Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Georgian gift guide

With the Festival of Lights beginning last night and Christmas advents being cracked, I can't believe it's already time to start crossing things off those wish lists. I've barely finished compiling my shopping lists! (Thankfully, my family doesn't follow this blog, so they can't see when I tell the world what I'm getting them...or that I still don't know what I'm getting them! Sisters are hard. That's all I'm saying.) Here, I've put together a few of the many gift ideas we've been recommending like hot cakes.

Staff and customers alike get a kick out of Fred's food and pop culture blending toys. The ever popular Food Face Plate has returned - making mealtime with picky eaters playful and enjoyable for kids and parents. The plate has a friendly face that you can embellish, perhaps with mashed potato hair or a green bean mustache. You can order the plate from our website. Fred also gives us new cupcake molds: Tea Cup Cakes (oh the cleverness of you!) for princess parties, or swivel-headed Yum Bots for space age sweets. The Fred folks are pun-y after my own heart: the "gearshaft green" bot on the packaging says "take me to your eater!". Try these for anyone from your teen chef to your sweet-toothed middle schooler.

Australian company Make & Do have crafts after a true Cantabrigian heart: the Car and Dollhouse building kits provide the basic necessary tools and building plans, but encourage the builder to find reusable items around the house to complete the projects. I'd recommend this toy for crafty kids 5 and up.

Crafters will also love a new kit from Brain Noodles: Noodle Roonies! Brain Noodles have been extremely popular sold singularly or in boxed sets of 15 noodles, but now they make small themed kits, from Ocean Life to Creepy Crawlies. Each package includes brain noodles of course, with pom poms, googly eyes, foam pieces, and thinner chenille noodles.

It's rumored that our book buyer Donna begged her sister, the toy buyer, to get these Twirling Batons from Schylling, because of her own love of batons. (She already has a set of weighted ones at home, or I bet she'd be tossing these left and right). Like jump rope, frisbees, and mancala, some toys never go out of style. These batons - with twirling tips included - are great for the athletic or girly elementary to middle school aged kids on your list.

For the aspiring musician or noise maker of the house, we have a variety of instruments, especially guitars. My favorite is the Woodstock Ukulele, which comes with a pick and song book. Of course, I do have family that lived in Hawaii, hence my partiality, but if you prefer the western twang, there's also the Cowboy Guitar from Schylling - pair it with a sheriff or cowboy hat and you're set for the best saloon act in town!

We are stuffed to the gills with Legos, K'Nex, and Lincoln Logs, but my favorite block set for the wee toddler set is from Megablocks - the Play & Go Table can easily be folded up, carted about, and reassembled for architectural amusement anywhere. It includes base landscape pieces, various sized and colored blocks, figurines and cars. It's a whole block world, in your playroom.

Speaking of stuffed, we have a new addition to our giant plush collection! We have an incredible assortment from Melissa & Doug to which we now add the Kodiak Bear from Manhattan Toy. He's even bigger than M & D's giant bear, with realistic looking, snuggly fur and a snout I can't help but mimic when I look at him. This bear is featured on our store's website, at a very competitive price.

We've gotten many requests for rolling suitcases, and we're now proud to offer Melissa & Doug Trunki rolling trunks. These sturdy cases can be carried over the shoulder or pulled or ridden on. Leave it to Melissa & Doug to design a suitcase that is specifically engineered to handle what kids will want to do with their luggage. There are four vibrant animal designs, ranging from ladybug dots to tiger stripes (while supplies last, of course).

The chapter book room hosts myriad board games from classics like backgammon and parcheesi to Scrabble and Cranium, and of course, multiple chess sets. The newest and most creative I've seen is Wild Chess from Hansen. Instead of the typical conceptual castle-pawn-rook pieces, these are resin casted, hand painted cats versus dogs. The dog's rook, suitably, is a bull dog, while the cat's queen is a Havan brown.

Stumped on stocking stuffers? Try out DCI's Ear Buds: these headphones come in funky styles you don't see in just anybody's ears: Babushkas (or Russian nesting dolls, take your pick), skulls, and strawberries. A bonus consideration: each package comes with two sizes in silicone tips, to fit either an adult or a child - or if you're sharing music in the car, both!


NPR and the New York Times have each had some amazing lists of recent picture books and teen novels, so I will try not to overlap too much with their suggestions. (Except for Sick Day for Amos McGee, I cannot give that book enough attention!). Please check out their lists, we stock all of their recommendations (barring any publisher-out-of-stock issues).

One of the most frequently asked questions for picture books is "What do I get a girly girl who has every princess book there is?" When a 4-6 year old has every Fancy Nancy, Flower Fairies, and Rainbow Magic book there is, I defer to Princesses of the World, by Kateli Goyer, illustrated by Misstigri. These fourteen fairy tales tell of bravery, compassion, and, of course, true love, with fold outs of lush illustrations - and heavenly princess costumes.

The Secret Message by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated by Bruce Whatley, will surely please animal lovers, especially those who loved the zoo break-out in Good Night, Gorilla. This story is based on a poem by Rumi: a Persian merchant's singing parrot attracts such attention to his goods that he must travel to India to restock his supplies. He asks his friends, family, and the parrot what they would like from India, and brings back cartloads of beautiful silks, jewels, and spices. The only one he can't please is the parrot - the birds there behaved very strangely when the merchant passed along the parrot's message, that the man doesn't want to tell his bird what happened. This story's moral is successfully warm without being overbearing.

I was so excited to see that Oliver Jeffers has a second book out this year: this month, a sequel to Lost and Found. The boy and penguin friends return in Up and Down, this time to teach penguin how to fly. Their friendship is sweet without syrup (they play backgammon, of all board games), and the understated humor in both the writing and pictures is fresh upon multiple rereads (believe me, I'm on my fifth read already). I can't decide on my favorite illustration: is it the want ad poster saying "Ever dream of flying? Are you short and fat?" or the last page, "The two friends made a break for home," with the boy on stilts and the penguin pedaling a tricycle. You can order this book on our website.

I have a soft spot for wordless picture books: from Pancakes by Tomi DePaola, The Red Book by Barbara Lehman, or anything by David Wiesner, it's a talented artist who can tell a story with no words. South Korean Suzy Lee is no exception. With her latest picture book, Shadow, she takes a simple vision of a girl making shadows to a new height of imagination and discovery, with only three colors: black, white, and yellow. The New York Times named this book one of their Best Illustrated of the year.

Switching gears to baby books, it's always exciting to see new board book series. Jorge Uzon's Hello Baby series expand the baby photo niche beyond the Mrs. Mustards, Chronicle's Global Babies, American Babies, and the Starbright Where's the Baby flap books. Uzon's Not A Baby Anymore, Go Baby Go, and Look Around, Baby show expressive babies having their typical baby adventures, with witty captions.

My top realistic fiction YA pick of the season is Conrad Wesselhoeft's debut novel, Adios Nirvana. Don't be deterred by the flaming guitar cover: this is not your average angsty teen story. Jonathan is a poet (I love the Walt Whitman quotations!), skater, guitarist, and one half of a twin. Ever since he lost his brother, Telly, last year, Jonathan has been floating through life with his Thicks and frozen vodka grapes. By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, you will cheer for and shout at Jonathan as he slowly wakes to the world again with the help of a medley of strangers, including Eddie Vedder and the most beautiful guitar in the world.

Dystopian literature, as you may have heard, is all the rage this season. Matched by Ally Condie may have a more romantic pretense, and much less graphic violence, than The Hunger Games, but it can go head to head with that dystopian heavyweight in terms of suspenseful pacing and socio-political discussions. Cassia's world is made safe and productive by the Society: husbands and wives are matched for healthy offspring and jobs are chosen for workers by efficiency and intelligence levels. When Cassia's Match turns out to be her handsome best friend, Xander, she's ecstatic - until a computer glitch shows her another man's face, and opens her mind and heart to other possibilities. Not only fans of The Hunger Games, The Uglies, etc, will like this novel - the building romantic tension and pressure of choosing who to love - will appeal to Twilight fans as well.

This year was very good for middle grade - I liked a surprising number of stand-alone novels. Cynthia Lord's Touch Blue is one of my favorites, with such a loving description of island life in Maine you can practically smell the salt air and hear the clatter of lobster traps falling on boat decks. Tess's small island will lose its school - and thus her mother's job - if their child population doesn't increase, so families take in foster children, which turns out to not be as simple as playing Monoply together. Tess is a wonderfully fresh character, with a mix of confidence, humor, and vulnerability, and a pocketful of lucky charms.

As the holidays progress, we'll share more of our favorites with you, but as always, things sell fast! Toys and books are only guaranteed as supplies last.

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