be surprised at how much suspense builds as you decide whether to move offensively or defensively.

Squiggle Connect, RandomLine, $19.99; www.randomline.com; age 8 and up. In this dot-to-dot drawing game, the first roll of the die tells how many dots to draw; the second tells what kind of line to use to connect the dots. Create a picture and then make up a story to go with the picture!

Age 8 & Up

TOP PICK!  Telestrations™, USAopoly, $29.95; www.usaopoly.com; age 13 and up. This hilarious game is played like the classic party game of “telephone,” in which misinterpretation down the line elicits laughs. Player 1 might draw a word card that says “kickball,” and sketch a man kicking a ball. Player 2 looks at the drawing, writes “soccer ball” and shows his word card to the next person. Player 3 draws a soccer ball and shows his picture to Player 4, who writes “pepperoni pizza” on his card, and on it goes.

Quelf, Imagination, $29.95; www.imaginationgames.com; age 12 and up. Quelf gives the idea of “random” new meaning with its combination of stunts, quiz questions, show-offs, custom rules and ridiculous topics. Never the same game twice, it’s simultaneously bizarre, perplexing, occasionally embarrassing, and generally silly.

“This game is soup to nuts in the kitchen sink!”
—Adult tester and mother


By Ranny Levy

Among this year’s winners, you’ll find some familiar DVD titles along with some wonderful surprises. Despite the many titles we review each year, I’ve discovered a couple of new ones that will definitely be joining my personal collection.

For Infants & Toddlers

Olivia, Chorion/Nickelodeon, 2009; 99 min.; $16.99; www.nickshop.com; age 1 to 5. Adorable Olivia, of the popular children’s books, moves between fantasy and reality with contagious ease, imagining herself as a superhero, pop star or mommy. Perfect programming for toddlers, preschoolers and their mommies and grandmas.

“What a fun way to introduce kids to book-based videos. I would share this with my grandkids.”
—Adult tester and grandparent

So Smart! Baby’s First-Word Stories, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, 2009; 30 min. each; $15.99 each; www.echobridgeentertainment.com; age 1 to 3. Created by early childhood specialists, this video collection helps develop early language skills. Edward, Iggy, Dee Dee and Larry introduce simple words about your home, your closet, the outdoors, pets and more, and then build simple sentences and stories around the words.

“Absolutely one of the best educational series for toddlers.”

—NAPPA judge

“Love it! Love it! Love it! This is so perfect for developing language skills. So much better than any other toddler video on the market.”
—Adult tester and grandparent

For Preschoolers & Up

Classical Baby “I’m Grown Up Now”: The Poetry Show, HBO, 2008; 30 min.; $9.97; http://store.hbo.com; ages 2 to 5. Brings classic poetry to life through animation, songs, live-action dancing and more. Readers, such as John Lithgow, Susan Sarandon and others highlight some of the world’s greatest poems, from “The Owl and the Pussycat” to “The Wheelbarrow.”

“I love this DVD! It reminded me of poetry I knew from my childhood, and now I can share the poems with my own children.”
—Adult tester

“I love this ‘cause it tells you what poetry’s about after they say one of the poems. It had some real pictures and some animations. I like that.”

—Child tester, age 5

Lots to Learn: Head to Toe With Buster, Lots to Learn, LLC, 2008; 30 min.; $19.99; www.lotstolearn.com; age 2 to 5. This child-interactive video is on target with key preschool concepts, such as learning about colors, tying your shoes and facial expressions. Kids love the games and songs. Parents appreciate the simple language and introduction of Spanish words.

“Brilliant! This DVD really talks to kids at their level. … It’s interesting for adults and children alike.”

—Adult tester

The Jumpitz Celebrate Animals!,
The Jumpitz, 2008; 60 min.; $12.99; www.jumpitz.com; age 2 to 5. This DVD will get eyes popping and toes tapping with bright, clear images of live turtles and tortoises and fun, bouncy songs. Your kids will get to brainstorm ideas and questions about the animals, including how to throw them a surprise party.

“A great DVD to watch with your child. It quickly gets you singing along and it makes you want to grab some books so you can explore the world with your child.”
—Adult tester

TOP PICK!  Scholastic Treasury of 25 Storybook Classics: Dinosaurs, Trucks, Monsters and More, New Video (distributors), 2009; 291 min.; $29.95; www.newkideo.com; age 2 to 5. Storybooks come to life in this collection of classic tales. Get ready for bed with How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? or take a play break with favorites like The Mouse and the Motorcycle and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

“I love the stories that are funny, like a dinosaur that can’t fit in a bed and they try to find good ways to make him sleep.”
— Child tester, age 5

For Age 5 & Up

Let’s Explore … the Rainforest, One Smart Cookie Productions, 2008; $18.95; www.onesmartcookieproductions.com; ages 4 to 12. User-friendly DVD lets you choose an aspect of the rain forest to learn about through photos and videos. Children will love the fun animals, and parents will appreciate the ecological information and visual appeal.

“The multilevel aspect of this video made it so much fun for my whole family to watch!”

—Adult tester and mother

“The frogs were cool! I could have watched them a long, long time.”
—Child tester, age 5

The Riddle in a Bottle,
Sisbro Studios, LLC, 2008; 30 min.; $19.95; www.sisbro.com; ages 5 to 8. Beautiful underwater photography will captivate kids as they delight in solving riddles about animals, currents, tides, weather, and how moving water connects them all.

“We laughed, we hummed along and, most importantly, we tried to figure out the riddle. A movie that made us think and discuss; it was fun!”

—Adult tester and mother

BEST BANG for the BUCK How’d They Build That…? Series, Marvelous Media, LLC, 2009; 50 min. each; $8.99 each; www.marvelousmedia.net; ages 4 to 8. Take a tour right into the factories where large machines are made. The excitement of watching a fire engine, school bus or garbage truck being built and then following it out into a work setting cannot be duplicated.

For Age 8 & Up

An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong, American Girl, 2009; 90 min; $19.98; www.americangirl.com; ages 8 to 12. When Chrissa (Sammi Hanratty) moves to a new school, a group of female bullies torment her in class, on the bus, online and at the swim club. Realistically captures bullying, providing a conversation starter for parents about a subject that begs for attention.

“We loved seeing Sammi Hanratty and Adair Tishler in this film! We have seen kids bullied at school and liked how this teaches you how to deal with it.”
—Child testers, girls ages 9 and 10

Storytelling & Spoken-Word

By Marilyn McPhie

Parenting is go, go, go—a daily workout of shopping, washing, cooking, diapering, etc. Here’s our invitation to pause the busyness, gather the family around, and just listen. Pop one of these winning storytelling recordings into your CD player and note the calm that settles over everyone (even in rush-hour traffic).

For Younger Children

Storytelling for Kids!, Mary Jo Huff; Storytellin’ Time, 2009; $15; www.storytellin.com. This storyteller knows kids! Huff’s timeless, well-loved nursery rhymes and stories are reassuring and engaging. Great musical backgrounds and interludes create a story world; Halloween and Christmas selections are an added bonus.

Tell Me A Story 3: Women of Wonder, written by Amy Friedman, read by various artists; Friedman & Danziger, 2009; $14.95; www.mythsandtales.com. This can’t-miss audio anthology features six stories from a wide variety of cultures, read by famous and newbie storytellers. The heroines are wise, smart, clever, kind, honest, generous—and sassy. Great listening for both girls and boys.

For Elementary Students

39 Clues, Book 2: One False Note, written by Gordon Korman and read by David Pittu; Scholastic Audio, 2008; $19.95; www.scholastic.com. The second installment in this wild-and-crazy series about mystery-solving kids on a worldwide hunt for clues teaches your children about the life and times of Mozart in an adventurous way. The story also moves online, where players collect clue cards and practice multimedia skills.

For Tweens & Teens

Daniel X: Watch the Skies, written by James Patterson and Ned Rust and read by Milo Ventimiglia; Hachette Audio, 2009; $22.98 (four CDs plus bonus audio book of Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment); www.HachetteAudio.com. A 15-year-old alien hunter must save the world from destruction by a super-villain in this fantasy-meets-cyberpunk story. Kids get hooked on the short chapters, pop-culture references, current slang and snappy comebacks; they’ll be back for more in the series.


BEST BANG for the BUCK Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales, written by various authors and read by various celebrities; Hachette Audio, 2009; $16.98 (three CDs); www.HachetteAudio.com. Families will love this cornucopia of African stories, introduced by Desmond Tutu and read by celebrities. The three-CD set, spiced with lively music, recounts tales from Morocco to South Africa. Some stories are a bit gritty, so it’s best suited for kindergartners and older kids.

Meet our Judges

Toys & Games—Ellen Metrick has more than 20 years of experience in the toy industry. As the toy specialist and manager of business development for the National Lekotek Center, a nonprofit focusing on accessible play for children of all abilities, she promotes the development and evaluation of high-quality toys. NAPPA’s judge for board and card games, Peggy Brown, has worked for many of the world’s biggest toy companies as an inventor, designer, writer, creative director and consultant. She has done creative development for hundreds of games and written children’s books that promote curiosity and creativity.

DVDs—Ranny Levy,
the founder and president of the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media/KIDS FIRST!, has advocated for quality children’s media since 1989. KIDS FIRST! evaluates, rates and reviews children’s programming and produces the traveling KIDS FIRST! Film Festivals, which are hosted locally in more than 150 venues worldwide. Additional judges for 2009 include Chris Pollock and Sandra Trittin.

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 resources and performs for audiences ranging from preschoolers to adults. Find out more at www.marilynmcphie.com.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York