The alternative gift guide (for some specific types of 7-and-unders)

1. For the siblings who want to play a game together but can’t sit still (or there’s a toddler in the mix): Chameleon Crunch Game

The object: to throw bugs into the chameleon’s mouth, which opens and closes at random. For added action, the chameleon moves around a bit (and says a couple of phrases). Both my kids (ages 5 and 22 months) love playing this. They had fun playing this with their 3-year-old cousin, too.

 

2. For the on-trend kid: Furby

It’s ba-ack! And it’s one of the hot toys of the season, no less.

 

3. For the anal-retentive Legoist: Lego Sort & Store

Shake, shake, shake, and your Legos get sorted by size into different trays. Now if you could just hack a Roomba to pick them up off the floor first….

 

4. For the DIY diva: Fancy Nancy Sticky Mosaics Fancy Tiaras

The tiaras turn out pretty snazzy! Warning: You and other family members will be expected to wear the creations.

 

5. For the kid who just can’t wait to take driver’s ed: Drive Time Street Signs

For the driveway, or, in our case, for the kitchen. Whichever.

 

6. For the budding magician: My First Magic Set (with DVD Instructions)

We got this for Nica’s birthday, along with a hat and cape. She now performs full magic shows in front of audiences (she’s very picky about which audiences, though—she got it like that). The included DVD doesn’t quite jibe with the items in the set, but Archie and Nica figured it out. Archie is her “lovely assistant” during her performances.

 

7. For the kid who has everything except maybe a street named after him: Personalized sign à la Sesame Street

Adorable! Great for a luxe birthday party or for room décor.

 

8. For the Barbie lover who’s interested in her culture and maybe other people’s too: Dolls of the World (pictured, Princess of South Africa Barbie)

We got Nica the Princess of the Korean Court Barbie, because she’s getting more curious about her ethnicity and feeling some Korean pride these days.

9. For the kid who likes to touch gross stuff in the name of science: Scientific Explorer’s Sci-fi Slime Science Kit

This is so in Ham’s future.

 

10. For the baby with jokester parents: Buff Baby: Dumbbell Rattle

I totally would’ve gotten this for Ham when he was an infant. Because he was enormous, and it would’ve been hilarious. Damn!

 

11. For the music lover who loves to build stuff, too: Quercetti Saxoflute

This is a cool toy the kids’ aunt and uncle got for them. Both Ham and Nica enjoyed making different wind instruments. I did not enjoy washing out the saliva afterward. But, you know, that’s just me.

 

12. For the kid who can’t decide which (s)he loves more, Angry Birds or Star Wars: Angry Birds Star Wars Fighter Pods AT AT Attack

or

Angry Birds Star Wars 5″ Plush

This is on the list because, come on! This is bizarre! Yet strangely cute.

Princess stuff that doesn’t depress me

Two items:

1) Vtech’s Disney Princess Magical Learning Laptop.

 

I’m torn as to how I feel about this laptop’s looks. On one hand, zoikes! Sensory overload! Tack-o-meter will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2…. On the other, wow, that’s kind of fabulous. Why can’t adults’ laptops be heart-shaped? I wouldn’t mind a mousepad that looked like a big gem.

 

Nica (4) went gaga over the secret compartment (heart-shaped, bien sûr!) that you open with an attached key. Can you actually fit anything in it? Not much. Maybe a couple of small, flat objects. But this feature definitely appeals to that part of a little girl’s soul that relishes keeping secrets.

There are three major modes: Be a Princess, Princess Activities and Princess Explore. Within those three modes there are games or exercises. Most unfavorite feature: I cringe every time the perky narrator says “Do you dream about being a princess?” In my brain, that gets translated to “Are you a total airhead?” (This only happens when you first press the Be a Princess mode button—but Nica presses it A LOT.) Another annoying feature is the volume control. The designers of this laptop were kind enough to place the volume adjustment underneath the toy (so that your kid isn’t constantly messing with it), but the choices are basically Loud, Louder and Unbearably Loud.

But there are some very good features too. If you go to Princess Activities, you can choose a princess (Cinderella, Belle, Snow White or Aurora). Each princess presents three choices of exercises—letter order, number order, picture match, missing letter, counting, manners (learning appropriate greetings and such), etc. And then, if you choose Princess Aurora, the same voice that said “Do you dream about being a princess?” says “Answer the equation for Aurora.” Equation? Damn, Aurora, I guess you’re the valedictorian of the bunch. So, even though this laptop looks like it would only give you some dumbed-down versions of lessons, it really doesn’t. The lessons range in difficulty from basic letters and numbers (in Princess Explore) to addition and subtraction presented as equations (plus graphics to help out). And the Be a Princess mode mixes it up and gives you an assortment of mini-exercises.

2) This has got to be the ultimate princess sticker book: the Disney Princess Sticker Activity Pad with Play Scenes.

 

We love stickers around here. Had I gotten this when I was a kid, I would’ve swooned. It is awesome. Pages and pages of stickers, all the Disney princesses in different poses, different outfits, and, in Ariel’s case, different bodies (Ariel with a tail! Ariel with legs!). Plus all the supporting characters of all the princess films. The truly awesome part, though, is the blank play-scene pages. Each page shows a different set (the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast, the forest from Snow White, etc., etc.), and you can create your own unique scene using any stickers you want. Hours of fun. Perfect for Grandma’s house so that Grandma doesn’t have to run around, or when you need your little princess-worshiper to stay quiet for half an hour. Well, maybe not quiet. But occupied.