Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holiday gift guide: perennial picks

Welcome to my second round of holiday shopping help! This time, I'll be showcasing some of our year-round surest bets and hottest sellers.


One of my favorite games to give is Bananagrams - all my friends and family have this! It plays like an individual Scrabble, where each person makes her own board of intersecting words (like a crossword). The tricky part is once a person uses all his letters and shouts "PEEL!", everyone has to pick up another letter, which sometimes leads to reconfiguring your entire word board. I'd recommend this fast-paced game for ages 7 +, since spelling could be frustrating for younger children.

What small child doesn't go through a car phase? Sure, there's die cast cars, sturdy plastic construction trucks, and so on, but our absolute favorite vehicle gift is Automoblox. You can pull apart and rebuild these wooden cars and even interchange the pieces with other cars of the same size. My nephews have a bunch and they like to build one long giant vehicle! The styles range from old fashioned trucks to sports utility vehicles and race cars . I'd recommend these toys for ages 4 + for the small parts.

This year we started carrying a new line from Early Learning Co., the Happyland brand. Similar to Playmobil, these town and doll sets are brightly colored, safe for toddlers, and come with smiling, multi-cultural little people. The most popular sets are the Flower Fairy House and Lift-Off Space Rocket, or the smaller sets of figurines, like Happy Family and Sunflower School Children. (Our book buyer has a set of the fairies in her office, but don't tell her I told!).

Legos are, of course, a perennial favorite of any kid between 4 and 40 (I'm looking at my brother-in-law here), and Dorling Kindersley's Lego Brickmaster sets are fun, versatile, and more easily transported than some of the bigger tubs of Legos (though we do sell a lot of those, too!). The sets are themed, with choices of Castle, Atlantis, and the ever popular Star Wars. I'd recommend these toys for about 6 +, depending on the set.

One of my favorite toys to recommend (and play with...) in the baby room is Melissa & Doug's Monster Bowling. Each bowling pin and ball is a different, friendly plush monster - perfect for playing with individually, or when toddling begins, actual bowling. This is a great gift for babies or toddlers with young siblings to play together.


The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds is a graphic novel retelling of Homer's epic poem. Staffer Shara recommends this title for ages 12 +: "Follow Odysseus through this graphic novel epic as he crosses oceans, traverses foreign lands (both realistic and fantastic), and confronts mythical creatures, gods, and men, in an attempt to return to his wife, Penelope. Hinds's genius use of color sets the mood perfectly for this grittily realistic adaptation."

Macmillan's Square Fish imprint is in the process of reprinting Tove Jansson's classic Moomin chapter books with vibrant fresh covers. Staffer Natasha recommends Finn Family Moomintroll for ages 7 +: "The Moomins are a family of sweet Finnish trolls that like sunshine, pancakes, raspberry juice and adventures on the ocean seas. These books are weird (in the best way), funny and might remind you on Winnie-the-Pooh. Start with the 2nd book in the series, it's the best!"

On NPR recently, author Gayle Forman picked Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins as one of her favorite YA picks of the year, and I whole-heartedly agree! This coming-of-age romance is perfect for Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti fans ages 13 +: For her senior year, Anna's successful writer father sends her to boarding school in Paris. Without knowing anyone or any French beyond "Oui!", Anna struggles to fit in, until she befriends artsy Mer, "The Couple" Josh & Rashmi, and handsome (but taken!) Brit Etienne St. Clair. This novel shines with wit, the pains and sparks of first love, and the beauty of Paris.

One of our favorite picture books of 2010 is from multiple Caldecott winning author and artist David Wiesner. This year's Art & Max is every bit as imaginative, humorous, and gorgeously painted as his previous books (remember the flying frogs of Tuesday, the cloud factory of Sector 7, or the mollusk castles of Flotsam?). Max wants to learn to be an artist like his fellow lizard pal, Art (who insists he is Arthur), but makes a glorious mess of things and must clean off and redraw Art. Mere words can't describe Wiesner's use of panels and references to paint greats like Jackson Pollock - like all art, you must see it for yourself.

These are toys and books we typically carry throughout the year, but as always, it's a very busy season and we can only guarantee stock while supplies last.

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