The Top 20
20 Toys That Transform Children's
War Chests Into Toy Chests
For the 1998-1999 holiday season
Ages 1 and up
HandsOn Toys; $15
Description: A neon-green-and-purple polka-dotted ball with an attitude.
Why we chose it: When this ball moves, it produces unexpected sounds -- something between a kitten's delighted yelp and a baby's gurgle -- that puts smiles on the faces of children and adults alike.
Ages 3 and up
I Spy Big! Floor Puzzle
Briar Patch; $15
Description: A 35-piece over-sized jigsaw puzzle based on the I Spy books.
Why we chose it: In addition to putting the large puzzle pieces together to create a floor puzzle, young children enjoy searching for particular objects scattered around the photographic images.
Busy Train Memory Game
Living & Learning; $14
Description: A beautifully illustrated memory game and puzzle.
Why we chose it: Children will have fun putting the train and window pieces together, and then searching for cards that match the whimsical scenes in each window.
Ages 5 and up
Description: A construction toy with hinged joints that twist and turn, so children can construct real and imaginary creatures rather than static structures.
Why we chose it: Zoob may not literally be "the first plastic life form," but it is based on the structure of DNA and can be put together in dozens of different ways. Children and adults are fascinated by the way these hard plastic pieces rotate, spin and move around each other.
Round the Bend
International Playthings; $20
Description: A board game for two to four players that requires children to be the first to construct a three-dimensional pipeline across the board.
Why we chose it: This game is easy to learn, requires some strategy, and can double as a construction toy. Players take turns adding colored pipes to their ever-growing maze of pipeline, working to be the first to span the board to the other side.
Description: A kit including 10 colors of brightly colored modeling clay and 25 cutters that can be used to create intricate faces and features.
Why we chose it: Clay is a wonderful material for young hands to work and play with. Children can spend hours creating kooky characters with multi-colored beards, braids and bows.
Woodstock Percussion; $20
Description: An eight-note instrument made with the same tubes used for Woodstock wind chimes. Set comes with a spiral-bound songbook that includes music for 12 songs.
Why we chose it: By matching the color or number of each chime with the songbook, children can learn to play music. The book is designed like an easel, with song lyrics printed on both sides so that one child can play and others sitting opposite can sing along.
Ages 6 and up
Caves & Claws
Family Pastimes; $15
Description: A cooperative board game with a focus on fantasy, adventure and suspense.
Why we chose it: This is one of those rare games that requires players to work with each other to overcome obstacles, rather than compete against each other. Caves & Claws spoofs other fantasy games with a rich humor that both children and adults will relish.
Super Dooper Bouncing Zooom Balls
Curiosity Kids; $10
Description: Four molds, crystals and directions for creating bouncing zoom balls that can bounce up to 15 feet high.
Why we chose it: This kit allows children to create their own miniature balls in a variety of funky shapes and colors. Because of the odd shapes, the balls bounce in unexpected ways. Kit includes glow-in-the-dark crystals, which make the balls especially exciting to watch in the dark.
Spy Walkie Talkies
Wild Planet Toys; $25
Description: Two small walkie talkie sets with microphones built into the earphones so children can talk and listen at the same time.
Why we chose it: An adventure toy that can be used indoors or out. This high-tech variation of an old game requires children to make up their own stories and scenarios as they play.
Magnetic Poetry; $20
Description: Magnetized words and images that glow in the dark, to be arranged into poems or sentences on any metal surface.
Why we chose it: This set has a space theme, which will appeal to many children. This is an open-ended word game that can be endlessly arranged and rearranged to form random thoughts, short poems, or long epics.
You Can Make A Collage
Eric Carlé, Klutz; $20
Description: A beautiful how-to book with step-by-step directions for making collages and 72 different sheets of tissue paper for creating collages.
Why we chose it: This set will bring out the artist in everyone -- parents and grandparents as well as children.
Ages 8 and up
Description: A board game with sound effects that requires players to recover and reconstruct a UFO.
Why we chose it: The graphics and sound effects, as well as subject matter, make this an exciting game for this age group.
Binary Arts; $15
Description: A strategy puzzle with four levels of difficulty and 40 ways to play.
Why we chose it: This is a strategy game that children will pick up again and again as they progress through increasingly difficult levels of play. The puzzle comes packaged in an acrylic game tray (great for travelling), with 40 cards that set up increasingly difficult obstacles.
Wild Goose; $20
Description: A magic and science kit that includes directions and materials for 15 tricks.
Why we chose it: This set includes some unusual tricks not included in most beginner's magic sets, and explains some of the scientific principles and ideas behind illusions. Adult supervision is required, especially for tricks based on simple chemical reactions.
Description: A classic wooden yo-yo that comes in a gift box, with instructions.
Why we chose it: Yo-yos are old-fashioned toys that are regaining popularity. They are portable and can provide entertainment almost anywhere. Children can play with yo-yos by themselves, or they can discover new tricks with friends.
Saturnian I; $17
Description: A bright yellow ball that is tossed and caught using handles equipped with suction cups.
Why we chose it: While the suction cups work beautifully -- players use their thumb to cover an air hole that releases or grabs the ball -- it's challenging to learn how to throw and catch a ball using this technique. A fun, active game that children can practice alone or play together.
Ages 9 and up
McGraw-Hill Ryerson; $35
Description: A computer game that requires children to build consensus to solve problems. This game was developed as a result of meetings with youth, teachers and parents around the world.
Why we chose it: This program won an award from Population Communication International for combining high entertainment values with social responsibility. Children can also go online and talk to others around the world.
Logical Journey of the Zoombinis Deluxe
Description: A fun, whimsical computer puzzle game with four levels of difficulty, as children must navigate the Zoombinis safely across obstacles to their home.
Why we chose it: This is a beautiful game with a great soundtrack that provides hours of entertainment as children figure out ways for outwitting the various gatekeepers and saving as many Zoombinis as possible.
Ages 10 and up
Description: A bluffing game based on the Imponderables book series, where players gain points by making up plausible answers to imponderable questions such as "why don't we ever see baby pigeons"? (Game requires three to six players; actual answers are provided).
Why we chose it: This hilarious game is fun for the whole family. Children love to make up stories, and this game brings out the ham in everyone.
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List Compiled in Collaboration with
TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment)
P.O. Box 441261
West Somerville, MA 02144