Not a day goes by here without a person looking about and saying wonderingly, "There's just SO MUCH!" We would love folks to stay for hours, or even better, ask us about something they're looking for, but sometimes a shopper isn't sure what exactly they want, but they'll know it when they see it. To help with these quandaries, we bloggers are compiling themed presents that pair some of our favorite and newest toys and books, as in: "if your four-year-old loves horses, try activity-book-and-game Fun Things to Make and Do Horse and Pony from Priddy Books with Constance McGeorge's picture book, Chestnut." Here are some of our current favorites.
For the elementary-school-age puzzle fan, I recommend Spot It! Find the Hidden Creatures written and illustrated by Delphine Chedru or Where Is the Cake Now? written and illustrated by T.T. Khing. Spot It! goes beyond your average hidden picture activity with vibrant illustrations that require a keen eye to discern the creature from the pattern. Where Is the Cake Now? is a wordless book following animal friends on the way to a picnic where the cake mysteriously goes missing! A good observer will enjoy guessing the suspects and following the different characters, a la Richard Scarry. Pair a puzzle picture book with Brainiac's Sudoku from Peter Pauper Press, with strategy tips and puzzle hints and a mechanical pencil with spare leads.
For the artistic child with a sense of humor, try Deborah Zemke's latest in tear-off coloring placemats, Doodles At Lunch. This thick pad has step-by-step instructions for funky doodles like drawing a football quarterback from the letter Q, with plenty of room for creativity and, well, doodles. Once your artist has conquered lunch, try the Doodles At Dinner book or Taro Gomi Doodles or Scribbles book. Pair a doodle pad with a book of goofy poems, like My Hippo Has the Hiccups, and Other Poems I Totally Made Up by Kenn Nesbit. Poems include "(I'm Always in Parentheses)," "Don't Ever Bite Your Sister," and "My Dog Likes to Disco," which as you may tell from their titles, are unabashedly silly and great to read aloud. The thick black spot illustrations by Ethan Long remind me of favorite books and cartoons from childhood.
Creature Floor Puzzles, from Andrew Zuckerman's book Creature, are sure to please animal lovers. These giant 16-piece puzzles are 2 square feet of gorgeously detailed portraits of an elephant, ape, lion, and tigers. Those folks over at Chronicle Books sure do make pretty things! Pair the puzzle with Ed Young's new picture book, Hook, a moving, spare tale of an "ugly chick" that learns to fly. For a more in-depth look at Hook, check out fellow blogger Rachel's other blog, Let(t)'er Rip, in which she writes letters/reviews to authors.
Does the young girlie-girl in your life have all the tutus and Fancy Nancy books in the world? Try Fancy Nancy's new Perfect Parfait Game, a board game to design delicious ice cream sundaes - complete with cherry on top! This tasty treat pairs nicely with the good luck charm Unicorn Wishes, a unicorn figurine with a stand and booklet. Every fairy girl could use a bit more magic in her life.
For infants, one of my all-time favorite companies, Jellycat, gives us the Activity Whale: a colorful, be-ribboned whale with jellyfish and starfish crinkler and rattle. The best part? When dropped, it boings. Pair this cuddly marine mammal with Susan Rubin's board book biographies of artists: Magritte's Imagination, Matisse Dance for Joy, or Jacob Lawrence in the City. For the older, stroller lounging set try Sesame Street's Teach Me Elmo, a huggable Elmo in overalls with button, snap, and laces to learn basic dressing skills. Pair the fuzzy monster with Tigger's Giant Lift-the-Flap Book, a flap book to learn colors, numbers, manners, in the style of A.A. Milne and Ernest Shepard.