Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

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Holiday Gift Picks: $25 & Under

Uglybuddies Uglybuddies
Ages: All Ages
Pretty Ugly LLC, $20.00

Uglybuddies match two classic Ugly Dolls into one friendship-bound pair. A larger Uglydoll holds a smaller one in its pouch. The larger doll's arms clasp with Velcro around its pouch buddy. The result is irresistibly adorable.

Bear in Love Bear in Love
Ages: 2 - 6 yrs.
Author: Daniel Pinkwater   Illustrator: Will Hillenbrand  
Candlewick Press, $15.99 (Hard Cover)   

Sometimes mischievous, often offbeat, Daniel Pinkwater is always funny. In short, Bear in Love is a story of a rabbit and a bear doing nice things for one another. Will Hillenbrand's mixed media illustrations paint a loveable, appreciative, perceptive couple of friends. The endearing playful read-aloud is just waiting for vocal variations, a lumber and a hop.

Hexacus Hexacus
Ages: 2 & Up
Popular Playthings, $22.99

Hexacus has all but replaced traditional building blocks in our house. Upon first seeing the pieces stacked in a perfect pyramid, my son wasn't any more excited than he is when playing with other blocks. But, once he saw the booklet of building ideas he was off and running. He loved the challenge of matching his pieces to the diagrams in the booklet and creating shapes and forms of his own. I was amazed at the seemingly endless number of ways the pieces could be used.

Animals and Their Families Animals and Their Families
Ages: 3 - 6 yrs.
Author: Barbara Nascimbeni   Illustrator: Barbara Nascimbeni  
Owlkids Books, Inc., $17.95 (Hard Cover)   

Illustrator Barbara Nascibeni's Animals and Their Families is a delightful introduction to the animal kingdom. Each animal is presented first as a hand- painted silhouette on the left page, and then as a full color family in their environment on the right page. This skillful combination of recognizing simple shapes and the charming hand drawn style of the illustrations is a very appealing approach. Each illustration of the animal families includes three age-appropriate conversation starters: My Sound, My Home, and My Meal. This thoughtful "family album meets reference guide" is highly recommended.

Seven Clever Pirates Seven Clever Pirates
Ages: 3 - 9 yrs.
Deep Rooted Music, $14.00 (CD)   

Come along, me hearties, and sail the high seas with seven pirates (who aren't quite as clever as they think they are). With witty wordplay and rollicking tunes, Eric Ode-singer, songwriter, musician, poet-plays narrator and ship's captain to a bumbling crew made up of fellow cast members and musicians. First, they pick up a passenger, a little girl who mistakes the Sea Slug for a cruise ship. The not-so-ruthless pirates interrupt their treasure hunt to deliver her to her grandmother in Norway. Storytelling and music propel each other as the crew runs into a storm, meets a shark, explores a secret island, heeds good advice and unexpectedly encounters a certain someone who should be safe and snug in Norway.

Dr. Seuss Fun Machine Game Tiles Dr. Seuss Fun Machine Game Tiles
Ages: 3 & Up
Wonder Forge Inc., $11.99

This clever game reflects an emerging trend of blending iPads with other physical, tangible game elements. Once you download the free app, you place the series of thick, laminated cards around the iPad and select from the three games offered. The cards look like shapes and the Dr. Seuss characters we all love, allowing for matching or games of concentration when not used with the iPad app. The iPad serves as a spinner, timer and turn-taker as you interact with the cards. For example, in one game each player has their set of cards in front of them, and as the spinner randomly announces a shape or character, the first player to have a "yellow triangle" or "the Cat in the Hat" places that card on the iPad. The first player to use all their cards wins.

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, $19.99

This Xbox Kinect game's storyline follows Elmo and Cookie Monster as they read the book Once Upon a Monster along with players. In each of the book's interactive chapters, players meet new and unusual monsters who need some cheering up. How do kids assist these monsters? By helping them achieve their dreams, tackle chores, undertake an adventure, or just have fun in a series of mini games ranging from playing in a band and shooting garbage-can baskets to putting on a play and cleaning up a garden. As players progress through each level of games, they earn bright, shining stars.

They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science They Might Be Giants: Here Comes Science
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Disney Sound/Walt Disney Records, $18.98 (CD)   

With a number of children's CDs already under its belt, including the popular Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s, They Might Be Giants continues to educate and entertain on Here Comes Science. Not only do they sing about photosynthesis, the nervous system, and scientific hypotheses; they sound really good while doing so. With a drving rock 'n' roll feel to all 19 of the album's original science-themed songs, we caution that Here Comes Science may cause intense dancing as well as introductory knowledge of paleontology, cells, solid, liquids, and gases. A terrific way to jumpstart an early elementary school science class, or put a new twist on a road trip sing-along.

Puppet-On-A-Stick Puppet-On-A-Stick
Ages: 4 & Up
Educational Insights, $23.99

Three oversized puppets on sticks inspire dramatic play with silly faces, movable mouths and endless possibilities. The packaging is colorful and inviting, and the puppets, which are very simple, are well constructed, colorful, and fun. There were no instructions (none really needed) but the box does provide some ideas for the use of the puppets.

The LEGO Ideas Book The LEGO Ideas Book
Ages: 5 & Up
Author: DK Publishing  
DK Publishing, $24.99 (Hard Cover)   

The LEGO Ideas Book offers six chapters: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles; Town & Country; Out of this World; In Days of Old; A World of Adventure; and Make & Keep. Children will learn to build helicopters, homes, trees, robots, castles, pirate islands, mosaics, board games, and more. The book does not provide step-by-step instructions, nor does it shy away from using hard to find LEGO pieces. As noted in the introduction, the book doesn't "show building steps or brick lists because it's unlikely you will have all the bricks for each model." That's OK, though, because the images here serve to inspire rather than provide specific instructions.

Pathwords JR Pathwords JR
Ages: 6 & Up
ThinkFun Inc., $19.99

ThinkFun has created another fun and intellectually stimulating game in Pathwords, Jr. Like its older sibling, Pathwords, the junior version challenges players to arrange translucent block pieces over a crossword-like grid to find the words hidden therein. The vocabulary in the Junior version is appropriate to a younger set, from beginning spellers at the easiest levels through the elementary grades. Clues are given on each puzzle, including picture hints on the earliest ones and theme words for more advanced players.

Pet Science Pet Science
Ages: 6 & Up
International Playthings, Inc., $19.99

The Pet Science Kits (available in Dog School and Kitty College) allow children to explore animal behavior and cognitive skills by conducting tests on their pet's problem-solving skills, sensory abilities, shape-recognition, and more. The manual is easy to read and follow, peppered with fun facts and ideas to test and observe their pet's skills and characteristics. Aspiring animal behaviorists can make their own dog or cat training treats, build training toys, and conduct tests.

Makedo Find & Make Space Pod Makedo Find & Make Space Pod
Ages: 7 & Up
Makedo (TM), $20.00

This kit makes it easy create something magical with a safe-for-little-hands tool for cutting and puncturing cardboard, and a pile of plastic connectors for riveting pieces of cardboard together. The Space Pod kit includes instructions for making a space pod out of cardboard and stickers to decorate it. Kids can get inside the space pod and play astronaut when they're done. The real point of the instructions, though, is to provide a jumping-off point for using the included tools. Ultimately, the goal is creative play; the connectors are reusable, so after you make the pod, you can tear it apart and build something else.

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache If You Were a Chocolate Mustache
Ages: 8 & Up
Author: J. Patrick Lewis   Illustrator: Matthew Cordell  
Boyds Mills Press, $18.95 (Hard Cover)   

Children's Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis has created a collection of silly, kid-centric poems and riddles that will appeal to young readers. If You Were a Chocolate Mustache includes poems such as "Mac Diddy," which focuses on a dog "who writes a bitty blog," while another entry sings the praises of pretzels that "circul8." Matthew Cordell's simple pen and ink line drawings are reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, and in fact, one of Lewis' poems is in tribute to that late great children's writer. This is a good choice for reading aloud, and for exposing children to this particular literary genre.

Illusionology: The Secret Science of Magic by Albert Schafer Illusionology: The Secret Science of Magic by Albert Schafer
Ages: 8 & Up
Author: Albert Scafer   Illustrator: Levi Pinfold    Illustrator: Tomislav Tomic   Illustrator: David Wyatt  
Candlewick Press, $19.99 (Hard Cover)   

Illusionology, written by Albert Schafer and illustrated by David Wyatt and Levi Pinfold, is a rich and multilayered introduction into the world of magic tricks and the exploration of the history of illusions. Written and organized from the perspective of a master magician's scrapbook, it is full of handwritten notes, historical references, newspaper clippings, and images. This scrapbook motif is supported by a treasure trove of "pop up" like fold-outs, and interactive mini articles hidden behind trap doors and envelope pockets. In addition, there are a number of simple magic tricks and illusions for the reader to explore through supplied materials like trick playing cards, optical illusion cards, and more.

Ivan's Hinge Ivan's Hinge
Ages: 8 & Up
Fat Brain Toys, $12.95

This is a very fun and relaxing toy, until you try the game cards! Ivan's Hinge is a beautifully designed, geometrically-shaped, mechanical puzzle toy. It comes with 56 challenge cards, each with a geometric image for the user to reproduce. It's easy to flip and twist Ivan's Hinge into different angled designs and shapes, but it's not so easy to twist it into particular shapes.

Nerf Weather Blitz Flag Football Set Nerf Weather Blitz Flag Football Set
Ages: 8 & Up
Hasbro, Inc., $19.99

Football often happens in bad-weather months. So Nerf decided to create a bad-weather football. Nerf calls it "Weather Blitz Football" and claims it actually plays better in wet weather. The football is junior-sized with an exceptional waterproof texture and raised rubberized "lace". This makes for easy gripping, regardless of the size of the quarterback's hand or the weather conditions. Besides the water-resistant, high-durability, Nerf football, the set includes eight pairs of belt-free, simple-to-clip-on, flag-football flags in two colors, allowing two teams with up to four players each to face off on the line of scrimmage. At a reasonable price, this football, like the mailman, will deliver even in rain, sleet and snow.

Spectrix Spectrix
Ages: 8 & Up
Funnybone Toys, $14.99

Spectrix is a card game played with a deck of 96 solid-color cards printed in a 12-color spectrum. The object of the 2 - 6 player game is to be the first to get rid of all your cards by laying down "sets", three or more cards of the same color, and "runs", three or more cards adjacent to each other on the color guide provided to each player. A player may also add to cards played by other players, or reorganize played cards to make new combinations that benefit their hand. When a play cannot be made, a player draws one card from the reserve pile. The player who is able to play all the cards in their hand wins the round. Other players receive five points for each card remaining in their hands. Play continues until someone loses with a score of 100 points. In addition, if a player is able to complete a 12-color spectrum during the game, they say, "White Light", and all others receive 5 penalty points.

PathWords PathWords
Ages: 12 & Up
ThinkFun, Inc. , $19.99

Pathwords is a cross between Think Fun's usual, delightful logic puzzles and a classic word search puzzle. The player has several translucent, oddly-shaped pieces and a book of puzzles of scrambled letters. The player must lay the pieces over each puzzle in such a way that words are identified - but there must be no letters left out. Invariably there appear to be many ways to form real words, but only one solution works perfectly. The puzzles start out easy, with the necessary colored pieces identified but not laid out, and with simple vocabulary, but they advance rapidly to "Expert"-level puzzles in which little information is given and the vocabulary alone would be a challenge. Fortunately, the guide book provides three levels of clues for every game, so players need only remain stumped as long as they wish to be. This game is a must for word puzzlers of all ages.

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