Holiday Gifts Your Kids – and You – Will Love
Feeling pressured to find the perfect holiday gifts for the kids in your life? Stress no more! The 2011 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) for children's products are here to make your holiday shopping a breeze.
From the year's finest toys, books, magazines and games to CDs, DVDs, apps, software, video games and websites, these Gold Award-winning NAPPA products have been carefully tried, tested — and played with — by expert judges and kid testers alike. They chose these winners for their educational and entertainment value, safety and durability, and most importantly, because they're fun!
By Ellen Metrick
Kidoozie Stack 'n Roll Tumbling Tower
Reinvented stacking cups extend traditional play to include problem-solving, muscle strengthening and the beginnings of reading readiness. Funnel top, balls and a hole in each cup keep kids' interest long after their tower is built. International Playthings LLC, $24.99; www.intplay.com; ages 1 and up.
Crib companion, on-the-go amigo and teacher of tots, this hand-held electronic learning toy can entertain and soothe babies. Plus, the 20 educational cartoons, 288 learning games and other activities will prepare them for school-time success as they grow. The Ohio Art Company, $199.99; www.ohioart.com; infants and up.
AGES 3 AND 4
Hexbug Nano Hive Habitat Set
The preschool set can create roadblock diversions with spinners, ramps and tab dividers for the erratically quirky, hyper Hexbug to scamper around. The set can be left intact for next play time, folding up completely. Innovation First Labs, LLC, $34.99; www.hexbug.com; ages 3 and up.
Kid-Tough® See Yourself™ Camera
An internal memory of 256 megabytes lets kids snap 1,300 pictures or five minutes of video. Special effects can embellish pictures before or after snapping. Fisher-Price, $69.99; www.fisher-price.com; ages 3 and up.
This ultrasoft bedtime companion whispers reassuring messages from Mom and Dad. Dual-track voice-over allows 10 seconds of recording and can be played back along with prerecorded soothing sounds. Cloud B, $34.95; www.cloudb.com; ages 3 and up.
This slightly scaled-down version of the original Perplexus — both in size and difficulty — has wider tracks and taller walls to help the small metal marble stay on the twisting maze embedded within the clear ball. PlaSmart, Inc., $22.49; www.plasmarttoys.com; ages 4 and up.
AGES 5 AND UP
Brilliant Creations Advanced Notebook
This laptop has the look and feel of real! The 4.5-inch color LCD screen comes equipped with 120 activities to engage young learners with the fundamental skills of math, reading readiness, Spanish, music and more. VTech; $49.99; www.vtechkids.com; ages 5 and up.
Meon Deluxe Animation Studio
Sure to be a holiday hit! Children can thread the light-up tubing through specifically placed pegs, then turn on the frame to see their design glow. Games extend play. Skyrocket Toys, $29.99; www.meonglow.com; ages 5 and up.
AGES 8 AND UP
This mini remote-controlled car delivers pocket-size power! Speeding up to 14 mph, it can hurl off stairs and across road ramps and still land unscathed. The dual-sided car knows what side is up. Pistol-grip remote rumbles to feel the impact of crashes. Silverlit, $49.99; www.silverlit.com; ages 8 and up.
Little Green Money Machine
This ultimate business stand assembles easily without tools, and the accompanying book gives young entrepreneurs needed tools to learn how to run a successful business. DelVisionaries, $199; www.littlegreenmoneymachine.com; ages 9 and up.
FOR KIDS AT HEART
For people who use kids as an excuse to buy toys for themselves!
Cécile and Marie-Grace Best Friends Collection
Beautifully crafted dolls teach about the experiences of two friends from different economic and racial backgrounds during the troubling time of the 1853 New Orleans Yellow Fever epidemic. Their first-person stories give readers a history lesson from their perspective. American Girl, $234; www.americangirl.com; ages 8 and up.
Once you master traditional brick-building, test your skill and empower your patience by constructing minute, amazingly detailed objects with these tiny, interlocking blocks. The Ohio Art Company, $7.99-$14.99; www.ohioart.com; ages 8 and up.
Crack open the book to unleash mystical, magical monsters. Fifty perforated, paper-folded fiends pop out to an ageless audience eagerly waiting to assemble their own ogres. Workman Publishing, $16.95; www.workman.com; ages 9 and up.
Need a new Perplexus challenge? With four starting points and 125 barriers, Perplexus Epic delivers. Three practice runs get you warmed up before tackling the maze of all mazes. PlaSmart, Inc., $29.99; www.plasmarttoys.com; ages 8 and up.
By Peggy Brown
AGES 3 AND UP
Richard Scarry's Busytown
Busy, Busy Airport Game
The box bottom transforms into an airport with a dice-rolling control tower. Charming, detailed illustrations make for wonderful imaginative play. Wonder Forge, $19.99; www.thewonderforge.com; ages 3 and up.
AGES 5 AND UP
Arrange and rearrange your striped "stix," lining them up to make "blocks" of colors. A race against time and each other, the clicks of the wooden sticks and the vibrant colors make for a visually beautiful play experience. MindWare, $19.95; www.mindware.com; ages 5 and up.
A puzzle, a game and a toy all in one, Trucky 3 is as simple or as challenging as you want to make it. Pack the clear payloads of three high-quality wooden trucks with funky-shaped blocks. There's only one solution to each challenge. Smart/Tangoes U.S.A, $24.99; www.SmartGames.eu; ages 3 and up.
AGES 7 AND UP
Highlights Buzz Blast
Solve the problem at hand in your own unique way, then pass the "Buzz Blaster" timer so the next player can solve the same problem his way. Loaded with content, it's a different game each time. Highlights for Children, $24.99; www.discoverybaygames.com; ages 7 and up.
FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
(Best for ages 8 and up)
Joe Name It
Big fun comes in this tiny game where a simple die roll indicates a quantity in every question. Play against each other and against the imaginary "Joe." Gamewright, $9.99; www.gamewright.com; ages 12 and up.
Instead of acting out a word or phrase and having your team try to guess, this game has the whole team acting while just you get to guess. Chaos and hilarity are guaranteed in this fresh twist on an all-time classic. RETROPlay, $23.99; www.reversecharades.com; all ages.
By Ranny Levy
INFANTS AND UP
Baby Einstein: Neptune's Ocean Discovery Kit
Compelling nature photography and various musical arrangements provide visual and audio stimulation for babies and progressive learning opportunities for toddlers. The "Discovery Cards" and music CD make this a great buy. The Baby Einstein Company, 2011; 28 min.; $19.99; www.babyeinstein.com; ages 0 to 3.
Toddler Favorites – The Movie
Kids have a blast singing classic children's songs under the kind tutelage of Teapot as he coaches Teeny Teacup through the words. A creative mix of fabulous colors, graphics and animation transform live-action singing sessions into dazzling musical adventures. Independent Production by Music for Little People, 2011; 35 min.; $9.99; www.mflpdistribution.com; ages 1 to 5.
AGES 2 AND UP
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!
Adapted from the Dr. Seuss book series, the Cat leads Sally and Nick on three winter adventures about the arctic, penguins and reindeers. Parents will love the mischief-making Cat in his new role as scientist, setting kids on track for knowledge and discovery. NCircleEntertainment, 2011; 45 min.; $19.99; www.ncircleentertainment.com; ages 2 to 5.
Chuggington: Let's Ride the Rails
Exuding presence and personality, Chug "trainees" are like young children, little people in training with parents — or older, wiser Chuggers — providing guidance and encouragement. Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2011; 62 min.; $16.98; www.anchorbayentertainment.com; ages 2 to 5.
Dance, Pocoyo, Dance!
Minimalist graphics — characters in solid bright colors dance with gusto against a white backdrop — and simple storylines are perfect for the youngest viewers. Kids will learn a bit about dance, music and the value of cooperation. NCircleEntertainment, 2011; 20 min.; $12.99; www.ncircleentertainment.com; ages 2 to 5.
Debbie and Friends Story Songs and Sing Alongs
These inspiring music videos develop pro-social and cognitive skills while engaging kids to be involved and have fun. Debbie and Friends introduce classic stories with their own brand of interpretation. Independent Production by Debbie and Friends, 2011; 50 min.; $14.98; www.debbieandfriends.net; ages 2 to 5.
Melody Street Show Online Webisodes
Who better to introduce children to the world of music than 8-year-old musical prodigy Ethan Bortnick? This interactive multi-platform package offers several music adventures in different formats, with eye-popping graphics and instrument characters. Independent Production by Melody Street LLC, 2010; 3-5 min. per webisode, free; www.melodystreet.com; ages 4 to 7.
Sid the Science Kid: Going, Going, Green!
Sid likes to think and his enthusiasm gets his young animated pals, live-action friends and your preschooler to like thinking, too. Viewers learn the fundamentals of good environmental practices and the need for them. NCircleEntertainment, 2011; 115 min.; $12.99; www.ncircleentertainment.com; ages 2 to 5.
Spanish for Kids: Las Estaciones
With animated Fritzi the Mouse guiding youngsters through lively visual cues, they can begin to learn Spanish through the proven immersion method. Live-action kid scenes filmed in each season keep interest high. Independent Production by Whistlefritz, LLC, 2011; 30 min.; $19.99; www.whistlefritz.com; ages 4 to 7.
WordWorld: The Train Escapade
There is no better place to learn to read than WordWorld, where characters are formed around words and personified letters puzzle together to make a word that solves a problem. Snappy songs and rich colors hold kids' attention. NCircleEntertainment, 2011; 60 min.; $12.99; www.ncircleentertainment.com; ages 2 to 5.
AGES 5 AND UP
Families of the Philippines
Life in the Philippines is very different from ours, from bamboo homes and tricycle taxis to cooking on wood fires and sleeping on the floor. Exceptionally bright, clear frames take viewers there, and narration adds plenty of factual content. Independent Production by Master Communications, 2011; 30 min.; $29.95; www.master-comm.com; ages 5 to 8.
Slap Back Jack
Sometimes whimsical fun wins the day! This amusing claymation short is about a baseball player who hits the ball out of the park. His high-fives don't connect with other players, but Slap Back Jack gets him on track with his high-fivin' contraption. Independent Production by MRN Media, Incorporated, 2010; 12
Young Artists Collection Featuring Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin
The Storybook Treasures series bridges video allure and the joy of reading. This installment exposes young artists, musicians and performers to multiple artistic media, instruments and performance. Optional read-along feature encourages reading skills. New Video, 2011; 2 hrs., 47 min.; $24.95; www.newkideo.com; ages 5 to 8.
Storytelling & Spoken Word
By Marilyn McPhie
AGES 4 AND UP
Once Upon a Bethlehem Night:
Christmas Stories Told by Renee Englot
Take a new look at the Christmas story. The small shepherd, camel, flower, spider, star, innkeeper's daughter and others tell what happened that Bethlehem night. This is a treasure for those who celebrate Christmas. Renee Englot, 2011; $15; www.reneeenglot.com.
AGES 8 AND UP
Rapunzel and the Seven Dwarfs
Rapunzel and the seven dwarfs are "explained" by storyteller Willy Claflin in an over-the-top "hilarified" Mother Moose mash-up makeover. The beautifully illustrated accompanying book includes "hoof-notes" to refer to the specialized moose vocabulary. August House, 2011; $18.95; www.augusthouse.com.
BOOKS & MAGAZINES
By Helen Foster James, Ed.D., and Rubin Pfeffer
Baby Einstein First Book of Puppies
Play slide-and-find peekaboo with adorable illustrations and real photographs of puppies in this sturdy board book. Produced by The Baby Einstein Company, LLC, 2011; $7.99; www.disneybooks.com and www.babyeinstein.com.
Count 1 to 10
To enhance the concept of counting from 1 to 10, each consecutive number pops up with the turn of the page. A pop-up book by Kees Moerbeek, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011; $15.95; www.abramsyoungreaders.com.
The Splendid Spotted Snake
Brilliantly imagined and durably produced, this is a clever story of a newborn snake whose spots change colors as it grows before the reader's eyes. Written by Betty Ann Schwartz and Alexander Wilensky, Workman Publishing, 2011; $13.95; www.workman.com.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney's illustrations of this classic rhyme will ease little ones to sleep while adults are charmed by this stunning book. Written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011; $16.99; www.lb-kids.com.
Bailey goes through the school day eager to please and achieve. The story will appeal to the youngest child and still delight older children as well. Written by Harry Bliss, Scholastic Press, 2011, $16.99; www.scholastic.com.
Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond
Learn about the wild creatures at a pond in this fun twist on the popular farmer song. Written by Mary Quattlebaum, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant, Dawn Publications, 2011; $16.95 ($8.95 paperback); www.dawnpub.com.
Look! A Book! A Zany Seek-and-Find Adventure
Readers can search on their own or follow prompts to discover beautifully rendered worlds. Written by Bob Staake; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011, $16.99; www.lb-kids.com.
Press here, shake, brush and make this simple book come alive. Translated by Christopher Franceschelli, Chronicle Books, 2010; $16.99; www.chroniclekids.com.
A Book for Black-Eyed Susan
Together, 10-year-old Cora and her father journey along the Oregon Trail in this historical-fiction picture book that depicts a family's trials and love. Written by Judy Young, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger, Sleeping Bear Press, 2011; $16.95;
Me … Jane
Author Patrick McDonnell cleverly presents a glimpse of the young girl who would become Dr. Jane Goodall. Written by Patrick McDonnell; Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011; $15.99; www.lb-kids.com.
Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters
An exquisite celebration of women and men who've made significant contributions and breakthroughs to our country's social and cultural greatness. Written by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long, Random House Children's Books, 2011; $17.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids.
A moving ode to the families of West Africa whose loved ones were torn away by slave traders, who then delivered the stolen to the harsh fate of slavery in North America. Written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon, Random House Children's Books, 2011; $18.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids.
One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street
The children on Orange Street make surprising discoveries about themselves and their street while treasuring a vacant lot's orange tree that has bonded the neighbors for decades. Written by Joanne Rocklin, Abrams, 2011; $16.95; www.abramsbooks.com.
Two stories, 50 years apart, are told in this "Novel with Words and Pictures." Ben's story is told in words and Rose's in pictures. Written by Brian Selznick, Scholastic Press, 2011; $29.99; www.scholastic.com.
AGES 12 AND UP
The Klutz Guide to the Galaxy
Klutz delivers again, this time with the whole galaxy in your hands. The kit includes a telescope, flashlight, sundial and more to equip young astronomers. Written by Pat Murphy and the Scientists of Klutz Labs, 2011; Scholastic Press, $19.99, www.klutz.com.
Paper Covers Rock
A boarding school student is killed in a tragic accident, and the reader and surviving characters are left in a precarious position between partial and whole truth. Written by Jenny Hubbard, Random House Children's Books, 2011; $16.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids.
The Secret of Rover
This intriguing mystery thriller includes spies, chases, a kidnapping and stowaways — and the U.S. president. Written by Rachel Wildavsky, Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2011; $16.95; www.abramsbooks.com.
This hands-on magazine is packed with comics, puzzles, animals, crafts and jokes. Publisher Owl Kids also offers award-winning magazines for other ages. Owlkids; $5.25 an issue; $29.99 for a one-year subscription (10 issues); www.owlkids.com; ages 6-9.
A wide range of topics, from serious to fun, are presented in this visually appealing magazine. Discovery Girls Inc.; $4.99 an issue; $19.95 for a one-year subscription (six issues); www.discoverygirls.com; for girls ages 8 and up.
You can't go wrong with any of the outstanding Highlights for Children magazines. Find one that best meets your child's interests and age. Highlights for Children; $5.95 an issue; $2.67 an issue plus postage for subscriptions; www.highlights.com; ages 7 and up.
By Michael Berick and Tor Hyams
This hip and fabulous set of nighttime music features originals and well-chosen
cover tunes that are good any time and for any age. Putumayo Kids, 2011; CD, $14.98; www.putumayokids.com; infants to age 5.
Ella Jenkins – A Life of Song
The "First Lady of Children's Music" is back with classic African-American folk songs that feature child singers and authentic American folk instrumentation. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2011; CD, $15; www.folkways.si.edu; infants and up.
Hullabaloo – Road Trip
A San Diego-based duo delivers an engaging set of traveling tunes that will stop kids from asking, "Are we there yet?" Hullabaloo Music, 2011; CD, $12; www.hullabalooband.com; infants to age 6.
Singin' and Groovin'
Toddlers will love the eclectic mix of songs and the varied acoustic instrumental foundation will hold your attention. Music for Little People, 2010; CD, $13.98; www.musicforlittlepeople.com; ages 1-2.
AGES 4 AND UP
Chicken Joe Forgets Something Important by Trout Fishing In America
A comical tale about a cat named Chicken Joe whose barnyard pals have a
fun surprise for him. The Secret Mountain, 2011; Storybook and CD, $16.95;
www.thesecretmountain.com; ages 4-10.
Tom Chapin – Give PEAS A Chance
This collection is steeped in the traditional folk genre, while addressing modern issues like being green, healthy food and sustainability. Sundance Music, 2011; CD, $15; www.tomchapin.com; ages 3 and up.
The Golden State
California-based "kindie" rock group the Hipwaders pay homage to their home state on this catchy album. The Hipwaders, 2011; CD, $11.97; www.hipwaders.net; ages
3 and up.
Grow It at Home
The sage-like Peter Alsop shares his enlightening music, which includes tunes about dragons, St. Patrick, recycling, nutrition, beets and feet. Moose School Productions, 2010; CD, $15; www.peteralsop.com; ages 4-12.
In A Big Warehouse by Imagination Movers
Kids will move and groove to these energetic tunes drawn from the popular Playhouse Disney Channel group's TV series. Walt Disney Records, 2010; CD, $11.98; www.waltdisneyrecords.com; ages 2-5.
Love Me For Who I Am – Songs Celebrating Children of All Abilities
Brady Rymer's album celebrates individuality and carefree abandon. Rymer captures the joy of youth through his Roy Orbison-meets-Tom Petty rock stylings. Bumblin Bee Records, 2011; CD, $9.90; www.bradyrymer.com; ages 4 and up.
My Name Is Handel
George Handel's life and work (particularly his Water Music) come alive in this informative and interactive disc. Performed by Yadu, Bonnie Ward Simon, Stephen Simon and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Maestro Classics, 2011; CD, $16.98; www.maestroclassics.com; ages 9 and up.
These Are My Friends – an album for kids and their parents
Alastair Moock's knack of filling catchy ditties with humorous lyrics will bring a smile to your face. Moockshake Music, 2011; CD, $15; www.moockmusic.com; ages 3-8.
Joanie Leeds & The Nightlights: What a Zoo!
From funk and blues to country and pop, with even a little hip-hop thrown in, this album has a style for everyone. It's original, catchy and suitable for the age group. City Kid Music, 2011; CD, $15; www.citykidmusic.com; ages 2 and up.
AGES 9 AND UP
Mannheim Steamroller — Christmasville by Chip Davis
Just when you thought Manheim Steamroller had covered it all, Christmasville comes along with 13 new recordings. American Grama-phone, 2008; CD, $6.90; www.mannheimsteamroller.com; ages 9 and up.
APPS, SOFTWARE, VIDEO GAMES, WEBSITES & MORE
By Allen Rausch
This kid-safe Web browser comes with tons of games, videos and Web destinations for kids, and includes safe email and video chat functions. Easy-to-use parental controls give complete control over what's available for your kids. Fuhu; free; www.foozkids.com; ages 2-11.
Pat the Bunny
In an extraordinary digital update version of Dorothy Kunhardt's classic children's book, the illustrations are now interactive with background music, reading of the text and vocal feedback. Random House; $3.99; www.randomhouse.com/kids/apps; ages 2-6.
Toca Hair Salon
This "e-toy" app lets kids cut hair, style it, color it and experiment with all sorts of wild hairstyles for people and animals. Simple and easy to understand, it provides plenty of stimulating imaginative play. Tocaboca; 99 cents; www.tocaboca.com; ages 2-6.
AGES 4 AND UP
An online art studio with an amazingly powerful set of art tools, kids can make pictures, mini movies, cards, stories and more. A community discusses each other's work and helps each other become better artists. Disney Interactive Media Group; free; www.disney.com/create; ages 5-15.
This iPad-style kid's touchscreen computer comes with fun apps, including a virtual art studio, digital camera and more. Includes impressive online and parent features, such as emails that track kids' educational progress. New apps are $10 each. LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc.; $99; www.leapfrog.com/leappad; ages 4-12.
AGES 10 AND UP
MLB 11: The Show
Lighter modes like home-run derby make this baseball video game fun for younger fans and those who aren't baseball junkies, but if you want deep baseball stats, they're there. True baseball fans will love this game. Sony Computer Entertainment America; $59.99; www.us.playstation.com; ages 10 and up.
Meet NAPPA's Judges
Ellen Metrick consults with major toy manufacturers on product designs, from initial concept through post-production. She has created systems to research and evaluate toys' impact on childhood development and their therapeutic value for children with special needs. She has written extensively about creative applications for play products, including a bimonthly column for American Specialty Toy Retailers Association. The lead evaluator for the Toys 'R' Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids for 15 years, Metrick currently serves as manager of business development at the National Lekotek Center, a nationwide nonprofit that focuses on accessible play for children of all abilities.
Peggy Brown works for many of the world's biggest toy companies as an inventor, designer, writer, creative director and consultant. She won the Toy and Game Industry (TAGI) award for game design, a prestigious honor in the toy industry.
Kim Vandenbroucke is a game inventor and developer, and president of Brainy Chick, Inc. She writes for Games for Educators (www.g4ed.com) and runs a game review website, www.thegameaisle.com.
Ranny Levy, founder and president of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, has been an advocate for quality children's media since 1989. KIDS FIRST! reviews and evaluates children's programming, trains kids to become critical media users and produces the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival.
Storytelling and 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 many national and regional conferences. She writes reviews of storytelling resources and performs regularly for audiences ranging from preschoolers to adults.
BOOKS & MAGAZINES
Helen Foster James, Ed.D., is a veteran teacher and former coordinator of library media services for the San Diego County Office of Education. She is also a book reviewer and author of the children's books E is for Enchantment: A New Mexico Alphabet and S is for S'mores: A Camping Alphabet. She has also received the International Reading Association's Celebrate Literacy Award.
Rubin Pfeffer has held top executive positions at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; Pearson Inc.; and Simon & Schuster Children's Books. He founded Beach Lane Books and, as a partner with the East West Literary Agency, founded that agency's Boston base.
Tor Hyams has composed scores for film and television, and produced top recording artists and live music festivals for children. He wrote and produced A World of Happiness, a NAPPA-winning children's CD, and co-authored a book by the same name. He launched the first KindieFest Family Music Conference in 2009 and his family music label, Happiness Records.
Michael Berick is the calendar editor at L.A. Parent, where he also reviews children's CDs. He has written about children's music for the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly and about music in general for more than 20 years.
APPS, SOFTWARE, WEBSITES & VIDEO GAMES
Allen Rausch has worked for such renowned game developers as Acclaim Entertainment, Toys R Us, Interplay Entertainment, UbiSoft, Riot Games and Nexon America. The PC editor for GameSpy.com for seven years, he has also been a contributing author for games published by White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast, a noted columnist-reviewer, and an editorialist for publications such as PC Gamer, GameSpot and Gamasutra.